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When Legionaries returned to Czechoslovakia, they were celebrated as heroes, laid the foundation of the modern Czechoslovak Army and were instrumental in the forging of a national spirit. With Czechoslovakia falling into the hands of Nazis, the narrative changed, and, after 1948, the Communists doubled down on anti-Legion propaganda and prosecution. As a result, whole generations were taught nothing at all, or were taught a brutally revised version of events. After the fall of Communism, it took almost ten years for the Legion to creep back into Czech and Slovak consciousness (and schoolbooks), but, with the huge gap in home-based scholarship, the general image is again incomplete and somehow romantically idealized. Potential war crimes are never explicitly mentioned.

Yet, during my discussions (both live and online), I frequently come across comments accusing the Czechoslovak Legion of crimes they committed in Russia. Especially after the recent release of The Last Train Home PC game. When I push for specifics, what I get is usually anecdotes, often confused from another campaigns of different armies, obviously taken from old communist propaganda or based on one terrifying book of Lieutenant General Konstantin Sakharov — The Czech Legions in Siberia

Obviously, the betrayal of Admiral Kolchak comes up quite frequently, but, since it is one of the better researched and documented events, it can be omitted from answers for this question.

What crimes of war did the Czechoslovak Legion commit during their retreat from Russia after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, for which we have undisputable proof or convincing academical consensus?

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    I suspect their fundamental crime was "Opposing the Bolsheviks." Nov 30, 2023 at 14:17
  • Czechoslovak Legion rebelled against the Communists while transiting through Russia - see Revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion - so there was some bad blood long before the rise of Nazis. Although many Czechs were socialists, their relationship with the Communists was fluctuating, as the latter were in the process of negotiating a peace treaty with Germans, but also tried to appease the allies, from time to time.
    – Roger V.
    Nov 30, 2023 at 15:24
  • Related Dec 1, 2023 at 11:00
  • Related Dec 1, 2023 at 11:00

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Legion as a counter-revolutionary force
Revolt of Czechoslovak legion took place in 1918-1920, i.e. during the Russian civil war. While the bulk of the legion was sympathizing with socialist ideas (as was not uncommon in those times), it was also unmistakably allied with the Entente. Although Bolsheviks initially agreed to the passage of the legion through Russia, they reneged on their promises after signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, likely under the German pressure (since the Germans didn't want the legion to reinforce the Western Front of Entente forces.) In response the legion rebelled and fought its way through Russia, allying for a while with Admiral Kolchak.

Thus, the Soviet animosity towards the legion was mostly due to its "counter-revolutionary" activity during the Russian civil war, preceding by a couple of decades the Czech involvement with Nazis.

War crimes
War crimes is a relatively new concept. The First and Second Geneva Conventions that already existed before World War 1 concerned mainly with the treatment of prisoners of war. In this sense applying the notion of war crimes to Czech actions against Russian population is a misnomer. Furthermore, the Legion was not technically in war with Russia, and didn't represent a state signatory to Geneva conventions (the legion members had various nationalities - Austro-Hungarians, Russians, etc., while independent Czechislovakia hadn't existed yet.)

Kolchak
Whatever were the Legion relations with Admiral Kolchak, this does not fall into the category of war crimes even in its modern sense.

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  • This does not answer the question. But also, by the time of WWI the concept of war crimes against civilians clearly existed, e.g. there were war crime trials for the massacre of Dinant (even if those trials did not result in convictions)
    – Jan
    Dec 1, 2023 at 17:06

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