“The most terrible struggle in our recent history is being played out. It is not only a struggle for our land, it is a struggle for our soul.... A thousand years of tradition suffice for a nation to learn once and for always these two things: to defend its existence, and with all its heart and all its strength to stand on the side of peace and liberty.” ~Karel Čapek
Fearing the growing power of Germany, Karel Čapek warned against the forces of evil in his works. In the satirical science fiction The War with the Newts (1936), sea-dwelling newts are discovered. In time, the newts demand more living space, a reference to Nazi Germany desiring more “Lebensraum.” With the inevitable war looming, Karel Čapek produced his last play, The Mother (Matka, 1938). The antiwar drama focuses on a mother losing her husband and four sons to war, ending with her sending off her last living son to join the struggle for freedom and humanity, with the word, “Go.” He pled with his country on the imminent danger of war in his essay, “To the Consciousness of the World.” Čapek refused to flee after Czechoslovakia was taken over by Germany in October of 1938, even though he was informed that he was third on the Gestapo’s detainment list. He died at the age of 48 of pneumonia on the evening of December 25, 1938, three months before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia.
After his death, the prolific American playwright Arthur Miller said, "There was no writer like him…prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humor and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination." Čapek was also praised by such renowned writers as Kurt Vonnegut, Milan Kundera, and Stanislaw Lem. A world-class author, he wrote with intelligence and humor. Through his incredible works, he remains an unfaltering advocate of humanism and democracy, a voice of reason and hope even in some of the most difficult times.
Photo Courtesy: Karel Čapek Memorial
Broadcasting the Christmas message of peace, December 24, 1937. Standing, from left, Professor O. Matousek, Karel Čapek, and Professor V. Lesny. Electrical pioneer František Krizik (seated), often called the "Czech Edison," at the time of the peace message broadcasts.