Zdeněk Kovařík

* 1931  

  • „For six months I was detained in solitary confinement in Hradec – from 29th September 1950 till 15th March 1951, when a trial took place. The solitary confinement constituted of a cell 2 by 3 meters. Wake-up signal rang at 5:30. I had to wash myself quickly and then had to walk constantly all the day. When I came to the cell, the floor was equipped with a brand new linoleum cover, and when I was leaving six months later, two circles were scrubbed up by the window an by the doors as I repeatedly turned around during my walking. I had walked hundreds of miles. I was not allowed to sit or lay down for a rest – just had to walk, walk and walk... I was put into the correction unit as well. My friend Zbynek Skaloud from the Boy Scout movement was placed in the next cell. The interrogators placed him there deliberately, because they supposed we would communicate by the Morse code and we would disclose some other information. We were caught and I was put in the correction unit – in the dark dungeon. I have no idea how many days I have spent there, maybe 10 days. It was impossible to recognize if it is day or night. The unit was completely dark 24 hours a day. Light I saw only in times for food and during interrogation. I had to survive there without a blanket, without sleeping, nothing was there. To make the conditions for detainee even harsher the walls were plastered very coarsely. When you leaned on it and your hand accidentally slipped you lacerated your skin. How I was sleeping there I don’t know. It still seems to me unreal. I remember I woke up on the floor several times.”

  • „I don’t want to preach at anyone. Young generation should realize what they want to do, what they need for it and how to reach their choose goals. They should not care about any obstacles, they should not be afraid of harsh conditions. Let them follow their aims – it is always worth of. Let them be honest to themselves. The moment a man is not honest to himself, he is loosing everything. It is important to keep good humor and good hope. As sir Bruce Lockhart had broadcasted every Friday: ‘Good night and strong hope!’ – in this I have believed in my life.”

  • „We were sentenced according the paragraph 321. State trial was opened to public. Around hundred people were forced to attend – young people from factories, students and so on. The aim was to discredit and condemn the Scout movement in Hradec Kralove. Nine defendants stood before the trial: Skaloud got 14 years, Skaloud (brother) got 12 years, I 11 years, Andrejs 10 years, Broz 9 years, Marek 7 years, Pasta 7 years, Havranek got 4 years and a girl named Pilman 1 year. On the same day she had 18th birthday, other wise they would have to let her go. She was punished because of allegedly hide weapons in our scout clubhouse. It is true we had one old machinegun and one rifle, but both were not functional. Long before our clubhouse was searched Kveta Pilman and Karel Havranek threw the weapons to the river Orlice, but somebody denounced them. All of us were sentenced to loss of all property, suspension of civic rights and we were forbidden to study. Finally it proved as an advantage because I hadn’t to vote for communists after I was released at least three times. I enjoyed this ‘privilege’ very much.”

  • “The camp ‘L’, where uranium ore was processed, consisted of two barracks – one for administration, second for prisoners. Around 150 slept there. Just over the fence the processing unit stood. All uranium ore mined in Czechoslovakia was brought to this unit: the ill-known “Tower of Death” stood there. Uranium ore was sorted depending on its quality. The richest ore was pulverized to small pieces and loaded into barrels. Loading was exhausting, because each barrel had to contain 60 kilos of ore. There existed differences in ore quality, therefore the less rich ore was lighter and prisoners had to press it down with big hammers. I had worked there approximately five months. Then the ‘technology’ was improved by some primitive shaker, but it didn’t help much. Now the working conditions changed into a dust nightmare. We had no respirators, no goggles. Permanently someone got ill with conjunctivitis. Each small abrasion festered. My hand was completely covered with boils. The ore processing unit was one of the worst working places. In winter with freezing temperatures 15 degrees below zero, six guys stood few meters away from doors half striped naked. Hammering the ore into barrels was extremely strenuous, so if we worked dressed in our shirts, within five minutes the shirts were wringing wet. Not to take the shirts off was impossible, because in draught shirts got frozen.”

  • „Someone wrote a letter. He had to write it down in complete secrecy, which was the first problem. The message had to be written on cigarette papers. This he had to hand over to us. We censored the text: no names or addresses were allowed. The same we applied on the incoming messages. For example I received a message from person ‘X’. The letter had no connection with the recipient’s name. His name didn’t include this letter at all. The most dangerous conditions ruled in the camp ‘L’. Absolutely no privacy existed there, just few moments in the toilet. When we were working in a shaft, much better conditions prevailed. Only a lamp could witness your writing. At first our secret mail service concentrated on letters only. Later our parents were able to send us some money, which we handed over to some friendly civilian workers who bought some food we needed – vitamins, butter etc. A principle we had tried to instill into minds of our comrades ran: ‘Never bring any message into the camp!’ The aim was to avoid a disclosure during regular frisks.”

  • Full recordings
  • 6

    Praha, 09.11.2006

    (audio)
    duration: 01:41:14
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

“The message had to be written on cigarette papers. We then censored the text: no names or addresses were allowed. The same we applied on incoming messages.”

Zdeněk Kovařík December 2006
Zdeněk Kovařík December 2006
photo: Jan Horník

Zdenek Kovarik was born on 24th February in 1931 in Hradec Kralove. From his very youth he became an active member of the Boy Scout movement. After the communist putsch in 1948 Kovarik was affected by persecution of the Scout movement by communists. He was arrested on 29th September 1950. The following six months Kovarik was interrogated by the State Security and detained in solitary confinement. In March 1951 he was sentenced together with group of Scouts in public exemplary trial for 11 years imprisonment. After the trial Kovarik was sent to Jachymov uranium mines. For the first five months he was put to the ill-known “Tower of Death”. In the camp “L” Kovarik spent two and half years. Later he was transferred to labor camp Nikolaj. Together with Antonin Husnik and Mr and Mrs Balousek Zdenek Kovarik established an unique secret mail connection from the camps, which was in operation from 1951 till 1955. Zdenek Kovarik was released in September 1955 after his sentence was reduced by six years. Later he worked in Severostav company as an electrician, and then in a sugar factory. After the Velvet revolution in 1989 Kovarik co-established a local branch of the Confederation of Political Prisoners (CPP) in Hradec Kralove, which he now leads. Kovarik is a vice chairman of CPP as well.