“We had mine detectors and the necessary equipment, mine spikes, explosives and fuses to detonate the mines, but we didn’t have enough of this material. We were depended on the local authorities because the Army no longer operated. They had to provide us with lodging and food supplies. Before that, mines were liquidated by civilians. The authorities paid five Crowns for a deactivated detonator. But civilians didn’t know that Germans used new mines, T. Mi. 43, which were covered by a lid and activated after being placed in the ground. When somebody wanted to take off the lid to deactivate the detonator, the mine exploded. The mines also exploded when you tried to take them out from the ground. The civilians didn’t know that and a lot of them died. That was the reason why they called for the army.”
“Naturally, we had a lot of work, there were causalities as well. We recycled the explosives from mine fields. We opened wooden anti-infantry mines, dismantled the detonator and used the explosives. One day it was raining and I told the soldiers that we would not go to the field until the weather would be better. It stopped raining and I sent the soldiers to the field to collect some explosives. We used the old material as supplies. And two hours later they brought back a soldier with one leg blasted. It was a forgotten mine. The fields were not absolutely clear, there were only passages and sometimes there could be a forgotten mine. It was one of the older soldiers and he was very unhappy later when they operated on him in the hospital.”
“I was experienced […] I was looking for dried turfs because you could spot the landmines by pieces of dried grass. I had to be careful not to step on a piece of grass that was not checked before because it was very dangerous. If you could not get to the place that was cleared and stepped on a mine you were in trouble. […] I also had a badge of an ‘Exemplary soldier’. I still have it and I’m proud of it, I was wearing the badge all the time when I served in the army after 1945.”
“When I came to Odessa, I could see that the relations between Russians people from beyond Caucasus, they were called slanted-eyed, were not very friendly. Once I saw a Russian soldier taking one of these Asian soldiers at a gunpoint with a machinegun. He took him out to the open and shot him. That was such a horrific experience when I saw a harmless soldier being shot this way. One of my worst experiences from the war.”
“In Crimea we had very good relations with the local inhabitants. They greeted us because we were Slavs and we could speak their language. We got into contact with the partisan forces and we also had good relations with them. In 1944, when the front came to Odessa we were still in the partisan forces. We had excellent relations with civilians – I really can’t complain – but the army took us as if we were fighting against them, as members of the Slovak army. The first time I went out, and I thought that I could normally go out, I was dressed in the Slovak uniform. I had three stars and I looked like an officer. That was in April 1944. I had leather gloves and a soldier stopped me and took the gloves. They wanted watches and similar things because they didn’t have it. He put me on the horse and took me to the barracks as a captured soldier of the enemy forces. And when I was interrogated at the headquarters, I told them that I belonged to the partisans and the officer told me to go away. So the soldier who arrested me didn’t prove anything.”
“Once during the Dukla operation we had an order to clear the area of mines because the frontline advanced. We couldn’t walk on the road because Germans had a good view, we walked by the wood, there had already been a path. When we got to the place it was quiet. Then we had to descend a slope without trees to the valley. There was a school building and a tank holding the position. Our soldiers were on the slopes and there was only the tank in the valley. We marched like goose, I was in the front and the rest was behind me. As soon as we reached the tank, they started throwing mines. We needed a place to hide and I reached the tank and tried to crawl under, but it was standing in small trenches so that there was no space to hide. I managed to hide there at least partially and two other soldiers were behind me, the others hid in the slope. Mines exploded all around us and one of them was very close and I was hit by a shrapnel in the hand. That wasn’t that bad, the one next to me was hit in the back. Then the shooting stopped and we called for the medical units to carry the injured soldier, but he survived that."
“After Dukla, I was transferred to Subcarpathia to recruit reserves for the army, because the casualties were very high and Subcarpathia at that time still belonged to Czechoslovakia. We had headquarters in Krivá at the Tisa river in the local barracks and we were recruiting the local inhabitants. We managed to recruit two battalions because people at Subcarpathia were very poor. The Russian army was also in the area and they started recruiting as well. They promised a lot of things and they also gave wheat to people who entered the Red Army. So we lost our positions in Subcarpathia. I was looking forward to spending Christmas behind the frontline but we had to leave earlier, just after the two transports because the relations with the Red Army became tense. In December 1944, I returned to Stropkovo to the frontline back to my battalion at the 3rd Brigade.”
“I wish young people knew better about the war, because it was a long time ago and people now don’t know what was happening. I’m worried by the modern propaganda. People say that it was all Communist propaganda after 1945 but Czechoslovakia and especially the protectorate was very grateful to be liberated by Russian forces. Germans treated people very bad during the protectorate and there were many useless deaths. They don’t talk about it so much today and younger generations listen to the truths they are served with. And the need to reconcile is sometimes not reasonable.”
Local authorities gave five Crowns for a mine detonator. But at that time, Germans already used new landmines which detonated if you took them out of the ground. Civilians didn’t know it and a lot of them died
Jozef Giertl was born in Čierny Balog, Slovakia. After elementary school, he studied at forestry high school. In 1941, he joined the armed forces in Nové Mesto nad Váhom where he stayed until he left to the Eastern front to Crimea, where he served as a sapper. He joined the partisans and for a short time he was held as a prisoner of war by the Red Army. When the Czechoslovak forces were founded, he joined the units of general Heliodor Píka, returned to Slovakia and participated in the fights at Dukla and during the Carpathian advance as a lieutenant at the 3rd Czechoslovak Brigade sapper units. Served in Subcarpathia for several months and recruited the local inhabitants to join the armed forces. After battles at Dukla, Žilina, Strečno and Liptovský Mikuláš, he was transferred as a commander of a sapper regiment to Eastern Slovakia. He was responsible for disposal of unexploded landmines in the Dukla corridor. After the war, he graduated at the officers’ academy in Litoměřice and passed through a sapper training in Olomouc and served in the 2nd tank division in Milovice. From 1962 until his leave to retirement he was a lecturer at the Military Academy in Olomouc. After 1989, he held public lectures on Czechoslovak forces during the liberation of Czechoslovakia. He passed away on June, 4th, 2012.