Obituary of a Democracy
Martha Gellhorn’s 1940 novel is not a great book, but an important one. Her book can be viewed as a novelized version of her December 10, 1938 Collier’s Weekly article entitled “Obituary of a Democracy” which described life in post-Munich Prague. Gellhorn arrived in Prague just after covering the Spanish Civil War where she established her reputation as a war reporter and was Ernest Hemingway’s lover. She would become his third wife in 1940 and go on to become one of the great war reporters of the 20th Century.
The novel’s protagonist is reporter Mary Douglas, Gellhorn’s alter ego if you will. She is there to cover the demoralization of Czechoslovakia after being sold out by England and France at Munich. As a result the Czechs surrendered the Sudetenland to Hitler. With that the Czech’s lost their defensible border with Germany and it became inevitable that the Germany would ultimately swallow up the heart of the country.
Mary Douglas notes the demoralization of the Czech Army which was not defeated in battle as the soldiers return home. It is one thing to lose a war; it is another to surrender without a fight. With the German occupation of the Sudetenland, Prague is flooded with refugees who join other fleeing Hitler from Germany and Austria. Among the Germans are two communists, Peter and Rita who Douglas befriends. Little did they know that their resistance to Hitler would soon be sold out by Stalin. Those two organize safe houses for the refugees but with European borders closed they are trapped when the Czech government orders them all home. Rita and Peter then go on the run and Peter would soon face a horrific torture by Gestapo agents operating with seeming impunity in Prague. Democracy is dying.
Gellhorn’s prose puts you in the place of the demoralized soldier, the struggling resistance and the hopeless refugee. In a way it is a lesson for our time.
For the Amazon URL see: