Jan Gomola

* 1916  

  • “So there was much fighting before Katyn. I didn’t know that about Katyn. And as the fights near Smolensk were over, I was ordered to retreat from the front and stay somewhere in the woods. And it was called Katyn. I only knew that and nothing else; there was no awareness of the graves. So we drove there. At night the first snow came and everything was covered nicely. The graves were not old, the eldest about half a year. I was the second and in front of me was a loading truck, which wanted to turn round there or something and the back wheels began to go down. I was carrying a canon behind it. So I stopped and told the driver to wait, and went to look around. I saw it going down. So I went to get more branches, wood and everything that was lying around. I told the driver to spin the wheels for full and put down everything I could find under the wheels. And it was flying on the other side out. I went out and suddenly there flew a hand. So I figured straight away it was a grave. As we were a fighting unit and not a mortuary one, we didn’t mind it. We didn’t mind it as there were plenty of graves for four months of war; the Russian as well as German ones. So we got the truck out and then I don’t even remember, where we settled down to rest. We just left it as it was. I recognised it only after seeing a photo in the papers. I knew we were there and it got engraved in my memory, still remembering the Katyn valley.”

  • “The partisans would stop at our house to stay over the night. My mum boiled potatoes and served it with milk to them, as we had a cow. They were glad to get anything. And just a few steps from a German guard standing nearby. And I was at home at the time. So I left to the loft not to meet them. As I didn’t know how it was about to end up. I didn’t know any partisans. It was a risky business. So I went to the loft and hid there. So they asked to stay the night. So they were allowed to lie down on the ground in the living room. And I rather slept at the loft.”

  • “So we were withdrawing back via Bludovice and suddenly we got to Dobrá near Frýdek. There we stood up our canons for the last time to shoot at Frýdek, but that never happened. There was a chaos; the Russians were attacking, as they went to the factories taking out the packages, as I saw it. So we packed it up and retreated further on. Until we came to crossroads to Morávka and Raškovice. I put my trousers over my boots and wore my coat inside out, put my hat into the pocket and the belt under the coat, not to look so much a soldier. I went off the road up the hill and there was a young thick forest. So I went in there and waited until it got dark. But I don’t know how long as I fell asleep. And as it was uphill and I wiggled my legs during sleeping, my legs slid down to the pavement. And people went past falling over my feet. And it made a lot of fuss in the village straight away.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Ostrava, 17.10.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 02:05:20
    media recorded in project Silesia: Memory of multiethnic Region
  • 2

    Ostrava, 12.03.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 01:07:04
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I survived because all the time I believed that God knows about me

Contemporary portrait of Jan Gomola wearing the Wehrmacht uniform
Contemporary portrait of Jan Gomola wearing the Wehrmacht uniform
photo: archiv pamětníka

Jan Gomola was born on 20 March, 1916 in a village of Dolní Lomná in Těšínsko, and comes from a very poor religious family. Although the family was officially Polish, its members actually felt Czech. When the Czech school was founded in Dolní Lomná in 1922, Jan became its first pupil. In 1938 Těšínsko was occupied by the Pols and he went to seek work in Berlin. He made his living as an interior painter. He got his working permit, based on which he was sent to the German army. As its member he travelled through France, then was sent to the Russian front. He took part in the Moscow march, survived many battles and his artillery unit got all the way to the sea of Azov. He spent four years at the Russian front and only had four holidays during that period, when he could go back home for three weeks. During retreating from the Red army in 1945, when his unit went past his home land, he secretly came back home. For fighting in Wehrmacht he encountered much hate and bullying after return home. After war he lived in a deep poverty and almost marginalized. In 1950s he moved to Ostrava and until pension he worked as a miner. He wrote a book on his travels through the Soviet Union called I found Katyn. It was only after war, when he found out that as a soldier he got to the mass graveyard of executed Polish officers in Katyn and saw their remains there, yet didn’t know, what kind of place that was. In 2016 he celebrated his hundredth birthday and lived in a retirement home in Ostrava-Zabreh.