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The Good Soldier Švejk

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Bigler, Hans Hermann Gustav
*25.12.1894 Blasewitz - †13.10.1962 Dresden

Heinz Knobloch/Erwin Bekier, Wochenpost nr. 46 1955.

Bigler (also written Biegler) was indisputably the prototype of Kadett Biegler, one of several characters in The Good Soldier Švejk that Hašek created with a real person in mind. Bigler served with Jaroslav Hašek in Infanterieregiment Nr. 91 in 1915, and one of the ranks he held was indeed cadet. Whereas many prototypes were "discovered" as early as 1924, Bigler remained an unknown entity until he surfaced in 1955 in a personal letter written to Dietz Verlag, the East German publisher of The Good Soldier Švejk.

Bigler was born in 1894 in Blasewitz, an affluent suburb of Dresden. As the son of a wealthy merchant and former ship captain (at Wolfgangsee) and a Berlin-born lady, he was obviously raised in privileged surroundings. As far as we know he had no siblings. His father lived in Dresden at least until young Hans was seven (his mother had died on 31 January 1900), and then the family appeared to have moved to Switzerland. Information on the first twenty years of Bigler's life is scarce, and even in army records his occupation at the time of enlisting in k.u.k. Heer is Privat, i.e. self-employed or even idle.

In documents from VÚA, Hans Bigler is listed with German nationality (i.e. Austro-German), religion protestant. The same source states that Bigler lived in Frauenfeld in Switzerland when he reported for service in 1914. On the other hand documents in Kriegsarchiv about reserve officer schools, indicate that he lived in Lausanne. This is at first sight a contradiction, but there may be a logical explanation. It has been verified that his father was Honorarkanzler at the Austro-Hungarian Vizekonsulat in Lausanne in 1914, and on Bigler's Vormerkblatt there is a note Convikt next to the word Frauenfeld. This indicates that he was studying at a boarding school in Frauenfeld (there was indeed a Canton school with student accommodation there), but could still have been officially registered as a resident of Lausanne. According to information provided by himself for the army records he spoke French and Italian fluently.

Details like rank and position in the army units are accurately mirrored in The Good Soldier Švejk. This despite the change of Bigler's first name to Adolf and him being portrayed as a native of Budějovice (in the words of Hauptmann Ságner). According to the records of the Reserve Officer School, Bigler was a Kriegsfreiwiliger, i.e. he volunteered for war service, and this was also the case with his literary counterpart.

Joining the Austro-Hungarian army

Qualifikationsliste. Post-war Czech translation.


Due to the family's roots in Koloděje nad Lužnicí (German Kaladei/Kaladey) in South Bohemia he had Heimatrecht within the recruitment area of IR 91. Bigler enlisted on 24 October 1914 as a one-year volunteer and attended the reserve officer school in Budějovice. At the school (often called Einjährig-Freiwilligerschule) he obtained good grades. On 22 December he was promoted to Gefreiter, his rank when Jaroslav Hašek reported on 17 February 1915. On 24 February he became a Korporal. His education was completed on 5 March, and his promotion to Zugsführer followed the next day. He served as an instructor at the school until the end of the month. On 1 April he was transferred to the 3rd replacement company, promoted to Feldwebel, serving as Kadettaspirant and Zugskommandant. He had surely by know met Hašek who was initially enrolled in the 1st replacement company but later transferred to the 3rd (probably after returning from hospitalisation).

On 1 June 1915 Ersatzbataillon IR. 91 was transferred to Királyhida and around this date the XII. Marschbataillon was formed. Bigler was assigned to the 4th march company, which commander was senior lieutenant Rudolf Lukas. On 13 June Bigler was promoted to Kadett in der Reserve, the rank that made him famous. His role was still squad commander (Zugskommandant). The march battalion left Királyhida on 30 June, and on 11 July it reached the front and where it offset the losses of the field regiment. Bigler and Jaroslav Hašek both continued to serve under Lukas, now in the 11. Feldkompanie. This unit belonged to the 3rd field battalion (commanded by Oberleutnant Čeněk Sagner).


"Belohnungsantrag" (request for reward), 6.8.1915

© ÖStA

Hat als Zugskommandant am 25. 7. laufenden Jahres nächst Poturzyce einen feindlichen Gegenstoß gegen den rechten Flügel der eigenen Angriffsgruppe durch rasches, umsichtiges Eingreifen erfolgreich abgeschlagen, wobei er selbst persönlichen Mut und Tapferkeit an den Tag legte. Im weiteren Verlauf des Angriffes am 26. 7. führte er seinen Zug mit bestem Erfolg gegen den Feind vor, wobei er seine Leute durch persönliches Beispiel an Unerschrockenheit mitriss und mit diesen zahlreiche Gefangene machte.

Steht seit 30. 6. 1915 im Felde.

Antrag B. (?) T. M. II Kl (Bronzene / Silberne / Goldene Tapferkeitsmedaille 2. Klasse)Transkription dank Doris & Gert Kerschbaumer

Bigler distinguished himself during the battle by Sokal (25 - 31 July 1915) and was promoted to Fähnrich (in der Reserve) on 1 August 1915, the same day that Hašek was promoted to Gefreiter. In the aftermath of Sokal he was also awarded a silver medal for bravery. As the above Belohnungsantrag reveals the award was a result of his conduct by Poturzyca during the first two days of the battle. As squad commander he demonstrated bravery and fearlessness and thus encouraged his men by example. His squad also captured numerous enemies. The decoration took place on 18 August, one the very day that Bigler fell ill. It is therefore unclear if he received the medal that day or had to wait until later.

A sick-tale of literary proportions

After the battle IR 91 was placed in the reserve and relocated to Żdżary, 15 km north of Sokal. Here Bigler assumed a new role, serving at battalion staff with Čeněk Sagner as his direct superior. In these relatively peaceful surrounding the regiment stayed until a new offensive was launched on 27 August 1915. For the first time IR 91 advanced onto Russian territory, and they reached Dubno before the offensive ground to a halt.


Note from 18 August 1915, Bigler suffering from gastroenteritis and typhoid fever.


Advancing into Russia was an undertaking Bigler never had the privilege to take part in. On 18 August 1915 he fell ill with gastroenteritis and typhoid fever. It is a twist of irony that on this very day, the Emperor's 85th birthday, both Hašek and Bigler were awarded silver medals (second class) for bravery, but only the future author of The Good Soldier Švejk was to carry his medal into enemy territory. Bigler's route went, perhaps fortunately for him, back into the hinterland, from one Red Cross hospital to another. Via Lwów he ended up in Linz, and it was only on 28 November that he was back in active duty with Ersatzbataillon IR. 91 in Királyhida (his absence included restitution in Linz and Budějovice. By then Hašek had already been captured (Chorupan, 24 September) and IR 91 transferred to the front in Italy. It is easy to imagine that the sad state of Bigler's bowels on 18 August served as inspiration for Jaroslav Hašek when he assigned a similarly unsavoury fate to his unfortunate Kadett Biegler.

Bigler saw out the war unhurt. On 1 July 1916 he attained the rank Leutnant, and was on 1 September 1918 promoted to Oberleutnant. Like the rest of the regiment he served at the Italian front by Isonzo and Piave, but not with Rudolf Lukas and Čeněk Sagner anymore. The last official record we have of his war-time whereabouts is that the returned to the field with the 40th march battalion on 23 May 1918. The regiment was at the time stationed by Piave.


From IR 91's casualty list.

© ÖStA/Jan Ciglbauer

In an interview in 1955 he reveals that he was taken prisoner by Saloniki[a], a statement that at first glance appears like nonsense, but in the end makes sense. After Bulgaria pulled out of the war Infanteriedivision Nr. 9 was transferred from the Piave front to southern Serbia to fill the gap left by the Bulgarians on the so-called Saloniki Front. The transfer took place in early October and IR 91 and the other regiments of the division reached the battle field on 3 October 1918.

Thus Bigler served at he front longer than any of the other real-life prototypes of characters from The Good Soldier Švejk. Military records (Vormerkblatt) show the date of his captivity: 6 November 1918, i.e. after the armistice. He was released on 20 June 1919. IR 91's Verlustliste however provides a more plausible explanation. On 6 October 1918 he was reported missing at the hills north-east of Priboj (Прибој)[b], 100 km south of Niš on the Macedonian front.

An incriminating "Vormerkblatt"

Vormerkblatt für die Qualifikationsbeschreibung, 1915


Bigler's records from the period he served in Jaroslav Hašek's units reveal some unflattering parallels to his literary counter-part. The document was written by Sagner and signed by him and Lukas, his nearest superiors during that period. It is close to character assassination, and shows many of the negative personal qualities that Hašek assigned to Kadett Biegler. He was "an unsteady character, boastful, arrogant, ruthless, indifferent, had no sense of duty and only of use when under supervision". The verdict was that he was unfit to become a regular officer.

It is very clear that his superiors didn't think much of him, and we can easily imagine that the conflict between Hauptmann Ságner and the young cadet from the novel might have some real-life background. Some of Čeněk Sagner's notes seem strange and even smell of personal antipathy. He writes that Bigler was a failure during fighting, apart from at Sokal. Seen on the background that his company before and after this battle were involved in only minor engagements, this assertion appears strange. A soldier that was decorated for bravery and promoted after the battle can't have been that useless?

Vormerkblatt für die Qualifikationsbeschreibung
für die Zeit von 1 Juni 1915 bis 28 November 1915.
1Charge/StandesverhaltnisFähnrich i d. R. [in der Reserve]
2Vor- und ZunameBigler Hans
3Standeszuständiger Truppenkörper (Militärkommando [Landwehrgruppe] bzw. Landsturmbezirkskommando)I R. 91
4Befördert (womöglich PVBl)1. 8. 15 zum Fhrch i. d. R [Fähnrich in der Reserve]
5Im Laufe des Krieges verliehene Allerhöchste Auszeichnungen, dann Belobungen von Divisionskommando aufwärts (womöglich Anführung des PVBl. oder Befehls)O 2 P. V. Bl. 18 7/15
6Kurze Beschreibung betreffs Charakter, militärischer Eigenschaften, Verhalten im Gefechte, besondere Waffentaten und TätigkeitenUngefestigter Charakter, großsprecherisch, wenig aufrichtig, unter Aufsicht für Ausbildungszwecke geeignet / hat bis auf die Schlacht bei Sokal im Gefechte versagt. Kein Pflichtgefühl.
7Eignung zur Führung des nächtshöheren Kommandos. Funktionen. Besondere Eignung für bestimmte Dienstzweige oder PostenKeine
8Einwirkung auf Untergebene, Eignung zur Führung von Offizierskorps, Anstalten etc.Überhebend, rücksicht[s]los, zeigt wenig Verständnis für die Behandlung des einfachen Mannes, nicht fürsorglich, gleichgiltig [gleichgültig] / nur unter Aufsicht verwendbar.
9AnmerkungZur Aktivierung [zum aktiven Dienst im Militär] ungeeignet. Bei entsprechend scharfer Anleitung u[nd] Führung dürfte er sein Wesen und [seinen] Charakter ändern.
10Datum und Unterschrift des (der) Verfassers(s); hiebei bestätigen, für welche Zeit die Beschreibung von jeden derselben giltBruck-Királyhida [= Bruckneudorf, damals Westungarn, heute Burgenland], 29. 10. 1917 / gilt für die Zeit von 1. 6. – zirka 28. 7. 1915 / für die gleiche Zeit / Sagner Hptm. Rud Lukas Oblt.
Transkription dank Doris & Gert Kerschbaumer

After the war

Bigler lived in Pohlandstrasse 20, Blasewitz from 1933 and at least until 1955.

After being released from captivity in 1919 Bigler first returned to Switzerland, then moved to Czechoslovakia, where he is registered as reserve officer in the young state's army between 1920 until 1924. Documents from the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defence (MNO) reveals that he was released from military duty in 1927 after obtaining German citizenship.

From 1933 to 1944 he is recorded with address Dresden, Blasewitz, Pohlandstrasse 20, but he had already lived at another address in Dresden from 1931. His whereabouts between 1927 and 1931 are not known. Curiously enough documents from the Czechoslovak ministry of Defence gives his occupation as Konsul but no traces of any consul Biegler can be found in the address books of Dresden from that time. Was this just another example of the boastfulness described in his Vormerkblatt and in the novel itself?

Surfacing again

Persecuted by the Nazis, saved by an Allied bomb-raid.

Literární Noviny 8.10.1955.

In 1955 he "surfaced" publicly after having read The Good Soldier Švejk and discovered that he in fact was the prototype of Kadett Biegler. In interviews he revealed that he was not ashamed of it despite the rough treatment Jaroslav Hašek dished out. He even said that most of what was written about him in The Good Soldier Švejk was true. He still lived at the same address, and here he was interviewed by Literární Noviny[a]. News about him also appeared in Rudé Pravo, Wochenpost (Berlin) and in Volksstimme (Vienna).

In the interview in Literární Noviny it was revealed that his father, who had been consul in Switzerland, was murdered in Bergen-Belsen because his Ahnenpass was unsatisfactory. Hans Bigler himself was apparently spared the same fate by a bomb attack that destroyed the Gestapo HQ with his official papers. This makes it obvious that the family on his father's side was of Jewish origin. At the time of his "surfacing" he worked in a hospital. Hans Bigler lived in Dresden for the rest of his life. He was married but there is no record of the couple having any children. He died in 1962 and was cremated at Tolkewitz cemetery.

Ev.-Luth. Kirchgemeinde Dresden-Blasewitz: Hans Hermann Gustav Biegler, geboren 25. Dezember 1894 Dresden, getauft 24. Januar 1895 Dresden-Blasewitz, 1. Kind. Verstorben 13. Oktober 1962 Dresden, bestattet 19. Oktober 1962 Krematorium Dresden-Tolkewitz. Beruf: kfm. Angestellter, verheiratet. Vater: Eduard Biegler, Kapitän aus Wels in Oberösterreich, ständig in Gmunden in Österreich, ev.-ref. Mutter: Eugenie Luise Johanna geb. von Eichhorn aus Berlin, ev.-luth.

Eduard Bigler

Handelsregister, 1900


Address in 1902. Note the distinctions from Japan, Turkey and Austria-Hungary


Stolperstein in the memory of Eduard Bigler (Salzburg)

In May 2013, thanks to the research of Dr. Gert Kerschbaumer in Salzburg, it became possible to identify Bigler's father, who was mentioned in the interview in Literární Noviny. The father was Eduard Bigler, was born in Wels, Oberösterreich on 15 March 1868, son of David and Rosa Bigler, a Jewish couple who had moved there from Kaladey (Koloděje nad Lužnicí), South Bohemia. In Vienna in January 1894 Eduard Bigler converted to protestantism (Evangelical reformed - Helvetic Confession). It is also clear from Kerschbaumer’s research that Bigler lived in Dresden for a while. Further Eduard Bigler was in 1894 registered as ship captain, marital status single. The parish in Blasewitz adds that he was married to Eugenie Luise Johanna von Eichhorn from Berlin and that they had a son Hans Hermann Gustav. This suggests that they married in 1894.

The address books of Dresden provide further information. Here Eduard Biegler is registered from 1899 to 1902, home address Blasewitz, business address Dresden. His firm dealt in luxury furniture and art. By 1902 he had evidently sold it, and his private address is no longer registered. Interestingly he is listed in the address book of 1902 with distinctions from foreign nations: Turkey, Japan and Austria-Hungary. In 1914 and 1918 newspapers notices reveals that he was Honorarkanzler at the k.u.k Vizekonsulat in Lausanne, and had been given an award by the Red Cross.

In 1921 he reappears in Salzburg, now registered as Kaufmann (merchant). Here he served as Argentine vice-consul and was married to Jolanda, born Goldberger. Moreover, it transpires that his last address before Salzburg was Zurich, Bleicherweg 5. He held onto his domicile rights in Koloděje/Kaladey until 1921, and this explains why Hans Bigler belonged to the 91st infantry regiment.

Anschluss in 1938 created serious difficulties for the Bigler couple. Their property was "aryanised", ie. confiscated, but they saved their lives by taking Argentine citizenship. In 1944 Argentina entered the war on the Allied side, and the situation worsened: they were no longer protected as citizens of a neutral state. The Bigler couple were deported to Bergen-Belsen, to a special camp for foreign Jews. Eduard Bigler was murdered on 4 June 1944, at the age of 76.

His wife Jolanda survived and fought several court cases after the war to retrieve the confiscated property, mostly in vain. In Salzburg there is now laid down a Stolperstein (stumble-stone) in memory of Eduard Bigler.

Sources: ÖStA, VÚA, Gert Kerschbaumer, Luth.Evang. Pfarre Blasewitz, Literární Noviny, Wochenpost, Bohumil Vlček


aKadet BiglerMarie Tomanová, Literární noviny8.10.1955
bSeznamy ztrát - 91. pěší plukÖStA-Jan Ciglbauer2021

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