Private First Class Vladimír Hlaváček

* 1921  †︎ 2010

  • "There was a hunger and misery, terrible. As Bolshevism began. Trotskij took over at that time, he released all the prisoners, and said, 'This is all yours.' And they started killing and so on and burning those farms that were there, destroying them and so on. There was a lot of game, they shot it and then they had nothing to eat. And then there was a misery, a terrible misery. In our family, we had our own house and we had dug out something like an escape path from that house into the forest. And we still had such a large room in the garden that we could sit there and so on. And when it was the worst, we could … Otherwise we were armed, if by chance we were attacked, so that we could defend ourselves. But otherwise the Russians already wanted to take us to the gulag. They were taking people to the gulags in the direction of Arkhangelsk and they did it this way… they had cars, small gas cars, they didn't have big ones, like American cars, so they took it and brought it to the station with those gas cars. And at that station there were wagons ready, those ones for the cattle. And they drove the people into those wagons and those people were standing next to each other. And it was always done from Saturday to Sunday."

  • "They asked me if I knew where the white bears lived. And if I don't sign it, I'll go there. And now the war began and those Russians… I was practically at the line, at some Lavra… it was. We were concentrated there and we had to leave. Then it started. Then, after midnight, the fight began. The Germans declared war just before midnight, and now there were planes. And then the planes right above us, over our heads, it was impossible to shoot at them. Because firstly, they used our Czechoslovak aircraft, they shone like a cross in the air. So, the Russians took their planes and went right into them. Otherwise, they sacrificed their lives. And the Russians started dropping their weapons and they shouted, 'Beat the Jews and save Russia!' But the German started firing at us. So they only saw what it is, so the Russians said: ‚Nám stradať, umirať‘, that means 'we are to scrape along, to starve,' if you want to shoot, we will shoot. This is how the Great Patriotic War began. It wasn't patriotic, but it was an instinct for self-preservation. "

  • "And now we got to that river, to that Ondava, it was during the Christmas holidays, it's quite so predatory and there was such a bend, so the ice was weaker, so the boys crawled on their stomachs over the water and we secured them. I was the last to secure them, I shot at the Germans so they couldn't attack. So, they had to lie down and now they fired at the Germans again and I was… But the ice broke underneath me and I got into the water, but not that I could not swim, but that I had to make sure I wouldn't get under the ice. So, I broke the ice and they helped me again, and I got to the other side. But the fight started, and such a strong fight that they fired straight, and now I was lying there, maybe… well I do not know… two hours at least, maybe even three hours in the snow, in the frost, wet. And I got chilled through so hard… when the fight stopped, I went and it just whistled around my head, the balls, and only frr, frr and I didn't have time to lie down or the strength to lie down. And when I got into our trenches, one of us tells me, 'Please stay here, so it will somehow — we're going to attack, because now we've got reinforcements.' There were only a few of us left, and then the reinforcements came, so we went on the attack. I say no, I won't stay here, no way. Because Slovakia was full of guards and many adherents of Andrej Hlinka. So, I went with them."

  • "He (the Inspector General) told me, that even (Ludvík) Svoboda couldn't help me, that he'd get me locked up. And when he went through all my papers, he didn't find anything, because he couldn't find anything. I lived honourably, I lived in such a way, so that I had everything just right... I earned what I earned. I had. I had three percent from the stall sales, but I had to live from that somehow. And then also... the grocers were... started to be against me. Because I joined a different group, Jednota (Coop). So they were after me at that time. So they thought they had me... it was like this: on the Lower Square I had the stalls and the marketplace etcetera. And I got three percent extra to my pay. And they took me, that was, I was under Pramen (Spring), and the grocers took it. And there was Mr. Stria, the manager of Pramen, there, and he said: "´'Hlaváček, come to me, don't go here, you wouldn't have any success with the grocers. They'd give you trouble. Come to me, you'll get whichever store, I'll give you whichever one. And if you want your own staff, you'll get your own staff. For you, anything.' And I didn't want to leave that place. Well and that was... they took me aside, they thought that getting three percent, that I had a high wage, and so they started. That they'd take it and just give me half a percent. And then they said they wouldn't give me even half a percent. And when they said that, I told them that I wouldn't do it anymore. 'Do it yourselves. Why should I do it? Sundays and so on, I would be doing paperwork, going through the accounting.' And they didn't reach their target. You know? And that's how it messed up and maybe you heard, that Mr. Zářecký, he had a shop on Ječmínek Square. And he was under me as well, and I did his paperwork and everything, and he said: 'Look, if Hlaváček isn't managing it anymore, I won't do this either!' And he left."

  • "And then your first combat experience was at Dukla?" "At Dukla, and I went... That's where all those things started, around the command there, that Kratochvíl... I was placed straight in with the Independent Recon Company of the 3rd Brigade." "And who commanded the 3rd Brigade?" "Vojta Lehár. And he, when he came there and saw Russia, then striaght away he was cured, and he even got, when I joined them, I remained with them afterwards, like a part of the equipment, all the time... We went along and I had a sub-machine gun too, but I hadn never cleaned it, I only got it on occassions, because I had a pistol, grenades and a radio, but when we went into combat somewhere, when we were in one of those, because we always had the mission to, we were in the front lines, we clashed with the Germans or them with us and so on. So we were always in some fighting. So there the radio, not the radio, the sub-machine gun, one needed to defend himself, to shoot and not waste time." "And when you think of Dukla now, what comes up in your mind?" "Well, Dukla. There was fighting there. Terrible fighting! We went around covered in blood... Well, and I got through without a single wound, nothing." "You were really lucky..." "Well, lucky... Some of us didn't get hit. I got further on, to Nižný Komárnik, Vyšný Komárnik etcetera. And then we went to Stropkov, from Stropkov to Smižany. There I got to the Branice district, we sat on a Bren (Bren Carrier - ed.) and we were on a hilltop, and it got loose there and we went crashing down through the trees, they just snapped and cracked. That was an English one, nice and wide, it didn't flip, it just rushed on downwards..." "That was that light tank, the Bren?" "And we just held on, just to stay on. And there were Germans at the bottom, and they were surprised, they started running, it was awful... And we got back to our own side. So that was something! That was, to film that, that was something amazing!"

  • "We went on a recon mission to Smižany, to the mountains there, and we had the whole place laid out before us there, the German trenches, we could see the artillery and we reported everything to our people, I reported to general Kratochvíl what to look for and where, trenches and such. But I had been a surveyor in the 1st Brigade, with the artillery, manning a machine gun. And because I was a pretty good surveyor, they sent me to the observation point to report direct fire. And from there they sent me on, because I had some schooling, so they sent me to the radio corps. And I got some training there, and I worked with the radios. I worked with an Arpe 12. Well, and my sergeant, I was kneeling down like this, and he was saying you plant the antenna like this and I was reading something out (some Russian text). And I had my cyphering things, and I did it according to them, I had to read it out, but not phonically, but I could, but it had to be cyphered. So I said something like (Russian numerals). And so the letter had its meaning. And that always changed. So after that I said: 'Sergeant, take it over, I'll be reading it out for you. And you'll repeat after me.' And he knelt down and he was repeating after me, when this shell exploded, the Germans had us targetted, and it exploded and he said: 'Oh oh oh...' And he fell over, dead. I got hit in the arm, my arm was cut up, my leg was cut up, but I managed to switch off the radio, because they could target it with great precision. I switched off the radio and crawled up to this rock there... And the shells kept coming, but they didn't hurt me any more."

  • "After that I had to hide, because it was near Katyně, and they were looking for the Poles. They were looking to destroy the Polish officers and education." "And you were in the army in 1939?" "No." "Not any more?" "No, I wasn't in the army, I was at school, but I was looking to get out there, you know, so I wouldn't end up..." "And the same time the war started, the Russians moved up, so you must have been occupied by the Russians." "Well, the Russians occupied us and they took the Polish legionares, they took them all to Siberia. And the officers, they took them into this prison camp, to Katyně, and they killed them, shot them. Shot them from behind. One old lady came to visit me, and she said her husband had escaped from there, form Katyně, because the Russian at the gate said to him: 'You, let's change our shoes.' They had good shoes, the Poles. And he didn't want to, so the Russian said: 'Look, if you don't change them... if you change them with me, I'll let you free in the evening and you can escape, because tomorrow, you won't have any use for them any more, they'll take them from you anyway, there'll be killing. We'll be killing. Killing everyone.' So he agreed and said: 'Okay...' And in the evening he came to the guard, took off his shoes and gave them to the Russian, and he gave him his old shoes, so he could leave, and he let him out. She told me: 'My husband was saved. He returned to me, but all the rest ended there.' And we were there in Kywercze (correct geographical name unknown - ed.), there were Russians there and they wanted us to cart some wood... they worked for them too. We had to kind of, well until we could get away from there. So I went back to Kooperativa, I did mostly rationing there. So I was in Kooperativa, I was managing the place, and they saw that I'm there and that I'm capable, so they called me to the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and to the military commissariat, and they had me sign up to military school." "So that was sometime around 1939-1940?" "That was 1941 already." "1941, that means just before the war..." "Yeah, 1941, before the war."

  • "So grandma always told the story, and she always cried. Memories of my grandma... my mum did it too, but she had a lot of hard work and she didn't give it as much time, but grandma, she was really into it. Well and she taught me everything, books etcetera. For instance I know, if someone asks about the Battle of White Mountain (bitva na Bílé hoře - transl.), well nowadays, people don't know anything about it! And I know, in the Battle of White Mountian: In the castle king Bedřich feasts and cries, and on White Mountain freedom dies. Dies and fades, the people shed tears... That was our patriotism, we were great patriots. The love of our country, of our Czech nation, that was present there. The built that up in us. So afterwards, when our Republic was being occupied, we were all in tears. And we asked ourselves, how we could help our Republic, and afterwards, when the chance arose, we all went willingly. We didn't check if we would get paid or rewarded. We didn't care about that. We went for our country. It's a pity I don't have, I lent my grandson this book, seven hundred of our girls. Young, sixteen-year-old girls, who went with us to fight in the trenches. They made bandages, they died there. And what happened, when a sixteen-year-old girl was dying and she would say: 'Boys, we are winning, aren't we...' Ofcourse they said: 'We're winning...' - 'That's good...' And then the last words were: 'Mummy, mummy!' And she died."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Nová Bystřice, 23.06.2003

    duration: 01:07:32
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Velká Bystřice u Olomouce, 24.10.2007

    duration: 02:33:12
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

“I said: ‘Boys, be honest, so you can sleep well...”

Vladimír Hlaváček
Vladimír Hlaváček
photo: archive of the witness

Karel Hlaváček was born on the 30th of November 1921 in Volkov, near Dubno, Ukraine. Both his parents were Czechs, but they had grown up in Volhynia. Volkov was a large Czech village. His grandfather had a pub and a big farm, at the same time he was a lawyer. Karel was greatly influenced by his grandmother - she taught him the Czech language, literature, history, and imbued him with patriotism. She came to Volhynia with her parents when she was six years old. Her niece married prince Lobkowicz, her brother looked after the prince’s property in Volhynia. Czechs brought machines to Volhynia, the built out of bricks. During the 1st Republic the territory fell under Polish governance, so Karel went to a Polish school. During World War II the territory was occupied by the Russians. Karel went into hiding, as the Russians were closing Czechs into gulags, or shooting them. In 1941 Karel gave in and began training at a military school (for the Red Army), he trained at Lucek. When the fighting passed them, he returned home and stayed there. In the Red Army he had reached the rank of lance-corporal, but he did not take part in any actual fighting. From 1941 to 1944 he worked in Kooperativa, which was a shop, or rather a grouping of shops, he was in charge of ration tickets (Central Agricultural Cooperative - ed.). In 1944, when the possibility arose to join the Czechoslovak army, he immidiately made use of the chance, as did most Volynian Czechs. There was a strong patriotic vibe in his family. He served under general Ludvík Svoboda in the 1st Czechoslovak Brigade, as a surveyor, later he joined the radio crew of general Klapálek. His first combat experience was the Battle of the Dukla Pass, where he served in the independent recon company of the 3rd Brigade, under the command of Vojtěch Lehár. Immidiately after the war, he left to work at the embassy in Warsaw, where he dealt with correspondence. After the war, in 1947, he moved with his parents to Czechoslovakia. In 1957 he was the manager of a chain of stores in Olomouc. He experienced the events of 1968 during holidays in Georgia. He can speak Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and Czech.