Josef Čoček

* 1932  †︎ 2019

  • “We got as far as Trhanov and we wanted to cross the border to Bavaria. My friend smoked and as he didn’t have any matches, he went to get some matches from the saw mill-workers in Trhanov. There was a garrison for the border guards in Trhanov so before he even came back from the saw mill, we had already been arrested by the border guards. We spent the first night in a prison cell in Domažlice and then we were transferred to Pilsen. Pilsen was a true turning point for me that influenced my future fate significantly. At that time, youngsters like me were fleeing the country in large numbers and as I was a juvenile, they put me on a cell with the older generation. I was in a cell with Captain Horusický, who studied in America during the war. He was of Jewish origin and it was him who informed me for the first time about what the Communist regime really was like and why it was necessary to fight it. By that time, he was already set for escape. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay there long enough to witness it as I was placed among the juveniles before it happened. Before I left, he told me not to attempt to leave the country for a second time on my own. He said that he’d send somebody for me. He confided to me that he’s planning an escape. The only thing he was waiting for was the signal from outside. That would determine when it would happen.”

  • “They drove me into the basement in the garrison in Valtice. There had been a failure and water had leaked into the basement – it was knee-high. I had to wait there for about eight hours or so before the guys from Prague came and picked me up. For one thing, they got a rebuke because they thought that I had some ciphers sewn into my pants. Before they took me away, they took my clothes and gave me a working overall. Then they drove me to Prague. I later learned from the inmates that the StB agents had their place just across the U.S. embassy and they held me in the basement for two weeks. But I have to say that they didn’t beat me there. Overall, they treated me decently. Then they transferred me to Olomouc and that’s where it started for real. There I was beaten three times a night. I had to do pushups and squats. They wouldn’t let me sleep because they wanted to break you physically. They would lead me to the interrogations blindfolded and the warden would intentionally let me hit an iron bar with my face. At the interrogations, I got beaten up regularly that after about half a year, when I was supposed to go to court, they had to put me in a hospital in Brno first in order to put me back together again, physically, because I was unable to appear in front of the court.”

  • “In Mírov prison, I got to know a certain Franta Škobis. Poor guy – they crushed his testicles during the interrogation. He became insane. I have no idea how this happened but somewhere he found matches and one day he put a straw mattress on fire. He would dance around it and sing: ‘the fire at the Rhine River banks was burning’. The warders came in and extinguished the fire. One of these dupes poured a bucket full of cold water over me and said: ‘that’s for you, so you’ll not be envious of him’. That’s how I caught the first pneumonia.”

  • “Our dead box was actually a litter box and when it was full, it was a little inclined to one side and so I could tell that there was something inside. I would come at night and empty it. In 1951, I managed to do three border crossings to Austria and in 1952, I even did four. But then, they built a third barrier on the border with an electric-wire fence and we couldn’t get over it because I didn’t have any tools with me and later on, the snow had already fallen. Therefore, the next crossing was in May 1953. This time, I was well equipped. I had an isolated pair of wire cutters. It wasn’t that easy to cut through the wire there, because if you cut the wire, a light started to flash right beside the spot where the wire was cut and this alarmed the border guards. Therefore, you had to first connect it via a cable before you could cut that wire. The middle barrier was made up of a fence that was knitted 20x20, a kind of square-shaped formations. You had to cut it. The second barrier was one and a half meters tall. You jumped over it - that was no problem. But you had to be careful because of the mine field. We would rake the ground in front of us with a knife as we walked. We had to be very careful in order to not blow ourselves up.”

  • “Mírov, Mírov, Mírov. Although I didn’t do anything, I had to go to the rapport of a guy called Bimbo, his real name was Matoušek. He was a bit obese. He was the deputy chief of the prison. I didn’t do a thing but still he’d send me to the pit. I had to spend two weeks in solitary confinement which was basically a tiny room with a little opening in the wall. It was December and the winters get pretty tough there in Mírov. Within a week, I of course caught pneumonia. They took me to the hospital and treated me with aspirin – that was the only medicament they had there. Well, I got a bit better there and then they put me in solitary confinement again. I got ill again and again I went into hospital. The chief doctor, a certain Milotínský, a member of the secret police – like the rest of the doctors there – told me: ‘Mr. Čoček, look, they want to exterminate you and there’s nothing I can do for you besides suggest that you be relocated to a different prison’. But he was humane enough not to send me back to the department but instead to place me with the other elderly and sick. And that’s where I stayed until I was escorted to Leopoldov.”

  • Full recordings
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    Hranice, 28.10.2012

    duration: 03:22:25
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
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Free people became slaves and primitives became kings of the world

Josef Čoček po propuštění z vězení v roce 1936.JPG (historic)
Josef Čoček

Josef Čoček was born in 1932 in the village of Střítěž nad Ludinou, which is located nearby the town of Hranice. By the age of 18, he and two of his friends attempted to flee to Bavaria. However, he was arrested and imprisoned in Pilsen, where he met Jaroslav Horusický. With the help of this man, he later made contact with the U.S. intelligence service MIC. He supplied the service with information and smuggled people across the state border to the free world. In 1954, he was caught at the border, tortured and eventually sentenced to life. He spent over ten years in horrendous conditions in the Mírov and Leopoldov prisons. After he had been freed from jail, he was interrogated several times by the secret police and was oressured to sign up for a cooperation with them. However, Josef Čoček steadily refused to cooperate with the StB. In 1967, he married Márie Červeňáková and they still live together in Hranice.