Rudolf Němček

* 1929  

  • “There were three of us. Friends from Šlapany. We packed our bags and went. We had heard there were American camps there; lots of people were fleeing at that time. We only got into German camps. We didn’t get to the American camps; otherwise we could have gone to America. Lots of Czechs and Slovaks went to America. We weren’t given a permit. As soon as we crossed the borders we were free and easy. The customs officers and border guards all knew us because they had Barracks in Nový Kynšperk. That way, we had friends even among the Germans. They spoke German, I spoke Czech. (…)We helped out with farm work. An agent showed up at the camp in Landau. We left the camp, nobody tried to stop us, but we were hungry. We begged for food. The agent came and offered us good food and money. It wasn’t a matter of politics. It was all a game to us because we were young. They took us somewhere by train. I can’t remember exactly. We left the German camp for Marseille.”

  • “I had a drink, we drank all the time, and I drank until he kicked me to get me to stand up. They were scared because the shooting still going on. So I stood up. I didn’t care about anything anymore, whether I was going to be shot. The Vietnamese with there machetes were supposed to be tough. Well, we had lost the war so we had to obey. They held us in captivity for eighteen months. We had to do roadwork, we lived in a camp, eighteen months went by and then it was over.”

  • “(Not all the Vietnamese hated legionnaires.) An old Vietnamese man, a Granddad, about sixty he was, they look old. He said to us: “Café, café – me to, Moi aussi soldat francaise”. He had also been in the French Army. He brought me a cup of coffee. I was glad. They’ve got houses on poles and they’ve got everything in there – goats, cows...”

  • “The food was rice. The only grub we got was rice. Always rice, rice, rice. We’d spill some of it out when we got it but they didn’t know that. When we were hungry they’d give us rice at eight in the morning and then again at five in the evening. Apart from that there was no food in between. No black bread, nothing. Just rice. Wife: “He’s only recently started eating rice again. Didn’t want it for a long time.”- “I’ve got used to it” (laughs).”

  • “It can’t even begin to be told. The men dropped like flies. There was such an awful lot of them, those Vietnamese. They couldn’t reach us from the other side so they attacked from below. Fortunately, I was on the other side of the bunker and they weren’t being killed in such numbers there. It was terrible, though. I was wounded all the same. I was hit by a mortar splinter. Twelve small splinters and one big one. They took it out later. That happened on the day I was taken prisoner. They tied me up but I could still walk. It was only back here that they found the smaller splinters. Many times. Each time I need an X-ray. Wife: “last time about a year ago he had a check up at the pulmonary ward and right away they exclaimed: “What’s this? You’ve got shadows on your lungs?” But we already knew by then what it was. We even sent the French Embassy the medical reports they wanted but it was no use. They didn’t give us anything because according to their records the soldiers were all killed, every last one of them.”

  • “When we were in the camp (prisoner of war camp), it was called a camp, the head of the camp and a French translator summoned us and told us we needn’t be afraid. That they’ve got a treaty with Czechoslovakia, that Czechoslovakia is an allied country, and that we won’t come to any harm. So no one escaped. It was in a big court yard and within eighteen months a load of us had fallen ill, so we helped them. Battles were still raging but we weren’t fighting any more. The Vietnamese kept saying something, the head of the camp spoke French it was gibberish and we couldn’t understand him. The translator said that they guaranteed us nothing would happen to us at home.”

  • “They suddenly came charging on us with machine guns and bayonets. We had bayonets too, it was normal then. Someone poked me like this from behind (I was being held at gunpoint), it was one of the Vietnamese. So I threw my machine gun down. I put my hands up. I was wounded so they didn’t even… (hurt me). We were lucky to be taken prisoners by the regular Vietnamese army. If it had been those rogues, rebels of all sorts, who knows…They had three armies when you come to think of it. There were the normal soldiers, villagers, like us. We fought against each other. We came down from the fort, we were terribly thirsty. They poked us with their bayonets from time to time but they didn’t really do us any harm. As soon as we got to the track they dragged us off somewhere.”

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    Jablonec nad Nisou, 22.07.2008

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    duration: 02:06:17
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“It can’t even begin to be told. The men dropped like flies. There was such an awful lot of them, those Vietnamese.”

Rudolf Němček in 1952
Rudolf Němček in 1952
photo: archiv ABS

Rudolf Němček was born in 1929 in Závodí u Žiliny in Slovakia as one of seven children. In 1946 he followed his sister and brother to Cheb, where he worked in a textile factory. In 1949 he fled to West Germany, crossed the border to France and joined the Foreign Legion in Marsseille. In the same year he took part in battles in Indochina. A year later, in September 1950, he was taken hostage by Vietnamese soldiers in Dong Khe. He spent eighteen months in captivity and was repatriated in April 1952 along with twenty other Czechoslovaks via China and the Soviet Union. He was held in custody and interrogated in Ruzyně, Pankrác, and Mladá Boleslav. He was finally sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. After being released he was conscripted for military service with the auxiliary technical battalions (PTP - pomocné technické prapory) in Karviná. He got married and worked in opencast mines and as a maintenance worker in Františkovy Lázně Spa houses. He now lives with his son in Jablonec nad Nisou.