Vasil Derďuk

* 1922  †︎ 2018

  • "Suddenly, I climbed up onto the attic and I heard a rattle of gunfire. I reckoned: 'That's not good.' The Germans saw him and started shooting at him. They killed him of course. I ran on a bit and threw one grenade, a second grenade at the look-out tower, then I jumped down. But as I was falling, there was the crate from the telescope, and I broke my metatarsal. My foot."

  • "They took me from Novosibirsk to Kamchatka. We mined gold there. Mined right into the rock. We also found some copper here and there. Which means not gold - they had it cleaned up and they gave us food accordingly. He had scales with him, he weighed it and wrote down: one, two, three. You got the most food for three. Soup, two three spoonfuls of porridge or beans. Or various stuff. Maggots included. And a bun."

  • "We arrived. We were in this room and he was giving us all sorts of lectures and such. But it was raining, and when it stopped raining, he herded us outside. And then told us to start crawling. That wasn't for me, I had clean trousers and a nice clean vest. Completely clean. And he wanted us to crawl. They didn't give us anything to put on. So I stayed standing. I didn't lie down. He said: 'Lie down! Crawl!' And I said: 'No! You didn't give me any [uniform - ed.]. I got this from my parents, it cost money. It's not for free.' I said: 'Clothe us and I'll lie down in shit if you want. I don't mind. It'll be your clothes.' And he started swearing at me and insulting me in all sorts of ways. I reckoned: that's not fair. Then he hit me. That wasn't for me. As soon as he hit me, I brought my boot up into his knee. He fell down. I grabbed him by the hair. He had plenty of hair he did, the Hungie. I grabbed him and threw him on the floor and started kicking him. A friend came to help me. We beat him up and legged it home. We spent the night hidden in the hay, rustled up a bit of money and bought some loaves of bread. My friend and I took them and fled across the borders."

  • "I was standing guard with one other chap. He was patrolling one side of the echelon and I the other. I dunno what he was called any more. But it killed him. I'd told him that if they happened to fly by, he should hide under a wagon. Those were four-axled. But he didn't. And suddenly a second plane came soaring up. I saw it coming. So I hid real fast. Just imagine: a bomb fell down just six metres away from me. Those were some sort of small bombs. So he blew up our battery. And for that reason, that he blew it up, I was transferred to the howitzers, to a different battery."

  • "They moved me on from Ukhta Vorkuta to Novosibirsk. In Novosibirsk we did mining. Four at a time - with just pick-axe and spade - and we shovelled the coal into a kind of depot from where it was carted out. I spent some three months there. I didn't know where or when I was." (Q: "That was already in winter?") "That was in winter. They sent us off to the mine shaft, and by the time we got there, some five or six of us had frozen up. I tell you, freezing to death is not an easy way to go. All of a sudden a man would fall down and die. From the exhaustion and everything. No blood left, just water."

  • "The way they gave us our food was, well, if we earned too little, we only got water. So I earned more - there were quotas for everything. The brigadier noted everything down. And that's how I got my food. All in all I was given the most of everyone... That is: soup, three spoonfuls of porridge and one small bun. We had enough bread to start with. Sixty grammes. But they cut that down to forty because of the war. That was just a small slice, like this. I ate it and I was still hungry."

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    Šumperk, 06.05.2010

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    duration: 02:40:26
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We were like the living dead

Vasil Derďuk - 1945
Vasil Derďuk - 1945
photo: archiv pamětníka

Vasil Derďuk was born in 1922 in the village of Černá Tisa in Transcarpathian Ruthenia. In 1939, whenDerd’uk was 17, he entered military training. At the time, the region was occupied by Hungary. When, in the same year, he got into a fight with a Hungarian officer, he decided to flee to the Soviet Union to avoid punishment. However, he was captured while escaping, and sent to a gulag for three years. He was forced to work in coal and gold mines in inhumane conditions, throughout the bitter Russian winter, with almost no food. He passed through labour camps in Novosibirsk, Kamchatka and the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Most of the people he met in those camps did not survive the corrective methods of the Soviets. In 1943, while he was still in the USSR, Vasil Derďuk received a summons from the Czechoslovak army which was forming in Buzuluk. Due to his emaciated and weak condition, he was assigned to the reconnaissance team of the 1st Company under commander Otakar Jaroš. During his very first combat assignment before the battle of Sokolovo he broke his leg and almost lost his life. After recovering he was transferred to the artillery. As a guardsman he was witness to a German bomber destroying the whole battery at Priluky. He himself was deafened for a length of time. Derďuk also took part in the battles of Kiev, Bela Crkva, the Carpatho-Dukla Operation, Vyšný Komárnik and Liptovský Mikuláš. He received several light shrapnel injuries. He was in Svitavy when the war ended . For a short time after the war he lived in Žatec and in Podbořany. He then began studies at the military academy in Liberec. When membership in the communist party became a requirement, he decided he would rather leave the army. He worked at Czech Railways until his retirement. He now lives in Šumperk.