Major (ret.) Josef Obr

* 1923

  • “With a friend of mine, who was also to be sent to the Reich on forced labour, we went to the town that day and we did stupid things. We got to the old railway station in Pardubice, and we spotted a tall man, a German at the first sight, who was buying a ticket. And we saw that he put his suitcase aside, and we decided – out of mischief, not for the money – we grabbed the suitcase and started to run, but they still caught us on the platform. And we were taken to the Pardubice city hall, there was a certain Zástěra, and he gave us a hell. He heard what had happened, then he gave each of us a slap on the face, and they locked us up. Under the city hall building, there used to be a jail and they put us there, and thus I have spent the last day before my leaving for the Reich behind the bars. In the morning he kicked us out, telling us to run away, that it could have been a lot worse for us.”

  • “We all thought of it as a heroic deed, as a model of resistance. You could say that lot of people considered this an act of resistance against the Soviets. But as time passed, this glorious example of resistance began to be seen as a pointless victim. With the changing of generations human opinions change as well, and history can be interpreted in different ways every twenty years or so. It is obvious that the way it was perceived at that time was resistance – an exemplary act of resistance and exemplary courage necessary to take that stand. But eventually, what it really meant or not… And that’s the worst thing, that this generation, this generation in general - does not even know the name Palach.” (Interviewer: “Or if they do, only as a slightly insane person, who burnt himself to death and it did not actually have much significance…”) “And they don’t even know the name, that’s most tragic about it, if you know what I mean. I think that our generation, we who have actively lived through that time, often wonder at the ignorance of today’s eighteen and nineteen year olds. I don’t necessarily mean lack of knowledge, but the lack of interest to learn about these things. And were it not for a few individuals who make an effort and want to remind of this event and know that it is necessary to remind it, without them, there would be nothing at all.”

  • “I always wanted to be involved in everything, and since I have always wanted to defend the interests of my fellow-workers, I was first elected a chairman of the union section in the Ramo factory. Then, when the Soviets came, so called strike committees were being elected. In within that Ramo factory, in an all-workers assembly, I was elected as the chairman of that strike committee.” “And this happened in August or September 1968?” “That was in the days, or in the week immediately after the Russians arrived. At that time, we were making bold speeches there, claiming we would stand against them, and so on… I remember when I became elected, I stepped upon a platform to make a speech to those fellow-workers of the Ramo factory, and I eventually told them that we would sing the national anthem together. And then we somehow tried to lead the factory on the same basis. Then I was elected again, this time into a position of the head of the workers´ committee, and then to the Union of Chemical Workers in Prague. But then the normalization era came, in 1970. First of all, I was sacked from my position in Prague, then the workers´ committees were disbanded, and so on. Then I got an hour’s notice from the Ramo factory. I was dismissed and had to leave the factory. Actually, in fact it was a three-month notice, and for the three months they were sending me my money, but I was not even allowed to come to the factory to collect it. To put it simply, I was made a taboo for the whole factory.”

  • “Specifically in Jáchymov, I never witnessed that a State Police member or a guard would hit somebody. If it happened that some violent conflict between two people occurred, it was between prisoners. A prisoner to another prisoner. This was their cunning strategy – they selected some of the prisoners, and those prisoners did not have to go to work in the mine, they had better rooms and perhaps even better food, but in exchange for that, they worked as wardens, as capos. And they maintained order, and when the State Police members needed to settle accounts with somebody, they called a capo to do the job.”

  • “Even before that, I more or less was and was not a party member. There were many people, who merely owned a Party ID card, but nothing more. And also, if you had some position in the army or such, a necessary prerequisite for that was to be a Party member. During the Communist era, they called these people ´cadre reserves.´ And people who were ´cadre reserves´ had to be either awfully nice guys, or Party members. It could not be otherwise. It is difficult to understand it nowadays, but at the time the situation was…inevitable. On the other hand, it is true that many people were also abusing this ´inevitable situation.´ They were not even pressured to join the Party, but they did become Party members and then they claimed: ´I have done it for my children’s sake, I have done it for the sake of this and that.´ Some people were honest about it, others have done it rather with some personal benefit in view.”

  • “When I think of it over the time, it was my first life experience. An experience, but in the positive sense of the word. Till that time, I had only been living in this small town of ours, we did not travel anywhere. And suddenly there I met other people, I understood what it meant when a group of people had to stick together. Here, you had a bunch of friends, but as a boy of sixteen or seventeen, you are not keen to receive any life experience yet. But there one came to understand what it meant when you lived in a larger group of people and you were dependent – dependent on them, and they on you. And the learning experience - there I got to work on more advanced machines, on modern types of lathes, thus the work itself was a life experience for me. I became more worldly-wise, as a young boy I gained this experience abroad for the first time, so I cannot say it would harm me in any way.”

  • “The year 1989 was such a hope for us who had experienced the whole Nazi occupation and the subsequent forty years of the other totalitarian regime. A hope that things would be better. We were already quite old, I was sixty-six in 1989, so we weren‘t idealistic, more like just hopeful of an end to all the constant suspecting of each other, and that at long last people would turn to more active thoughts, enough of the pessimism. Because the fact is that our society was engrossed in pessimism and resignation. And this small country didn‘t give itself any lofty aims. So the year 1989 was to be, at least for us, for my generation, some sort of satisfaction, a hope that our descendants will be better off.”

  • (Interviewer: “What did you do in Germany when you were in the American sector?”) “Nothing.” (“Nothing at all? You had free time…”) “We did not do anything, we were in the camp, in 1945 the spring was absolutely beautiful, I have never seen such since that time. Firstly, we were suddenly free and then, the sun was shining, it was warm and we did not do anything. Only when the Americans came, with trucks, they took several people with them and they were helping them load some stuff. But otherwise, the UNRRA was taking care of us – we were receiving a cup of cocoa or coffee everyday, biscuits… It was so nice there that we almost did not want to go home…”

  • (Interviewer: “What you expected…”) “…did not happen. Let us put it this way – in 1945, or all the way through 1947 the nation was unified, although it may have been mistaken in its ideal, it stood unified to a certain extent. And we all thought, or at least that’s how I perceived it, and most of us, that in 1990 the whole nation would unite again. And it did unite, but only for a few months, and then political ambitions began to take over, and so on. And you can see it today, everything in chaos, nobody is able to reach an agreement on anything. And I believe this is where our hopes have not been fulfilled. The political scene became fragmented, lost its unity and today you can’t even tell which one is right-wing and which one is left-wing.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Pardubice, 16.04.2009

    duration: 02:27:11
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Pardubice, 22.09.2009

    duration: 04:05
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

“We all thought that in 1990 the nation would unite again. It did unite, but only for a few months, then political ambitions began to take over.”

Josef Obr
Josef Obr
photo: archiv pamětníka

Josef Obr was born September 17th 1923 in a family of farmers as the eldest of four children. The family was severely hit by the economic depression after 1929 -father lost his job and mother was earning a living for the whole family by peddling scrubbing brushes in the neighbouring villages. In the beginning of the war Josef Obr was trained as a turner, in 1939 received his vocational certificate, and on December 4th 1942 he had to leave to do forced labour in Germany. It was actually his very first life experience. At first he worked in Kassel in the large Henschel´s works. He remembers the very different conditions the Czechs enjoyed compared to the other persons who were there on forced labour. For instance, at the beginning of the war, the Czechs were allowed to move around freely. At the end of the war they were moved to the countryside to a little town of Zella Melis, where they even founded their own Czech football team and they played matches against the French and the Belgians. The spring of 1945 after the liberation by the American army was in his own words the best spring ever. Josef Obr returned home in July 1945 and was immediately drafted - he was assigned to the 4th infantry regiment in Hradec Králové and in 1950 he entered the academy for mid-level commanders in Hranice na Moravě. After graduation he was employed in the 2nd department in Prague-Dejvice, then the 8th tank division in Kolín and later in the mechanized regiment with the 4th tank division of Tábor in Jince-Čenkov. In 1953 during a debate he expressed his opinion that the new president Antonín Zápotocký had blood on his hands, and he was subsequently charged with the defamation of the head of state. He served his term in the Prokop mine in Loket nad Ohří in the Jáchymov region. After his release he worked in the Ramo factory in Pardubice. There, he was also actively involved during the time of the Prague Spring - he was presiding the strike committee of the Ramo factory and he was also selected for the higher committee of the Union of Chemical Workers in Prague. In 1970 he was dismissed from the company and from then till his retirement he was working with paints in a factory in Semtín, where the work environment was hazardous to health.