History has more than once demonstrated what a great influence on all humanity a single human mind can have. When Henry Dunant, a young man from Switzerland, decided to organise the first group of volunteers to help wounded soldiers after the Battle of Solferino in Italy in 1859, he did not know he was laying the foundations of the world’s largest humanitarian organisation The Red Cross was born in the heart of Swiss businessman Henry Dunant (1828–1910) on 24 June 1859, when he was an eye witness to one of the bloodiest battles of the century, the Battle of Solferino in Italy.
A meeting of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare decided to organise an international conference in Geneva that was attended by experts from 16 countries. The conference adopted the red cross on a white background (the inverse of the Swiss flag) as a distinguishing sign. Its purpose was to identify and protect those who would take care of wounded soldiers. The Red Cross as an institution had entered the world. The conclusions of the international conference recommended the establishment of national volunteer societies. These became known as the national red cross and red crescent societies.
In 1986 the Red Cross adopted a new name: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, though it is sometimes still known as the International Red Cross. At present the worldwide International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement includes 185 national societies, 200 million volunteers and 275,000 employees.
In the Kingdom of Hungary prior to 1918, it operated through the Hungarian Red Cross Society. The Red Cross already existed in Žilina before 1886, when it helped townspeople whose houses had been damaged in a great fire. The Czechoslovak Red Cross was founded in 1919. Its founder was Dr. Alica Masaryková. It was headed by a general staff with a division in Slovakia based in Martin and Bratislava. Local organisations functioned mainly in towns. In 1928 the division comprised 127 branches in 80 districts, including Žilina. The Czechoslovak Red Cross had been present in Žilina since 1919. In this year a mission of the English red cross led by Lady Muriel Paget purchased the manor house in Bytčica and established a sanatorium for children called the Žilina Children’s Clinic with an opening ceremony at 2 p.m. on 25/02/1921.
Muriel Paget had met President Masaryk in Siberia during World War One and spent a week travelling him, which had sparked an interest in Czechoslovaks for her. She came to visit the newly established Czechoslovak Republic in February 1919 and when she learned about the poor condition of the children, she started to help them. She organised not just collections of clothing in England but also sewing for Czechoslovak children. She also raised funds for her work from a variety of sources and in March she returned to Slovakia with a mission. She established a convalescent home in Košice, a children’s home in Modra, food dispensaries for children in Žilina, Vrútky, Uzhhorod and Ružomberok and three kitchens in Turzovka and the surrounding mountains. When there was an outbreak of typhus in Slovakia, she established an isolation hospital for infectious diseases in Turzovka, where a nurse in the English mission, M. Callum, became ill and died.
In 1920 Muriel Paget concentrated her activities in the area of Čadca and Žilina, where she earned her place in local history by establishing the children’s hospital in Bytčica. The hospital was established in a former manor house purchased by the Czechoslovak Red Cross. Its operating costs for its first year came were covered mainly by donations and it was managed for a year by the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva. Children’s clinics were established in 16 locations with high levels of poverty of northern Slovakia (Žilina, Čadca, Turzovka, Makov, Veľká Bytča, Rajec, Považská Bystrica, Mariková, Fačkov, Dolný Kubín, Zázrivá, Námestovo, Tvrdošín, Spišská Nová Ves, Prešov and Kremnica) with the aim of advising mothers on how to look after infants and providing them with medicines, clothes, soap and care. In a year, the clinics treated 7,116 children and 1,032 mothers in 22,326 treatments and 12,616 medical visits. The activity of the children’s clinics was promoted through “Baby Week” celebrations which Lady Paget organised all over Slovakia in August 1921. The Czechoslovak Red Cross took over the children’s clinics on 01 January 1922, noting the exemplary work of the English mission. In 1920 and 1921 Lady Paget was also busy in the Baltic countries and she moved there after three years of work in Slovakia in February 1922. At the time, the newspaper wrote: “Her departure was accompanied by warm expressions of thanks for her pioneering social work in Slovakia and she left behind a great deal of work and personal memories of an energetic organiser who found the meaning of life in working to help others.”
In the Czech National Library in Prague there is a transcript of a letter from an unknown sender with the initials A. M. Č. giving a detailed description of the opening of the children’s hospital in Bytčica. It may interest you to read the full text:
The invited guests, representatives of various voluntary organisations, are arriving by train from Košice, Lučenec and Bratislava. Their destination: Žilina. There are a lot of women in uniform; these are the ladies from Lady Muriel Paget’s mission. Our group from Martin (Mrs Štekláčová, Miss Fabriciusová, Dr. Kofránek and myself) are on our way too. With us is that devoted friend of that friend of Slovakia Scotus Viator, Rev. Ruppeldt. All of us are heading for the train ready to set off for Rajec. We get into the carriage. We are the first of “our set” but only for a few minutes; soon a whole crowd comes after us; all familiar faces that we know from Red Cross work. We saw Miss Hudcová, who is so devoted to the people that when the typhus broke out last year, she visited Turzovka and the surrounding countryside and worked so hard that she ended up having to spend a few weeks in the hospital there. Then there was Mrs Lacková, on her way back from a Red Cross meeting in Prague, Dr. Kreitz, Dr. Švamberk and others. We hurried along, and we were soon in Bytčica. What did we find there? Gone was the Kubelíks’ palace, and in its place was a safe haven for Slovak children, who get such a poor upbringing in the hovels of our impoverished people. We were welcomed by an English nurse speaking in English, but we could all understand her. Those who didn’t understand the words from her mouth understood the language of her heart. And then it struck us that our quarrelsome, limelight-hogging politicians, constantly boosting their “ego” would do better to dedicate themselves to such very serious work with people that would cultivate more love for the nation, raise more offspring to build the state, and enhance the general happiness. Oh no! There is no wish for that. Let somebody else do that! Who? How about Lady Muriel Paget, who has already shown that she has room in her heart for our children. But to return to Bytčica. The front room soon, very soon, filled up with the arriving guests. We looked around for our Alica Masaryková, but she wasn’t there! She was deputised by Minister Procházka (editor’s note: Alica Masaryková did not come because she was with her father the president, who was then seriously ill with a temperature of 37.2°C). When everyone had arrived, we went upstairs to the reception room. The room seemed too small for everyone but “there can never be too much of a good thing” and we all squeezed in. We were quiet; the opening ceremony was starting. I was watching someone who was getting ready to speak. Who? I had never seen him before. It was the head of Trenčín county, Mr Bellai (Note – actually Dr. Kállai). He welcomed Minister Procházka, Lady Paget and all of us. We were pleasantly surprised that the county head cares so much for our offspring, that he loves what the Hungarians hated and is trying to preserve as many children as possible in Slovakia. When it was the minister’s turn to speak, he told us what his “medical” heart dictated to him. He also promised to save as many of our little ones as possible. He also spoke for Dr. Alice Masaryková, who was originally planning to open the hospital but could not come because she had to be by the side of her sick father, who is not just hers but a father to all of us. We want to him to live for many, many more years… Lady Paget’s speech was beautifully interpreted into Slovak by Mrs Paulínyčka. – But what more could Lady Paget really tell us? The hospital itself spoke for her. What we might not have felt when we saw the hospital or heard Lady Paget’s words, we felt when the nurses appeared carrying a 3-year-old boy with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley in his hand which he presented to the mother of the hospital. That moved many hearts. Lady P. was followed by the director general of the medical department of the League of Red Cross Societies, Dr C. E. A. Winslow, who had come from Geneva. He also spoke in English and he had our Rev. Ruppeldt as his “right hand” (Note: Ruppeldt was the Lutheran pastor in Žilina at this time and was able to speak English). What was this man like? He was a typical American, brought up to be a good brother to every nation of the world. In the end, Minister Procházka closed the speeches by going to the door and opening it – to the sight of pure snow-white walls. We went forward a few steps and saw a whole row of beds. The hospital currently only has capacity for 30 children. We only saw 4 children but another 15 had been released earlier. One of the saddest things we saw was a child dying of consumption. They looked like they were just 8-9 months old, but they were in reality already 3 years old. We all went through the whole hospital and talked about how important it is and we also discussed volunteer work and collections to save those who cannot save themselves. Who donates to the Red Cross just like that? Who? The rich are more careful with their money than the poor: Those with full bellies do not trust the starving… I must emphasise that the Red Cross will take over management of the hospital after a year. Until then, it is planned that Lady Paget and the League of Red Cross Societies will finance it. One wish I have is that Slovak women should be as willing to make sacrifices for their own nation as English women are for others. When will we be grown up enough for that? The Red Cross “drive” is coming up. How many of you and us will take part? How many thousands or millions of crowns will we collect?
The children’s hospital established by the English mission in Bytčica in an extension of the manor house.
Other written sources from 1920 inform us that the building for the children’s hospital was purchased by the Czechoslovak Red Cross and that the League of Red Cross Societies set it up through Lady Paget’s mission. At that time the building had no lighting, no connection to the sewers, water mains or other infrastructure, which was still in preparation. Proceedings were commenced with the Ministry of Health for the sale of the hospital to the state administration. After long negotiations, the Czechoslovak Red Cross definitively bought the manor house for 1,250,000 crowns in 1921 and the children’s ward of the State Hospital in Žilina was established there under the leadership of Dr Ivan Hálek in 1923. There was interest in setting up a headquarters for the Žilina branch of the Czechoslovak Red Cross in the town itself, where various services could usefully be provided. In December 1922 a social and health centre for children was established in the Žilina town school on what is now Zaymusova ulica. It had one consulting room and a waiting room. The staff were a paediatrician, Dr Gross, and a nurse – first Jana Faltýnová, then from 01 February to the end of October Jiřina Hajnová and from 01 November 1923 Božena Šturmová. They were assisted by three volunteers – Mrs Bacherová, Mrs Klimešová and Mrs Kubicová. In 1923 the Žilina branch of the Czechoslovak Red Cross had 415 members compared to the 62 members it had had at its foundation in 1919. The chairman of the branch was Andrej Bacher, the manager of the bank Slovenská banka in Žilina; his deputy was the mayor and businessman Štefan Tvrdý (who died in 1925), the manager was Fedor Ruppeldt, the secretary was Rudolf Franca, a teacher in the grammar school, the treasurer was businessman Jozef Gáal. The branch engaged in various activities including public education through lectures. The branch also organised a festival each spring in the town forest where there was music, a procession and a collection towards the future health centre. The Baby Week festival was combined with an exhibition and promoted awareness of good hygiene habits. The branch also organised nursing courses. It also distributed food and clothes to the poor. In December 1922 they set up an ambulance service with a motorised ambulance. Koloman Thuranský, who had completed a medical course, became the leader of the ambulance service. By 1924 the membership had increased to 659 persons, each of whom paid an annual membership of 2,000 crowns.
The premises in the town school were only temporary and were not large enough to allow larger-scale activities. The branch therefore made plans to build two buildings on land donated by the town in the Závaží neighbourhood. According to the construction plans made by Karol Pawer and the instructions from Division headquarters in Bratislava, the plan was to begin by buildings a two-storey social health institute. This was not built, unfortunately. Since the branch had to leave its previous premises in the town school, they first built a one-storey building with a cellar in the rear part of the lot based on a design by Karol Pawer. The building was completed on 17 October 1924. Inside there were two consulting rooms, a treatment room and two waiting rooms.
In the improved conditions after the construction of the new Red Cross building, the branch’s clinic could focus not only on the treatment of sick children but also on protecting mothers. They examined and treated mainly lung diseases and vision impairment amongst others and the clinic also had an inpatient section. From 1929 the clinic also treated sexually transmitted diseases.
The Czechoslovak Red Cross branch built today’s two-storey building in 1927. Unfortunately, the building’s plans have not survived. Construction lasted from 25 March 1927 to 10 November 1927, when the occupancy certificate was issued. The house had a basement containing a caretaker’s flat. This building was also built by Karol Pawer’s construction firm.
Another interesting piece of history related to the Red Cross is that the branch in Žilina used to run a cinema called BIO HUMANITAS in the theatre of the Catholic House from 1927. Although a licence was issued for showing films in this building in 1927, the branch had been showing films at other locations since 1925. The Catholic House and the National Theatre were built in 1925–1926 on what is now Hurbanova ulica by the Catholic Circle Association, which created the Cooperative for the Construction of the Catholic House for this purpose under the leadership of the rector of Žilina, Tomáš Ružička. The neoclassical building was based on a design by the Czech architect Stanislav Koníček, who worked in Žilina from 1923. The design already anticipated that the theatre with a stage and space for musicians could be used to show films. The theatre was able to seat 530 spectators. Seating was on folding seats and there was linoleum on the tiled floor. The theatre had its own heating from four American stoves.
There was electric lighting powered from the public grid with batteries as a back-up. There were four exits from the theatre and there were stairs leading up to a gallery where there was gallery and balcony seating for 113 spectators. The cinema had separate projection booths and film storeroom. The cinema was managed by Emanuel Salaquarda and Aladár Šterk was the projectionist. In 1932 the cinema offered 282 seats for 6 crowns a ticket, 120 for 5 crowns, 80 for 4 crowns, 80 for 3 crowns and 80 for 2.50 crowns. This made a total of 642 seats. From 1932 onwards the cinema donated a flat rate of 1,000 crowns to charity every year. The cinema was renovated, and a sound system was purchased in 1934. At that time it had 6 employees. The cinema ended 1931 with a loss of 13,766 crowns and in 1932 there was a loss of 20,749 crowns. As a result of the financial losses, the local branch of the Czechoslovak Red Cross in Žilina asked to be excused from contributions for charitable purposes, but the cinema was placed in administration and subject to bailiff enforcement for its debts.
The Žilina branch of the Slovak Red Cross is currently based in the building at Moyzesova 38. Its activities include the recruitment of new blood donors to expand the blood donor base, and the provision of first-aid demonstrations and training. It has accreditation for first-aid courses and a care course. Every year, it awards the Jánsky and Kňazovický medals for unpaid blood donors. An old people’s home – the St Lazarus Home – occupies the ground floor of the building. The Slovak Red Cross in Žilina provides humanitarian and crisis assistance to individuals and families during natural disasters and difficult situations in life.
Source: Mgr. Peter Štanský a Milan Novák
It can be visited
■ exterior during a guided tour of TIO Žilina.
Position of the monument on the map: C4