František Sauer

04.03.2018 | 22:59
František Sauer

He brought the whole Prague to a boil
Franta Habán of Žižkov, Franta Sauer by his own name (4th December 1882– 26th March 1947), was an anarchist, saccharin smuggler, fi lm actor, singer, writer, and a member of the art bohemian group of Prague. He was also an inseparable friend of Jaroslav Hašek’s and his fi rst publisher of Švejk. However, people have became aware of him mostly as the one who led the infuriated crowd to tear down the Column of Virgin Mary in the Old Ton Square.

Franta was the seventh of eight children. His father, Jan Sauer (1845-?), worked, until his injury, as a yardmaster on the railway, then as a street hot dog salesman, and his mother, Barbara, born Hájková, worked as a maid. They lived in an apartment house in two rooms without windows, with an entrance to the gallery. Even though his parents were illiterate, Franta read a lot from an early age, but even that did not stop him to have to repeat a year several times and end his primary education in the second year of the municipal school. Then he got an apprenticeship as a locksmith. Before that, he had undergone his student (apprentice) journeys – he went to experience the countries of the monarchy.
After returning home to Žižkov, he did all sorts of things. As a peddler, he met the demand, so, for example, he sold sacred images. He was a singer in pubs; he ran a laundry service with a mangle; he was an insurance agent of the Slavia bank, a lampman, a funeral home employee, a fi lm stand-in, a journalist, and a smuggler of tobacco or saccharin. This period was described by Sauer in his book Smugglers.
After the First World War, he lived in Žižkov with his mother and sisters at diff erent addresses. For example, at Jeronýmova Street 324/8 on the third fl oor, where his friend Jaroslav Hašek and his second wife Šura moved in with him later. In terms of ideology, at fi rst, he leaned towards social democracy; for a short period of time, he was even a member. After 1918, he organized an association called the Black Hand, which moved those without a place to stay to flats kept in secret (in Olbracht’s novel Anna the Proletarian, they fi nd a fl at for Anna). At that time, he also became a founding member of the Czech Anarchist Federation (the association functioned between the years of 1918 and 1920). Once again, he did all sorts of things for a living.
Sauer himself also wrote, often under the pseudonyms of Fr. Habán, Franta Habán of Žižkov, Franta Kysela: Our Rabble Jesuits and Diplomats (1923), In Memoriam of Jaroslav Hašek (1924), The Smugglers (1929), Emil Arthur Longen and Xena (1936). Between 1911 and 1935, he also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines (the Czech Word, the Red Right, and the Thorn), published political commentaries, poems, and short prose. He also wrote plays: Franta Habán of Žižkov (1933) or Hašek’s Last Campaign (1946). He appeared in front of the camera in the fi lms Čapek‘s Short Stories (the role of a drunkard, directed by Martin Frič in 1947), the Darling of the Regiment (Sergeant Klos, directed by Emil Arthur Longen in 1931), The Last Bohemian (secret Firnádl, directed by Svatopluk Innemann in 1931), Rocky Cobblers (slipper-maker Kysela, directed by Emil Artur Longen in 1931), From Saturday to Sunday (a drunkard, directed by Gustav Machatý in 1931).
However, Sauer’s role in the tearing down of the early Baroque column with a statue of the Immaculate Virgin Mary in Old Town Square on 3rd November 1918 by the infuriated crowd is not entirely clear. The truth is that people perceived his existence as a symbol of the Hapsburg humiliation of the Czech nation. Not even the fact that it was erected (1652) as an expression of thanks to the Virgin for the defense of Prague against the Swedes in the autumn of 1648 changed anything. Sauer saw the “Pillar of Shame” as a symbol of the attitude of Catholics during the First World War: “When, in a terrible world war, people were killing each other by hundreds of thousands and the losses were constantly replenished by new human material; when cripples were coming home from the battle fi eld: blind, without legs, without arms; when, at home, mothers did not have anything to feed their children with, and when despair was climaxing, there was not a single priest, not a single clerical member of the parliament, nor a single Jesuit to be found … to make a protest against the terrible killings.”
During the time of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (1939–1945), Sauer was, possibly due to a denouncement, arrested by the Gestapo for spreading T. G. Masaryk’s papers. His placement into the Small Fortress in Terezín is only documented by one entry, reading: Sauer, František, place of birth Prague, was handed over to the Terezín prison in 1942. But there are also two post-war testimonies of fellow captives from which we learn about his stay in Terezín. The fi rst memory, registered under No. 685, is from Jan Rulf (born on 22nd January 1914), a shop assistant, who was kept in the Terezín prison from 5th January to 20th August 1942, and then transported to the Dresden prison. “As I recall, father Tylínek and Franta Sauer were present at the fortress at the time.” Alois Tylínek (1884– 1965), Dean in Nusle, Prague, during the war, was a Czech politician, Roman Catholic priest, papal chamberlain and a personal archdeacon. He was kept at the Small Fortress from 24th June 1942 to 12th November 1943, and then transported to the Dachau concentration camp on 19th May 1944. It is interesting to note that, about a month after his return to Prague, he served a memorial service for Emil Hácha. The other two memories, registered under No. 311, are from Ladislav Procházka (born on 7th January 1911), a municipal school teacher, who was kept in the Small Fortress from 11th February until 20th June 1942, when he was released. “I remember that there was also Franta Sauer of Žižkov there, well-known Prague‘s Bohemian, a big strong guy and certainly a big eater. He was constantly hungry – after dinner, he went from cell to cell, looking for something to eat. He did not scorn upon boiled potato peelings, from which he would pick the potato crumbs.” The second mention reads: “… called Franta Habán. He also survived the war, but he died soon after getting his freedom.”
Franta Sauer did see the end of the war. He was even released before the liberation of Terezín, some time in the Spring of 1945, due to ill health caused by tuberculosis. In front of the film camera, he appeared for the last time in 1947 in Čapek‘ Short Stories, directed by Martin Frič. Shortly after the shooting, he died at the Hospital under Petřín, receiving his last anointing at the age of 65 years. It was ironical that Sauer had taken the general confession at the Franciscan monastery just before he died, reportedly regretting the tearing down of the Column of Virgin Mary and asking the priest for forgiveness. He is buried in the Olšany cemeteries and his grave was adopted by the city of Prague 3 in 2016.

For Památník Terezín Luděk Sládek

The autobiography Smugglers (1929) Dedication from May 3, 1932
to Miroslav Eliáš (1899–1938),
a journalist, painter, actor,
writer, and a teacher The Column of Virgin Mary, photo by J. Eckert Obrázek č.0

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