“The worst time of the war was when the front passed through us. They chased us out of the house, set up cannons in front of our house, took all of Mum’s white linen and pulled it over them. Dad prepared for it, he’d taken all the precious books, previous documents, money, even some of Mum’s trinkets, and he bricked it up in the cellar. For clothes - he dug a big hole in the hallway, pulled the boards out, the floor, dug it out and put a full crate of clothes and shoes there, clothes, and then filled it up again, put the floorboards back on, and then emptied out two more sacks of dust or grout. We had to flee ahead of time, before the front came through. Dad, when he saw the tanks approaching, he fled as well. They repulsed them. But Mum, she was from a big farm, she had to have a pig, a cow on lease, hens, geese, and animals like that. They gave the cow back to the neighbours, but the other animals stayed there. When we came back, I was the first to return, Mum sent me to get something when the front had receded, but I came back in awful tears. All the photographs were scattered in the yard, trampled in the mud, I saw that the grout was gone, the boards ripped up, all the clothes gone. Dad then discovered that they’d probed the whole cellar and even found the things he’d dug under and walled in. So suddenly all that we had were the things we had on us. It was hard to get anything new.”
“You know how the Germans occupied us? Mum happened to be visiting an aunt, they were having a pig slaughter there. They were frying, making lard, my uncle was taking sausages by bike. They came to us on bikes. They picked the village clean, all on bikes. When they saw the slaughter, they rushed in, nabbed everything, they took the string of sausages from my uncle’s back and bike, They tore into the house, took everything that was there, even the lard, at which point my mum lost her temper - she was quite courageous - she grabbed at the pot and pulled at it and said: ‘Shame on you. Taking all this... The children are starved, and you take everything.’ He told the other man something, I guess he was a Sudeten, but they gave it back to her. They gave it back, but that one pot of lard was all they saved from the whole slaughter.”
“When he arrived, we travelled in those cattle wagons, we arrived to the cargo station in Žatec. It was dark, nothing anywhere, some soldier was running about, shouting: ‘Isn’t there a Mrs Vlková somewhere here?’ ‘Daddy, daddy!’ we shouted. So he was waiting for us with a car, he took us. He’d started a driving school here in Žatec. He took us home, to this little villa, and he switched the lights on. We were stupified because they did have lights in Lutsk, but it was just a like blinker, a bit like what’s blinking in the left corner here. So my brother and I completely stopped and stared, dazzled by the enormous light. Dad said: ‘Come on in, don’t be afraid.’ He had prepared a loaf of sandwich bread for us, some ham, cheese, and Mum, when she saw that, she said: ‘What a blessing! That’ll last us for today, tomorrow, and the day after that.’ Dad told her: ‘Oh Mum, we can eat this all up whenever we want to. We can go buy some more.’ And Mum asked: ‘Will we stand in line for it?’ What a welcome!”
“When we crossed the borders, I don’t know now which big city it was, Košice, it could have been, I don’t know, but they cooked for us. They said we can come get some hot soup because everything we had was cold. Although we had a small stove there, we couldn’t light them, and they’d toppled over while we were travelling. Well, Mum gave me a can, I remember it like it was today - it was white, enameled, and I went to get [the soup]. There was some waiter there, he was stirring the soup in the pot, he had this water’s livery on, and he’d dipped his sleeve in it, and he was swearing: ‘Swines!’ And other words, I can’t remember any more. He swore and stirred the soup, and I just couldn’t take it, we were coming back to our homeland, coming home. We weren’t getting in anyone’s way because we were going to those parts of the country where the Germans had lived, and they were deported, right. I was too much for me, and I lost the can and came back in awful tears.”
“Imagine that we woke up in the morning to dreadful screams. The screaming was dreadful, it wakes me up in the early hours of the day. Simply, I still wake up in horror even today. Because convoys of cars came up, and they took their children, from infant to fourteen-year-old, and put them on a transport straight to Auschwitz. Not one survived. And then they came... they said that back beyond where we lived there were some meadows and a small knoll, that they were digging some ditches there. Well, they were digging kilometre-long graves, weren’t they. Then when they took the children away, they came and started taking the Jews. More screaming. I had friends among them. We lived in the neighbourhood, see. Old Gaffer Geržon, he rocked me on his knees when I was small, he even renamed me. My name’s Dobromila, and in Jewish I was called Dobeles. He used to bring me matzos, their kind of baked bread. Well, Gaffer and all the others, no one survived. They had to run along a plank, they shot them, they fell, they were dead, they were wounded, they covered them in lime, and more and more. The ground there writhed for three days.”
“Villages locked down, they came in a convoy and took... they chased hens around the yard, cats, dogs, they even took the kompots, everything they had, they took from them. They couldn’t, and they were dying. They couldn’t leave, it was guarded. And it was so awful, you don’t know, it’s good that when Stalin died later, the borders opened up and Mum had a cousin there who vame to visit. They thought I was asleep when her cousin told them about it. Well, I don’t know if I should tell them, I really don’t. [Q: Just tell them. You can do that, right?] Well, they ate the younger daughter, and Mum said: ‘Oh, surely not!’ But she said, well, dead, of course, not alive: ‘What were we to do, was I to let other one die as well?!’ There was real cannibalism there, and few survived. It was dreadful.”
If Hitler hadn’t attacked the Soviet Union, I wouldn’t be here today
Dobromila Janáková, née Vlková, was born on 22 October 1932 in Český Boratín in Volhynia, present-day Ukraine. The families of her parents came to Volhynia from the Czech lands in the nineteenth century. The witness’s grandfather from her father’s side, Václav Vlk, was a teacher and a prominent figure of Czech society in Volhynia. Her father trained as a mechanic and worked as a repairman, later he ran a taxi service; her mother stayed at home and looked after the house, farm, and their two children. The Vlk family was of Evangelical faith, just like most of the inhabitants of Český Boratín. The family later moved to nearby Lutsk. The witness attended a Czech lower primary school in Boratín and then an upper primary school in Lutsk. The western part of Volhynia, which is where Boratín lies, fell to Polish administration after World War I; in 1939 it was appropriated by the Soviet Union, until Germany attacked and the area was occupied by the Nazis in June 1941. Dobromila Janáková witnessed the mass executions of the Jewish population of Volhynia and other atrocities of the war. In summer 1944 her father joined Svoboda’s army, just like most men from her extended family; he saw combat at Dukla as a car repairman, and after the war he remained in Czechoslovakia and helped repatriate Volhynian Czechs to their original homeland. The witnessed stayed in Boratín with her mother and her younger brother until February 1947, when they left in the first repatriation transport to Czechoslovakia. They were reunited with their father after three years, and they settled down in Žatec. Dobromila Janáková studied at a school of social work and was later employed as a teacher. She passed state exams from three languages and worked as a guide, she later joined the department of historic preservation at Prague Castle, where she worked for twenty-seven years until her retirement. Dobromila Jandáková is widowed and lives in Prague.