Pater Benno Beneš

* 1938  †︎ 2020

  • “Tension started in 1948. Salesians felt it as well. We staged one play, it was called ‘The Mexican Martyr.’ The plot of the play was that my father had been arrested for his faith. I, his son, was selling cigarettes. My father told me through the prison cell window that he was sentenced to death and that he would like to receive the Eucharist, the host, before his execution, and he asked me to bring it to him. I arranged it with a secret priest, who was earning his living as a chimney-sweeper. He brought the host to me and I inserted it into a silver pocket watch. I went to the prison’s director and asked him to see my father before his execution. He said: ‘Of course, we are not opposed to that.’ They searched me and they wanted to take my watch. (Tension growing in the audience…). I said: ‘Please, let me keep the watch, it is my keepsake from my confirmation.’ – ‘Fine, keep it then.’ (A sigh of relief in the audience.) ‘But since you might contract an infection, we need to give you an antidote.’ They gave me a shot of the antidote, but when it started to take effect during the meeting with my father, my arm began to grow stiff and it was a lethal injection. My father says, among other: ‘You are executed even earlier than I.’ I am dying in his arms, and the guards come and they lead my father to the execution. The same thing started to be apparent in the following history of our nation.”

  • “One day I was on duty. We learnt that an alarm had to be sounded because three prisoners managed to escape from a labour camp in the Příbram region. They had dug under the fence. It was a work that had to take them several months. Several divisions, including ours, were on high alert. We were combing the surrounding forests, and we were ordered to capture those .. diversionists. I thought: ‘Now, this is a matter of conscience. What if it was me who found them? Am I to shoot them then? Would I pretend that I did not see him? Or could he shoot me?’ Those are moments when one really does not know what to do. We were searching the specified area for the whole night and the whole day. We did not hear anything about their capture, and so they probably succeeded.”

  • “All of a sudden ten guys appeared there and they looked similar to the two who had been in the train car. They had a badge with en edelweiss and they called themselves the ‘mountain rescue.’ I didn’t believe it. They wore black glasses so that people would not know where they were looking. One of them spoke perfect Czech... The receptionist of the mountain lodge under Vichren was suddenly called off and he was replaced by one of the guys with the edelweiss badge. It started getting dark... We went to brush our teeth by the stream outside – and a guy with the edelweiss badge appeared there. We walked past the lodge – and again, a guy with the edelweiss badge was there. I looked inside, and there were guys with edelweiss badges and a walkie-talkies. I thought that this was a closely watched operation. I didn’t sleep for the whole night. In the morning I said: ‘Gentlemen, there is nothing else to do, we need to separate. We will divide into three groups. One group will take the mountain path in the clockwise direction. The second group in the counter-clockwise direction’ – ‘we were to meet three days later – ‘and the third group will go to the sea.’ We set out for the hike to the next mountain lodge. As soon as we arrived there, the lodge owner welcomed us, but coldly, and he assigned a shared room for all of us, boys and girls – and with one Bulgarian guy. At that time, it was clear to me. The cops walked one hour behind us and so they got into a thunderstorm and a downpour that started afterward. Before they reached the lodge, they were soaked through and through. We thought that they indeed deserved this for their monitoring us.”

  • Full recordings
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    Teplice, 17.09.2016

    duration: 05:28:27
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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Benno Beneš during the military service
Benno Beneš during the military service
photo: pamětník

Benno Beneš was born on April 19, 1938 in Osek. He attended the elementary school in Osek. Most of his schoolmates were German nationals and they were included in the deportations after the war. His father worked in the Coal Survey. During ten years he was expelled from his job three times for political reasons both during the war as well as after the war and then for the third time in 1948. Salesians who came to the monastery in Osek after the war, and who were there from 1946 until its takeover in 1950, had a strong influence upon Benno. He maintained contacts with the Salesians even later during his study at the technical secondary school of chemistry in Most. After his military service he worked in a coal laboratory in Osek. In 1965 he changed jobs and he began working in the Research Institute for Fuels in Prague and he was thus able to restore his contacts with the Salesians. He became a Salesian in 1967 (and started using the abbreviation SDB behind his name). He kept his ministry secret until 1989, although the StB already knew that he was a Salesian. After completing the novitiate he still worked a full time job and he was taking care of his parents, and at the same time he was devoting all his free time to his vocation. He was working with children and he was going to summer outings with students, among other also to Bulgaria and Rumania. In spite of the ban, the Salesians were active throughout the entire period of normalization. Benno Beneš was secretly ordained a priest in 1972in Poznań. From 1973 he served as a (still secret) deputy to the Salesian provincial. In 1993 he was appointed the provincial of the Prague province for six years. He greatly contributed to the development of the Salesian work after 1989. He oversaw missionary work in Bulgaria, and he taught at the Salesian school Jabok. Afterwards he was sent by the new provincial to his native region north of Teplice, where he still lives in a Salesian community. Apart from pastoral care he is also actively involved in the process of restoring the relations between Czechs and Germans.