Zdeněk Hostaša

* 1935  

  • “I spoke English thanks to Leopoldov. The people there who spoke English helped us. We used to write it down on cigarette papers with micro-letters in purple pencil. If you had bad luck, they found it. That happened to me once. Just once. There was one doctor there, he was also a mafdo [“man for disposal”, an approximation of the Czech slang term “mukl” describing prisoners undesirable to the state - transl.], and he worked in the mafdo infirmary, or sick room. He worked with rubber gloves and he brought us the fingers from those gloves. So wherever you could squeeze it into... When they did a check-up, those were quickies, you had to hurry because if they found it on you, you went in the cooler. That earned you fifteen days in the cooler. Firstly, that you’re hiding something, and secondly, aggravating circumstances, it was in English, an enemy language. That’s the kind of asses they were, excuse the language. So what to do? Swallow it? Us poor guys where I was, there weren’t many of us... well, there’s a place on the human body that is called anus in Latin. So that’s where. When they did a check-up, you had to strip naked, underwear and all, and if you had bad luck, when you squatted down it plopped out of you.”

  • “I knew I was in the east zone of Berlin. I reckon, good, I’ll go left - although between you and me, I’m no leftie. It was a good decision, because if I’d have gone right, I’d hardly have got there, it was terribly far away. After a while I came upon a signpost informing me that I was leaving the east zone and heading to the American occupation zone.” (Q: “Weren’t there any patrols there?”) “Wait, let me finish. It took maybe ten fifteen minutes, I don’t know, a short time. I walked on and saw another signpost, and I thought to myself, goodness now what. I was going at a swift pace, I was alone, no one else walked there. The river was on my right side and there was a bridge there. There was one man opposite me, a Russian, I don’t know what he was holding, a kalashnikov maybe. He had it slung over like this and he was looking at me. I didn’t stop at all. Some instinct was telling me don’t stop, keep going. So I glanced at him and carried on straight over the bridge. The Russian stood there, didn’t budge an inch. And there I saw the notice: You are entering U. S. zone.”

  • “So I went to the river and then over the wires, of course, but I didn’t know the wires, the fences there. I found myself a short stick along the way, I did it all in a hurry, and I used the stick to brush through the grass to make sure there wasn’t any wire there connected to a rocket. I knew it, I saw through it. I saw the electricity isolators, I reckoned now what. And I poked the wires with the stick again, no sparks. I said to myself, blow it, here goes, I grabbed it with my hand - I only felt a little tingling. It was hardly live at all, just a bit of juice in it. I had a leather bag with me, I threw it up on the wires, it created a kind of T if you’d look from the profile. I climbed up, I’m sure a broke an Olympic record. I was torn up, hands all bloody. I jumped into the corridor, and more wires, or rather a fence, but without the T. So again, I threw the satchel over the other side. I knew that Czechs weren’t allowed to construct anything on the Austrian side. So it must be a bit further to the actual border. Well, to put it simply, I got over to the other side.”

  • “The trial was divided up, it was the public session. I had my mum there and my sister-in-law. The trial was headed by the military procurator, Major Zich he was called. Th name stuck in my brain. Well, and when he read all of the paragraphs and so on - Mum was still there at that point - and when he said: ‘Paragraph 86’, the one for the death sentence, Mum collapsed. My sister-in-law told me that later on, she was with her there.”

  • “The train stopped, it was the last stop before Berlin. I saw it coming, he didn’t, he was floggered, asleep, I shook him to wake him up. It wasn’t possible. My instinct told me to leg it, but where. The Russians were inside by then. Armed Russians, but no dogs, they getting into the wagons.” (Q: “Was that a search before crossing the border?”) “Yes, that was the Big Ring, the Big Ring and that was it. So off to the toilet, what else could I do? I left the door unlocked and squeezed myself into the corner behind the door. When the Russian came to the door, he opened it and banged it close again. I saw in the small mirror that it was a Russian. I guess he thought: ‘Some poor sod,’ and banged the door shut and the train set off.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Hranice na Moravě, 11.06.2013

    (audio)
    duration: 03:13:37
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
  • 2

    Hranice na Moravě, 11.07.2013

    (audio)
    duration: 03:13:37
    media recorded in project Iron Curtain Stories
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The people here danced to the tune of Moscow’s whistle

Zdenek Hostasa (1955)
Zdenek Hostasa (1955)
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Zdeněk Hostaša was born on 15 June 1935 in Hranice na Moravě, the first child of a local fruit merchant. The witness’s father was active in the anti-fascist resistance in the so-called Paváz Group, but he was caught and deported to Auschwitz, where he was shot in 1941. In the early 1950s Zdeněk began working for a steamboat company. He took part in a trip to West Germany and gained experience from a non-communist country. However, after various conflicts with his employer he lost his job of cabin boy after less than a year. He tried several jobs, working as a locksmith, miner, or manual labourer. In 1953 he attempted to cross the border into Austria, but failed to escape. He was successful two years later, when he first crossed over into East Germany and from there into West Berlin. He stayed in several refugee camps and accepted the offer to become an agent of the American secret service CIC. His reward for fulfilling his tasks was to be the permission to emigrate to the US. After six months training Zdeněk was sent into Czechoslovak territory under a false identity. However, he was arrested on 13 May 1956 when making contact with an informant in Prague. He was stood before a military trial in Trenčín and sentenced to twenty years of prison. He spent time in the former fortress of Leopoldov, where he met with important political prisoners, for example the bishop Jan Anastáz Opasek. After an amendment to the law in 1964 he was released with a twenty-year long parole period. He took up mining again, working in Ostrava. The invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968 was an impulse for Zdeněk to attempt another escape. He did so in September of the same year together with a former co-prisoner from Leopoldov and his brother. The crossing from South Moravia to Austria was difficult, only Zdeněk managed to escape, his colleagues were arrested by the Border Guard. Zdeněk went through another round of refugee camps in Austria, where he was joined by his wife and children. Together they emigrated to Chile, where they spent three years. In 1971 they moved to Texas, where Zdeněk Hostaša worked as a petrol pump assistant and then a welder for nuclear reactors. Following November 1989, he and his wife returned to their homeland.