František Beneš

* 1928

  • "I said to my friends, 'I'm going to run away, and if some of you want to come, you can join me.' But they didn't know anything. I said, 'You won't know anything. When it comes, I'll tell you tonight and you go. You have to be prepared, not prepared if I go, I don't go. Either I go or I don't go.' About a week later a bulletin came from Gajda saying we were going. Towards the evening I was going round my friends. One lived in the same street as me. So I said, 'Jenda, we're going tonight.' He started to make excuses: 'I'm not going, I'll go later.' I said, 'Okay, fine. You're not going? You're not going.' My other friend lived about 200, 300 yards away. That's where I went. He thought for at least half an hour. He didn't know if he should go. I said, 'Man, you should have made up your mind. So either I go or I don't go. That's it.' That's how it started. We go to the third guy, that was on the other end, he wasn't home at all. That was the traitor. He was already in Breclav, and there he reported that the boys were preparing to flee across the border. Instead of the two who didn't go, two more joined, so there were five of us altogether. Then we found out, years later, that he was the one who betrayed us. We ran through Lanžhot and we couldn't cross the road from Breclav to Lanžhot. The cars were driving and the soldiers, it was all soldiers, who wanted to find us there. We lay by the road in the corn for maybe half an hour before we could cross." - "So they were looking for you at that point? Thanks to the fact that they had informed on you?" - "Yeah. That's what it looked like. Because hardly anyone was going in. There were hardly any cars there then, seventy years ago. So we got away with it."

  • "After that February [1948] in May there were elections. And already the night before the elections, officials were coming from the Communist Secretariat. They went around Hrušky and threatened the people to vote for a united candidate. They were really threatening what they were going to do to them, and the older generation was absolutely terrified. From other parties, like the People's Party or the Social Democrats, they made speeches to get people to support united candidate. And that was the Communists, wasn't it!" - "But the white card could still be thrown in, I guess." - "Yeah. Either they voted for a united ticket or a white ticket. We guys, we were in our twenties now, since we weren't Communists, we voted white tickets. Well, but the jury that controls it was all Communists. There was nobody from the other party. And the Communists voted in public, they didn't go behind the curtain. And those who went behind the curtain saw that they were voting a white ticket. The white ticket was nothing anyway, but it showed that they disagreed with it."

  • "At about eleven o'clock the Russians came. We were waiting for them at a friend's house. There were about five of us, boys about sixteen years old. Two Russians came, young ones, an intelligence patrol. They asked: "Are Russian here?" - "No, they are not." So we gave them something to drink, we welcomed them, our brothers. Right, fine!? The Russians didn't want anything to drink, they just drank water and said: 'Hide everything, because our soldiers will take everything from you,' that's what the patrols said. Well, yes, but the Russians - ordinary soldiers - were already there in an hour or two, and they took everything. In two days there was no hay in the whole of Hrušky, because they brought a million horses and Hrušky was full of soldiers. They were not parked outside, but in the village. They made their way through gardens and stuff. They took everything and ate it all. We have bad memories of them to this day."

  • “We corresponded with that Bartoš man. We had a good relationship, Hruškers and Lanžhoters from Moravian Slovakia. We asked right off the bat, perhaps he had more information, we wondered what the politics were actually like here [in Czechoslovakia]. Well, he said: ‘Well, boys, it’s fucked up here,’ he wrote, ‘it’s fucked up, go get yourselves a life in Canada.’”

  • “The way it was after that February, it was a complete catastrophe. Well, and then there were elections, right after that February, sometime in the summer. And that was a united candidate list. Those were Communists, and if you didn’t want to vote Communists, well you could throw in a blank ticket. Except the blank ticket wasn’t any use, no use at all, it was just some kind of protest. Well, and we boys had just passed twenty about then, so mostly we all voted blank tickets. The boys back then had a bit more spunk.”

  • “My brother, he wanted to get into Canada. He even applied to get permission to leave. It was possible to do that, but it was of no use anyway. They didn’t let anyone go. But you could apply for it, it was something like that. Well, so they denied it to him, so he reckoned stuff them, he’d make himself a cart. So he made a cart, but he only drove it as far as Břeclav. It broke down there. Now what? It took him a day before he decided to escape by himself. Except that he had to leave his wife and children at home.”

  • “There was one rumour that started up in Hrušky, that I had helped someone escape, but I had nothing to do with it. People were just running away, so they did, that’s it. Except that someone had supposedly seen me somewhere, and this got out in Hrušky. And it was making the rounds there, and they were starting to watch me and follow me, and so I reckoned things weren’t looking very good. I felt it was tightening up around me, that I didn’t have much space left. So there was no choice, I had to get up and leave. Well, and also, I was supposed to start my army service in about a week, I was to be in Orlová, near Ostrava, and there weren’t anything but mines there, those AECers [forced labour corps]. So I added one to the other. And I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to leg it.”

  • “The water was cold, so we undressed, wrapped our clothes up, and crossed the Dyje [Thaya] to the other side. They would’ve, if they had seen us there on the Dyje, they would’ve shot us dead. Because it was all dark everywhere, only the Dyje glittered with light. It was a pretty wide river. Luckily, we crossed it. Well, and we were resting on the other side, and I was playing around, that Gajda had a sub-machine gun, so I was playing around with it, and I remember Gajda taking a bullet out of his pocket and saying: ‘This one’s for me, this bullet.’ Well, and really, some three weeks later they waited for him there, and that was the end of him. Whether he shot himself, or they shot him, I don’t know.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Dům pamětníka v Hulíně, 24.04.2014

    duration: 01:11:26
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Zlín, 18.06.2020

    duration: 01:44:12
    media recorded in project Stories of the region - Central Moravia
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I was ready to pass or die

František Benes
František Benes
photo: Archive of a witness

František Beneš was born in the South Moravian town of Hrušky on 11 November 1928 into a family of small farmers. He was trained as a locksmith in nearby Moravská Nová Ves. He witnessed the activities of the resistance during the Second World War in Hrušky, where paratroopers from the Clay (Clay-Eva) parachute unit, commanded by Antonín Bartoš, a post-war member of the National Assembly and later an exiled organiser of couriers and smugglers, were hiding. After 1948, almost fifty citizens of Hruška emigrated, among them František Beneš. A rumour spread through the village that he was also involved in illegal border crossings. Together with the call to the Auxiliary Technical Battalions in Orlová, this was the impetus for his own departure. With a group of ten people, he was taken across the border to Austria on 17 September 1950 by František Gajda, a well-known agent from nearby Lanžhot. After staying in several refugee camps and serving in the French army, he came to Canada, where he lived until 1991. In 1970, his younger brother Vladimír also tried to escape. The escape with his children and wife using a self-constructed tank failed due to a malfunction, and only Vladimir himself made it to America. His family was not able to follow him until 1977. František Beneš returned to Moravia after the revolution. In 2023 he lived with his second wife in Hulín.