Ing. Jiří Havel

* 1931

  • „Sister of Granny Hamáčková lived here in Trutnov and she was a pure Czech, she had Czech schools, but during the WWII, she was a devoted Nazi. She used to visit Grandpa Hamáček and kept trying to persuade him to join the Nazis as well. They had a house in the Czech neighbourhood here, they had two daughters and her husband was a chief train guard. Those two daughters got married and when the Germans were to be expelled, guess what. Great-aunt’s husband hung himself, husband of one of those daughters died of tuberculosis and husband of the other daughter divorced her. So this great-aunt stayed alone with two daughters and five grandchildren. They were put on a train and taken away to East Germany. There, they were lodged in one room above some sort of a pigsty and they lived there for several years. So this great-aunt, she was such a Nazi and Hitler fan, ended up like this and towards the end of her life, she joined some religion.”

  • I got this idea that I could do a book on European mountains and I obviously needed the Alps for that. So I applied for the exit permit, back in the day, one had to apply for such a thing, and the bank had to issue a promissory note that they would exchange Czechoslovak crowns for foreign currency and only then they would stick the exit permit in your passport. Surprisingly, everything went smoothly so I and my wife set off for Austria. In the morning, we got to the border crossing in Dolní Dvořiště. There, they told me to get out of the car, took me inside and I had to take all my clothes off. They didn’t strip my wife, there was no female officer at the moment. So they let us simmer in our own juice and at five in the evening, they took our passports and all my colour films, they apparently wanted to steal them, and they sent us home. The next day, I had a relative who was an army attorney in České Budějovice, so, through him, we spent all the morning running from one place to another, making phone calls with a military attorney from Hradec [Králové]. The Trutnov office had allegedly blocked it. It was all set up, at that time, they had such a method that there was a code which they wrote in your papers and when they saw this code at the borders, they knew that they were to search us as much as possible and if possible, not let us across the border. It was terrible, all the stuff we had to go through. The next day, for the whole morning, the military attorneys kept calling each other and it was blocked by the Trutnov office again. I think I was issued the exit permit just for it to be a trap. Finally, we got across the border. That military attorney in full uniform drove in front of us in his Volga car, at the border crossing in DD, he spent another hour making telephone calls and then, all sweaty, waved at us to get out of there right away. Eventually, I got to Austria and when we crossed the border, I started crying because I was on the verge of breakdown.”

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    Trutnov, 18.03.2022

    duration: 03:16:16
    media recorded in project Příběhy regionu - HRK REG ED
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In famous photographer’s family, there was a Nazi and a Sudeten German

Jiří Havel while shooting
Jiří Havel while shooting
photo: Krkonošský deník

Jiří Havel was born on the 9th of April in 1931 in Horní Branná. His father was a postmaster, his grandfather on mother’s side managed a large farm. Jiří spent the first years of his life in Košice in today’s Slovakia where his father was transferred by the Post but he started school back in Bohemia. Horní Branná became a Czech outpost after the Reich’s annexation of the Sudeten and after the occupation of the whole country, the village survived WWII without any damage. In 1944, the Vlasov army appeared there for a short time and a year later, the Germans on the run passed through the village. Jiří’s grandfather sold the farm; his dad, a National Socialist, refused to be lured to join the Communist Party and Jiří had problems later when applying to college and when searching for a job. In 1953, his grandparents lost their lifetime savings in the monetary reform. Jiří graduated from Railway College and got a job with the state railways. Since his childhood, he was enchanted by the Krkonoše mountains and by photography so he started photographing the mountains for postcards. Later, he would travel with the [state-owned] Čedok travel agency and he published several photography books on Africa, South America and European mountain ranges. In 1978, he joined the Association of Visual Artists [membership in this or similar organisation allowed the artists to be self-employed, otherwise one had to be employed or they would be arrested. Effectively, he didn’t have had to hold a day job]. Two years later he quit his job in the Czechoslovak Railways and became a freelance photographer. During the1980’s, he accompanied the mountain climber, Michal Šmíd, to the Himalayas. He continued with photography after the 1989 revolution as long as his health permitted. In 2022, he lived in Trutnov.