Pavel Čermák

* 1957

  • "At the time we were in high combat readiness, and the way I felt it, it was like they’d thrown me into cold water. They rip you from your civilian life, and you basically have no idea how things work anymore. We were under the laws of the prison, and when they promised you that they'd kill you overnight, you could trust them on that. We slept in our clothes, our boots, and there was a full kit at the foot of every bed. The tanks were out, a full load of ammunition for both cannon and machine gun. I spent my time in complete uncertainty and ignorance. Even the officers knew nothing, or they didn’t want to tell. I think they were just as scared as we were, because no one knew anything at all. Radio was banned, television - normally mandatory - [was banned] too. So we were in a kind of vacuum."

  • “Of course I was scared and I couldn’t sleep. My subordinates were the same. I always imagined some city. Say, Poznań. I envisioned it as this ancient little town with winding alleys. We’re driving along in our tanks, and as commander I’m sitting in the turret. Suddenly a thirteen-year-old boy runs out from round a corner, he’ll have a Molotov cocktail in his hand and he’ll want to throw it at our tank. For several nights I pondered what I’d do. I note that hypothetically this was a normal thirteen-year-old boy who hadn’t done anything bad. He was just defending his country against occupiers and aliens, which is every man’s duty in a way. And what will I do? I thought about it from many different perspectives. I came to the conclusion that I would shoot him, for one simple reason. There are three soldiers below me who trust me and three more of my tanks behind, and their crews are also relying on me.”

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    Hradec Králové, 12.01.2016

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They thought they had attacked Poland

Pavel Čermák - 1980
Pavel Čermák - 1980
photo: archiv pamětníka

Pavel Čermák was born on 9 April 1957 in Hradec Králové. After graduating from the School of Law of Charles University in Prague, he began his compulsory military service with the 21st Tank Regiment in Žatec on 1 December 1980. He was immediately made commander of the 1st Platoon and second-in-command of the 3rd Company. Five days later the Czechoslovak People’s Army geared up for the Krkonoše field exercise, which was to demonstrate that the Warsaw Pact forces were prepared to intervene against anti-Socialist groups in Poland. These were mainly members of the ever-growing independent trade-union movement Solidarność (Solidarity). Rumours spread among the soldiers of an attack on Poland, and although the main part of the 21st Tank Regiment did not participate in Operation Krkonoše in the end, the soldiers were kept in a state of combat readiness for several days. Pavel Čermák remembers that he was worried about the Poles offering armed resistance, he did not sleep properly for several days, and images of him shooting at innocent civilians tormented his mind. After completing military service he went through several jobs in the legal profession, and after the fall of Communism he briefly did business. He still lives in Hradec Králové.