Professor Ludwig Armbruster

* 1928  

  • “I learnt one thing while I was still young. That these totalitarian systems like the Nazis or later the Communists hate letting someone else bring up the young generation. They banned Scouting. We were all mandatory members of the Curatorium for the Education of Youth. Emanuel Moravec, the minister of education, declared: ‘Give me the Czech youth, and I’ll change them beyond recognition in two years.’ Those were big words. Our teachers at grammar school were nationally enlightened, careful Czechs. When they had an inspection, the inspector visited our lessons, and our teacher told us about it ahead of time and we agreed what we should say when it was one of ‘our’ people and what we should say when it would be someone from the Germans. So we kept to that.”

  • “People sometimes ask me what are my impressions of the transformations of society after 40 years. We’ve grown harsh, we’ve learnt how to lie. During the Protectorate we had to lie from dawn till dusk to survive. No one could say what they really thought. But that was for five years, that can straighten out again. It annoyed me when I returned, but I’ve gotten used to it. When you speak with someone and they say: ‘Look, when they ask you, tell them so and so...’ I mean, either I’ll speak the truth, or I won’t speak at all, but I won’t make up stories. Lying has become the norm.”

  • “I was in the 33rd Scouts Troop, I was still a cub, I wasn’t old enough to wear a hat. We had these dark blue sweaters from coarse wool, short corduroy trousers, and a beret - that was our uniform. We had summer camps with tents in July, those were tents with wooden bases. While there was still a Czechoslovakia, we’d always raise the flag up in the morning. We were brought up to be patriots. There was a patch of land above the Sokol [gym] hall in Pankrác with a log cabin, where we had our club house. Our troop leader, Brother Špeta, brought us up to know how to defend ourselves and serve as messengers. We played strategic war games on trips and learnt partisan warfare tricks. We were ardently enthused and waited for when we’d be summoned, to send the Germans home.”

  • “They tried to find some people that would become informers. And they concentrated on friars who were still students. But they were strong and then they told us about it: ‘They told me that they could arrange some things for me, that they could find a woman that would meet me regularly. And then I should tell them what the other friars say and so on…’ But they didn’t succeed.”

  • “The Jesuits in Vienna didn’t know who I was or if I wasn’t a spy. So fist hey told me to get some rest and some sleep. When I woke up, one of the friars was sitting by the bed, his name was friar Wildt. He was a member of the Czech province during the First Republic and he was expelled after the War as a native from Sudetenland. He knew al the Czech priests and he began questioning me about this one or the other… I knew them all so I told him and they believed me that I belonged to the Jesuits.”

  • “There was a nice library in Bohosudov. We were loading the books to lorry cars. Later on I heard that they took the books somewhere where students decided which books would be sold for German Marks and Dollars abroad… And the rest – it was in the open, got soaked with rain and nothing survived. This is what was happening in the Jesuit houses.”

  • “During the novitiate, we were completely isolated for the outside world. It was a preparation for ecclesiastical life, so we didn’t even read newspapers… One morning, father Magister and father Zgarbík told us: ‘The government resigned yesterday, maybe we will have to escape.” One of the precautions was that we no longer had to shave our heads, not to attract attention in the crowd. So we let our hair grow.”

  • “I found out that I wasn’t a Czech citizen when Hitler was marching to Prague and we were very anxious about it. My grandfather was a real Austrian, like from the old calendar. In 1918, he was supposed to go to the office to claim his permanent residence and he would get the Czechoslovak citizenship, but he said: ‘Me? To go to the office? No way!’ He didn’t go anywhere and the remained an Austrian citizen, and we inherited the citizenship.”

  • “I didn’t know where do the Jesuits live in Vienna. I only knew that it was called Universitätsplatz. So I got on a tram and with demanded with broken German the way to the Universitätsplatz. And they always told me where to get off the tram. The trams were going in circles. There is the University at one end and the Universitätskirche on the other and once they told me to get off somewhere, but I didn’t fond anything there, and then they told me to get off somewhere else. I wasn’t getting anywhere, but then I saw someone dressed as a priest, with a collar. So I told him that I was just expelled form the country and that I was looking for the Jesuits. And he said: ‘You know what? First we will go to my place and you will have a strong black coffee.’ So he helped me to shape up a little and then we went to the Jesuits.”

  • “At the grammar school, I was called to the headmaster and he asked me: ‘Armbruster, aren’t you a German?’ ‘No, I’m not.’ Germans could not study at Czech schools. ‘And what are you?’ ‘I am nothing.’ That was very awkward.”

  • “In Velehrad, in the novitiate, we were isolated like on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. The Jesuits didn’t teach us any anti doctrine, neither anti-Nazism nor anti-Communism, but Christianity, to learn about the truth of Jesus Christ and be sensitive to his teaching. As such the education was very positive, it didn’t teach us to prepare to fight against anyone, , but to plant religion very deep in us.”

  • “My grandfather was Austrian, my father’s father. He came from the Austria – Hungary when it was still one country, he came to Bohemia as a train conductor to Orlické mountains, to Jablonné nad Orlicí, where my father was born. My grandmother was Czech. It was a Czech part of the state, so my grandfather learned Czech from my grandmother. So he spoke broken Czech, but I don’t remember him very much. My father finished the basic school in Kostelec nad Orlicí, he had to fight in the First World War and he was injured in Sarajevo. After the War, he returned and married my mother, who came from Prague, so we lived in Prague. My mother had never learnt to speak German, we spoke Czech at home.”

  • He left the train and the train left the country, and I was alone.

  • “We were quite enthusiastic that we were going to be oppressed and we will accept the fate and proclaim our faith – we weren’t afraid of anything. So it was interesting that father Zgarbík, who spend a year in Nazi prisons found out and he came and said: ’Don’t you dare speak about it like that. You have no idea what prison is like. It is something far too different from what you imagine, so I don’t want to hear about it anymore.’ That was a kind of a cold shower.”

  • “It was critical when Heidrich was assassinated and police raids began. People had to show their documents on the street. For example, they came to a tram and ask everybody to show their papers. If somebody couldn’t show the papers they got arrested and were very liable to appear at the front page the next day – they always put a reason why they were shot: They agreed with the assassination. And my father was afraid to go to the office not to get caught somewhere. So he went to the police headquarters to have a look what can be done about it. And he saw a long line of people who didn’t have any papers, co he joined the line and he got a piece of paper with an attached photograph and there the Prague police president certified that the person on the photograph is this and that person. The papers were issued every three months. We had to renew them until the end of the war and that was how we were surviving.”

  • “During the 30 minutes while I was preparing for the journey, father Pitrun gave me some instructions: ‘Go directly to Rome. Don’t tell anybody and tell them in Rome what happened here. I was the first one who got out and I stuck to that advice. They were very curious about what happened and how… But I told them that I wanted to go to Rome and that I didn’t want to tell anybody. So one of the older Jesuits said: ‘That is a wise guy.’”

  • “When they arrested us and I claimed my Austrian citizenship, they wanted to see the passport. So I gave it to them and they took it and that was it. After a few weeks we could send a postcard home saying that we were all right. My parents came to the Austrian office (the embassy in Prague wasn’t yet established) and they called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Internal Affairs. One day, two secret policemen came: ‘Armbruster, pack your things, you are leaving in 30 minutes.’

  • “After 1945, the Jesuits were returning from abroad and from concentration camps, those that had survived. So one day, father Boček came dressed in the American uniform and we invited him, as a group of high school students, to speak about what he had gone through. When we were passing by on the yard, he just said: ‘Keep the powder dry, boys.’ They knew that it was not the end of it, that there will be a conflict between Western Europe and the Soviet Union.”

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In the novitiate, we were isolated like on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. The Jesuits didn’t teach us any anti doctrine, neither anti-Nazism, nor anti-Communism, but Christianity, to learn about the truth of Jesus Christ

Ludvík Armbruster as a secondary-school student, Ústín, 1945
Ludvík Armbruster as a secondary-school student, Ústín, 1945

Ludvík (Ludwig) Armbruster was born in 1928 in Prague, where he also grew up. His grandfather had an Austrian origin. Even though the family spoke Czech and professor Armbruster always considered himself a Czech native, he inherited an Austrian citizenship after his father, which saved him in the crucial moment from long years of internment. In 1947, he entered the novitiate in Velehrad and after the novitiate, he began to study at the Jesuit college in Děčín, where he was arrested an taken into internment to Bohosudov. Due to his Ausrtian origin, he was released from the internment and he was allowed (forced) to leave the country. He moved to Rome, where he finished his studies at the Gregorian University, which he finished in 1952. In Rome, he was introduced with the idea to leave on a mission to Japan. After two years in Japan, he finished his theological studies at the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt am Main. He obtained the license in theology and in 1959 he was ordained a priest. He returned to Japan where he lived in the period between 1961 and 1990. He taught at the Sofia University in Tokyo, first as a senior lecturer, than as an associated professor and finally as a regular professor. In Tokyo, he also led an inter-diocese clerical seminary for eight years and he was the head of the University library at Sofia. Nowadays, he still belongs to the Japanese province, but he is a professor at the Theological Faculty at Charles University in Prague. Apart from his membership in the leading positions at universities, he also published several philosophical works, mostly in German and Japanese.