Emil Appl

* 1923  †︎ 2010

  • “What he could not forget was that when he came to us from a POW camp, I was the first person to speak to him. I returned from work and saw him sitting there, so I said: ´Što ty takovej.´(What happened to you?) He said he was a plemnyj (prisoner) and that he was to work as a driver for us. So I said: ´Come and join us.´ We, the Czechs, had such a small room there, so I invited him right away. And since that time he was always telling me: ´After such a long time you were the first person who talked to me as to a human being.´”

  • “When we were retreating, I was riding a tractor, and there was one Russian riding with us. The Russian tanks were already on one side, and on the other there was a village. We got stuck there. It was freezing, twenty five below zero, the situation was desperate, it was at night. I said: ´Come on, let’s run away, we will go to that village, we cannot go on anymore, it’s over for us. They will be here in no time.´ And he says: ´No, no, we gotta run away, you don’t know what our people are capable of.´ And that guy was a political educator! He was a Russian captive, they were working for us as drivers.”

  • “There were many young girls working with us, and we talked to them. One day, when we were north of Lviv, there was one road mender, he was a German from the Reich. And one day, while he was working in the forest with these young girls, he dared to make some advances to one of them. When he came there the day after, a partisan stepped out of the forest and fired a burst from a submachine gun at him. My boss sent me there the following day. What was I to do? We buried him in the morning and the boss told me to go there instead of that guy. So I took some ten girls, we got onto a truck and rode there. Then I asked one girl to watch one side of the road bend, and another girl was to watch the other side in case there was someone coming. I sat down on the roadside with the others and talked to them, because I knew they were watching me. Some three or four days after, while I was sitting there like that and chatting with them, a really beautiful girl came to me and said: ´Look, you speak our language, you know German, we would need you.´ I told her: ´You know what, I want to get home.´”

  • “Then we went to Nový Jičín, where we were building garages and barracks, and to Staré Rudné pod Praděděm, to build stables for horses, so that during a parade, our generals could ride horses in front of the tanks like in Russia. And then I got to Opava, to Skřečoň, where I was released from the army. (...) My father was a small entrepreneur, he earned some money, he lost some money. And in two years I learnt what my personal evaluation was. It read: ´He likened our state system to the Protectorate.´ What really happened was that when I was summoned by the commission in Pardubice, they asked me: ´So you are employed by your father?´ - ´Yes, I still am. We are clearing away the store and from the New Year on I will be employed by the collective.´ They replied: ´We need people!´ - ´But I have returned from my basic military service a year ago. I have served for two years!´ - ´Well, but we need people for manual work!´ - ´Well, for me it would then be the same like it happened during the Reich. I also got summoned and within two days I was on my way to Berlin.´ He wrote it into my personal evaluation file. ´Likened the present-day state system to the Protectorate. He also pretends to hold various sham jobs, he despises work and he is of a bourgeois origin.´ Such was the evaluation they wrote into my file.”

  • “The Russian money had no value at all among the civilians there. What was more valuable were stones for cigarette lighters, needles, threads, and when there was nothing else, we would give them some petrol from our cars. These people were so kind. Whenever I needed something, I always tried to recompense them in some way. Either I gave them these stones, or some petrol. They would add some oil to it, and they had these tiny bowls, like in the times of the ancient Rome, they called it ´čipuchy,´ and that’s what they used for lighting, because they had nothing else. They were really so kind. When I stopped in their place for a second time, they were rushing to bring me something. For instance, when we went to fetch some rocks for mending the roads, we were passing through these towns. They would always stop us, because they were walking through the village exchanging things for grain and food. We would let them ride on our truck, but before we arrived to a town they had to get off, because there were field gendarmes and we were strictly forbidden to give somebody a ride.”

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    Letohrad, 08.08.2009

    duration: 01:30:56
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“Altogether I have served in the German and Czech armies a total of seven and a half years – just like it was in the times of Maria Theresa.”

Emil Appl was born in 1923 in Dolní Čermná (Rottwasser in German) in a miller’s family. Apart from the flourishing mill, his father also owned a brickworks and a saw-mill. Appl attended an elementary school in Dolní Čermná, followed by a higher elementary, which he finished in Lanškroun, and then he entered apprenticeship. For two and a half years he was commuting to the Protectorate (a part of Dolní Čermná was in the Sudetenland territory), and he learnt a machine fitter’s trade. He was drafted to the German army, but instead of joining the armed forces he was sent to Berlin, where he began his service in the organization Todt in a contingent for the eastern front. After short one-week training and an oath he went east with his work unit, following the advancing German army. Their task was road mending and construction work, especially to ensure uninterrupted flow on the German army’s supply lines. Through Kharkov and Kubjansk he got all the way to Boguchar, where the Russian army began to advance shortly after and thousands of Italian and German soldiers were taken prisoners. Appl’s unit was the last group which managed to escape from Boguchar on December 17, 1942. During the retreat, Emil Appl experienced three Russian winters before he got to a military hospital in the Reich’s territory when he contracted a serious case of jaundice. In 1944 he experienced the bombing of Berlin and he returned to the eastern front to Red Ruthenia, where Bandera’s nationalistic groups were raiding in the former Polish territory. In May 1944, he was transferred to Bavaria, where he worked as a labourer on construction of subterranean bunkers - factories intended for the production of Messerschmitt airplanes. On April 12, 1945 he suffered a work injury and he was allowed to leave Germany - via Regensburg, Klatovy and Prague he returned home to Dolní Čermná after 33 months of forced service for the German wehrmacht. In 1945-47 he studied at an industrial school and in 1948 he was drafted for a two-year military service; in 1950 he became a civilian again holding a corporal’s rank. Owing to his unfavourable personal profile, in 1951 he was summoned to a commission and drafted again, this time to the infamous and unarmed Auxiliary Technical Battalions (PTP). Altogether he has served seven and a half years in the German and Czechoslovak armies, for the most part unwillingly.