“I had an agent from Olomouc, I don’t remember his name. The agent sent us info that he would send an agent to a certain section on the south Bohemian border (Americans were to send an agent-walker from Austria – ed.´s note), telling him where to go and whom to contact. He sent us a copy of this message. Thus we knew beforehand and my colleague and I were ordered to go to the borderline and watch them cutting the electric wires. It was at night and it was very thrilling... We really waited fifty metres from them and one guy was helping him cut the wires and the agent then crossed the border… There were no arrests there. It was not my job. My job was to use the information provided by the agents and write a report about it. The report was then probably sent to the regional StB command if it pertained to people from the region.”
“Some had to. There were times when we had to demand it strictly as an order. This alternated with times of some leniency – you don’t have to, it’s fine if you agree with meeting us without any written or oral commitment at all. Just saying: ´Could we please meet this way next time?´ Ninety percent of the meetings took place in cafés, thus I was at home in all Prague cafés and wine bars.” Interviewer: “Was it possible to cooperate with these secret collaborators, or agents, without their knowing that they were speaking to StB members?” “No! I strongly disagree with that. It makes me mad when artists or musicians claim: ´But I didn’t know that I was actually cooperating with the Secret Police.´ That´s nonsense! We always told them that we were from StB when we invited somebody for an interview. You had to inform them, therefore I’m angry when people now disclaim it. I think they use it as an excuse. I can say: Yes, I was an idiot or I was afraid. Take Kanyza (well-known Czech actor, ed.´s note), he met an StB member sixty times, as was written in the papers, and he didn’t know that he was collaborating with StB. It’s very naive to say that.”
“I had a state-owned phone and I believe it was tapped. Randomly, not always. I felt this way. I’m not sure. You could hear it – I was working in that field.” Interviewer: “What did you think about it? You used to do it before, and now they used the same trick on you?” “I regarded it as something that had to be done, I had to take it as it was. I didn’t want to keep in touch with those who remained there nor with those who were expelled. I wasn’t interested because I knew that I would run into problems.” Interviewer: “Weren’t you afraid that you would run into one of your agents on the street and he would want to talk to you?” “No. I told the agents I had at that time that I had been expelled. On the other hand, I was criticized, and called a bastard for telling them. But I said: ´It’s true that I was dismissed, so why would I keep it a secret?´ I argued: ´I know what you’re talking about, what if somebody meets me and informs me – I talked with him and that person…´” Interviewer: “And what did you do after that? You moved to Brandýs…” “I worked as an accountant in a housing cooperative. When I got expelled from StB, I was working in a liquor storehouse. I was afraid. To work as a liquor storehouse manager being responsible for alcohol worth nine million crowns, with every delivery getting stolen... I got out of it quickly, because I realized I would be in for trouble. Deliveries were broken on purpose and the contents were drank or stolen. So rather I went to work as an accountant.”
“The reason why I initially had the lowest rank in StB was because they were testing me because of my volunteering to work on the trenches with the League Against Bolshevism during the occupation (a collaborationist organization in the Protectorate, ed.´s note). That’s why they hadn’t trusted me. But the reason I went there was that my sister worked as a secretary there and she told me: ´You’ve always wanted to join the partisans – that’s what I wanted at that time – so go to work on the trenches!´ It was her idea. I said OK and I went to work on trenches.”
“In every level of society there are some better people and some worse people… I think that within StB (State Secret Police), those who tortured people were really a minority, just a minority. Even the interrogators could be good people. Just as there were some good people in the Gestapo, there were also some good people in StB. There are different groups of people in every social group. It depends on individuals. If somebody was really keen on torturing people, it was fine with him to work as an interrogator. I can’t imagine myself doing an interrogation. I’m actually a yellow-belly and I hate physical violence. It really depends on individuals… People would always torture other people, in a hundred years time, just like they do today, they will always come up with something”
“It was supposed to be that the West was interested in our uranium, which is possible, I wouldn’t have seen anything there…There were quite a lot of us. I think that, apart from workers, there were only policemen in Jáchymov. I’ve heard – I don’t know if it’s true – that there were six thousand policemen. It was a relatively small town. It was boring and everybody took to booze; there was so much drinking... (ed.´s note: V. Herold later corrected his statement: in the early 1950s the population of Jáchymov was allegedly 6000, and in his opinion about half of that were policemen and their families).”
“Personally, what I regret is that as a boy my attitude was strongly anti-fascist. I saw fascism as a first-rate totalitarian system and I didn’t notice that I was getting voluntarily into an even worse form of a totalitarian regime. I regret this. When talking about my youth, the reasons I had for joining the State Secret Police… I think that it was due to my adventurous nature; I was always seeking some dicey adventures which I couldn’t find. It was a crazy act… I regret it and I am convinced that communism is a lot worse than fascism, which I hated. Because communism has certain humanistic elements in it people were attracted by it. Everybody is equal, because there are no rich people – I liked this a lot. I am sorry that I believed it, because the reality is completely different. It was an unreal dream.”
I regret it! I wanted to fight one totalitarian system, Nazism, and I voluntarily got into another one, communism!
Vratislav Herold was born in 1927 in Rakovník. As a student, at the trade academy during the occupation, he was sent by the Nazi authorities to do forced labour in the ceramic factory in Rakovník. Influenced by idealistic dreams he wished to join the resistance movement. However, following the advice of his sister, at seventeen he eventually went to work on trenches with the League Against Bolshevism.
After the war he applied to join the Communist Party. A party official wanted to improve his personal file however and wrote his entry date as May 5, 1945, even though Herold submitted his application several days after the liberation. In 1948 he graduated from the trade academy and, after completing his military service with the border guard, he began working in the distribution department of the Rudé Právo publishing house. He also devoted time to his life-long interest in literature and theatre. He applied for a position as a cultural referent in the publishing company, but he wasn’t successful, and thus submitted his application to the National Security Corps instead. Since he disliked uniforms, as he claimed, in 1952 he applied to join their civilian section, unaware that he was actually applying for a position in the State Security (Secret Police, StB).
At first he was sent for a trial period to the town of Jáchymov among the guards from the labour camp Bratrství. Then in 1953 he was assigned to work in the 1st section of the 2nd department of StB in Prague, which was the counterintelligence department specifically aimed against Austria. Herold, who was proficient in several languages, handled Czechoslovak spies in foreign assembly refugee camps. Later he was transferred to the anti-American department where his tasks included monitoring of Czech associations with close ties to American organizations (e.g. YMCA). He was then transferred to a department where he was in charge of surveillance of American diplomats in Czechoslovakia. During his service for StB Vratislav Herold won the collaboration of over a hundred people who worked with StB, among others the well-known historian Toman Brod. He was involved in many successful operations, for example under the cover name ATOM. He succeeded in contacting the major-domos of the American ambassador, whom he planned to use to deliver tapping devices from the ambassador’s study.
After 1968 he was dismissed and in 1970 he didn’t pass the clearance because he opposed the entry of the Warsaw Pact armies to Czechoslovakia. During the normalization he worked in a liquor store. Later he left Prague and worked as an accountant in a housing cooperative. Vratislav Herold’s hobbies were modern history and literature. He passed away on 9th of December 2010.