Warrant Officer Josef Bürger

* 1923  †︎ unknown

  • “The Russians released a hot-air balloon, we were watching it and all of a sudden, two German fighter planes come in, they make a circle around the balloon and begin shooting at it from machine guns. They had these lighting shells, so we could see when they hit the balloon. A fire erupted from the balloon after a short while, and it began descending rapidly. The two guys who were up there jumped out when they were fifty metres above the ground, and they fell into a soft field. I heard they were not killed, they were injured, but they survived the fall. Whether they died after or not, I don’t know. But I have seen this with my own eyes.”

  • “While in the quarantine we were in the right side at the bottom, away from all that was happening. There were only officers, mostly generals over on the other side (in the German part of a POW camp near Moscow – ed.´s note). We were placed in a special quarantine zone down there, and we were not in touch with them. We then learnt that the field marshal Paulus was held in that second zone. We could see these kuchas, as the Russians called them, beautiful wooden houses. High German officers and marshal Paulus were held in these houses.”

  • “I returned back to the barracks and there were not any people whom I had known anymore. There were only older guys, fathers taken away from their families. It was way after the Stalingrad, and the army was short of soldiers. We rode on a train for three weeks, over Poland, we also passed by Auschwitz. And the soldiers knew it was Auschwitz. That was interesting. The railroad track went just by that wire fence.” – “I would like to ask you one more thing, when you arrived to Russia, what did you do in the wehrmacht?” – “We were in the second line, which needed to be made. Not all of us were soldiers, neither was I. We were digging, with the people, and then I had to go to the front line. I was on guard to watch the Russian soldiers at that time; they were without their sweaters, sitting around a fire in one large barn, and playing cards. Some of them were picking lice from their hair and throwing them into the fire. We eventually went to the front line to relieve the German army. The Russians knew it, and when we went there, we were under fire until we got to our trenches. We did not even know where to jump. The lighting bullets at least allowed you to see from where the fire was coming. We were running and zigzagging, we were scattered all over the place, and each of us running in a zigzag line, trying to avoid the fire. Some of us lay on the ground and waited whether they would be hit or not. Then we got to the trenches.”

  • “My name is Bürger Josef, I was born on 5th December 1923 in Chlum u Křemže in the district of Český Krumlov. I spent my childhood on a farm, we had some 15 hectares of land, which meant we did not fall into the category of kulaks yet. There were eleven of us children, three died and eight of us remained. My father died when I was ten, so we farmed with my brothers and sisters. We were farming all the time, and I did not want to do it, farming was not my cup of tea, I rather wanted to learn some trade. When I was riding to the field, the horses would turn and they would not obey me, I was too weak for them. I was not a tough boy, I was petting the horses, and they then did whatever they liked. I was farming till I was seventeen but when I was fifteen, I wanted to go and learn a trade. But my mom told me: ´Son, it’s not possible.´ My father died of facial cancer, it ate up all his nose and lip, he basically died of starvation, because he could not chew nor swallow, nothing. When I was ten, he simply died. The farm was encumbered in debt, 105,000 of the prewar Crowns. This equals to over a million of today’s currency. Therefore it was not possible for me to leave and learn a trade, I had to work on the farm till I was seventeen, and only then I was able to go into a vocational school. I chose the plumbers´ and locksmiths´ trade.”

  • “During the wehrmacht´s retreat, I was trying to keep in the back, and I eventually stayed there. I thought: ´If they look for you know, you cannot go straight in the same direction, you have to go sidewise.´ So I walked a bit to the side. My feet were cut from ice, and I looked like a ball of mud. Around 3 a.m. it was already dawning, I saw some bush, and I made towards it. I was not alone, Bremen, one student, joined me, and he asked me in German, whether he could go with me: ´Wenn du willst. If you want, come then.´ So there were two of us, and we crawled towards the bush. I got rid of everything, I threw away my rifle, and everything, I only kept my photos in the linen case in which we carried a gas mask. We walked a bit further, and we came to a tree, and there was a lorry standing there. We opened the door, and a dead driver dropped down from the cabin. We were on the front now, not knowing from which direction the Russians would come. Suddenly, bomber planes arrived there, there were many of them. They were dropping bombs, later I learnt that these were five-kilo concrete bombs. They were dropping them in the same way like when you are sowing peas. We stood a bit aside, but it killed all those from whom I had run away. When the planes were gone, we came out and we knew that now it would be only Russians who would come there. They came, but they did into shout ´halt!´ as soon as we got up, they started shooting at us. I dived to the ground, trying to dig into the ground. A bullet flew past my head and hit my shoulder, but only slightly under my skin, it did not matter. My comrade was hurt in his arm and leg. They came closer and we raised our hands. When he was wounded like that, I even bandaged his wounds. And they asked: ´Who bandaged him? ´- ´Me,´ I said, I could speak Russian quite well. They made a face. I explained to them in Russian that the guy had joined me, that he wanted to go with me, and they... They weren’t taking any wounded.”

  • “One day we had to go collect dead soldiers. Such a coincidence… I was loading the corpses of a father and his son, both from my unit. I learnt about it by accident, the son was allegedly killed by a mine or a machine gun, he got hit and fell to the ground. And his father couldn’t bear to see it, he jumped after his son, and he also got hit. And I was now loading their bodies onto our truck. You won’t believe me, but I did not eat for three days after that. I thought I would rather go and get killed than to load our dead boys again. This is something so terrible, when you have them in your team, and then you are collecting their bodies. It is horrible. I was a reserve driver, and you could not choose where to go. It was all in a hurry, and I had to drive whenever I was given an order. And this happened to me.”

  • “At first we observed how the life in the prisoners´ camp was, and one day an NKVD guy came, he was carrying a bag, and he pulled out seven blocks of fat. This was cut into very small cubes and put into a soup. He returned five of them into his bag, and I thought ´what, only these two blocks?´ There were three thousands of us. The soup was watery, perhaps it was some vegetable broth, maybe they were putting something like that in it. You could not live on that. They were giving us 200 grams of bread, and in the evening, we had two spoonfuls of mush, that was all. The boys were even cutting nettles, they were so hungry, and they were cooking them in a cup over fire, and adding salt to it. There was enough of salt, but it was a raw salt, it was not clean. There were barrels with tea outside, you could take as much as you wanted, but the tea was about a month old. They were only pouring new and new buckets of tea in, it was impossible to drink it, it was so grouse. There was a doctor from Carpathian Ruthenia coming to our third zone, and when he learnt about the nettles, he strictly forbade it: ´If you ever want to return to the army... You can withstand hunger, but if you drink nettles, you will not go anywhere.´ People would then begin containing water, their faces and legs would become swollen, they lasted a week and then they were gone.”

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    Český Krumlov, 11.06.2009

    duration: 03:18:30
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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I was standing in front of the conscription committee, and I was telling them that I was a Czech and not a German

Josef Burger in 1945
Josef Burger in 1945

Warrant officer in retirement Josef Bürger was born December 5th 1923 in Chlum u Křemže, in the Český Krumlov district. His father died in 1933, and he was thus growing up with his mother and siblings. Although they had a large farm, on which Josef had to work till he was seventeen, he eventually decided to learn a trade, and he went into training for plumbers and locksmiths. However, the Nazi Germany thwarted his efforts in 1943, when Josef was drafted to the German army. It was found out that his grandmother was a German. He was sent for training in Germany and France, where he learnt about the French illegal resistance. During the demanding training Josef became friend with his comrade in arms Rudla Reidl, with whom he shared very similar war experience. After four months of training Josef Bürger was sent to the eastern front to the Dnepr, to Mala and Velyka Lepetykha, and starting from January 13th 1943 he joined the fight against the Soviet army there. Although he was fighting on the front line, he did not get into direct combat even after three weeks. Josef Bürger decided to escape from the wehrmacht and to defect to the Red Army, but during his attempt at escape he fell asleep due to exhaustion and he was found and captured by German soldiers. From that time he was considered a deserter, and he always had to report to his German guard. However, for the situation on the eastern front, confused retreat of the wehrmacht was also typical and at one moment Josef Bürger together with one German student managed to leave his guard and to make a run for the other side. The Soviet soldiers opened fire against them, the student was killed, and Josef Bürger was slightly wounded in his shoulder. He joined the Red Army on February 5th 1943 and the following week he was fighting alongside the Soviet soldiers as a signaller and submachine gunner. An interrogation by a Soviet officer followed, after which Josef Bürger was to be shot, but eventually he was taken to a POW camp near the town of Stalino (present-day Donetsk). After applying for Svoboda´s army, about which he had learnt from illegal listening to Radio London Calling, and Radio Moscow, he was supposed to report to the enlisting committee in Moscow. The committee, however, meanwhile left for Rovno to recruit Volhynian Czechs. After a three-day stay in Moscow Josef Bürger was interned again in a camp near Moscow, this time for four months. After his release he went by train to Kamenec Podolsky, where he was enlisted in the Svoboda´s army. He was trained in Sagadura. Afterwards he was assigned to the submachine gunners´ unit of commander Pagáč, then he underwent training with Volhynian Czechs and eventually was transferred to a motorized column as a reserve driver. He took part in the fighting of the Carpathian-Dukla operation; he was bringing material and transporting the dead and wounded. After the crossing of the border and the fighting for Barwinek and Svidník he got to Liptovský Mikuláš. There they were in danger of being encircled by the Germans and the soldiers were therefore ordered to destroy all their personal records. Josef Bürger thus lost all his notes from the army. Eventually, the threat of encirclement was averted, and Josef Bürger then arrived to Prague via Vsetín and Kroměříž. In 1946 he was demobilized and in the following years he was working in manual professions in the paper mill in Větřní, where he made use of his vocational training as a plumber. During the communist era, Josef Bürger faced potential problems, but he was not persecuted, and the only restriction imposed upon him was that he was to work only in manual professiona. In 1983 he retired, at present he lives in Český Krumlov.