Dimitrij Dráb

* 1920  †︎ 2006

  • “Then we went forwards to the village. When we were on the outskirts of the village, the guard from the watch tower phoned the troop commander that there were five strangers going through the village. We were in such a distance that that we could hear it ourselves. At that moment there turned up about three horse riders against us, soldiers. We were arrested and taken to their headquarters. They started interrogating us. They wanted to know where we were from and this and that, and they were especially interested in the information about the Hungarian Army, their positions, plans etc... Then we were passed on to the reception camp.”

  • “We went to the front at the end of summer 1943. We crossed the Dnieper and having done that we settled at a place in a forest where we were preparing for Kiev. However, when our troops were moving, the German aircraft followed our redeployment. They bombarded our transport and destroyed our whole troop. That troop had 76-caliber cannons, thus some bigger ones. Our officers decided that our 45-caliber cannons would be handed over to the Infantry as infantry cannons. Our troop would take over the cannons after the destroyed troop. We weren't much familiar with that hardware, only in general. That was why we had to have an intensive training so that nothing could surprise us at Kiev. Well then, after launching the attack we fought with that hardware already. Having liberated Kiev we got as far as the area Vasilkov, where the whole front was stopped and we prepared for another attack. I got as far as the area Buzovka where I got seriously wounded. It happened during the tank assault by the German Army on January 16. Our Troop was assaulted by 16 tigers, the Troop commander was killed.”

  • “Such tasks as who ensured what were divided among the Allies. We used English weaponry until they started making ours in Moscow. Food and some other stuff were ensured by the American Army. It was basically due to all the three states that our Troop rose and operated in the Soviet Union.”

  • “When the battalion officer, who assaulted the spot-height 534, called a meeting in order to discuss the procedures of the assault, he asked us a question. He asked how certain kinds of weapons supported us. I said it was impossible to place cannons on the edge of the forest as they would be immediately destroyed by the enemies. We could grab our tommy-guns and machine guns and we could set off as Infantry. He also asked the tank driver how much he could support him and how many tanks he had. He replied: 'One.' - 'And is it fighting-fit?' 'Well, it is not but its engine is alright. I'll start it then and will rev up the engine so that it roared a lot. It will give the impression of a whole tank troop.' Then I came back to the troop and a messenger came about ten minutes later. He said that they assaulted our headquarters and that officer was killed.”

  • “After long interrogations I was passed on to Stryje in the Western Ukraine. They continued interrogating me there. I got into a room where there were none of our citizens but only the Polish, the Polish commissioned officers. Interrogations went on. In the morning, at noon, in the evening, irregularly. I spent there about a month. Then they arranged transport and we were sent to town Starobilsk beyond Kiev. On January 6, 1941 they sentenced me there for illegal crossing the state border of the Soviet Union. My sentence was three years of forced labor.”

  • “I got as far as the area Buzovka where I got seriously wounded. It happened during the tank assault by the German Army on January 16. Our Troop was assaulted by 16 tigers, the Troop commander was killed. I was taken to hospital. I spent a few days in Kiev, then in Tambov, then in a district town beyond Tambov close to Saratov. I carried on with my treatment here. The treatment was far too long for me. Even if I were allocated to a room with some Soviet officers, I wanted to come back to the front as soon as possible. I went to the head of the hospital and he said that my wounds were not healed yet and that was why I couldn't be released. But when my leg got healed and the arm was not so bad either, he eventually released me after some pressure on him. He sent me back to the Czechoslovaks to Buzuluk. Of course there was nobody left because our Troop had already been training at the Rumanian borders in Western Ukraine.”

  • “As for the Army and the journey from Buzuluk to Praue, I value most that I got to such a Troop that was perfectly controlled both in spirit and style. I can't remember any serious conflicts. There was always something small but nothing serious among individuals nor on the political level, nothing like that ever happened. I saw it as a great asset and strength of the Troop of which I was a member.”

  • “I come from Carpathian Ruthenia, as you know. My parents were persecuted and imprisoned by the Hungarians after I had left. None the less, I looked forward to coming home after the war. But it all ended up the way that Carpathian Ruthenia was added to the Soviet Union. I had my own experience from the gulag and because of that I knew how unjust they treated not only their citizens but also foreigners. I decided to stay in Czechoslovakia. It was a very distinctive and a negative turning point to me. After signing the treaty between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia I could have chosen my citizenship. I took my chance and chose the Czechoslovak one. I never met my parents after the war again. They both died, first Dad and Mum followed. I managed to get to Carpathian Ruthenia again a year after Stalin's death.”

  • “They drove me off to the East, namely to town Ural in the Ural Mountains. Later I was taken even further to the East, to a labor camp where I was placed in the labor unit. We usually worked in the forest, it was in winter. At that time there was a large amount of snow in Western Siberia. Thus, when we needed to cut down a tree, we had to clear about a meter and a half of snow first and then we could start cutting the tree. The frosts were awful, even up to forty Centigrades. It was ordered that if the temperature dropped to minus forty Centigrades, then we could stay in the camp. Anyhow, I had frostbites on one toe of both my feet. I didn't have to go to work then and I was treated in a health center for about a month. When I was healthy again I got to the brigade that made holes in ice on the river so that the ice went away soon and we could carry on with wood floating in spring. Having done that I got to a brigade in which there were only three of us. I gradually got to know that the war broke out. However, nobody had ever told us in an official way. The food was getting worse and worse, people dropped behind and I was left alone in the end. I was the youngest one and the strongest one. I used to go alone to work to forests, I was supervised by an armed soldier.”

  • “Organization of the Czechoslovak Troop was based on the principles of the Pre-Munich Czechoslovak Army. We were governed by the Soviet Union. However, training and our lives were such as were the habits in the Czechoslovak Pre-war Army.”

  • “I remember the times when we were liberating Kiev. We went from the South-East and finishing liberation of Kiev we met the Army that was liberating Kiev from the South. They saw us for the first time. The meeting was truly wonderful. The Soviet soldiers, who had only heard of us, showed such a joy that they met us! They knew perfectly well that we were the first foreign troop that collaborated and co-fought for the common goal.”

  • “We who were persecuted gathered together and we were a group of about five people. At that time Germany and Poland were at war already. Poland was divided into two parts, and the Western (the witness certainly meant the Eastern part - editor's comment) part of Poland fell to the Soviet Union. Thus the Soviet Union bordered on former Hungary and then also on Carpathian Ruthenia. We drew together on August 1, 1940. We planned the journey, we found someone to take us over the border and we set off on Saturday evening. We crossed the border on Saturday, August 1, at five in the morning. Nobody followed us, nobody had even seen us. There was a man mowing a lawn on the opposite side. One of us approached him and he asked whether we were at the right place. He confirmed we were in the Ukrainian area, i.e. area of the Soviet Union. So we decided to carry on. We decided to hide our weapons in the forest in order to avoid potential problems with them. Nevertheless, one of us kept his dagger on him. Even that was later regarded a weapon.”

  • “The conditions were as follows: As for sleeping – we slept on bare bunks in casual clothes. I slept in my quilted cotton-wool clothes which I got after having been sentenced in Starobilsk, and when I was deprived of my civilian clothes. The food was very poor and that was why people couldn't stand such hard work. There was a doctor in the camp. In my last camp it was a Rumanian from Bessarabia, who got to Siberia after the occupation of Bessarabia.”

  • “As for the soldiers, especially officers who came to us from England in order to reinforce us – we only welcomed them because there was a lack of officers. There were never any conflicts between them and us.”

  • “Because I didn't have a complete high-school education, I wanted to complete it. The Ministry of Education issued a decree that members of a Foreign Army, if they apply for a high-school, would be accepted and would be able to complete their education. I had to hand over the application personally at the Ministry. I got a stamp in the reception. Then I was sent to the first floor to a certain office where they should have discussed the application with me. I came there, knocked at least three times but nobody would open the door. I dared open and I saw an older hairy gentleman sitting at the desk. But he gave no sign of response. I greeted him, again and again and I said to myself: 'Those mathematicians and physicists are such crazy people, by the way, if he was not one of them.' Then the man stood up and headed towards me. Eventually he put his hands up as if he wanted to catch me and shouted: 'Boy, what are you doing here?' And it was my class professor from my Grammar School in Chust. Since he had already known me, he confirmed that I had studied before and he found a place for me at a Grammar School in Žižkov. I finally graduated from that School.”

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    Písek, 19.05.2003

    duration: 01:00:23
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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The food was getting worse and worse, people dropped behind and I was left alone in the end I was the youngest one and the strongest one I used to go alone to work to forest I was supervised by an armed soldier

Mr. Dimitrij Dráb was born in Carpathian Ruthenia in 1920. After the area had been occupied by the Hungarians in 1939 he decided to leave for the Soviet Union. However, he was caught crossing the border and he was sentenced to three years of forced labor. He worked two and a half years in various camps in Western Siberia. Then he was offered to join the new rising Czechoslovak Military Troops. He chose his placement in the Artillery, his first fight was the battle of Kiev. Shortly after that he was seriously wounded in Buzovka. After a long period of healing, he joined the troops again just before the Battle of the Dukla Pass. He was an artillery scout at Dukla. After the war ended, Dimitrij decided not to come back to Carpathian Ruthenia, because of his experience in the Soviet Union. He never saw his parents again, and worked in the Czechoslovak Army until he retired.