Major (ret.) Otakar (Otto) Braun

* 1920  

  • „For a while, we anchored on Crete, then on Cyprus. Then we run out of coal and they had to burn wood. In order to make our journey continue, it was necessary to collect all valuables from passengers to buy coal. Anyone carrying gold donated it to the collection but still it wasn’t too much because the Germans didn’t allow much to be taken with us. They gave it back to us afterwards - these people from Cyprus were quite decent. They even gave us the coal and so we finally made it to the shores of Palestine. Upon arrival, a surprise awaited us.”

  • „It happened on the 25th of November 1940. All of a sudden this ship “Patria” blew up. As it was tied to the pier it turned over to its side. Those in the cabins that were on the wrong side of the ship, these people stayed there, they didn’t survive. About 280 people perished. My brother and I were lucky. My brother was right on the deck of the ship when it happened. He was cleaning the deck just in his shorts – it was November 25 but it was still hot. He fell into the water and then waited for me on the shore. I was at that time downstairs at the back of the ship. I heard a dull explosion but didn’t pay too much attention to it at first. By the time things started to fall from the shelves, however, I knew that something was wrong. So I dressed up and grabbed some clothes for my brother as well. I walked upstairs to the in-between-deck where I saw the international crew running around. It was really bad. I made it to some hole and fell into the sea. I was able to swim to the pier, right to my brother, who was already looking for me on the shore. We thought we were free.”

  • „We had to be on night patrol when Tobruk was under siege. The platoon leader was first lieutenant Jandl – before the Tobruk assignment he was with the French foreign legion. So we were on our night patrols. The most beautiful thing, however, was when they liberated us from the siege. What it looked like? Originally, our company was supposed to take a hill from where the Germans and Italians were firing at us - well mostly Italians. We had the order to storm this hill, Medaur or Meduar, was its name, I don’t even remember anymore. So, we were getting ready to go up there, it was very dangerous, it would have been a massacre. Then the English issued a new order: “You’re going nowhere, we’re staging our offensive. We’re moving forward.” “You can’t imagine the joy we felt at that moment.”

  • „I served my time of apprenticeship in the Sudetenland in 1938 in a dry goods store. After the occupation I had to go back to Napajedla and we were waiting for things to come. It was really bad for us here, we wanted to get away. We weren’t allowed to go to restaurants, we had to stay home after 8 p.m. When we walked out on the promenade in Napajedla after eight o’clock in the evening, a policeman stopped us and told us politely, that we could no longer go there. You know, it was a Czech Protectorate policeman, so he just politely told us we couldn’t go there. Those days, you still didn’t have to wear a star, that order only came in 1942, 1943. By that time my brother and I had already left the country. My brother and I had made up our minds – we would leave the country. Then by chance came this letter from Prague that we should come to Brno, that there’s going to be a gathering. We went there on September 1, 1940, we got to Brno train station and there were about 350 people. Not just men but also women and children. We boarded the train to Vienna.”

  • „When our unit headed to Tobruk, the only way to get there was on board of a destroyer ship. So they loaded our unit, about 700 people, on two destroyers and we defended Tobruk. That was our beginning. We held out there for roughly half a year and then the British launched a counter-offensive and liberated us. Our second company then campaigned with them and got as far as Benghasi as the infantry guard of the British general staff – the commander was captain Svoboda. After six months of service they ordered the whole unit back to Palestine.”

  • „We left on the 1st of September 1940 and when we arrived at the train station in Brno, there were about 350 people, not just men but also women and children. We boarded the train to Vienna and after that the cars were locked for the whole journey. They only unlocked them again at the port. There we boarded a ship called “Melk”. We were about 350 and we waited for the arrival of others from Prague and Bohemia. Those late-arrivals were roughly another 350 people, so altogether we were about 700. After the Gestapo gave us clearance, we began our journey on the Danube on board of the Melk. We boarded completely legally. Our father enlisted us for the transport, he himself, however, didn’t enlist. Our parents stayed in Czechoslovakia. This was one of the very last transports to leave the country in this way. I think it actually may have been the last one.”

  • Question: “What about your accommodation at Dunkerque?” Answer: “There were these small bunkers that were left behind by the Italians. We had this one “bunker” – it wasn’t properly built, it was rather a cave. There was a machine gun outpost where we lived. The food supply was poor – food could be carried in only at night. The drivers had a hard time. White stripes marked the trail, if they got off the trail they hit a minefield. It wasn’t a nice place to be. But we made it.” Q: “Could you tell whether you were facing Germans or Italians?” A: “Yes, you could tell. The Italians weren’t such great soldiers. I guess there weren’t that many Germans, though Rommel had something out there. We evaded it because by the time of the battle for El Alamein we weren’t there anymore.”

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    Praha 8, 01.11.2005

    (audio)
    duration: 01:09:13
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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In Napajedla, when we walked out on the promenade, a policeman stopped us and told us politely, that we could no longer go there

Otakar Braun in 1946
Otakar Braun in 1946
photo: archiv pamětnika

Otakar Braun was born on January 20, 1920, in Napajedla in the family of a small Jewish businessman. After completing his apprenticeship in a dry-goods store in 1938 he was preparing to take over his father’s business. In September 1940 he and his brother left the country in one of the last legal transports across the Danube and the Black Sea to Palestine. He came to Haifa on a Greek ship called “Milos”. The British relocated the refugees from this ship to another ship called “Patria”, which anchored in the port of Haifa. Otakar Braun was an eyewitness of the sinking of Patria. 260 Jewish refugees lost their lives on that day. Mr. Braun and his brother were detained in the Atlit camp. Only after nine months were they allowed to enroll in the Czechoslovak army. He fought with an infantry unit at Tobruk. After the unit’s return to Palestine, he was trained in the operation of anti-aircraft cannons. He participated in the anti-aircraft defense of Beirut and Tobruk. After the arrival of the soldiers from the Middle East in Britain he was retrained as a tank crew-member and engaged in the siege of the port of Dunkerque. After the war he worked as an accountant for the Prague branch office of the Czechoslovak Railways.