Otto Grant

* 1923

  • “What was the attitude of your schoolmates when they found out that you came from a country that had been actually occupied?” “Nothing in particular. Before the war the English had a very low esteem for strangers. In the school I went to, for instance, there were three or four boys from Czechoslovakia and we were forbidden to speak Czech among ourselves. Our classmates would even denounce us to the teacher when we spoke Czech.” “Did the war-time experience change their attitude?” I don’t really know because I finished that school in 1939, excuse me, in 1940. And I have an interesting story that goes with it. The school-leaving-exams in England were chosen by a head office and then distributed to individual schools. It’s the same for all of England and nobody knows in advance the answers to the questions. There were a few German and Austrian boys in that school, mostly Jews as well. They were taken to a camp because they were afraid that they might have been German spies. Well we were from Czechoslovakia but that made no difference for the English. I expected them to take me away as well any second.”

  • “How do you see the year 1948, I mean except that you got married?” "Well, we thought that it was a transitional period – that it will be gone as quickly as it took place. We didn’t believe that the Russians would behave in the way they did.” “Did you get persecuted by the Russians?” “Yes but it was covered up by the penal issues… it’s hard to speak about it. Actually my case was adapted to make it a truly criminal issue.” “So you were actually tried?” “Yes, I was sentenced to four years in prison and I served four years.”

  • “What were the relationships in your unit like? How did you get along with each other?” It was kind of mixed. The Jewish boys kept to themselves and there wasn’t a great deal of personal ties between Jewish and non-Jewish boys. It differed however depending on the personalities of the people. There were also some non-Jewish guys who had a friendly attitude and a warm relationship with us. But it was mostly separated worlds, I’d say.” “Did you personally encounter some rancor against yourself on the part of your co-belligerents?” “I think so. I think I can say yes.” “Was it because of your Jewish origin?” “Certainly. I don’t remember the details anymore because it’s so long ago. But it all stopped on the battlefield. Nothing like discrimination existed there any longer.”

  • “Do you recall the training in the Czechoslovak army?” “Yes, nothing pleasant. It was usually done by old pre-war drill instructors of lower ranks. They were conducting the training in rather brutal ways. I was happy when it was over.” “What was the hardest part for you?” “The dirt. I remember that once they made a Doctor of Law clean a toilet with his bare hand. They told him he’s free to complain later.” “So it was bullying?” “Exactly. I was subjected to it as well, especially during the first month, then it gradually faded away.” “What did it look like, the bullying?” “Well, they’d, for example, stuff a dress with clothes and similar silly jokes. Everyone had to go through that phase. The worst thing was when they thought that you were a member of the intelligentsia.”

  • “Were you scared when were mounting an offensive?” “I think that I was scared.” “What was on your mind in that situation?” “How to survive it, nothing else. I had that girl in England and I was really in love with her so I was wondering what she’d put on when she learns that I don’t exist anymore. It’s naïve but it was like that.” “What did your advance from Dunkirk look like?” “We weren’t advancing, we got stuck there till the end of the war. There were 12.000 Germans and only 4.500 of our troops. The number of our troops kept steadily rising as there was an influx of Czechs from the German-occupied territories who had to join the German army and later deserted. Additionally there was the governmental army, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about it. So our strength increased to about 6000 troops. But that’s still half of the strength of the German troops.” “Do you recall a happier story from those times?” “Well, rather a story with a happy ending. I have two stories. The first one is about a guy who was cleaning a rocket and set it off. The rocket propelled into the room where we were staying. Well, if it had killed somebody it wouldn’t be that funny. And the second story… a tank is most vulnerable right in front of it at a short distance. Well, I had a car and on the seat there lay a machine gun. And the gunner accidentally stepped on it and it fired. The shot went right underneath my arm pit and it didn’t hit me.”

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    Plzeň?, 02.09.2002

    duration: 01:08:49
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“My parents gave me their savings book and said: ‘buy yourself whatever you want’. They must have known that the sweet life they’d had was over. Life in the First Republic was wonderful, indeed.”

Otto Grant was born on August 17, 1923, in a well-to-do, assimilated Jewish family. He went to grammar school in Prague and in 1939 he moved to Great Britain following the advice of his uncle. Later he was also trained to be part of a tank crew. He participated in the Battle of Dunkirk in 1942. After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia (he came to Prague in his tank on May 30, 1945). He got married in 1948. In 1959 he was sentenced to four years of prisen, which he served in a coal mine in Mostecko region.