JUDr. Jiří Navrátil

* 1923  †︎ 2017

  • Interviewer: “And how about your advocate?” - “His name was Dr. Harna or Halza. The advocates were carefully selected and needed a special permit in order to defend somebody in the state court, and my friend, whom I would’ve liked as my advocate, didn’t have this permit. This Halza came to me one day and told me that this would be his first time in the state court. I told him that for me as well, and all the advocates then agreed upon it, except for one guy… He was an advocate who was very well-known in these trials, his name was Diamant. All the advocates were pulling together, which was good. Only Diamant tried to get an edge for his client. I don’t remember who he defended, he was very expensive and the parents had to pay his fees. The rest of us had lawyers provided ex officio. This lawyer presented a different defence than the others and unnecessarily made it complicated for that boy. Perhaps the outcome would have been better for some of the other guys as well. But, it really turned out quite well – originally twenty-five or twenty-six of us came to the court, and even from this state court, some of them went straight home. This was not common at all. We repeated the story about the night game over and over, and the prosecutor, who was the much feared JUDr. Čížek, stopped the trial against twelve of them immediately, right in court.”

  • “Everything, lots of things, lots of things, right. But look, you have to be careful in this as well, perhaps it’ll still come in handy some day. The cop asks: ‘Did you see, I don’t know who, some journalist Vondráček?’ I say: ‘Yes, I had lunch with him.’ And they smile and ask: ‘And what did you eat?’ You say: ‘Pork and cabbage with dumplings [a classic Czech meal - transl.], but I drank non-alcoholic because I was driving.’ And that’s it. And now they take in Vondráček to the same place, they start questioning him and they say: ‘Please, we know everything already. We even know that on 24 April, St George’s Day, you met up with Jiří Navrátil. You were in that-and-that pub, you had pork and cabbage with dumplings, you drank non-alcoholic. We know everything there is to know, so what are babbling about here.’”

  • “Several hundred scouts were involved in this event. Using the Morse code, we were able to agree on our statements perfectly, and they believed most of us when we said that we didn’t know we had been involved in an action, instead, we thought it was just some night game for scouts. Thanks to this, only twenty-four or twenty-six scouts actually went to court. I don’t remember how many had been arrested. More than a half went home directly from the courtroom. The reason for this was that it was still the very beginning of the trial and there were no Soviet advisors there yet. So, it turned out that many of the boys, most of them, were able to return home. I remained there, and Dagmar Skálová, too… For some reason they needed to make it look like we were an organized scout group. Had we been with the others, with the officers, who were really preparing a revolt, we would have gotten entirely different and much more severe sentences. For propaganda reasons they needed to make an anti-state scout group out of us - Dagmar Skálová, who had organized it, had to be the leader, and I was her deputy. She got life imprisonment and I got twenty years. The others, like František Falerský, the one who made the drawings for the scout samizdat (mentioned in another place in the recording), got fifteen years and the rest were sentenced for failing to report a crime, which was quite illogical.” Interviewer: “That’s the ´Did know, didn’t report…´” – “Did know, didn’t report… The sentences were thus as follows – Jirka Řehák got five years, Lehový (?) about four, Karel Češka (?) two years and altogether there were only twelve of us who were sentenced.”

  • “I did it because they chose me; we were thinking: ´There are four or six of them carrying the food for the guards from the camp to the Mariánská mine, and they might be able to overcome those two policemen who were accompanying them through the forest and escape. It was in autumn and it was getting dark early, so they could run away. While we were working on this plan, they had exactly the same idea. They carried it out and they succeeded. Naturally, you couldn’t speak about things like this: ´Watch out, we've got such and such plan.´ They managed it and as a result, one of the guards got in trouble because he let them come closer than he should have. I think the guys even got a submachine gun and ran away. I remember their faces, the faces of the guys who managed this - there were two or three of them. But I cannot remember their names anymore. Later someone told us that they all managed to get to Germany somehow and were recruited as agents-walkers there. But they allegedly got caught here.”

  • “They began releasing the Germans, the prisoners of war, who had been working in the mines. It looked like a slave market when they were recruiting people for uranium ore mines. They really did it like this. They could have just selected people randomly. But it was not done like that: we all assembled and the Soviet technicians started telling us how wonderful it was in the uranium mines and encouraged us to apply voluntarily. I remember him saying: »Vsjo budět. I děngi budět, a muky budet, vot, i masti budět, vot, cukru budět, vot, dvacať pjať gram, vot!« (You will have everything. There will be money and flour and oil, and sugar, twenty-five grams of it!) And we, from the scout group, had agreed beforehand that in case one of us gets selected – (because they always did it this way, when nobody raised a hand, they simply pointed randomly to some individuals) – the others would dash after him. Because, in this confusion, it was possible to stay together. I don’t know if it was a good idea or not, but life in the central camp was not easy either. It was overcrowded and we only got one and a half liters of water. Moreover, this was a chance for me to get out of the punitive group, so when one of us was selected, I don’t remember who it was, we all ran after him. They made us board the Tatra trucks and then we were taken to the Rovnost camp.”

  • “The most interesting thing about the steiger house [a house for steigers - mining supervisors - and civilian employees - ed.] was that on the one end it came just four or five metres close of the outer fence. So we came up with the following plan: that chap Fořt let two boys in there who’d came up from the morning shift, they went home for the afternoon and he let them in in the evening. He lifted a floor panel, let them go down under the house, and then went home to bed. In the morning he was the first to arrive, and he let them out again. They climbed under the fence and only just made it to the morning roll call, so they weren’t missed. They could dig the tunnel there the whole night through. One was up top, the other down below; later he had a sack on a rope. He’d fill it up, and the one up top would pull it up and strew the contents into the space under the house - there was enough space there, it stood on a slope. And that’s how we started digging a tunnel under those wires.”

  • “We were there together and even managed to sleep in one room, which was nice. We began developing some activities. We began publishing samizdat, for instance. The first Czech samizdat was written by scouts. It was mainly intended for people at home and to calm down our parents. We were making some handicrafts and the civilian employees of the mine were taking them out for us. But you had to check on the person to find out if he was reliable or not. So, we were able to send things and receive medicine in return. I have to boast a little, this was organized directly by us, the scouts. We were transparent, all knew who we were, and people therefore trusted us. So this was fine. The trust was important. For some people it was terribly hard to bear. It was not easy for anybody, but many people were contemplating suicide. There were suicides, although not that many of them. We were telling them: ´Don’t worry, we’ll be home before the year is over." We were full of this incredible optimism and we believed that communism would not last.”

  • “Because I had control of the Scouts troops in the Tourist Club, he arranged for me to meet with one girl, so we’d get in touch with the Communist youth, who were also preparing some resistance. But we didn’t think along political lines back then, we were against the Germans and that was it, we didn’t care if you were a Communist or not... And this was my first warning, I met with the girl, she was higher up than he [Stanislav Neumann - ed.] was, we met on Old Town Square. She asked questions about how we did things. I explained it all to her, how many of us there are... and she said something to the effect: ‘Of course, for now we’re keeping along the lines of NCs.’ Communists love acronyms, right. I was taken aback because I didn’t know what an NC was. She said: ‘No matter, no matter, that’s just for now, those national committees. Don’t worry about it, you know that we’ll take matters into our hands afterwards.’ And that made me do a double-take, I realised that they weren’t playing things quite straight.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha?, 11.07.2008

    duration: 03:14:48
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 17.12.2011

    duration: 01:54:05
    media recorded in project A Century of Boy Scouts
  • 3

    Praha, 17.01.2012

    duration: 06:18
    media recorded in project A Century of Boy Scouts
  • 4

    Praha, 12.04.2012

    duration: 01:39:31
    media recorded in project A Century of Boy Scouts
  • 5

    Praha, 02.04.2015

    duration: 02:14:30
  • 6

    Praha, 08.04.2015

    duration: 01:31:42
  • 7

    Praha, 17.06.2015

    duration: 01:33:57
  • 8

    Praha, 24.11.2015

    duration: 01:15:59
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Those who had collaborated with the Nazis were telling us: We wanted to protect you against Bolshevism – and see where you ended!

Navrátil Jiří - 1941 camp Boys from the beavers river
Navrátil Jiří - 1941 camp Boys from the beavers river
photo: archiv pamětníka

  Jiří Navrátil was born September 10, 1923 in Leipzig. His father was a diplomat. After the family’s return to Czechoslovakia he joined the boy scouts in Prague. During the war their scouting activities continued under the Czech Tourist Club. In 1944 Navrátil and his colleagues were arrested at a scout-patriotic demonstration during a sports match at Strahov. However, he was shortly released. He took an active part in the Prague Uprising in May 1945. On February 25, 1948 he joined the student march to the Prague Castle and as a consequence was dismissed from the Pedagogical Faculty of Charles University. On May 17, 1949 he was arrested for his participation in an attempt to overthrow the government. During the ensuing trial he was sentenced for high treason along with the other scouts. He went through many prisons and uranium mines, but was eventually released on amnesty in 1960. From this date on he worked as a pool cleaner, a maintenance worker and as an assistant at exhibitions. In 1968 he worked as a journalist for the magazine Doba, and then as a free lance translator. In 1977 he became an editor of the culture column in the weekly, Naše rodina (Our family). In December 1989 he started work as an editor-in-chief for the Lidová demokracie newspaper but left this position after half a year. He is the holder of scout decorations. The court acquitted him of all charges of cooperation with the StB. Jiří Navrátil passed away on January, the 16th, 2017.