Karel Navrátil

* 1915  †︎ 2012

  • “I was born on November 3, 1915, in Královo Pole. That was shortly after the outbreak of World War I. My parents moved there with three kids after the outbreak of the war and I was born there. After the war, my family moved back to Vienna for financial reasons and I attended the Czech J.A. Komenský School there. We were actively engaged in the cultural and social life of the Czechoslovak community of Vienna. We were members of various Czechoslovak associations in Vienna, most important of all in the Sokol movement and the Komenský Youth movement. I participated in the tenth Sokol rally in Prague in 1938 where I took the oath to defend the Czechoslovak Republic, my fatherland, against any aggression. I had been ready to defend Czechoslovakia even before, but this oath even increased my determination. At the same time I was an Austrian citizen and as such was obliged to serve Austria. At this point (in 1938), Austria had already been annexed to Germany by force and I didn’t like the fact that Austria became a part of Germany.”

  • “After the Polish campaign started, they called me up again - they wouldn’t let me stay at home. But they assigned me to a different unit because at my previous unit, I had already acquired the reputation of a rebel. So they transferred me to the artillery and I became an artilleryman. What came next is hard to explain and I don’t really understand it myself, but when the unit was leaving for Poland, I was offered the post of an artillery instructor. So I became an instructor in the artillery. A Czech was instructing German soldiers. Well, technically they were Austrians, but they belonged to the German army, so in fact, they were German soldiers. So I was helping them for a while till I managed to get out of there. I didn’t have any high rank though - I wasn’t interested in it. It took me some time to get out of there and go back home.”

  • “I saw how they behaved to the Jews in Vienna and I have to tell you that it was pretty awful. Right after the occupation they started mistreating them. For instance, they would make them march through the streets of Vienna and in the process they would spit on them and swear at them. Jewish girls had to scrub the pavements etc. A huge part of the Viennese society adopted Nazism very quickly. Some of them complained about Nazism when you spoke to them in privacy but they applauded it and collaborated with it in public. They let themselves to be influenced very quickly. Many welcomed it because it came at a time when life was hard. It was hard to make a living, the unemployment rate was high and the income low.”

  • “We were assorted according to nationality – Frenchmen, Belgians and most of all Poles. The Poles had two or three barracks, as I call it. You know this kind of a building from photos taken in the German concentration camps. They were here as well. But it wasn’t as bad as that, it was much more pacified already. There was no way how to escape, it was heavily guarded just like the German concentration camps. We were holding a hunger strike there. We held out in this strike for seven days and managed to… Young people from all over Europe wanted to escape captivity – they longed for freedom. All of them or at least most of them wanted freedom. Of those that I used to know, everybody wanted to escape and be free. They were Czechs, Poles, Yugoslavs and Frenchmen as well.”

  • “I encountered Antisemitism even in England. A friend of mine, a certain Bächer got into a fight with Honza. Honza had blue eyes and blond hair and Alexander Bächer looked very much like a Jew – he had this kind of a Jewish nose and black and curly hair. His father was a Jew and his mother was a devout Catholic. So they were fighting it out and Alex shouted at Honza: “You dirty Jew”. He said this to that blond guy with blue eyes. Well I didn’t know if I should laugh or be mad at him. So that was Antisemitism. However, it was just a boy’s feeling. This boy was ten years younger then me. They had a factory producing agricultural machines in Roudnice. The Russians later confiscated it.”

  • “Well and this group of my pupils came to me and told me that they’d fight for me. They managed to achieve that I could return to the school as a teacher after I signed the application for the Communist party, as the rest of the staff did. If they had sacked me as a teacher, I wouldn’t have gotten any other job and I had a responsibility towards my family. So that’s how I became a member of the party and I stayed in it until 1969, when I was dismissed.”

  • “We were stationed in this army training center in Harrogate, in Yorkshire, where we did these… we were being re-trained for the Asian war theater. We had lectures, we were being taught how to identify various types of enemy aircraft at a distance – because that’s what you need, to distinguish different kinds of airplanes. Before, we were focusing on Europe, but now we were studying Japanese aircraft. It was all sorts of things that we did there. It kind of seemed to me as if they just wanted to occupy us somehow, because they didn’t want us to be unemployed. We had a lot of holidays – it felt like we were two weeks in the training center and two weeks, or maybe one week on leave. It was a wonderful time for me because I had a lot of spare time, some money and additionally, I already knew that it was gonna be alright at home. I later somehow got a message through Jeníkov about my parents and, unfortunately, also about the death of my brother who died in Mauthausen.”

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    Karlovy Vary?, 11.02.2003

    (audio)
    duration: 01:14:47
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“Flying is a beautiful thing. It not only excited and satisfied me, but I also felt almighty up there.”

Karel Navrátil
Karel Navrátil

Karel Navrátil was born on November 3, 1915 in Brno - Královo Pole. His parents moved to Královo Pole from Vienna but after the First World War they had to move back to the Austrian capital for financial reasons. Karel Navrátil was very active in Czechoslovak patriotic associations like the Sokol, which was similar to Boy Scouts. After the Anschluss, or incorporation of Austria, he was drafted to the Austrian army and participated in the occupation of the Czechoslovak borderland. He spent four months in prison for nationalistic provocations. During the Polish campaign, he was an instructor in the air force. He was eventually dismissed from the army and emigrated via France, Spain and Portugal to England. He was trained in the Royal Air Force (RAF) but it was too late for him to actively participate in the fighting. After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia and worked as a teacher of foreign languages. For financial reasons, he was forced to join the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ). He was dismissed from the party in 1969 and retired in 1971. He passad away in 2012.