Jaroslav Čihař

* 1935  

  • “Every boy has an idea of sorts and I wanted to be a car mechanic. I had already sent an application to mechanized airplane workshops in Slovakia. But I wasn’t able to settle on it once and for all. My grades weren’t all too bad and they told me I could go to a grammar school. But instead I decided to follow my thoughts: go to the Ostrava region and take care of myself by actually doing something else than sports. And this is how things turned out. The so-called Lány action was an impulse for my joining the mining industry. At that time mining was lagging behind, people were lacking and facilities had to be created. Especially here in the Ostrava region where mining, metallurgy and heavy industry are interconnected. In order to attract people here, recruitment was organized under the patronage of the then-president Gottwald who then invited us selected ones to his retreat in Lány. There they told us what our rights and options were. After considering all the pros and cons I decided to start vocational training in the Ostrava region in 1950.”

  • “Understandably, mining industry was also a political priority. Take into account that the country wasn’t in a good shape after WW II. And Ostrava region was dependent on heavy industry which at that time provided a living for half of the country. So I’m not surprised about Ostrava currently asking the government for help. I started my apprenticeship in 1950. I expected it to be more lenient. But I used to be a scout and enjoyed the ethics and strictness in vocational school. Thinking about it today I would recommend young people to experience something of that sort. The youth would then be less of a trouble.”

  • “It goes without saying that we were members of the Socialist Union of Youth. The Scouts were dissolved back then and instead this union was created. All activities had taken place within it. Even later after I finished school and started working… It was a preparation for Communist Party membership. These unions provided a fairly strong environment. I had never reflected upon the communist regime as a boy; only later when I held various functions. I changed my opinion over time. Each era has its attributes, you know… Depends on leadership. Back then there was the Union of Youth and the Communist Party. No other parties stood a chance because this was the ruling party.“

  • “They smelled smoke and they started running. But the smoke was so strong that we discovered them along the whole length of that section, which was about five or six hundred metres long. There were miners in pairs, individuals, and whole groups as well, and they were scattered all over that section. These guys knew that if they get into trouble, they would be able to turn on air supply which was delivered to the shaft under pressure. The pressurised air was used for driving pneumatic drills. But if there is an accident, all electricity, air and water supply to the mine need to be turned off to prevent an explosion. On top of that, we thus turned off the air supply to them. We discovered a group of about thirty people, all gathered around the hose which normally brings in air. They tried to breathe from it, but their supply of air got stopped.”

  • “When they put on the masks they hoped that the masks would save them. But the doctors later stated that it was so strong that they inhaled two times and then they were already dead. But they had had time to pack up their tools before, and from this we judged that they had not been in a hurry. It meant that there was some extra time. If somebody tells you to run, you run and you leave everything scattered around, but we discovered that their tools had been stored properly. That meant that somebody had told them to clear away the equipment, sit down and wait for further instructions. But they have not gotten any other order, because the disaster came from both sides.”

  • “They took the first ten corpses to the institute of pathology in Karviná. They were those who had not been killed directly in that section. These ten were transported to Karviná and they were among the first ones who had their funeral. The other ninety-eight were subsequently transported to Libavá. The army had a large freezer there that they used for storing ammunition. Pathologists were summoned from all over the country and they were ascertaining their identity.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Havířov, 13.01.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 03:21:55
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Hlučín, 15.04.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 02:13:10
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I need to do everything for my children. And teach them to be diligent and honest.

Jaroslav Čihař, in a miner's uniform, 1951
Jaroslav Čihař, in a miner's uniform, 1951
photo: archiv Jaroslava Čihaře

Jaroslav Čihař was born in a Czech-Slovak family. His mother was a Slovak from Košice and his father was a Czech. He was born on April 27, 1935. His father was a tradesman who owned a small forwarding company. At the end of the war he was sent to Germany to do forced labour. He was driving a truck and clearing away debris in Nuremberg which was destroyed by the bombing. In May 1945, Jaroslav Čihař witnessed the liberation of Pilsen by the US Army and the welcome given to General Patton. He also remembers the departures of German prisoners of war and the arrest of Karl Hermann Frank in Rokycany. In 1950 he took part in the so-called Lány campaign. Recruiters from coal mines were recruiting boys from all over Czechoslovakia in the Lány chateau in the presence of president Klement Gottwald. Jaroslav began studying a vocational school affiliated with the Dukla mine in Dolní Suchá in the Karviná region and in 1953 he worked his first shift underground. In July 1961 a fire spread in the Dukla mine and 108 miners perished. After the tragedy, Jaroslav helped with clearing works in the mine and he witnessed the recovering of the dead bodies. In 1966 he became a member of the Communist Party, but after the purges which followed after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies he was expelled from the Party. He worked in the Dukla mine until 1990 when he retired. Since that time he has been dealing with the mining history in the Karviná region. He co-authored a book about the tragedy in the Dukla mine as well as a permanent exhibition on mining in the cultural centre in Havířov.