Colonel (ret.) Valérien Ignatovitch

* 1929

  • “This is also interesting. When we first came [to Czechoslovakia] in 1937, I spoke Czech in the female gender. Why? Because I learnt it from my mother, grandmother and our Czech maid. My father didn’t speak Czech, so I hadn’t heard Czech in the male gender.”

  • “We listened to the tapes because we wanted top know when would the maneuvers at Doupov begin. Those were supposed to be join maneuvers with the Russians. I listened to the tape when one of the lieutenants called his lover. It was a wife of one of the Colonels. He told her that he was coming because the maneuvers would begin and her husband would not be at home. But she went no, no, that the maneuvers were postponed for two days after. So we found out thanks to this lieutenant. Interesting. Those were the tapes we listened to.”

  • "I studied at a grammar school. It was called, Pasteur Grammar School. Since I was a little boy, I always wanted to join the army because I was a bad student. My mother was against that; she was a Czech from Vienna who opposed the military service under Austria-Hungary. I studied at a private school and I failed the exams. I joined the army at the age of 21. I went through the basic training and I served in the parachute units. In 1952, I wanted to fight in Indochina. My captain didn’t agree, and told me that I would go to Indochina when I become an officer. So, I had to study to become an officer.”

  • “It is hard to explain. I can’t find Czech words for that, and it is not much easier in French. What should I say? To be faithful, never lie, and to believe, not only your children and the family, but also in Above. I can’t find French for that. […] I was christened as Orthodox, and it has been about ten years since I converted to the Catholics. My children are all christened as Catholics. My father used to say: ‘Cuius regio, eius religio.’ It means to belong to the Church of the country you live in. So, I did it, and I am a good Catholic, but a traditional Catholic.”

  • “In 1968, I was transferred to the Center for Foreign Language Education. After the events in Czechoslovakia, I listened to the tapes. It was tiring because I listened to the tapes eighteen hours a day for a week. Then, I was transferred to teach French officers Czech.” [Interviewer:] “How many students did you have?” “We recruited them from officer academies. I had enough of students. It took almost two years. The whole day they used to study Czech. They didn’t speak, but they understood everything--that was my task.” [Interviewer:] “Did they study only Czech?” “My students did only Czech. The others learned Russian or Arabic.”

  • “Since 1990, I visited Czechoslovakia regularly, either as an interpreter or on personal business. […] Once there was a Czechoslovak colonel who came and said: ‘You are Colonel Ignatovič?’ And I said I was. He told me he knew me, but I didn’t know him. The tapping center was in Fürth im Wald in Bavaria. I once went there to do some examinations of my students. He knew that because he was a captain who commanded the tapping center on the other side. We spied on each other. Our center was international with Americans, Germans and us.” [Interviewer:] “And the British?” “I don’t think so. I’m not sure.”

  • “I’m not sure when exactly did it happen. The Association organized annual balls and we used to go there with my wife, because we like to dance. Once she was ill and I came alone. It was still during communism. So I was there and after twenty minutes I danced with a beautiful Czech lady and she was a very good dancer. She was a spy. On Monday I reported that I met her and they said: ‘Yes we know her. You don’t have to go on.’” [Interviewer:] “She was suspicious or how did you find out?” “You know, if I wanted, I could have had her.”

  • Full recordings
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    Le Vesinet, Francie, 02.12.2008

    duration: 01:00:05
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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In 1968, I was transferred to a foreign language education center. My order was to teach French officers to speak Czech. It took almost two years. The whole day they used to study Czech. They didn’t speak, but they understood everything--that was my task.

Valérien Ignatovich in the 1950s
Valérien Ignatovich in the 1950s
photo: archiv pamětnika

Even though Valérien Ignatovitch, a retired French army colonel, never owned a Czechoslovak passport, he speaks fluently Czech. Born in 1929 in Vienna, his mother was Czech, and his father, Sergeji Ignatovič, was a Russian immigrant. The family lived in Strasbourg and later in Neuilly sur Seine, one of the Parisian suburbs. In 1951, Valérien enrolled to a military academy, completing his studies in three years. Between 1955 and 1960, Valérien served in the Foreign Legion in Algeria because he couldn’t find an appropriate position elsewhere in the French army. He would return to France, serving in various infantry units in different districts. In 1968, after the Russian invasion to Czechoslovakia, Valérien was transferred and tasked with monitoring Czechoslovak military communications tapped by a Bavarian unit. From 1968 to 1970, he spent his time teaching French officers the Czech Language. Following his retirement from the military in the 1990s, he worked occasionally as an interpreter for the French army. Currently, Valérien Ignatovitch is a chairman of the Association of Czechoslovak Volunteers in France. He lived in Paris. Valerien Ignatovitsch passed oaway on November, the 2md, 2015.