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|Graf Maximilian von Coudenhove was the governor of the Crownland of Silesia at the beginning of the war. His hard line against non-Germans won the admiration of the Army High Command, and General Franz Conrad recommended him as a strong replacement for the amiable Fürst von Thun und Hohenstein who had allowed the Czechs much liberty in expressing their views on the war situation. Coudenhove took to the governorship of Bohemia in March.
By mid-May, especially following the mass desertion of Czech soldiers from infantry regiment No. 36 (Jungbunzlau), new and harsh measures were instituted throughout Bohemia. Nationalist papers were shut down, nationalist clubs were suppressed, and language laws passed were so stringent, that according to historian Martin Gilbert, police were beating anyone in the streets of Prague who didn't speak German. Outspoken people were quickly imprisoned, including such Czech leaders and Reichsrat parliamentary members as Karl Kramarz. Many were given death sentences.
It was the era of the military governorships, the likes of which had not been seen since Schwarzenberg marched his troops into Prague in 1848. These measures remained in place through 1916 until the ascension of Kaiser Karl. After this, Karl had many of the harsh measures rescinded and he released most Czech political prisoners from their confinement. Far from remaining silent, they expanded Czech nationalist agitation and made the Kaiser's hopes for imperial reform less than rosy.
Now, Coudenhove remained at his post through the end of the war and oversaw the new nationalist fervor with more strictness than his predecessor Thun von Hohenstein, but he was still bound by legal constraints. General Arz von Straussenburg was not as fearful of a Czech uprising as Conrad had been. Coudenhove sat by while the Czechs hosted a national minourities council in Prague in 1917, as it was in the Kaiser's spirit to allow this congress to publicly denounce the Empire's structure and domination by Germans and Magyars (it happened to follow Karl's line of thinking, even though the timing of such a congress amidst the throes of war did not sit well with anyone).
By October 1918, Coudenhove's situation was a tragic comedy, to say the least. The military commander in the city, Feldmarschalleutnant Zanantoni, was in control of practically a whole division to meet the threat of a revolution. But a revolution had already started and both his and Coudenhove's authority went unrecognised by the nationalists. Still, Coudenhove directed Zanantoni to close off the middle of Prag's old city with thousands of troops beginning on 14 October 1918, lasting until 16 October. The reason for this was a rumour that the nationalist council intended to declare a republic in the main square of the city. It did not happen and violence was averted.
But after the Battle of Vittorio Veneto resulted in mass desertions and thousands of troops trying to get home signalled the end of the war, both Coudenhove and Zanantoni sat tight while the Czech nationalists slowly took control of the city's civil offices and public works. Zanantoni was in the same position as General Geza Lukachich in Budapest: both were in possession of overwhelming military strength, but neither trusted the loyalty of their soldiers at this late date and neither particularly cared to test their loyalty by engaging the revolutionaries taking control in both cities. The republic was declared on 28 October 1918, and Graf Maximilian von Coudenhove did nothing but pack up his office, certain his long term as Bohemia's governor was finally at an end.
|The Rumburg Insurrection,
the most serious mutiny in Austria-Hungary
|By early 1918, the 7. Rifle Battalion was stationed in Rumburg, the northernmost town in Bohemia. It was a composed of mostly Czech and Slovak soldiers, but the locals were German-speakers. From this alone, there was noticeable friction between the German inhabitants and their well-armed Czech guardians. However, the situation was to be enflamed by what should have been a clear catalyst: POWs released from Russia.
Now, the condition of Austrian soldiers imprisoned in Russia should be considered. These men were despondent from defeat and capture. They were subject to tough treatment from their Russian masters and worked in the worst condition. They also had to live for years in miserable conditions, often in the deserts of Central Asia or in the wilds of Siberia, and were given inadequate nourishment. Finally, they were the logical targets of intense bolshevik propaganda, especially in their weakened state. The bolsheviks intended to bring about global revolution based out of Germany and her allied states. By returning POWs indoctrinated with Marxist thought, it was believed that their poison would infect the armies and bring total revolution closer to reality. The Austrian authorities did not see this eventuality. Rather, they shuffled their newly liberated countrymen back into the army, without convalescence. Of course, these men were in no condition to wage war, so they were given guard duty on the Home Front and behind the lines.
Thus, 839 ex-POWs were sent to the 7. Rifles at Rumburg in mid-May 1918. While on his way to Rumburg, a simple soldier named Noha immediately drew up a bold plan for overthrowing the government and bringing a collapse of the Austrian war machine from within. He plainly thought that all nationalities would join his Czech comrades in this endeavour. When the train pulled into the station on 21 May 1918, the soldiers marched to their assignments but refused to follow orders from their commander. Following a scuffle, the soldiers seized the arsenal and looted the supplies, freed prisoners in the local military jail, and began destroying communications. A soldier named Stanislav Vodicka took charge of a march on Prague. However, the train they had seized for their revolution was blocked at Haida, and they disembarked, marching to seize the town's centre. During the evening of 21 May, the Salzburg Regiment moved up from Prague and attacked the rebels. The battle lasted only a few moments, and one insurgent was killed, several others wounded.
Coudenhove notified the military authorities stationed throughout northern Bohemia that he expected a strong response by the tribunals; effectively, he wanted an example made out of these rebels. Courts-martials were handed out in Haida, Rumburg, and Theresienstadt. In all, 38 soldiers were charged with inciting rebellion; 31 were found guilty of insurgency, 24 were given death sentences (the rest received imprisonment), and 14 of the condemned were commuted to life sentences, leaving 10 rebels to face the firing squads. The Salzburg Regiment took care of the matter, and Czech propaganda had it that the Germans in Rumburg were playing with the lives of Czechs. It was a tense and dramatic situation, but the loyalty of the soldiers called to meet the challenge of the insurgents quickly took charge of the threat; the rebels were weakened by their belief that their message of "no war" would win the day. This was not the case.