“The country was already in a turmoil after the Munich conference, and we thus anticipated that we would gradually start getting ready for the military service. When the war began and the Soviets came to us, they picked us immediately and they assigned us to ‘podgotovka’ (army preparation course - ed.’s note) and we went through military training. As the Soviet army was then advancing victoriously and getting closer to us in Volhynia, we were all thinking that we would willingly, without any order, go and join the Czechoslovak army. It really happened, there was a recruitment assembly in Rovno on 17th March, where soldiers were being enlisted to the army. I was thus drafted to the reconnaissance unit of the second battalion of the first brigade, and so was my brother.”
“The battalion’s commander, lieutenant colonel Knop, said: ‘Boys, show that you are soldiers, show that you are Czechs and you go to fight for freedom,’ and he ordered us to advance. We thus set out into the attack on the hill of death. It was immediately the night after Machnowka. We seized the hill. We took the Germans by surprise. We had only one of our soldiers killed there, that was all. There were tens and tens of Germans on the hill - they were kneeling, begging, and so on. It was not in my nature to shoot somebody if the person was begging for his life. But they told us that there was no other way but to exterminate them all, and they were doing it, they didn’t give a damn. We have taken the hill.”
“There was great enthusiasm among all of us, and I am not speaking just about myself. Nobody expected that problems like this, horrors like this, would arise in the war. Everybody thought that the war would be over. People therefore went in it with enthusiasm. You could see it here in Czechoslovakia, too. The uprising in Přerov, the Prague uprising, and so on. People were impatient. And there was the tragedy which happened in Český Malín, where they burnt 374 Czechs alive. And there was another village, Sergejevka, and in our village they murdered my aunt, too. They shot thirty people in our village. There was hatred towards Germans, because such a cultural nation could be capable of committing such atrocities on innocent people.”
You have to fight for your homeland until your last breath
Josef Nerad was born September 22, 1921 in the village Moldava in Volhynia, where his father, a former legionnaire, served as the mayor. After the occupation of Ukraine and Volhynia by the Soviet army in 1939, the “kulak” family of Mr. Nerad was threatened with deportation to Siberia, but this did not happen due to the arrival of Germans to the country in 1941. Together with other Volhynian Czechs, Josef Nerad and his brother volunteered to join the newly formed 1st Czechoslovak army corps in March 1944. Josef was assigned to serve in the 2nd reconnaissance battalion of the 1st brigade. He was sent to Bukovina for training for non-commissioned officers shortly after. In the same year he went to the war front where he took part in the Carpathian-Dukla operation. He fought at Machnowka, Chyrowa hora, Zyndranowa, where he was wounded, and then at Liptovský Mikuláš, Bobrovec and Žilina, where he suffered another injury. He became the commander of a cavalry reconnaissance unit. Josef Nerad was promoted and decorated with the War Cross by general Ludvík Svoboda for conquering the co-called Hill 534, “Hill of Death,” at Dukla. After his arrival to Czechoslovakia, Josef Nerad became the company commander in the independent army group Žatec which was formed by soldiers who have come from Volhynia. He has not returned to Volhynia after the war and he has not stayed in the army; instead, he settled in the Olomouc region, started a family and worked in agriculture. During the whole postwar period he was active in the Czechoslovak Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters and later in the Czechoslovak Association of Legionaries. He died in 2007.