Josef Kovářík

* 1927  

  • “It is proved that this was, I suppose, partly organized by the military news service, by the military secret agents. How the date of the tour to Prague got nearer, two days before it was all liquidated. When I was in Pankrác in 1949, in the next door cell there was a lieutenant colonel, he was an old man, and it was just said about him that he had a hand in the betrayal. They executed him later, because such people don´t end in any other way… In our case it was Reicin and there were the five executed men – Gonitz, Sok, Sabela, Hubálek and the fifth Jebavý. These five were executed on 18th July 1949. Reicin had on his conscience also General Píka and many others, mainly West men. They executed him when Husák was imprisoned. We didn´t know him at all. He was just in retreat and looked after these units. If he looked after Hubálek, Sok or Gonitz too… And they found right in our place, at the fourth tank unit, Karel Sabela who was a West man and who granted them best his cooperation. It was all betrayed. It was a battle for troughs. What if even Slánský had his hand in it then. And to make some other beasts good again… It was the style of communist fight.”

  • “I remember that in 1951 there was an exceptional lining up on Svornost and we got to know that two escaped. They went with live ammunition over the wires, over four or six wires. Suddenly the brigadier, he was a prisoner, a thief or even a murderer, shouted: ´They are fleeing, they are fleeing!´ He alarmed everything immediately and immediately there was a pestilential alarm. They got the start of them, Kyndl and the other was a Bulgarian. They managed to get away then, but unfortunately they jumped into a house somewhere, policemen found them and they emptied the whole Tommy gun into one of them, who knows if not into both. In that house they shot them dead uncompromisingly. Mirek Sobotka from Napajedla was finishing his shift and he carried them on stretchers up 256 stairs to the camp to show them to us. We had to be lined up. Both two of them dead, of course, thirty shots from a Tommy gun. I remember a big pickle. It was in 1955, we had there so called culture houses. At that time they were showing the film Circus is coming. They drove us there because it was half obligatory, and on the next day there was a lining up and about ten or eleven prisoners were missing, on Nikolaj. So it was alarmed immediately. I wonder that none of them blew the whistle. From the first barrack, there was a carpenter´s workshop, they had lifted the boards and had trenched down from there. And they went under the wires under the corridor. Wonder that the policemen, when they were walking in the wires, didn´t sink in… They trenched down there and all escaped away. They caught some of them. Me too was taken there, if I had not known about it. I wonder that eleven boys succeeded in this action. My opinion is that it is beautiful to escape, but if I don´t have an immediate pick-up from the territory… To the Jáchymov region it was possible to go only with permissions and to the spa only a policeman family or something like that was allowed. It is nice to escape, it is heroism. But quickly away from the territory. Throw away the cloths, put on others and away. Firstly get rid of the cloths.”

  • “They drove us to the Little House in Hradčany, there we slept on the floor all night. There were about four guards there, whenever we moved, it was bad, hardly to the toilet and the following day they drove us to the questioning and it started already: ´Come here, come here! What did you say, that it will be fine if I go with you?´ And I was already beaten with the truncheon, I was beaten. Well, so he beat me enough and then they immediately drove us from the Little House to the prison in Pankrác. There I was three months until 15th June 1949 when the trial was taking place. We knew then already that Captain Karel Sabela was sentenced to the death penalty, because they showed him to us still at the time of the final judgment on 18th June 1949. He had his insignia taken away already, his uniform was bare and he said: ´Mr Chief Justice, when you have it written there, so it is there.´ He was sentenced to the death penalty. An excellent man he was, excellent man. I was on Nikolaj, it was I think in 1958, and there was Laďa Fišer, a West man. He returned from the West as lieutenant and he had to know something. He told me: ´Josef, did you serve in Žatec in the military service?´ I said: ´Yes.´ ´With Karel Sabela?´ ´Yes, under Karel Sabela, he was my commandant.´ He said:´Disgusting! I carried him in France in my arms to the hospital with broken legs and they hanged him like a snake!´”

  • “On Svornost there was a safebreaker called Arnošt Jiljí. He was a nephew of Klement Gottwald. He used to tell me, maybe he was just attracting me so: ´If I got the pardon from my uncle, I would never accept it, because he was a work loathing element. He studied to become a paltry joiner and he only canvassed to strikes. He didn´t do anything else. I wouldn´t accept the pardon from him.”

  • “In the railway station they were waiting for us with cars and they drove us to the caserns. Our commandant was a West man, Captain Karel Sabela. I joined the fourth tank troop. One day the corporal with the rank of an executive technical sergeant Laďa Janáček came, he called me to the office and asked if he should register me as a non-communist. I said: ´I don´t like them.´ Reputedly an action for Prague was prepared. I told him: ´Well, so it will be fine, I will go with you.´ Now I was on holidays, I came back to the caserns after the holidays, Laďa Janáček was still there and he said: ´Josef, it is bad.´ I said: ´What is it?´ ´Karel Sabela was arrested.´ 9th March 1949 came, I was finishing a shift in the corridor, I was still whistling the lining up for lunch, they called me to the office and said: ´Give us over you gun, you are arrested.´ It was five minutes to twelve.”

  • “When they were leading us with our bags to the car, before we went to Vykmanov, the third C was having a walk. In front of me lieutenant colonel Klein was walking according to the alphabet and towards him went in that moment a probably already sentenced general. And lieutenant colonel Klein told him: ´Hello, brother general.´ And he said to him: ´Hello brother lieutenant colonel.´ So we walked on a few steps and I asked: ´Mr lieutenant colonel, who was it?´ He said: ´General Kutlvašr.´ It could be seen that they were old legionnaires from the World War I, that they surely knew each other from the legions. General Kutlvašr was the leader of the Prague uprising. He was no communist of course and he was taken away. They dragged him with broken legs to the execution to Pankrác. They didn´t shrink from anything, absolutely anything.”

  • “This article 1, it was a proposal for the death penalty, because we were judged according to the law Nr. 231 for the protection of the Republic. It was a military high treason. There were high penalties at the court, only a few small punishments. I was I suppose the youngest one and I got one of the highest penalties, namely twelve years. And eleven without about three weeks I served. On 9th March 1949 they locked me up and set me free I think on the condition on 18th February 1960.”

  • “Then the year 1960 came. At the end of January, or beginning of February they called me to the officer who was in charge of liberation, and he said: ´You are going to the commission for the conditioned liberation.´ I said: ´Why me?´ ´Well, you will be probably liberated. You know, when you cut trees, splinters fly.´ I thought: ´You idiot, expensive splinters, expensive splinters!´ And the one, we called him Hrbolín, told me: ´What will you do when you come out?´ I said: ´Eleven years I have been here, what do I know how it looks outside?´ And he: ´Well, normally, normally.´ I said: ´You think that, but I don’t.´ So I went to the building industry and I stayed with the digger twenty seven years, until my retirement.”

  • “The commander of the camp came, ordered lining up and ´with all belongings appear Kovářík, Křivánek, Kyndl´. They took about fifteen of us and drove us back to Vykmanov. I said: ´What could this mean?´ They loaded us into busses and we went to so called Drobilky. It was on Bratrství, there ore was processed as on the Death Tower in Vykmanov, all by hand. We were going there day and night. Just Sunday was free, Saturdays we worked. So they would drive us for about a month. Then spring was coming, the sun and powder and powder. When we were crushing pitchblende, it drummed in the head, horror, horror, the concentration of the radium, disgusting, disgusting! We were having a night shift and the hall full of powder. So I took a hose and sprayed everything, ready. The foreman, he was a civil man, used to come at around three o´clock and he said: ´Who sprayed it?´ I said: ´Me, who shall eat the powder?´ He didn´t say anything. In the morning after the shift we came to the camp: ´Kovářík, Kyndl, Křivánek, take your belongings and to the platform.´ So they drove us to Svornost.”

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    Modrá u Velehradu, 30.07.2008

    duration: 04:45:54
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“A strong exposure to radioactivity during the crushing of pitchblende brought along a terrible drumbeat in the head. It was a hard paid education.”

Josef Kovářík in his thirties after coming home from prison
Josef Kovářík in his thirties after coming home from prison
photo: archiv pamětníka

Josef Kovářík was born on 19th November 1927 in Jouet sur l´Aubois in France. During the war he studied in Brno to become a waiter and on 1st October 1949 he jointed up the military service in the 4th tank troop in Žatec, whose commandant was Captain Karel Sabela. Following a provocation organized by the Military defence news service in March 1949 the garrison of Žatec planning a tour to Prague was arrested and Captain Sabela was executed. Josef Kovářík was questioned in the so called Domeček (Little House) in Hradčany in Prague and for the military high treason sentenced to twelve years in prison. He served less than eleven years in uranium mines in the Jáchymov region and in February 1960 he was set free. During his Jáchymov “recreation” he went through the camps Vykmanov, Stará Mariánská, Svornost, Nikolaj and Rovnost. On Vykmanov he met the leader of the Prague uprising General Kutlvašr. He used to go from there to Drobilky where prisoners were exposed to a strong impingement of radioactivity during the crushing of pitchblende. On Svornost Josef Kovářík experienced the flight of two prisoners who were afterwards mercilessly shot and exhibited in front of the other prisoners as a deterrent example. On Nikolaj he spent his worst moments during the parades in frosts of twenty degrees below zero and marches of the prisoners to the mines. He was set free to the civil life from Rovnost and until his retirement he worked as a digger man. Nowadays he takes part in the talks with political prisoners and he is an active member of the Confederation of political prisoners.