Jiří Ješ

* 1926  †︎ 2011

  • “Life went on as usual but you had to be careful because one of the directors was a collaborator. And then there was this inspector who inspected secondary schools. That guy was said to be dangerous but fortunately he never showed up at our place.”

  • “I walked around the Melantrich and there was just one night editor - Vladimír Zizius. I was puzzled how it was possible that in times of such a crisis there was nobody else there. But really, it was just him alone. He told me: ‘Good that you’re here, I’m going to the typing room, I’m gonna try to push through tomorrow’s issue. Do you know what happened at the Prague Castle?’ I told him I knew what happened and that I came to write it down. He left and shortly later the phone rang. It was Prokop Drtina on the other end of the line – one of the ministers that had been recalled. He was a good acquaintance of my dad and he knew me a little bit as well. He asked me if we, at the editor’s office of the Free Word, knew that there had been a manifestation at the Prague Castle. He also told me to call him back if something should happen and he gave me his number. When the night editor came back he told me that there was a ban by the police on the publication of the Free Word and that tomorrow’s issue would not make it to the print. I immediately called back Drtina and he told me: ‘put me through to the typing room’. Afterwards, something happened, I don’t know what, but the paper was published the next day.”

  • “The Heydrichiáda didn’t affect me personally, but nevertheless it was the worst time of my life, as a lot of people close to my dad were shot. It was particularly bad in Tábor where my dad had most of his connections. The persecutions were very cruel there and we can speak of luck that we escaped this catastrophe. However, my dad was arrested anyway in 1944. Sometimes in life, there are some occurrences that are hard to believe. Such a stroke of luck happened when they were searching our apartment. They were searching for a picture of a certain child they knew one of the paratroopers had given us. It was true, we had that picture but, of course, we were denying it. They kept ransacking our apartment, going through our books one by one. The only book they didn’t notice was the book lying on my dad’s bedside table. The picture was in that book. They jailed my dad and almost jailed us as well, they even made us pack our stuff, but then, eventually, they left us alone and went away. Me, my sister and my mother stayed at home. My dad was held in the Kounic College in Brno for about three months and then they let him go home. He was only able to escape the fate of so many others because of his connections to the office of president Hácha. Therefore he got out even before the end of the war.”

  • “They were giving us food that tasted great, but only a few bites, or nothing for ten hours. The impossibility of sitting down, the frosty bed that closed onto the wall and was wet when you opened it up again. You had to sleep with your arms crossed on your belly and the inmate slept right above you. And whenever you turned the both of you were woken up. So we were constantly sleepy. We weren’t allowed to have shoe laces because you might have hung yourself. Sometimes, I had to stand for two hours with my arms stretched in front of me. That’s nothing trivial, try to stand for two hours with your arms stretched in front of you.”

  • “On Saturday, the 5th of May 1945 I went to the barbershop. People were already talking about how the German signs around Prague were being torn down. But it was only when I got back on the street that I noticed that something had changed during that hour I spent at the barber’s. There were Czechoslovak flags hanging out the windows, God knows where they had been hidden in such large quantities. Even my mom had some hanging out of our windows. I went to the broadcasting building and when I came to the Orbis building on what is today Vinohradská Boulevard, I was impressed by an immense Czechoslovak flag covering the whole building and by busts of president Beneš and Masaryk on display in the showcases. There was an old open tram approaching the Vinohradská tržnice station. It was packed but I still managed to push myself in and the conductor shouted: ‘Today it’s for free ladies and gentlemen’. It was half past one, we got out of the tram outside of the radio station and we heard a broadcast by Kozák and Mančal from a radio receiver that was standing in one of the open windows above the butchery in one of the adjacent houses. They were calling upon the population of Prague to come to the aid of the radio station. I waited to see what would happen. There appeared a guy on one of the balconies of the house of the radio station – he was probably an SS man – and opened fire at the crowd of people standing in front of the radio station. The shots fell close to me, a dead woman collapsed just a few meters away from me, and someone else fell somewhat farther away. I said to myself that I should disappear because I was useless here, I didn’t even have a gun and I didn’t want to sacrifice my 19-year-old life. So I ran home. I later felt guilty for a long time, feeling like a coward. Three years later, when I lead the student demonstration to the Prague Castle, I was trying to make up for it by standing in the first line and thinking that this was a good time to sacrifice my life.”

  • “I’m not really upset when I think back to the trial, because for me, it didn’t go too badly after all. But my ‘accomplice’, Helena Žampachová, who was helping me to get Ransdorf over the border, she got twelve years. You have to imagine a young woman, age 23, who instead of planning a family now sees her whole life being taken away.”

  • “I knew what happened in Munich more or less from the radio. I used to listen to the radio eagerly since I was a little kid. It was sort of my hobby and I always wished to someday speak on the radio. My wish eventually came true, but at an old age. When I heard Hitler and Göring roaring from the radio speaker I sensed that something was going on. In 1938, when president Beneš was conferring with the German envoys from the Sudetenland, there was a huge rally of young competitors in the Strahovský stadium. This was sort of a demonstration of national unity and support for the president. They waited forever in the scorching sun to greet and salute president Beneš. The president came to the rally to greet them after the long and painstaking negotiations with the German envoys, which must have left him very exhausted. The story with the rally and the president greatly impressed me. Another strong moment for me was the 21st of September, 1938 which was the day after the the British and the French envoys came to Czechoslovakia in order to persuade Beneš to accept Hitler’s demands. My dad, who was very engaged in politics – he was a member of the Barrandov group of Havel – anticipated that Prague was in danger and therefore took us to Tábor into safety.”

  • “On 10 May I went for a walk through liberated Prague. I went on foot because the trams were out of service. I walked down the Vinohradská Boulevard heading to the Museum. I chose to rather bypass the Old Town Square and walked across the Bridge of the Legions towards Újezd. Without any substantial difficulties, I came to Újezd where I saw a dead SS man lying on the crossroad with his face down. I walked on through Karmelitská Street towards the square in Malá Strana. When I was approaching the Building of the Ministry of Education, I saw a column of about fifty German POWs escorted by revolutionary guards. These Germans were just young boys, probably some of the very last recruits Hitler had sent to war. Suddenly, when they were about 10 meters away from me, gunfire resounded from the windows above the archway. The Czech guards reacted immediately by opening fire at their German prisoners who were falling down to the ground en bloc. Out of nowhere appeared old women who dragged the bodies of these poor lads into the passages of the surrounding houses.”

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    V Praze, 01.06.2009

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    duration: 01:12:23
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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They can’t deal with somebody who is ready to stand up against them; they need someone who breaks down.

Jiří Ješ
Jiří Ješ
photo: z knihy Co přines čas

Jiří Ješ was born on 19 June 1926 in Prague. He spent most of his childhood in Prague, but traveled frequently to Tábor, where his family originated. In Prague, he attended elementary school and later a grammar school in Vinohrady. The war interrupted his studies and instead of going to school Mr. Ješ was forced to toil for the Third Reich as a forced laborer. He could only finish his studies after the Second World War. He then went on to study at a Business College. At college, he became a press officer of the Union of University Students in Prague. He was further assistant to the deputy editor of the “Free Word” published by Dr. Miloslav Kohák, who later became the director of the Czech broadcast of Radio Free Europe in Munich. He was also a contributor to Peroutka’s “Freedom Newspaper” and the magazine “Today”. In the aftermath of the events of 1948: he was ousted from university and excluded from studying at all Czechoslovak universities. He was soon thereafter arrested for entertaining correspondence with the runaway student leader Emil Ransdorf. He spent five years in prison (Pilsen, Bartolomějská, Pankrác, Valdice). He was twice arrested and tried twice: for the first time in 1948 and again in 1951. After his release he worked in various jobs in Liberec where his family was relocated. He also worked in Ustí nad Labem. In 1962-63 he worked as the playwright of the Music Theatre in Liberec; in the years 1963 to 1966 worked for the Park of Culture in Liberec as the organizer of concerts of classical music; in 1966-1976 he was employed at the Regional Center for movies, concerts and variety shows in Ústí nad Labem as a regional concert manager and artistic associate of the Czechoslovak art agency Pragokoncert. From 1976-1986 he worked as an agent for the Symphonic Orchestra FOK and in 1980-1990 as a guide in the travel agency Čedok. In 1991 he served as protocol officer in the Office of the President. Since 1990 he was the commentator of the Czech Radio in Prague and since 1993 a commentator with Radio Free Europe in Prague (Radio 6) and other media. In 2003 he was awarded the Medal of the Czech Radio and the 2007 Annual Award of the director of the Czech Radio. He died on July 20th, 2011.