Otto Klíma

* 1910  †︎ 2006

  • "On April 30th 1939 we got on a train in Prague and went to Znojmo town in Moravia. Znojmo has been already then occupied by the German army. A funny story happened there. The Sudeten Germans from Znojmo town soldiers were expecting a train with the delegacy from Cheb town. They awaited German citizens. When our train arrived the music started. But there were no German Nordic-like looking people at the windows of the train, but mostly dark haired Jews people."

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  • "The establishment of the Czechoslovak provost court in the Mid East has been underlain by jurisdiction that the Czechoslovak troop isn’t subject to British court and especially to British jail that was so tough. So the eventual violations have been carried out at the Czechoslovak provost court. This was on behalf of our temporary government in London and of course on behalf of the Ministry of Defense in London. That’s why this provost court has been established in Jerusalem."

  • "My father died in 1937. I left my mummy here. Only my brother and his family stayed here. My mom died in 1942 still in her own bed. One of our maids provided her really great service. She was very loyal. My brother, his wife and their kids have been transported in 1943 to Terezín and Auschwitz concentration camps. Here they all died. When i came back to Czechoslovakia I didn’t find anyone here anymore."

  • "After several months of the dessert military training we have been transported to Egypt close to the Suez canal. It was including the motorized equipment, tents etc. Our next station was on the West of the Alexandria port. Our task here was to protect the coast against potential air invasions, because in the meantime the German troops occupied the Balkans and even the Crete Island. There was an imminent danger that the German troops will break in the Egypt shore. Therefore we must have protected the coast line."

  • "I have been deprived during the communist regime. I have become a private, just like that. I simply received an army book as a private. Inside, there wasn’t mentioned that I was a member of the Czechoslovak foreign army, instead there was written ´served the foreign army´. "

  • "Many of the planes were much higher, so the parabola of the impact wasn’t on the port, but the surrounded streets. As in every other port, the parallel street leading to the port usually is the ´Street of love´. There was one brothel next to the other. And unfortunately, the bombs that have been dropped from the longer distance used to fall right on these houses. Many British soldiers died inside of those, unfortunately. The problem was how to announce the families that their sons died even though there was no front yet. Englishmen have a special code word for this event which is ´Died on duty´. So the families in England received nice letters saying that their sons, husbands and fathers died on duty, although it was in the fancy house."

  • "Generally speaking the British men were treating us - The Czechs - much better than the so called ´Aborigines´, i.e. Jewish and Arabic population. They have had better relationship with us for being their war fellows, than they had with the local population. Our ´first Republic army´ was at least as good as the British was. We have been preparing for the war, the British men weren’t. That’s why the British army welcomed every, even a tiny troop, as a help in situation that started to getting worse in the North Africa."

  • "There has been an office opened in Prague, located in the Black rose Palace on Panská and Příkopy streets. In this office the illegal transports to Palestine were being arranged by two Slovaks. Their names were Mr. Lebl and Mr. Gutmann. Most of the volunteers were young people, but there were also few older people who moved to the Central Bohemia after their region (Sudetenland) has been occupied by Germans. Also some Slovak people came with the intention to leave the country for good. There also have been about ten or fifteen people with no Jewish origin in this transport. They were friends of the people on board, some of them were adventurers, some were political refugees who recognized the upcoming danger."

  • "We used to go to Jerusalem where most of the citizens were orthodoxy Jews. Therefore some of the restaurants or hotels were closed from Friday to Saturday evening. If we wanted to spend a night in a hotel we were not allowed to turn the light on, because that was forbidden for the orthodoxy religion. But in Tel Aviv everything went by in European style. There is a beautiful shore there, which wasn’t built yet back then. When I have visited Israel later, now it was already a separate country, I have noticed the huge progress that has been done by it’s building up."

  • "After the end of the war I have remained in the army and worked as a justice officer by divisional court in Plzeň town. I stayed there for a year or two. After that I have been replaced to Prague to the first region headquarters. The commander of this region (West Bohemia) was general Klapálek. Then I have been replaced once more in 1949 to the Ministry of Defense, concretely to its war claims department. In 1952 me and another 14 officers of the justice service have been dismissed and lost our jobs, probably for being Jewish and also for being involved with the pro west politics in the past. Fourteen out of total of fifteen of us have had Jewish origin."

  • "This whole Zionistic problem was also a huge political problem. Many of the Zionists or the Jewish organizations have been criticizing us for entering the Czechoslovak foreign army instead of staying in Palestine and trying to establish a new country there. Especially, if we were allowed to stay in Palestine without any visa or other formalities. And later they were criticizing us also for not staying in Palestine to protect her from Nazis after the situation got worse there. The intention of Rommel´s army was to enclose the oil sources on the North from Russia and on the South from Suez which would cause the Britain to get down on her knees. It was useless to defend ourselves by arguing that on the Maginot line we are also fighting for Palestine. That’s what we were claiming during our transport over the Mediterranean Sea to France. It was the same like saying that In Spain people were fighting for Czechoslovakia."

  • "After we arrived to Vienna train station, they took us to some old Danube port, where we boarded on two boats named Car Dušan (Tzar Dušan) and Kralica Marija (Queen Maria). Those were both pleasure steamships, to be honest, both absolutely insufficient. Each could carry about 320 people on board. So we used to sleep on the floor, up on the deck or under the deck. There have been some wooden booths built and used as toilets. This overloaded boat sailed on Danube River all the way to Sulina Black sea port. Sulina was small sleepy hollow on the coast line of the Black Sea. The Slovak organizers were arranging for a more capable boat to take us to over the Black sea. The rented a boat named Frossula, sailing under the Panama flag. The captain of this boat was a Greek called Barnabash and the rest of the crew came from all around the world. We may say, it was a riffraff crew. It was necessary to build the beds for 650 passengers. This boat used to carry the coal originally, so there was a huge empty space under the deck where they built four-story beds. Each of us got a blanket we could sleep on. The reconstruction of the boat took several weeks and in the meantime we have been supported by local sources. Finally, when everything was done we took off to the Black Sea. We sailed through Bosporus and Dardanelles strait to the Mediterranean sea."

  • "Due to the fact that the Jewish conditions were getting worse I applied for the transport of about 650 people heading to Palestine. Palestine, back then was under the British powers. On September 3rd 1939 after quite adventurous journey we have landed without permission on the Palestinian coast. We have been captured by British police and arrested in a detention camp called Sarafand where we spent few months. After that we have been released. The amount of Jews who came to Palestine without any permission like this has been deducted from the permitted number of all Jewish immigrants. I used to do several manual works for living. After the general consulate of Jerusalem announced the mobilization concerning the former Czechoslovakia soldiers I applied immediately. I have missed the very first transport due to my health conditions, though. The second transport however has never been arranged, because Italy stood beside Germany in war and it was impossible to get through the Mediterranean Sea to the South of France."

  • "The problem was that the owner of the boat we sailed on has been already caught by the British police in the past. He called himself a professional, who carried a human load, for a pack of money, of course. But due to the threat, that if he once more gets caught, his boat would be confiscated, he was now afraid to land on the coastline. So we have been rambling for a month through the Mediterranean Sea and couldn’t make him land some place form where we could either swim to the shore or use the life rafts to Palestine. Of course also other organizations on the coast supporting Jews were illegal as well. At the end we didn’t have anything left to eat and the situation got critical, so finally our boat landed in the former north port called Mersin. It was closed to the Turkey border line. Here we have swapped everything valuable we had for food. It was a mere coincidence that there was a French government in this port and its commanding officer, some major, functioned in some kind of French mission in Prague during the early 20´s. Because this commander had very close relationship with Czechoslovakia, he arranged for us that the owner of the boat named Frossula will take us to Beirut. When we arrived - in very poor conditions - they accommodated us in houses that were used for the pilgrims on their way to Mecca. After our recovery we had to deal with another problem - how to get to Palestine now. There was a boat sailing the Mediterranean region called Tiger Hill. This boat carried young Polish Jews and weapons that should help to establish a new Jewish state in Palestine. This boat had a fellow organization in Palestine, which guaranteed a smooth landing there. So we have got on this boat and a decision has been made that in two or three days we will try to land. But in the meantime the British planes discovered our boat and sent a navy frigate to accompany us. They shoot at us. We had some injured people and also some died. As we approached to toward the shore these young Poles loaded themselves and their weapons on the safety boats and left us - hundreds of people on Tiger hill. Because we knew that the British police won’t allow the boat to land, but instead they would take the boat to the faraway colonies - in order to eliminate the number of the Jewish citizens of Palestine - so we have destroyed the navigating system of the boat and made it unable to sail anywhere anymore. We have tided the rudder upright to the shore of Palestine with the intention to land in the only port there used to be back then, the Haifa. But that happened at the beginning of September 1939, when the war began. So we didn’t dare to lend in this port and we took the boat to the sand beaches near Tel Aviv. The boat has dug into the sand and fell on its side. After this we have been captured by British police and transported to a detention camp in Sarafand."

  • "Regarding the Mid East, it was quite common that many of the soldiers didn’t return to their bases on time. They found themselves some girl and didn’t come back on Saturday or Sunday, but in two or three days. That has been considered as desertion. There was also couple of naive stealing. For an example, I remember one little boy who stole the whole bunch of bananas from the banana field. Of course, the owners have turned him in and it has been qualified as a theft. Later there was some other interesting stealing. But what we never had was a Czechoslovak prison. If we would have wanted to charge someone with a crime we would have to arrest the people in British jail and those used to be very tough. So if we did find somebody guilty we tried to postpone the punishment. Because in the times of war people might so call shirk from being on the front and would rather go to jail. Therefore the executions of punishment have been delayed and never have been carried out. What happened sometimes was that someone wouldn’t obey the command which is absolutely against the military discipline rules. There were occasions when the discipline on the foreign territory has been purely voluntary."

  • "There was one circus performer among us. He was kind of wild, always in a trouble. Once he has been called up to line up, because he has done something again. He just stood there in front of the commanding officer, general Klapálek, and instead of standing at attention he put his hands on his chest. Of course he has been criticizing for that. He unbuttoned his shirt and said: ´I have a tattoo of the one eyed Jan Žižka here on my chest so I’m covering his other eye with my hand so he won’t see the mess here.´"

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    Praha, 23.06.2004

    duration: 01:55:11
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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When our train arrived, the music started. But there were no German Nordic-like looking people at the windows of the train, but mostly dark haired Jews people

Mr. Otto Klíma was born in Benesov in Czech/Jewish family. His family ran a spirits shop. In 1936 Mr. Klima graduated on the Faculty of law in Prague and gained the D.C.L honor. He worked as an attorney’s clerk in Jindřichův Hradec town. In 1939 he voluntarily joined the transport to Palestine. He was called up to the 11th Czechoslovak army infantry troop. He underwent the general military training in Gedera camp and in the dessert camp near by Jericho town. Mr. Klíma didn’t follow up his troop to Tubruq, because he was replaced to the Czechoslovakian provost’s court in the Middle East, where he functioned as an examining judge at the beginning. Later on, in Britain he became a judge for the Czechoslovakian court and after the end of the war he started to work as an army prosecutor. In 1951 he has been deposed and dismissed from the justice services due to his previous involvement in the western army and his Jewish origin. After that he worked as a Book wholesale company lawyer.