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Records of YMCA International Work in Czechoslovakia

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-9


Reports, correspondence, printed material, and other records of the North American YMCA's work in Czechoslovakia. The bulk of the records focus on the period between the two World Wars, when the YMCA movement expanded quickly, growing out of earlier work with armed services in World War I, and continue through 1951, when the Association was dissolved by the communist government that had taken over in 1948. Records describe the YMCA's work providing housing for students, running a summer camp program, building programs, and other activities. With the onset of World War II in the late 1930s, the records focuses increasingly on the political situation. The "History and Background" series includes many reports on the history of the YMCA movement in the region, including a dissertation written by Lawrence Aplin, who served as YMCA secretary there from 1945 to 1950. Additional historical and background material can be found in the series of printed material, along with publications of the Czech YMCA. The collection also includes a small body of material from after the 1950s, primarily correspondence and reports describing efforts to restart the YMCA in Czechoslovakia.


  • 1921-1969, 1990-1991
  • Majority of material found within ( 1921-1969).


Language of Materials

English, Czech, German

Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


YMCAs in the area formerly known as Czechoslovakia pre-date the coming of representatives from the North American movement; the earliest seems to have been organized in Prague in 1888. Like much of the other YMCA work in Europe, the American YMCA's involvement really began during World War I. Service to Czechoslovak legionnaires in France, Italy, Siberia, and elsewhere led to a request from the newly formed Czechoslovak government for a similar program in the army. In 1919 an agreement was entered into between the Czech government and the Association authorities in Paris and New York, and by May 1919, twelve buildings or "huts" were in operation. Headquarters were established in Prague and large numbers of American YMCA secretaries were sent. Typical programs included organizing lectures and addresses on religion and morals, as well as athletics. In 1919 a school for training personnel was begun. Work with the Czech army peaked in 1920 with seventy fully equipped centers in operation.

The popularity of the YMCA's work with the army soon resulted in request to expand the work to the civilian population. Early work, led by Donald Lowrie, Howard B. Durkee, Walter W. Gethman, and others, focused on serving students, who had urgent needs for housing, cheap meals, and a social and study center. The Association constructed a large army type of YMCA hut in Prague, known as the Studensky Domov, which served the thousands who flocked to the university following the war. Building on the army work, the International Committee selected and trained a body of Czech secretaries who facilitated the relatively quick development of a self-supporting YMCA movement in that country. The first National Convention was held in July 1921 and a Central Committee chosen. Later that year Walter W. Gethman was elected national secretary. A few weeks later the International Committee had offered its property in Czechoslovakia to the Central Committee. Growth of the movement was rapid, with 120 associations in operation by 1923. Six buildings were erected during 1923 and 1924. In 1928 the Prague building was completed and was said to have been equaled by no other Association building outside the United States.

Summer camps for boys were developed and proved popular. They were entirely new in Europe and became models for the camping and youth organizations of the country. A publishing department was set up which issued books and magazines. In 1926 Gethman became general secretary of the World's Committee and Durkee was appointed senior secretary for Czechoslovakia. By 1931, there were 325 associations with over 22,000 members. This rapid expansion brought financial problems however, chiefly relating to the debt accumulated from construction, which left the Czechoslovak association ill-prepared to face the Depression and consequent decline in funds and personnel from North America. After an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds in the U.S. from American-Bohemian sources, Durkee left and Charles T. Tidball became senior secretary with a much-reduced staff. The Association persevered, however, and continued to thrive. Physical work flourished and educational classes, cultural groups, summer camps, and boys' and young men's clubs(including Hi-Y and Y's Men clubs) continued to expand until the German occupation. By 1938, believing that the Czechoslovak Association was solid enough to stand on its own feet and no longer needed help from North America, the final remaining fraternal secretary, Brackett Lewis, resigned after five years as general secretary in Prague and five as national secretary.

With the onslaught World War II, the North American International Board stepped in again, along with the Associations of Scandinavia, Holland, and Great Britain to help provide aid for the many refugees that flooded what was left of Czechoslovakia after portions were annexed by Germany and Hungary. Under the German protectorate and subsequent occupation, Associations were increasingly restricted and secretaries were under the scrutiny of the Gestapo. A student secretary, Jaroslav Simsa, and two of his volunteer leaders lost their lives in underground opposition to the Nazis. In Slovakia in 1941, the Association was ordered dissolved. In 1943 a command for dissolution in Bohemia and Moravia followed. The Association did not entirely disappear, however, managing to carry on under the protection of the churches.

In 1945 Czechoslovakia was again independent and measures were taken to restore the YMCAs with the help of the International Board. Lawrence Aplin arrived in October 1945 as its representative. Under his direction, much of the Association's work focused on youth left orphaned or half-orphaned by the war. The coup of 1948 by which the Communists seized power did not immediately put an end to the YMCA but quickly created new problems. The government ordered a single official Communist youth movement called the Cz.J.M. The YMCA attempted to remain independent on the grounds that it was more than a youth organization. In its efforts to remain a representative of non-Communist Western-style democracy, it soon became viewed as a center of opposition to communism. The situation rapidly deteriorated and in 1950, Aplin was withdrawn. For a time the Association was permitted to operate but activities with youth under eighteen years of age were prohibited and raising funds by public subscriptions was forbidden. For a few months grants continued form the government, but in February 1951 the Association was dissolved and its property was taken over by the Union of Czechoslovak Youth.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Czechoslovakia, along with their dates of service, if known:

Allen, P. McGregor (1919-1925) Lewis, John Brackett (1928-1938)
Aplin, Lawrence Edgar D. (1945-1950) Lowrie, Donald A. (1922-1930)
Barden, Henry Clark (1918-1925) Machotka, Joseph Frank (1920-1925)
Duffy, Edward Francis (1931-1934) Riess, Lewis William (1921-1924)
Durkee, Howard Bertram (1920-1929) Riley, Charles Wood (1922-1931)
Gethman, Walter W. (1925-1926) Sommerville, Joseph John (1924-1933)
Jennings, Asa Kent (1921-1925) Vavrina, Vaclav (1920-1933)
Karlovsky, Ludwig George (1921-1927) Watts, Richard Nottingham (1927-1929)
Lamb, Charles Stanley (1919-1921)
Historical information adapted and largely quoted from World Service: A History of Foreign work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada,by Kenneth LaTourette, and from the collection.


4 Cubic Feet (10 boxes)


Reports, correspondence, printed material and other records of YMCA work in Czechoslovakia, primarily during the period between World War I and the Communist take-over in 1948.

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Biographical information on many of the secretaries involved in Czech work (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, August 2010, as collection FP006.

Catalog Record ID number: 5930166

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area