Karel Brhel

* 1922  †︎ 2006

  • “When I came to Jáchymov, they took me to the doctor’s. He was an old SS man, he looked at me, just looked - I weighed 55 kilos. So he told his assistant: ‘He’s poorly nourished, he can’t work in the mines.’ So they kept me up on the surface for a month, I did some minor jobs there, and after a month they sent me into the mines...”

  • “That was, I would say, basically, although we weren’t shot at every day, we were in constant alert because the Germans and the Fascists chased us all around those hills, right. It was ‘tedeski, tedeski, alarmi,’ - ‘attack, attack,’ all the time. We lived in these kind of chalets, the food was very poor, the clothes we had, we’d ruined, occasionally someone gave us some, so we were like beggars, so to say. But we had plenty of equipment because when the Italian army capitulated, a lot of the Italians legged it home with their arms and gear. Then the Anglo-Americans sent us weapon drops, they also sent tins, and SMGs and machine guns, so we had everything, just not much food and nowhere to hide.”

  • “They were ready for it, because there were several enclaves like that by the Atlantic Ocean (or actually, that was already by the North Sea). Dunkirk, Pleubian, St Nazaire, and however-many more, some four or five of the large ports, and these pockets [of resistance - trans.] lasted until the end, until the capitulation. They withstood it all. Submarines brought them food, tins, and so on. Airplanes made ammunition drops. Then they flooded the whole area with water, they tore down all the safety dams, it was all flooded up, mines everywhere. There were thousands of mines there, so you couldn’t even get to them. And then they did these forays - come nightfall, they got into fast boats and attacked our positions, they’d disembark in groups of 50 to 100 Germans and assault us from behind. So there were nighttime alerts all the time. The Germans could appear in kinds of places. They made hell for us. So we’d push them back again. Some of them got caught - those were in for a nasty time.”

  • “It was a brigade comprising three tank battalions, one motorised infantry battalion, a reconnaissance unit, one field artillery regiment, one anti-tank artillery unit, one anti-air battery, and a sappers’ unit. The formation numbered 13,600 men. It was independent, it was called the Independent Armoured Brigade. It had all the necessary staff and support, in other words, it could operate on its own at any moment. It had forces of all types, except air, of course.”

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    Ostrava, 23.03.2004

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I would like it if people came to their senses and realised they are part of a larger group, called the nation

Karel Brhel (1946)
Karel Brhel (1946)
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Karel Brhel was born on 6 August 1922 in Krnov. His father was an officer of the Czechoslovak Army stationed in Bruntál. Until 1938 Karel Brhel grew up in the Germanic culture of the Sudetes. Following the Munich Agreement, the family was forced to leave Bruntál. His father was assigned to Hranice, where the witness graduated from secondary school in 1942. Soon after, he was sent to forced labour in Austria. In 1943 he was drafted into the Protectorate government army. A year later his unit was transferred to Italy, where it defected en masse to the Italian partisans. A few weeks later Karel Brhel and other soldiers crossed the mountains into France, where they fought on the Western front and then from October 1944 around besieged Dunkirk. In 1945-1947 he underwent training at the Military Academy in Hranice. He received several military honours for his involvement with the partisans and his combat service. In April 1950 he was arrested, sentenced to eight years of prison, discharged from the army, and stripped of his military rank. After suffering through four and a half years in Communist prisons and labour camps, he was released due to his deteriorating health condition. He worked at power plants and the ironworks in Ostrava until his retirement in 1981. In 1990 he was fully rehabilitated and promoted to the rank of colonel (ret.). Karel Brhel died of leukaemia on 20 November 2006.