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90 years ago Czech Antonín Čermák became mayor of Chicago

Few Czech citizens have made such an impact on people’s minds around the world as Anton Joseph Cermak (born Antonín Josef Čermák). This child born in the Kladno region and from a more than modest background has become one of the most influential political figures in the history of the United States. He was two years old when he immigrated with his parents to the United States.

Chicago,  photo: Kaufmann & Fabry/public domain<!–

Antonín Čermák,  photo: Library of Congress,  public domain
Antonín Čermák, photo: Library of Congress, public domain<!–

He worked with his father in the coal mines before moving to Chicago in 1890, where he first started a lumber and coal haulage company before moving to real estate. In addition, he quickly joined the Democratic Party and was subsequently elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Then, in April 1931, he was elected mayor of Chicago, then the second largest American city, with some 100,000 Czechoslovakians. In addition, at the time, Chicago was the capital of organized crime, with the famous Al Capone at its head. Čermák declared war on the Mafia and arrested Al Capone.

The first mayor who was not born on American soil made American history

Antonín Čermák et  Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  photo: Chicago Tribune
Antonín Čermák and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, photo: Chicago Tribune<!–

Indeed, Antonín Čermák saved the life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then recently elected. The two men were linked by a very close friendship and political convictions. On February 15, 1933, Čermák was at Roosevelt’s side when the naturalized American Italian Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate the American president. They were in Miami by then, where Roosevelt was giving a speech when Zangara fired six shots.

Al Capone,  photo: United States Department of Justice,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Al Capone,  photo: United States Department of Justice,  CC BY-SA 3.0<!–

However, it was Čermák and four other people who were hit. Čermák would then have said: “I am happy that it was me and not you, Mr. President”. Even today, some speculate on the motive for the assassination, and especially on the real target of the assassination, arguing that it could have been sponsored from prison by Al Capone, in revenge against Čermák. Indeed, with his uncompromising political methods, Čermák had quickly made many enemies, especially in criminal circles. So it would not be surprising that he was the victim of an attack.

Photo: Chicago Tribune
Photo: Chicago Tribune<!–

Čermák died of his injuries three weeks after the terrorist attack on March 6, 1933, in Miami. As for Zangara, he was first sentenced to 80 years in prison; however, after Čermák’s death he was charged with first degree murder and sentenced to death. He died on March 20, 1933 in the electric chair.

 Antonín Čermák à Tchécoslovaquie en 1932,  photo: ČT
  Antonín Čermák in Czechoslovakia in 1932, photo: ČT<!–

Although he had left his homeland when he was only two years old, Antonín Čermák never completely forgot him. So he got involved at the birth of Czechoslovakia and visited the country in 1932. Proud of his origins, he spoke Czech fluently and was an active member of the Sokol patriotic gymnastics movement as well as other Czech national organizations.

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