Ondřej Hoffmann

* unknown

  • “One day, that was already in 1945, a group of enemy planes approached and the Hitlerjugend who were stationed in Buštěhrad fired at them from an anti-tank cannon. One of the planes turned around and flew towards our factory. We were all in the forest, some of us in the trenches, and many people were standing on the water-tower that was there. They were rejoicing and shouting ‘Glory to America’ for bringing them freedom. But this probably confused the pilot of the plane and he dropped a pressure bomb at them. What happened was a disaster. Not only that the bomb broke the treetops, but everything under them was also killed or horribly disfigured. What saved me was that I was inside the trench in that moment and the blast thus flew over me. But there were two other young people. They were probably lovers. He was in the trench and she was standing next to him. Nothing happened to him, but she lost her leg and died. When we then had to clean the place, I saw that some people had their lower jaws stuck into their chests, there were brains hanging from the trees… It was a horror. The other planes dropped cluster bombs a bit further away. Altogether we counted about one hundred casualties. It was a horribly shocking experience for us. We were young boys, around twenty years old. We have never encountered anything like that, until that day. And then, the sight of one hundred coffins in the church, or the wounded begging us to kill them because they could no longer bear the pain. Horrible!”

  • “The Wehrmacht moved into our house in April. Since it was in a remote place at the edge of the village, they picked our house as their staff. We had to clear the rooms for them and live in the basement instead. They set up a kind of a petrol station under the tree in the backyard. They brought glass tanks full of petrol. We were there out in the open, away from all the other houses, and that would be a treat for ground-attack planes. We were scared and we just prayed that none of them would drop a bomb there. Fortunately, nothing happened. These Germans were older guys and we could see that they were already so tired with the war and they just wished to get home. They left a few days later and they went towards Klatovy. But then the Hitlerjugend moved in instead of them.”

  • “About two weeks after the air raid I had a problem with my leg and the German doctor acknowledged that I was sick, and I was thus allowed to go home for a week. But the journey was not easy. Ground-attack planes were operating there at that time, and they were looking for trains and shooting at them, especially at the steam engines, in order to make them inoperable. They were also shooting at railway stations. Just as I was going home via Klatovy, one such airplane flew over us. But he didn’t start shooting immediately. He flew around us and he gave us time to jump out of the train and run away a little. The train driver reacted very quickly and he stopped the train by a forest where we could find cover. The pilot then flew over the train and fired a few rounds at it.”

  • “It was already after 1948, people were crossing the border illegally, and there was shooting and firing of signal flares... It was advisable not to leave the schoolhouse too much. Just imagine, you are alone in the school and there are soldiers running past you, shooting… and you are locked up inside and you wait what would happen. There was no national committee in our village. We were just a little hamlet and we were administered from Lísková, which was a village three kilometres away. If we went there for some meeting in the evening, for example, we would be checked three times before we reached the place. It was not particularly pleasant if you had two soldiers with submachine guns and a dog standing in front of you. You then walked for a while and then there was another check. The national committee had their office directly in front of the border crossing. Several mayors from the village have crossed the line and escaped as well. Or one day, a border guard dog jumped at me. That was brutal. But the worst thing that happened to me during that time was when I walked to the gamekeeper’s one November evening – I used to go to his place to eat a meal with him. The wind was blowing, the weather was nasty and so I rolled up my collar to keep warm a bit. I walked fast, and suddenly a border guard stopped me. The soldier probably thought that I intended to cross the border illegally. He yelled at me to stop, but I couldn’t hear him because the wind was blowing against me. It was probably an act of God that in the last moment I turned around and I saw the soldier with a submachine gun aimed at me walking towards me. I thus stopped, he ran to me and said: ‘You were lucky, you could have been dead now.’”

  • “About two weeks after the air raid we were transported back to Prague. We were to work there and do the same things like we did after the air raid in Kladno. But there was no air raid. It went on for almost two weeks, and only then we experienced the first air raid in Prague. Some Prague monuments, like the Emmaus monastery, were destroyed, and there were hundreds of dead. Our task was to search for corpses in the ruins under the command of SS men, and to get them out. We felt sick when we were doing it. The SS man had a bottle of gin, and he would always take a swig and then shout commands at us to make us work harder.”

  • “The Hitlerjugend were even worse than the Wehrmacht. They came in, each of them carried a Panzerfaust which could be fired immediately, and they even placed some around the house. And since we were the last house in the village and thus also the very last house in the Protectorate, because the territory behind us already belonged to the German Reich, the Hitlerjugend occupied our kitchen, installed a light machine gun there and aimed it at the Americans who were located on a hill three kilometres away from us. Our house stood in an open terrain, and it was an easy target. The Hitlerjugend members were in the house and their Panzerfausts were around the house. We were scared what would happen. Then they came up with a plan that every person in the village who owned a bicycle had to surrender it to them under the threat of capital punishment. That was because they planned to ride to the Americans, have themselves captured and thus avoid worse repercussions here.”

  • “Then I had to go to do my army service. When I returned, the border was already fortified and it was already quite dangerous to cross the it. There was a road which ran precisely along the borderline. It went from Lísková to Nemanice. One could simply cross the road, then the barrier, and the village on the meadow behind was already a German village. But when they fortified the border, it was no longer safe to cross it. Nevertheless, I know of a man who managed to cross it. He had served there, and he thus knew the place well. He and his family went through the barrier in a lorry and they managed to get to that German village. The name of the village is Hell, which has the same meaning. We also saw when the soldiers intercepted one couple who tried to cross the border. They blindfolded them and escorted them somewhere for interrogation. The border guards’ garrison was in Nemanice. It is a beautiful region, but it was quite dangerous there. I rather tried to stay at home a lot.”

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    Vodňany, 06.04.2014

    duration: 02:21:00
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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It is not particularly pleasant when you have two soldiers with submachine guns and a dog standing against you

PN_Hoffmann_portret_dob.jpg (historic)
Ondřej Hoffmann
photo: Archiv Ondřeje Hoffmanna, Jan Kotrbáček

  Ondřej Hoffmann was born June 6, 1926 in the family of a cottier in the village Mrákov in the Domažlice region. After completing elementary school he went to study the grammar school in Domažlice. In 1944 the school was closed down by Germans and Ondřej was sent to Prague to serve in the Technische Nothilfe units where he had to clear debris after Allied air raids. He had two horrible experiences while performing this duty. In Kladno he witnessed the dropping of a pressure bomb and its horrifying consequences, and he was in Prague during the bombing of the city. He had problems with his leg and therefore he was allowed to return home. Due to the development of the war situation he did not come back to Prague anymore. Although he was at home, he did experience several tense moments, for example when Wehrmacht soldiers, followed by Hitlerjugend, moved in to their cottage. Fortunately, the presence of these two German groups did not have any negative consequences for the family, and when the war ended Ondřej was thus able to start working as a teacher and pursue his chosen profession. At first he taught at a school close to his home, then he moved to Černá Řeka near Klenčí pod Čerchovem and later to Nové Hrady. Eventually he and his wife settled in Bílsko in southern Bohemia. The previous two workplaces were located almost immediately to the state border with West Germany and Austria, respectively, and thus literally next to the infamous Iron Curtain. Ondřej talks about this strange experience in his narrative.