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‘We Have the Safety of the State in Our Hands’: Blind Veterans of the Great War in Interbellum Czechoslovakia

Oriel College, University of Oxford

Adam Luptak is a second-year DPhil History student at Oriel College, University of Oxford. He received his BA in History from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL in 2013, and his MPhil in Modern British and European History from St Cross College, University of Oxford in 2015. His DPhil project is entitled ‘Veterans of the Great War in Interbellum Czechoslovakia’ and is supervised by Professor Robert Evans. His research interests include the history of disability and social history.

The Great War left Czechoslovakia heir to a complex and ambiguous legacy. The new republic began its existence with some 1.5 million war veterans who had served on opposite sides in the recent conflict. Whilst the vast majority of these men had been mobilised to fight for Austria-Hungary, some 100,000 Czechs and Slovaks, who found themselves beyond the reach of the empire, volunteered to fight on the side of the Allies. Immediately after the establishment of the republic, this latter group of servicemen – the so-called legionaries – came to be seen as the national heroes of the ‘Czechoslovak’ war. Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian veterans found themselves in a considerably less privileged position.

This paper aims to discuss blind veterans of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces, and to explore the rhetoric produced by these men from within the Czechoslovak republic. Based on broader doctoral research on disabled veterans in Czechoslovakia, the paper will focus on three interconnected topics related to their post-WWI lives: firstly, it will explore these blind veterans’ presentation of their wartime service; secondly, it will discuss the portrayal of their impairment and their relations with other veterans; and thirdly it will examine their role in the contemporary Czechoslovak state. In turn, the paper will be hoping to expand our knowledge and understanding of some elements of disability history in the context of interwar Czechoslovakia."