"We were ordered to immediately take our medical equipment and go to the church. We were told not to move about the premises of the church, because, if it had been hit, we would have been crushed by the falling debris. The wounded were already there waiting for us. We were putting bandages on their wounds. The tanks kept coming and the flamethrowers put everything there on fire. When we arrived I saw that a flamethrower fell on the back of one of the boys. Of course, he was completely burned. We had to be very courageous; there was no time to be afraid. We just had to treat the wounded, putting bandages on their wounds. I wasn't a frightful girl, definitely not. So, we kept treating the wounded, and then we entered the church where an awful lot of wounded had already been waiting for us. Everything was up in flames...."
"My parents lived in the Soviet Union. They moved to the Rostov region to a town called Shakhty, which is located nearby Rostov, Taganrog, and the Black Sea. They worked there and I stayed in Ústí nad Orlicí with my grandma. I lived in a village called Hylváty, which is located in the Sudentenland. I went to a German school. When I was twelve years old, my mom came for me and she took me to the Soviet Union. Of course, I didn't speak any Russian at that time; I only spoke Czech and German. So, they hired a Russian teacher for me and I started to study the Russian language. Then, I started to attend a Russian school, and we had a great teacher there who loved me. Her name was Penelopa Karnilovna. I had excellent results at that school; I even became a Young Pioneer (a sort of Communist Scout – note by the translator). I liked it there a lot. But then, in 1941, the war broke out and the Russians put me in an internment camp because I had a Czech passport."
"The prison there was beautiful; it had been built by Peter the First, and it was more like a castle. But, that was no use to us, because we were kept underground together with people who had been murderers and thieves. It was horrendous, considering that I was barely seventeen years old at this time. It was pretty tough there. They took us out for walks on the yard, and there was a tobacco plant, which smelled wonderfully. They led us somewhere every evening. I spent one month there. One day, they suddenly called my name, and they put me in a black car with blacked-out windows together with other people from other cells, and they took us to Oranka."
"I found out that a Czechoslovak army was being formed in Buzuluk. The Russians told me about it when they released me from the Gulag. As my town – the town of Shakhty – was under German occupation at that time, I couldn't go home. Therefore, I enlisted to the army. They took me to Buzuluk where there were quite a lot of people already; boys and girls from all over the Soviet Union. When I arrived in Buzuluk they hung a metal plate around my neck. Every soldier got this in case he/she was killed or wounded in action. The purpose of the plate was to enable the identification of the soldier. My number was 855--I still remember that. As soon as I arrived I was sent to the quarantine. They kept me in quarantine for fourteen days. You know, there's hardly any proper food there (the witness probably means in Aktyubinsk – note by the author). Then they sent me to the garrison with the other girls. We lived in a building with bunk beds. The younger girls occupied the upper beds and the older ones, the lower beds. Then the training started, and, I can assure you, it was a thorough military drill."
"We saw an awful lot of dead bodies when we were approaching Kiev in our Studebakers. Dead horses, dead Russians, and dead Germans all mixed up together. They hadn't managed to bury the dead yet, so, as you can imagine, we got pretty hardened after seeing all of this. When we were fighting on the Dukla pass, I once decided to go to the lookout post. I really made it there even though the whole area was littered with land mines. There were land mines everywhere. Some officers were going on the road and they were blown up. When we reached our border and were home, we kissed the soil--everybody was crying tears of joy. But, there was still a lot of blood to be shed."
I spent my youth in internment camps and on the battlefield
Jarmila Halbrštátová, a retired Colonel, maiden name of Kaplanová, was born on April 7th, 1924, in Ústí nad Orlicí. In 1936, her whole family, including herself, left for work in the town of Shakhty in the Rostov region of the Soviet Union. Because she was the holder of a passport issued by the authorities of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (her parents were not), she was arrested at the age of seventeen after Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Jarmila was then subsequently detained in a number of internment camps in Rostov, Moscow, Novgorod, and Oranka. The last destination she was transferred to was a Gulag camp in Aktyubinsk. One year later, she was released from internment, and on June 16, she joined the Czechoslovak army corps in the town of Buzuluk. She was trained as a medic and saw action in the battle for the town of Sokolovo in 1943, where she was a member of the 1st Czechoslovak Field Battalion and the 1st Company of Otakar Jaroš. The Czechoslovak Field Battalion was reorganized to the 1st Czechoslovak Brigade, and Jarmila was then trained as a radio operator. She participated in the battles for Kiev, Bílá Cerkev, Zaškov and for right-bank Ukraine. After the Volhynian, Czechs were incorporated to the newly formed 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps. Jarmila remained in the 1st Brigade and saw action in the fighting around Machnówka and the Carpathian-Dukla operation. After the war, she completed a pilot training and till 1946, serving as an instructor of glider-plane flying in the 3rd aerial area in Brno. In 1946, she was demobilized and found work as an accountant. Jarmila died on December 2, 2020.