František Elston (Epstein)

* 1922  †︎ 2005

  • “My father managed to get me into the transport organized by Sir Nicholas Winton. I was over the age but my father obtained a false birth certificate. I was told that it is my own enterprise and if I get caught by the Germans they would pretend it is not their business. The transport went on quite smoothly. We went by train from the Central Station, then we waited at the German-Dutch border for almost 24 hours. It wasn’t anything pleasant to be just waiting. There were a lot of small children and for me, any other minute of waiting meant danger to be caught.”

  • “My father had a visa but my mother didn’t have any. The English were fiddling with the visa for my mother until the war began, but that was too late. My father had two options. To accept a position at the university in Oslo or in Stockholm. He did an interesting research on tuberculosis in Oslo, so he chose Norway instead of the neutral Sweden. The country was invaded three weeks after they moved there. In 1942 they were arrested and taken to Auschwitz. My mother was killed right away, my father was chosen as an assistant to the infamous Mengele. My father reported than Mengele treated him well and called him Herr Professor. My father then suffered with typhus and so on. In 1945, after Auschwitz was liberated by the Russian Army, my father entered the Svoboda’s army, he fought in Slovakia, came with the army to Prague where he subsequently served as an epidemiologist for some time.

  • “I violated one of the basic rules of a pilot and that was that I didn’t voluntarily have my plane inspected. I was trying out one master and it caught fire. The flames came out right by my left leg. I was about 2000 meters high and I told myself that it was enough, that I would rather be on my way out and I wanted to open the cockpit. It got stuck half way through and the flames went up in my face. I didn’t have any other option than to let the steering go and try to open the cockpit with both hands. And I was trying to get out with the flames licking my face. By that time the plane was already flying headlong towards the ground. I finally managed to dislocate both the cabin top and my shoulder and jump out at approximately 300 meters. Two pilot officers saw the crash and reckoned it was 300 meters. I got out of the plane but before I could pull of the parachute the plane exploded, there wasn’t much time for anything. Here at Ruzyň you get out of the plane much slower. I couldn’t move with my shoulder because it was dislocated and I was burnt. My legs were burnt, my face was burnt and my trousers were burnt but those I could easily replace. And before the parachute could open properly I flew into high voltage wires. The God seemed to return from a lunch break and looked down at me and said: ‘I think I will help this guy.’ Because I stopped about a meter above the ground. And there was a guy on the field and he came when he saw me. I showed him with my burned lips to unlock the parachute and he pushed the button and I fell on the ground and then kicked me again and again, because he thought that I was German. He didn’t like Germans, I didn’t like them either…”

  • “I came to England where I was adopted by a family, the Smiths, they had a daughter and a son and they behaved very nice to me. With their help I could apply for the English graduation exam at a technical school. The War started shortly after my arrival to England and I immediately volunteered at the Czech Embassy but they told me to pass the graduation exam first, which came right with my eighteenth birthday. Then I was called in where I was promised to fly the planes, and I flew as an instructor on the ground.”

  • “I was young, I stuck to flying like a limpet. So I didn’t tell that I can’t see the runway properly let go other things in the air. It was quite irresponsible to fly like this as a fighter. And then I turned the Spitfire over during the landing. I was sent to the ophthalmologist and he said that flying with my sight is a suicide. I had a cataract and problems with orientation in space. I must have hit the edge of the runway and the plane ended up with its nose in the mud. I had to undergo another two or three operations. Then I was sent to an Australian bomber squadron as a tactic instructor where I flew with Hurricanes all day long. I flew a lot but I kept on persuading them to send me back to the fighter squadron. So in 1945, the squadron had the privilege to welcome me back. But it wasn’t due to my involvement that the War ended soon after. I got to the Orkney Islands, then to Shetland where we patrolled against the intruders. It was a kind of a passive activity. In 1945 I mainly guarded bombers that attacked ground targets. I was lucky not to get into a fight with any German planes.”

  • “In our family we were very superficial concerning the religion. The main feasts like Jom Kippur were still held but nothing else. If I have visited the synagogue ten times in my life it was a lot.”

  • “I opened a phone book, I wanted a name beginning with E. And Elston caught my eye, the right one. So I took that name.”

  • “So what it was like when I came back after the war… My father survived, my mother was killed by the Germans. The rest of my family, seventeen people, were killed as well. People reacted either with hysterical praise or said: ’You were having a good time in England, and what about us here on the barricades?’ That was my first impression."

  • “The Germans were pigs no one can match, but they had their principles and doctrines. The Czechs were pigs no one can match because they had no doctrines. They made them out on the spot and prosecuted people who didn’t really deserve it…”

  • Full recordings
  • 10

    Praha, 08.07.2003

    (audio)
    duration: 49:26
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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You were having a good time in England, and what about us here in the barricades?

František Epstein was born on May 27th, 1922 in Prague-Podskalí to an assimilated Jewish family. Before the war, he studied at a grammar school and an English college (he passed a university exam in English before he left for England). In 1939 he left in a transport of Jewish children organized by Nicholas Winton. During the war he served at the 313th Fighter Squadron of the RAF. He guarded American planes bombing German cities. He returned to Czechoslovakia for a short period between 1945 and 1948 and studied dentistry. After the Communist Takeover he moved back to England and in 1989 he returned to Czechoslovakia. He died in the Central Military Hospital in Prague on July 6th 2005.