“That was another difficult journey. We arrived by train - I don’t know how long it took, I can’t remember any more, I just remember Voronezh. We arrived at Voronezh, the town was blown to pieces, ruins all around; we carried on past Voronezh, the end station was Valuyki. That was the end station, the rails further on were so damaged that the train could go no further. So we had to walk. I reckon you must have already heard something about it. We did night marches. In the winter. It was February. And those were dreadful marches, because we would go an hour or two, then there would be a break for a few minutes - everyone just fell to the ground and started dozing off immediately. So the field gendarmes would make the rounds and encourage people not to [sleep]. But in the end we finally reached Sokolovo.”
“They assigned me to a Soviet unit, a sapper unit stationed north of Kharkiv. If you find where Belgorod is, the town, then thereabouts. Defensive trenches were being dug there. They expected the Germans to attack, so they prepared various defences. I found myself in a sapper unit.”
“[Second Company] wasn’t stationed directly in Sokolovo, we were positioned in a village next to Sokolovo, within viewing distance, Artyukhovka. We were based there for several days, we had trenches there and so on. And then an attack was organised and 2nd Company went into the attack in the direction of Sokolovo, over the small River Mza. And as we were crossing the river - which was frozen over of course, as it was freezing cold and the ice was on top - then of course the Germans fired flares and presumably they saw us. There was storm of gunfire. We flung ourselves flat on the ice to protect ourselves. And we would inch forward bit by bit. And that’s when I got wounded. So I immediately reported to my squad leader.”
“The town was called Skole, and we were there some three months. We left on the 31st of March 1940, and March, April and May we were in Skole, some three months or so. Then they took us away. When the prison camp was full of refugees of all different nationalities, they prepared a train, actually a cargo train, they herded us all into the wagons, they locked us in and took us to the city of Stryi.”
“So they placed us in various front-line units. I found myself handling a Maxim heavy machine gun in the 44th Russian Guard Division. So we, the Maxim and the 44th Guard Division were on the Belarusian front, somewhere around Gomel and Reczyca - I remember the name, Reczyca, a town of some sort, but the villages, I have no idea, I can’t remember - and there was pretty heavy fighting there. It was back and forth, retreating and then pushing forward again. I was there with the 44th Guard Division until around the 20th of December 1943, and on the 24th or so, on our Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I was wounded [already after the Kursk Offensive - ed.]. I copped it here and in my leg. Simply said, I was wounded again, and so they took me from the front and off I went back into the field hospital.”
“They divided us up into separate, what they called Lagpunkts. Those were this kind of small village where the convicts were placed separately. The convicts were inside the labour camp of course, but there was the staff that guarded us, and they had their houses outside the camp.”
“The place was full of Russian soldiers of course, so they sent us to a Russian reserve regiment. I thought that if they put me into a reserve regiment, they’ll send me on to my own unit, that the reserve regiment sends everyone to where he belonged. But that didn’t happen.”
“We got together, we were eight boys from our village who had agreed to escape over the borders. We met up one evening, bought vodka to fortify ourselves with, and escaped over the borders into the Soviet Union, and there they locked us up. My parents started looking for me right that evening, as did the parents of the other boys. The women just wanted them to give us back home because they needed help, and so they set off and went to the borders. There they were caught and they couldn’t go back. They were stood on trial with us. Most of us got three years of prison. We were sent to some labour camp in the forest, and the women were taken somewhere in east Siberia to work on some cotton fields. We were allocated to separate brigades the moment the news came that a Czechoslovak foreign unit was being formed, they released us from prison immediately, despite not having completed our sentence, and they sent us to join the military unit, that was towards the end of 1942.”
Sergeant (ret.) Michal Demjan was born on the 19th of November 1921, in the village of Vyšny Verecki in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. His parents worked in agriculture, and the poorly developed region in Czechoslovakia could offer Michal Demjan no vocational education. He completed seven years of primary school and then began working on various farms. After Subcarpathian Ruthenia was occupied by Hungary in March 1939, he was forced to enter the Hungarian semi-military organisation ‘Levente’. The newly established regime was not to his liking, however, and so on the 31st of March, 1940 he and some friends headed off to the Soviet Union for a better life. They were arrested on the borders and were imprisoned in Skole, Stryi and Vinnytsia, where Michal Demjan was sentenced to three years for illegally crossing the borders; and then in Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk, before finally ending up in a Soviet gulag in Siberia, near the town of Ivdel. He was released in November 1942, when he decided to join the newly founded Czechoslovak military units. He arrived at Buzuluk on the 9th of January 1943, and after a short training period was assigned as an assistant light machine-gunner to the 2nd company of the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Field Regiment during the defence of Sokolovo.
During combat at the River Mza, on the 9th of March 1943, he was wounded, receiving a bullet to the face and a bullet through his right arm. He was treated at the field hospital, before being transported to the hospitals in Kupyansk and Michurinsk. After his injury healed, he was placed in a Soviet reserve regiment, and even an intercession was not enough to get him back to the Czechoslovak units. He was assigned to the Red Army, he underwent sapper training and in 1944 he took part in the Kursk Offensive as an assistant heavy machine-gunner. There, on the 24th of December 1943, he was wounded once more - taking a shrapnel to the neck and the left leg. He was treated in the Gorkovsky District. He then returned to the Soviet reserve regiment, from whence he was sent directly to Rovno. There he signed up to the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps. One caveat existed, however, that the soldiers had already left the city, and so he journeyed to the Czechoslovak reserve regiment in the Romanian city of Sadagura, where he was assigned to a mortar company of the 1st Brigade, with whom he took part in the Carpatho-Dukla Offensive. He then contracted a stomach disease and was sent off for treatment to the hospital in Humenné. He found himself in the Czechoslovak reserve regiment in Poprad, where he was subsequently reassigned to a guard company protecting the sanatorium in Vyšné Hágy from Hlinka’s Guard. After the war, on the 15th of August 1945, he was transferred to Ústí nad Labem to guard the deported Sudeten Germans. In 1945 he accepted an offer to serve in a guard detachment of UNRRA; he was in Germany, France and Italy before being demobilised in 1947. He made a living as a prison warder, he was stationed in Valtice, at the District Court in Mikulov and in Pankrác until 1949, when he was discharged. He found work as a manual labourer and a pressman at Pergamenka in Prague, where he remained until his retirement in 1976.