Jan Zahradníček Collection at the Museum of Czech Literature
The Jan Zahradníček Collection at the Museum of Czech Literature is an important resource documenting the literary and Catholic opposition to the communist regime in post-war Czechoslovakia. It includes Jan Zahradníčekʼs poetry manuscripts, written illegally in the 1950s, in Pankrác Prison.
Strahovské nádvoří 1, 118 38 Praha 1 - Hradčany, Czech Republic
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Name of collection
- Zahradníček Jan (1905-1960)
Provenance and cultural activities
Jan Zahradníček was one of the foremost Czech poets exploring Catholic mysticism. Zahradníček was arrested in 1951 on charges of illegal association and treason and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. During his imprisonment, he continued writing poetry. Poems from this period were published later, after Jan Zahradníčekʼs death, in collections Čtyři léta (Four years, 1969) and Dům Strach (House of Fear, in exile 1981). Zahradníček was granted amnesty and released in 1960, though, due to poor health, he died the same year. Before 1989, Communist authorities tried to remove Zahradníčekʼs name from the official history of Czech literature. Thus before 1989, his work could only be published – with some exceptions during the late 1960s –as samizdat, or in exile.
The Museum of Czech Literature possesses some of Zahradníčekʼs correspondences, Zahradníčekʼs translations of poems by Eduard Mörike, diaries from 1940–1941 and 1960, and notably his poetry manuscripts, written in the Pankrác Prison between 1951 and 1956, and later published as the collection Dům strach (House of Fear). As prisoners could not have any documents or papers, Zahradníček had to memorize his poems. He could write them – illegally – on paper, specifically on the back side of prison forms, only when he was working in the Pankrác Prison print shop. Zahradníček gave his manuscripts to Václav Sisel, the prison guard serving in the print shop, who concealed them in a table in his office. As Sisel stated later, he hid these manuscripts not only because Zahradníček had asked him to do so, but also because he was aware of their value and believed that Zahradníček would be eventually rehabilitated. In 1955, Sisel was dismissed from the print shop, apparently because he confessed to being Catholic. Following this, he smuggled out Zahradníčekʼs poems and buried them first in his fatherʼs garden, and later in the garden of his own cottage. Sisel dug them out in March 1968 and gave them to František Křelina and Josef Knap, poets who were imprisoned in the 1950s with Zahradníček. Then, Křelina sold Zahradníčekʼs manuscripts to the Museum of Czech Literature. Other pieces of the Jan Zahradníček Collection at the Museum of Czech Literature were acquired through several purchases and donations from 1935–2013.
The collection Dům Strach (House of Fear), which was based on Zahradníčekʼs manuscripts hidden by Sisel, was published in 1981 in Toronto by the Czech exile publishing house ʻ68 Publishers. In 1986, these poems were also published in London by Rozmluvy, another Czech exile publishing house. The collection was issued in a pocket format in order to facilitate its smuggling behind the Iron Curtain. Along with exile editions, this collection was issued in Czechoslovakia as a samizdat by the Expedice Edition in 1984.The interest in Jan Zahradníčekʼs poetry and fate continues today. He is now considered to be a symbol of Czechoslovak writers kept in prison after 1948 and he is also regarded as an icon of the literary opposition against the communist regime. His poems are frequently published and his fate became the subject of various conferences and exhibitions. Moreover, new Zahradníček manuscripts are still being discovered. In 2016, a notebook with Zahradníčekʼs poetry published in the collection Čtyři léta (Four years) was uncovered in the archives of the Leopoldov Prison. These poems were published in 2017 by the Moravian Library. However, these manuscripts are not part of the collection deposited in the Museum of Czech Literature.
Description of content
Although this collection contains only part of Jan Zahradníčekʼs heritage, it is an important resource documenting the literary and Catholic opposition to the communist regime in post-war Czechoslovakia, as it includes Jan Zahradníčekʼs poetry written in prison. Moreover, it contains some of Zahradníčekʼs correspondences, as well as translations, photography and diaries from 1940–1941 and 1960.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
- photos: 0-9
Date of founding
Place of founding
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
Wiendl, Jan, and Jan Komárek, eds. 2003. Není dálky: vzájemná korespondence Františka Halase a Jana Zahradníčka z let 1930-1949. Praha: Paseka.
Author(s) of this page
- Kůželová, Michaela
Zahradníček, Jan. 2015. Dům Strach. Praha: Vyšehrad.
Harold B. Segel. 2012. The Walls Behind the Curtain: East European Prison Literature, 1945–1990. University of Pittsburgh Press.
Zahradníček, Jan, and Jan Wiendl, ed. 2017. Verše: leopoldovský sešit poezie. Brno: Moravská zemská knihovna.
Doležal, Miloš. 2016. “Jak čestný a citlivý dozorce zachránil literární poklad.” Last modified July 20. http://www.rozhlas.cz/plus/dokument/_zprava/jak-cestny-a-citlivy-dozorce-zachranil-literarni-poklad--1634490.
The description of this collection was created with the kind help of the director of the Museum of Czech Literature (PNP) Mgr. Zdeněk Freisleben, the head of the Literary Archive of the PNP PhDr. Tomáš Pavlíček, PhD., and the curator of the Literary Archive of the PNP PhDr. Petr Kotyk.
PNP. 2017. "Výroční zpráva 2016." Accessed October 17. http://www.pamatniknarodnihopisemnictvi.cz/content/fck/files/VyrocniZpravaPNP2016.pdf.
Kotyk, Petr, interview by Kůželová, Michaela, November 15, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection