Jan Josef Kohl

* 1928  †︎ 2013

  • “When they led me over the yard to pack, the head StB policeman said to the People’s Militia man who was my escort, 'Who is this guy you are escorting?' He said, 'Ask him.' 'Boy, what are you doing here?' I told him that I was taking a preparatory course for theology. He replied, 'Take him there. We will also give him a preparatory course.' We were ridiculed this way. It was already quarter past eleven when an order came to board the bus. We were to go to a bus in Vyšehradská Street. They made a cordon. There were about fifty of them and twenty of us. Brother Roman leaned on me. He had a cane, and I carried his luggage. We walked slowly through this cordon of policemen, and suddenly a young guy jumped forward and began screaming, 'Hey, old geezer, move on.' Another one from this cordon grabbed this guy by the collar, pushed him back into the line, and told him, 'Shut up.'”

  • “When we were on the express train from Pardubice to Olomouc, there were soldiers returning from a military training. We showed them the papers we had, and they said it probably meant some special military training and that we would be back home soon. Well, it took forty months before we went home. And had not Stalin and Gottwald died, perhaps we still would have been there.”

  • “We were waiting again, so we asked the driver where he was taking us. He replied he was not allowed to tell us. Fine. We kept waiting, there were two policemen with us, and then the bus started moving eastward. There were priests there who said that we were being taken to Siberia, since we were going to the east. We did not go to Siberia. When the bus made a turn in the direction of Mladá Boleslav and Liberec, they began saying that we were going to Hejnice. They could already guess.”

  • “There was a coal mine, so we went down the mine. There were twelve priests with us- just like the apostles. The miners knew that new people were coming to help them, and that there would be priests among them. They eventually thought that all of them would be priests. Whenever a new worker came, they asked him: 'Are you a priest?' 'No, I’m not.' 'Get to work, then.' But those twelve said that they were indeed priests. And one miner, a pretty high charge in the Party, got one priest assigned to his team. 'That’s bad,' he said. For the time being, they told the priest, 'Just try to bare with it for now.' So they were working for two weeks and then there was a Party meeting of the miners. When there was time for questions, the one who had the priest on his team raised his hand and asked, 'Comrade Secretary, tell me then, why do these priests have to do our work?' 'Why, it’s for their punishment.' 'What, you say that our work is punishment!?' All the others joined in. It took him a long time to calm them down. He promised he would settle the matter. It was discussed in the mines headquarters and then also at the Ministry. Then an order came that those twelve, plus other priests elsewhere, had to be sent back to construction work.”

  • “We did not yet know what they were up to. The first week, a photographer came there and took pictures of each of us, from the front, from left and right. They took our fingerprints too. I saw that picture, but I think it was just for their archive. We did some work. Visits were in the prison-like manner. One of them always had to sit. In spite of that, one priest managed to smuggle out a letter home to Budějovice. But the person who visited him then accidentally dropped this letter in the corridor, without knowing about it, and they obviously found it. The priest got a beating, for being so impudent to try something like that.”

  • “One day, Franta Zmrhal, a native from Číhošť, was with us. We asked him about what happened there. His father saw it, but he did not. He was in the third year of his seminary studies, therefore, he was not there to see it. A wooden cross moved. The wood it was made out of was old, and it was a bit twisted and slightly inclined to the left. I don’t know what was intended by that, but the outcome was not good. Franta got imprisoned, and when they were preparing the trial with Father Toufar, they wanted to frame him as an intermediary between the bishop and this priest. They tortured him, thinking they would break him and he would then confess as they wanted. But when Toufar died, their scheme was over, and they released him.”

  • “On Monday, September 19th, the abbot was performing a wedding ceremony for one couple at the White Mountain. When he returned to the monastery before 11 a.m., two men came to the gatehouse, allegedly from the municipality office, who wished to speak to him. As soon as the gatekeeper opened the gate for them, another twelve StB policemen stormed in- altogether, fourteen people to arrest one man. At 11:30, they brought him to Bartolomějská, and in the afternoon, he was already locked up in a cell in the Pankrác prison. This is how it was.”

  • “On Monday, we were ordered to report to work. Work started at seven. They read names and assigned people to workplaces. He read, 'Adaptation – Kohl.' I approached a State Police officer and asked him what I was to do. 'Over there is Cyril, a roofer. You will pass material to him.' I came for lunch at noon and Brother Roman asked me what I was doing. 'I’m passing material to a roofer. We repair roof tiles and chimneys.' 'I will come to have a look at you tomorrow.' he said. He looked at us through the dormer-window and said, 'This is a fine trade. Stick to it. Up here, you are close to God, and if you fall down, you would be even closer to Him. And no fool is going to bother to climb up here. They will leave you alone here, stick to it.' He praised my work in this way.”

  • “(Doctor Kollert) told me this, 'When cardinal Beran was dying in Rome, about four of us went to Smrkovský to petition that he might be transported to Prague and buried in the cathedral. He replied, 'I cannot decide this myself, but there will be a central committee meeting tonight. I will propose it.' The outcome was that Biľak and Husák were decidedly against this. Husák, when he was dying, eventually did receive the last rites. He was a Slovak and while he was studying at grammar school, a priest was supporting him. But when he then entered politics, his sister said, 'I was praying for him every day to become sensible.' Well, he did not. Only when he was no longer President, and was sick with cancer, this sister of him told him that he should put his matters in order. So he did call for bishop Sokol, the bishop of Trnava. He heard his confession. Now to explain why the bishop went there- because there was a possibility that Husák might have been involved in those executions and all kinds of ungodly things. A regular priest might not have had the authority to grant absolution. He would have needed to ask a bishop’s permission. Thus the bishop rather went there himself to settle it at once.”

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    Praha, 28.11.2009

    duration: 02:06:37
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“I have been a man of several trades. I had a total of eleven professions before I became a priest. But as the poet says, I can also say that no matter what I was. I enjoyed being what I was.”

Jan Josef Kohl with the Auxiliary Technical Battalions
Jan Josef Kohl with the Auxiliary Technical Battalions
photo: soukromý archiv

  Jan Josef Kohl was born on February 21, 1928 in Suchý Důl near Police nad Metují in the Náchod District as the fourth out of eight children. His parents had a farm where the children often helped out. After the war, he studied at a trade academy. At that time, he also took part in spiritual training, which was a decisive experience for his later life. After graduation, he asked Anastáz Opasek, abbot of the Břevnov Monastery, to be accepted into the Benedictine order. In September 1949, he witnessed the abbot’s arrest. In April 1950, he was interned in the Hejnice Monastery during Action K, aimed at the elimination of male monastic orders. In the following three and a half years, he was sent to the Auxiliary Technical Battalions to work on construction sites and mines. After his return, he had trouble finding employment. He worked mainly as an assistant labourer and metal machinist. In 1968, he began studying in the faculty of theology and in 1973, he was ordained a priest. Due to his affiliation with the order, however, he was not given the state approval necessary for performing the priest’s vocation. Thanks to fortunate circumstances, he received the permission two years later and he continued working as a chaplain. In 1990, he returned to the Břevnov Monastery.