svejk the malingerer
from the good soldier svejk
IN these great times the army doctors took unusual pains to drive
the devil of sabotage out of the malingerers and restore them to the
bosom of the army.
Various degrees of torture had been introduced for malingerers
and suspected malingerers, such as consumptives, rheumatics,
people with hernia, kidney disease, typhus, diabetes, pneumonia
and other illnesses.
The tortures to which the malingerers were subjected were
systematized and the grades were as follows:
1. Strict diet, a cup of tea each morning and evening for three
days, during which, irrespective, of course, of their complaints,
aspirin to be given to induce sweating.
2. To ensure they did not think that war was all beer and
skittles, quinine in powder to be served in generous portions, or so-
called `quinine licking'.
3. The stomach to be pumped out twice a day with a litre of
4. Enemas with soapy water and glycerine to be applied.
5. Wrapping up in a sheet soaked in cold water.
There were stalwart men who endured all five degrees of
torture and let themselves be carried off to the military cemetery in
a simple coffin. But there were also pusillanimous souls who, when
they reached the stage of the enema, declared that they were now
well and desired nothing better than to march off to the trenches
with the next march battalion.
In the garrison prison Svejk was put into the sanatorium but
among pusillanimous malingerers of this very type.
`I can't stand it any longer,' said his neighbour in the next bed,
who was brought in from the consulting room after having had his
stomach pumped for the second time.
This man was shamming short-sightedness.
`Tomorrow I'll join the regiment,' decided his other neighbour
on the left, who had just had an enema and who had been
In the bed by the door a consumptive who was wrapped up in a
cold wet sheet was slowly dying.
`That's the third this week,' observed his neighbour on the
right. `And what's your trouble?'
`I've got rheumatism,' answered Svejk, upon which there was a
hearty guffaw all round. Even the dying consumptive, who was
shamming tuberculosis, joined in the laughter.
`Don't try and climb in here with rheumatism,' a fat man
warned Svejk solemnly. `Rheumatism here doesn't mean more
than a chilblain. I'm anaemic, I've lost half my stomach and five of
my ribs, but no one believes me. We even had a fellow here who
was deaf and dumb. For a fortnight they wrapped him up every
half-hour in a cold wet sheet and every day they gave him an
enema and pumped his stomach. All the nurses thought he'd won
through and would go home, when the doctor prescribed him an
emetic. It could have torn him in half and so he lost courage.
can't go on being deaf and dumb," he said. "My speech and
hearing have returned." All the patients urged him not to ruin
himself but he insisted that he could hear and speak just like other
people. And he reported to this effect at the doctor's visit next
`He kept it up for quite a long time,' remarked a man, who was
pretending to have one leg four inches shorter than the other. `Not
like that chap who shammed a stroke. All they had to do was to
give him three doses of quinine, one enema and a day's fasting. He
confessed and by the time they started pumping out his stomach
there wasn't a trace left of his stroke. The chap who held out
longest of all was the one who had been bitten by a mad dog. He
bit, he howled - it's true he could do it splendidly - but he just
couldn't manage to foam at the mouth. We did our best to help
him. Several times we tickled him for a whole hour before the
doctor's visit until he had convulsions and got blue all over, but the
foam wouldn't come and didn't in fact come at all. It was really
terrifying. When he gave in one morning at the doctor's visit we
were quite sorry for him. He stood by his bed erect as a candle,
saluted and said: "Humbly report, sir, the dog I was bitten by may
not have been mad after all."
The doctor gave him such a queer
look that he began to tremble all over and went on: "Humbly
report, sir, I wasn't bitten by a dog at all. It was I who bit myself in
After that confession they put him under investigation
for self-mutilation on the charge that he had tried to bite off his
arm to get out of going to the front.'
`All those kinds of illnesses where you have to foam at the
mouth are difficult to sham,' said the fat malingerer. `Take for
instance epilepsy. We had an epileptic here who always used to tell
us that one fit wasn't enough and so he put on some ten a day. He
writhed in convulsions, clenched his fists, rolled his eyes wildly,
flung himself about on the floor, stuck out his tongue, in short, I
can tell you, it was a magnificent first-class epilepsy, the genuine
thing. But suddenly he got boils, two on the neck and two on the
back, and it was all over with his writhing and flinging himself
about on the floor, when he couldn't move his head and wasn't able
either to sit or lie down. He got fever and in delirium he let out
everything at the doctor's visit. He gave us a lot of trouble over
his boils, because he had to lie here with them another three days
and got another diet - coffee and rolls in the morning, soup,
dumplings and gravy for lunch, and porridge or soup in the
evening. And with our hungry, pumped-out stomachs and strict
diet we had to watch this fellow bolting the food, smacking his
lips, panting and belching with repletion. In this way he broke
down another three who confessed as well. They had been
suffering from heart disease.'
`The best thing to sham,' said one of the malingerers, `is
insanity. There are two of our teachers lying in the ward next door
and one of them shrieks out incessantly day and night: "Giordano
Bruno's stake is still smouldering. Reopen the trial of Galileo."
And the other one barks, first three times slowly: bow - wow -
wow, then five times quickly in succession: bowwowwowwowwow,
and then once more slowly, and so it goes on without a
break. They've managed to keep it up for over three weeks now.
Originally I wanted to be insane too, have religious mania and
preach about papal infallibility, but in the end I fixed myself up
with cancer of the stomach from a barber in Mali Strana for fifteen
`I know a chimney-sweep in Brevnov,' remarked another
patient. `For ten crowns he'll give you such a fever that you'll jump
out of the window.'
`That's nothing,' said another. `In Vrsovice there's a midwife
who for twenty crowns will dislocate your leg so well that you'll
be a cripple until your death.'
`I had my leg dislocated for ten crowns,' came a voice from the
row of beds by the window, `for ten crowns and three glasses of
`My illness has cost me more than two hundred already,'
announced his neighbour, a dried-up stick. `You tell me any poison
I haven't taken. You won't find it. I'm a living repository of
poisons of all kinds. I've taken mercury chloride, I've breathed in
mercury fumes, I've chewed arsenic, I've smoked opium, I've
drunk tincture of opium, I've sprinkled morphine on bread, I've
swallowed strychnine, I've drunk a solution of phosphorus in
carbon sulphide as well as picric acid. I've destroyed my liver, my
lungs, my kidneys, my gall-bladder, my brain, my heart and my
intestines. No one knows what kind of illness I have.'
`The best thing to do,' explained somebody from the door, `is to
inject paraffin under the skin of your arm. My cousin was so
fortunate as to have his arm cut off under the elbow and today he
has no trouble for the rest of the war.'
`So you see,' said Svejk, `everyone has to go through all that for
His Imperial Majesty - even stomach-pumping and enemas. When
I served years ago in my regiment it was even worse. In those days
they used to truss the patient and throw him into a hole to
recuperate him. There weren't any bunks like there are here or
spittoons either. Just a bare plank-bed and the patients lay on it.
Once one had a genuine typhus and the other next to him had
smallpox. Both were trussed, and the regimental doctor kicked
them in the belly for being malingerers. And when both these
soldiers died it came up in parliament and was in the newspapers.
They immediately forbade us to read those newspapers and
searched our boxes in case we had them. And as I always have bad
luck, I was the only one in the whole regiment they found them
on. So I was taken off on regimental report and our colonel, who
was a bloody half-wit, God help him, started to roar at me to stand
straight and to tell him who it was who wrote that in the
newspapers or he'd break my jaw wide open and have me locked
up till I was black in the face. Then came the regimental doctor,
brandishing his fist under my nose and shouting in German: "You
dirty hound, you lousy scab, you miserable turd, you Socialist
I looked them all squarely in the eyes without blinking and
kept quiet, my right hand at the peak of my cap and my left on the
seam of my trousers. They ran around me like dogs and yapped at
me, but I did nothing. I kept mum, saluted, left hand on the seam
of my trousers. When they had been raging like this for about half
an hour, the colonel rushed at me and roared: "Are you a half-wit
or aren't you?" - "Humbly report, sir, I'm a half-wit," - "Very
well then. Twenty-one days strict confinement for imbecility, two
days a week fasting, a month confined to barracks, forty-eight
hours in handcuffs, immediate arrest, don't let him eat, truss him,
show him that the monarchy doesn't need half-wits. We'll flog
those newspapers out of your head, you bastard," the colonel
decided after flying around for a long time. But while I was sitting
in jug miracles were happening in the barracks. Our colonel
forbade our soldiers to read anything at all, even the Prague Official
News. In the canteen they weren't even allowed to use the
newspapers for wrapping up frankfurters or bits of cheese. From
that time all the soldiers started to read, and our regiment became
the best educated. We read all the newspapers and in every
company they made up rhymes and songs against the colonel. And
when anything happened in the regiment you'd always find some
public benefactor who sent it to the newspapers under the title:
"Maltreatment of the troops". And they didn't stop at that. They
wrote to the parliamentary deputies in Vienna, asking them to take
up their case, and the deputies began to make interpellations one
after the other, saying that our colonel was a monster and suchlike.
A minister sent a commission to us to investigate the case and a
Franta Hencl from Hluboki got two years for being the chap who
got on to the deputies in Vienna, because of the knock across the
jaw he got from the colonel on the drill-ground.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
the secret code
In the staff carriage, where the officers of the march battalion were
sitting, a strange stillness reigned from the start of the journey.
Most of the officers were engrossed in a small book in cloth
binding entitled The Sins of the Fathers, a novelette by Ludwig
Ganghofer, and all were simultaneously busy reading page 161.
Captain Signer, the battalion commander, was standing at the
window and holding in his hand this same book, which he also had
open at page 161.
He was looking at the landscape and thinking how actually he
could explain to everyone in the clearest possible way what they
had to do with that book. It was in fact strictly confidential.
Meanwhile the officers were reflecting that Colonel Schroder
must have gone off his rocker for good and all. He had been pretty
crazy for a long time, but there had surely been no reason to expect
that it would take him suddenly like this. Before the departure of
the train he called them to a last `conference' and informed them
that each of them would get a copy of the book The Sins of the
Fathers by Ludwig Ganghofer, which he had had sent to battalion
`Gentlemen,' he said with a terribly mysterious expression,
'never forget page 16 1!'
Engrossed as they all were in this page they
could not make anything out of it. There a woman called Martha
came to a writing-desk, took out a script and reflected aloud that
the public must feel sympathy with the hero of the play. And then
on the same page there appeared as well a certain Albert, who tried
to make jokes all the time, which, divorced from the unknown
action which preceded them, seemed such tripe that Lieutenant
Lukas bit his cigarette-holder in fury.
`The old man has really gone barmy,' all of them thought. `It's
all up with him. Now they'll transfer him to the Ministry of War.'
Captain Signer got up from the window, after he had
composed everything in his head to his satisfaction. He did not have
much pedagogical talent, and so it took him a long time before he
had in his head the whole plan of a lecture on the importance of
Before he began to explain he addressed them as `Gentlemen',
just as the old dodderer of a colonel used to do, although before
they got into the train he called them `My dear fellows.'
`Very well, then, gentlemen ...' And he began to expound
how, the evening before, he had received from the colonel
instructions about page 161 in The Sins of the Fathers by Ludwig
`Very well, then, gentlemen,' he continued solemnly. `Strictly
confidential information about the new system of ciphering
telegrams in the field.'
Cadet Biegler took out a notebook and a pencil
and said in an exceptionally zealous tone: `I am ready, sir.'
Everybody looked at that idiot, whose zeal in the volunteers'
school bordered on imbecility. He volunteered for the army and
when the commander of the volunteers' school was looking into
the private circumstances of the students he took the first
opportunity of letting him know that his ancestors were originally called
Bugler von Leuthold and bore in their armorial bearings a stork's
wing with a fish tail.
From that time onwards they christened him by the name of his
armorial bearings and `Stork's wing with fish tail' was mercilessly
persecuted and became unpopular at once, because it did not in the
least fit in with his father's respectable business in bare and rabbit
skins. But the romantic enthusiast strove with great earnestness to
devour the whole of military science, and not only did he excel in
diligence and knowledge of everything which was taught him, but
he also crammed his head more and more with the study of
writings on military science and the history of warfare, which he
always tried to talk about, until he was rapped down and crushed.
In officers' circles he considered himself the equal of the senior
`You cadet there, keep quiet,' said Captain Signer, `until I give
you permission to speak. No one asked for your opinion. But
you're a damned bright soldier all the same. I'm giving you strictly
confidential information and you're writing it down in your
notebook. If you lose your notes you can expect to be brought
before a drumhead court-martial.'
On top of everything else Cadet Biegler had the bad habit of
always trying to convince everyone that his intentions were the
`Humbly report, sir,' he replied, `even if I lost the notebook no
one could decipher what I've written, because I use shorthand and
no one can read my symbols. I use the English system.'
Everyone froze him with a look of contempt. Captain Signer
dismissed his remark with a wave of his hand and continued his
`I've already referred to the new system of ciphering telegrams
in the field, and if it was perhaps not clear to you why you were
recommended to read of all things page 161 of Ludwig
Ganghofer's novel, The Sins of the Fathers, I can tell you, gentlemen, that
it is the key to the new ciphering system, operative on the basis of a
new directive from the staff of the army corps to which we are
assigned. As you will be aware, there are many systems of
ciphering important messages in the field. The latest one, which we
are using, is the supplementary figure method. This supersedes the
ciphers and the deciphering directives given you last week by the
`Archduke Albrecht's system,' the sedulous Cadet Biegler
mumbled to himself, `8922 = R, taken from Gronfeld's method.'
`The new system is exceedingly simple,' the captain's voice rang
out through the carriage. `I have personally obtained from the
colonel Book II and the information.
`If, for example, we are to get the order: "On point 228 direct
machine-gun fire to the left", we shall receive, gentlemen, the
following telegram: "Thing - with - us - that - we - look - in -
the - promised - the - Martha - you - that - anxious - then - we -
Martha - we - him - we - thanks - well - steering committee -
end - we - promised - we - improved - promised - really - think
- idea - quite - rules - voice - last." Yoou see, it's frightfully simple,
without any unnecessary combinations. From the staff by
telephone to the battalion, from the battalion by telephone to the
Having obtained this ciphered telegram the
commander deciphers it in the following way. He takes The Sins of the
Fathers, opens it at page 161 and starts from the top to look for the
word "thing" on the opposite page, i.e. 160. Very well, then,
gentlemen. The first time the word "thing" occurs on page 160 is
at the 52nd word, and so he looks for the 52nd letter from the top
on the opposite page, no. 161. Please note that it is "O". The next
word in the telegram is "with" - that is - now follow me carefully,
gentlemen, the 88th word on page 160, corresponding to the 88th
letter on the opposite page 161 which is "n". And now we have
deciphered "On". And we proceed in this way until we learn the
order: "On point 228 direct machine-gun fire to the left." Very
ingenious, gentlemen, simple, and impossible to decipher without
the key: page 161 of Ludwig Ganghofer: The Sins of the Fathers.'
Everyone stared in silence at the unfortunate pages and
pondered deeply over them. There was quiet for a moment, until all of
a sudden Cadet Biegler called out in a worried voice: `Sir, humbly
report, Jesus Mary! It doesn't fit!'
And it was indeed exceedingly mysterious.
Try as they could, no one except Captain Signer could find the
words on page 160 and the corresponding letters on page 161 with
which the key started.
`Gentlemen,' Captain Signer stammered, when he had realized
that Cadet Biegler's despairing exclamation corresponded to the
truth, `what has happened? In my Sins of the Fathers by Ganghofer
it's there and in yours it isn't?'
`Permit me, sir,' Cadet Biegler began again. `May I take the
liberty to draw your attention to the fact that the novel of Ludwig
Ganghofer, is in two parts. You can, if you wish, verify this by
looking at the first title page: "Novel in two parts". We have Part I
and you have Part II,' continued the thorough-going Cadet
Biegler. `And so it's as clear as daylight that our pages 160 and 161
do not correspond with yours. We have something completely
different. According to you the first word of the deciphered
telegram ought to be "On" but ours has come out "Hi".'
Now it was quite clear to everyone that Biegler was not perhaps
such an idiot after all.
`I have Part II from brigade staff,' said Captain Signer, `and
clearly it's a question of a mistake. The colonel ordered Part I for
you. Obviously,' he continued, as though it was clear as daylight
and he had known it long before he gave the lecture on the very
simple system of ciphering, `there has been a muddle in brigade
staff. They didn't inform the regiment that it concerned Part II and
that is how it happened.'
In the meantime Cadet Biegler was looking triumphantly at
everybody and Lieutenant Dub whispered to Lieutenant Lukas that
`Stork's wing with fish tail' had put it across Signer and no mistake
- and serve him right!
`What a curious case, gentlemen,' Captain Signer said again, as
though he wanted to start a conversation, because the silence was
very embarrassing. `In brigade office they aren't very bright.'
`Permit me to add,' said the indefatigable Cadet Biegler once
more, wanting to show off his knowledge again, `that matters of
this kind which are of a confidential nature, indeed a strictly
confidential nature, should not go from division through brigade
office. A matter which concerns the most confidential business of
the army corps may be communicated by a strictly confidential
circular to no one except commanders of divisions, brigades and
regiments. I know the cipher systems used in the Sardinian and
Savoy wars, in the Anglo-French campaign at Sebastopol, during
the Boxer rising in China and in the last Russo Japanese war. These
systems were conveyed .. .
'We don't care a tuppenny hoot about that, Cadet Biegler,' said
Captain Signer with an expression of contempt and displeasure.
`There's no doubt that the system in question which I have
explained to you is not only one of the best but also, we can say,
quite unrivalled. All the counter-espionage departments of our
enemy staffs can now pack up. Even if they bust themselves, they
won't be able to read our cipher. It's something quite new. These
ciphers have no precedents.'
The assiduous Cadet Biegler coughed knowingly.
`May I be allowed to take the liberty, sir,' he said, `to draw your
attention to Kerickhoff's book on military ciphering. Anyone can
obtain this book from the publishers of the Encyclopedia of Military
Science. There you will find, sir, described in detail the method
which you have just explained to us. Its inventor was Colonel
Kircher, who served in the Saxon army in the time of Napoleon.
Kircher's word cipher, sir. Every word of the telegram is explained
on the opposite page by means of a key. The method was perfected
by Lieutenant Fleissner in his book, The Handbook of Military
Cryptography, which anyone can buy at the publishers of the
Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. Excuse me, sir.' Cadet
Biegler put his hand in his bag, drew out the book to which he was
referring and continued: 'Fleissner gives the very same example.
You may all wish to confirm it for yourselves. It is exactly the same
example as we have just heard.
`Telegram: On point 228 direct machine-gun fire to the left.
Key: Ludwig Ganghofer, The Sins of the Fathers, Part II.
`And look further please: "Cipher: Thing - with - us - that -
we - look - in - the - promised - the - Martha . . ." and so on. Just
as we heard a moment ago.'
There was no answer to this. The greenhorn `Stork's wing with
fish tail' was right.
One of the generals in the army staff had hit upon a labour-
saving device. He had discovered Fleissner's book about military
ciphers and the job was done.
All this time Lieutenant Lukas appeared to be trying to
overcome a strange inner tension. He bit his lip, seemed to want to
say something but in the end started to speak about something
different from what he had originally intended.
'We need not take this so tragically,' he said in strange
embarrassment. `While we were in camp at Bruck an der Leitha
the systems of ciphering telegrams were changed several times.
Before we reach the front new systems will again be introduced.
But I think that anyhow there's no time for deciphering cryptograms
like this in the field. Before any of us had time to decipher a
telegram like the example given us the company battalion and
brigade would long ago have ceased to exist. It has no practical
Captain Signer nodded his head very reluctantly. 'In practice,'
he said, 'at least as far as my experiences from the Serbian
battlefield go, no one had time to decipher telegrams. I don't mean
that ciphers wouldn't have their importance in the course of a
prolonged stay in the trenches, when we dig ourselves in and wait.
It's also true that ciphers are changed.'
Captain Signer was retreating all along the line: 'A great deal of
the blame for our staffs making less and less use of ciphers when
they communicate with the troops in position rests on the
inaccuracy and unreliability of our field telephones, particularly during
artillery fire when they do not reproduce the individual syllables
clearly. You don't hear anything at all and it causes unnecessary
chaos.' He paused.
`Chaos is the worst thing that can happen in the field,
gentlemen,' he added prophetically and was silent.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
the playfair code explained on youtube