Otto Neumann

* 1930  †︎ 2018

  • “While in Slavkov I met the Witnesses for the first time. But not through a personal contact. I only learnt about them... They brought one of them out of the shaft, because at that time the Witnesses were refusing to go down the mine and mine the uranium ore. They brought him up there, and obviously he was immediately placed in a ´corrective cell.´ At that time I thought, what kind of man he had to be, to be able to refuse and resist all this. I was fascinated by his attitude. I thought, if only all of us acted like that, what could they do to us? They can eliminate an individual in no time. But after that, when I got from Slavkov to the Rovnost camp, there were several of them. There was this infamous commander Paleček, that was the nickname we gave him. When we came there, it was late autumn, it was already cold up there. And we saw that there was one prisoner continually pacing in front of the commanders’ building. He was walking back and forth, so we asked what he was doing there. At that time, they didn’t call them Witnesses, they called them Baptists. We learnt that the Baptists were refusing to mine the uranium, and the commander had allegedly said: ´They will stand outside until they drop dead.´ The day after, as we were returning from the shaft, there was a guards’ building, which separated the shaft from the camp. And what we saw there – for instance, they would let him sleep for one hour at night, then wake him up immediately, in any kind of weather, almost. They had almost no food. It was horrible what they had to endure.”

  • “He asked me what I had with me, and I said: ´I only have this knapsack...´ He ordered: ´Get out.´ I got out, there was a soldier with a submachine-gun standing by a small building for the guards. He brought me in and told me: ´Take off that knapsack.´ And I had maps and things like that inside. He was looking through it and all of a sudden he said: ´Hands up!´ I realized the situation was bad. The soldier with the submachine-gun stood on the left and a policeman on the right. There was nothing else I could do. I began raising my hands, and I thought: now it’s either – or. I put my hand in my pocket and I wanted to draw out the gun, but the gun’s foresight got stuck in my pocket. The soldier with the submachine-gun saw my hand moving, he sprang towards me and knocked me down. And thus my peripetia began.”

  • “Through one prisoner, who was in touch with one of the wardens, we managed to smuggle in a Bible. But this was already towards the end of 1958 or in 1959. Naturally we immediately cut the binding, because we knew we wouldn’t be able to hide the whole book. For instance, in the workshop I had a small desk for tools made, brother Skohoutil made it, and he fixed a double bottom into this desk and I always kept a part of the Bible hidden there. When I returned there afterwards, the Bible was still there. When I returned there for the second time, I was already alone there, there were no other brothers anymore at that time, I only had one guy who was interested. But we tried to obtain texts everywhere we could. There was a library, we were allowed to borrow books, but most of it were title like The Hardening of Steel, The Herd of Karajeves, and this type of works. From time to time, an interesting book would appear. We read Jirásek, for instance. Or I got hold of Pampaedia by Komenský. There were many biblical passages in that book. And I loved Komenský, I learnt a lot from his works. One day we got hold of the poet Machar’s collection of poems. He composed several poems with biblical themes and it was called Venom from Judea. I heard that he had some slightly fascist inclinations... I don’t know why he dealt with the theme this way, but we liked it very much because it really corresponded with what was written in the Bible. One poem is called Paul of Tarsus. It is based on the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 17, it’s along poem and we learnt it by heart. If you want to, I can recite a few lines. It begins with these words: ´Oh, the citizens of Athens! Strolling through the city of yours, I beheld an altar, which – as the inscription betrays – you have consecrated to an unknown god. It is my calling to announce to you him, whom you worship in your piety, yet unaware of his name...”

  • “The night there was the worst of all. I think I will never be able to forget that night. I was covered with blood, everything stained with blood... After I was convicted and after I got a prisoner’s uniform, they sent my clothes home to my mother. And when mother received these things, smeared with blood, it was a horror, you can imagine that. For they absolutely didn’t know what had happened to me. Originally, they got news that I had been shot while trying to cross the border. Then there was a notice that I had been arrested and was now in prison. Seeing this, you can imagine what was going on that evening, when four or five of these policemen wanted to know what I intended to do there...”

  • “We were frequently being transferred from one cell to another. For almost a year, I was in one cell with Husák, who then became the president. He was a staunch communist then. But as another human being, I can’t say a single word against him. He didn’t have any privileges. I remember that after the events in Hungary, he wrote a long paper, when Kádár rose to power and Gomulka became the leader in Poland, Husák wrote a long letter where he was listing his merits during the uprising in Slovakia, what he had done to build communism here, etc. I know that one day we returned to our cells, which were just being searched. They regularly searched through your things to check whether we had any illegal things, and his stuff was scattered all over the cell. We looked into the papers which were on the floor and thus we saw that he had been writing this letter for the central committee, listing his merits. And indeed, after a year or so he was transferred to the Pankrác prison, and released shortly after.” Interviewer: “And he talked to you normally, or did he despise these other political prisoners?” – “We also talked to him about spiritual matters, but he persisted in his views...”

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    Praha, 01.01.2007

    duration: 02:31:09
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“If only all were able to resist like the Jehovah´s Witnesses, what could they do to us?”

Otto Neumann
Otto Neumann
photo: Pamět národa - Archiv

  Otto Neumann was born January 11, 1930, in Borovnice near Stará Paka, into a mixed Czech-German Catholic family. During the war he was a member of the Deutsches Jungvolk. His father died near Lviv. The family was exempt from forced removal of German population; Otto worked in a textile factory, on a farm, etc. On October 30, 1949 he was arrested when attempting an illegal border-crossing to West Germany. He was imprisoned in Aš, and then sentenced in Pankrác to 18 years of imprisonment (Bory - almost 2 years, Slavkov, camp nr. XII - almost a year, Prokop - 3 months, Rovnost - his first contact with the Jehovah´s Witnesses, Vykmanov, Bratrství, Příbram - Vojna, Bytíz, Jáchymov prison). While in Leopoldov he was in a same cell with Gustáv Husák. In 1962 he was released and he was baptized. The military court in Pardubice sentenced him to two years of imprisonment for having refused his draft for military service, plus he received an additional three years from his previous sentence. He was interned in Leopoldov again, and released only in 1967. After his release, he continued his work for the Jehovah´s Witnesses. Today he lives with his wife in Prague.