Vladislav Opočenský

* 1921  †︎ 2013

  • "It was dangerous to start with. They didn't hurt Czechs, and in fact, Germans came visiting the village, looking to buy vodka, or butter or eggs. Because they... It was clear the army wasn't supplied with food very much, the German army. And especially during a feast day, when they were given leave to visit Germany, they drove around the Czech villages, looking to bring home some, well, food." "Obviously. But the Jewish population was worse off I guess?" "They shoved the Jews into a ghetto, into this poor quarter." "In Luck?" "In Luck." "And what was the quarter called?" "It didn't have a name. They called it 'Runduky'. Just a load of wooden huts, a square, right, and huts built into a triangle shape. Well, but in between them were brick houses, yes. There even used to be an apothecary's there and such, during the Polish governance." "And that was the worst quarter of the town, yes?" "Well, the poorest, the poorest." "But the Jews didn't live there before the war, did they, they lived there afterwards, when they were forced there?" "They... the poor lived there, in that quarter, but not in those huts, they only used those as shops. Like the Vietnamese have their stalls here, something similar. But they had them covered and enclosed by reason of the cold and the snow." "And did it mean anything, the name 'Runduky', or...?" "Well, it was... I don't know if it was a Jewish word or a Ukrainian one. Well, runduk meant 'hut', right." "Oh, right. And what happened to the Jews after that?" "The Jews, well until the fall of Stalingrad, the Jews just stayed there. They were put to forced labour, they each had a yellow circle over here, back and front." "What circle?" "A circle, like a yellow circle." "Not a star like it was here?" "They had a yellow circle. That meant they were a Jew. And they could pass through the town..." "And they had one on their backs too?" "On their backs on the left." "And they had something written on it or something?" "No, just a yellow circle. That was just a symbol, saying he was a Jew. And when he was walking through the town and a German met him and didn't like something about the Jew, he took his gun and and shot him through that circle. Without any... If he didn't like him, he shot him." "So they used that as a target?" "As a target." "Well and when Stalingrad fell, what changed?" "When Stalingrad fell, then, well, I don't know if it was Jews, Ukrainians, Germans, German deserters, they dug pits. Those pits were five metres wide and a hundred metres long. Four of them next to each other. Less than three kilometres from our place." "And where did they dig them?" "Polanka it was called. And then they started bringing the Jews there." "If it was three kilometres away, you had to see something occasionaly, no?" "Well, we heard the gunfire. No one dared to go there. They were at it night and day, and the Ukrainian militia, the youngsters, they all joined the German army. So some of them acted as police, some stood guard and some underwent soldier training at the barracks. And they helped bring in the Jews in trucks. The Jews had to hold their heads down, they didn't know where they were being taken. Whoever raised his head got butted. When they arrived at the pits, they had to strip naked, climb in, lie down, and they shot each of them in the head."

  • "The Germans left behind a sniper rifle as they fled. And there was a bunker there and even a hospital. Those were two-story bunk beds, underground and all." "That was all near Zyndranowé?" "In Zyndranowé. And there were crates of wine there. But we were frightened of drinking it, in case it was poisoned! Only later, when the Russians caught up with us, we offered them a drink of wine." "Well that was nice of you! Though I guess they were happy, no?" "When nothing happened to them, we started drinking too."

  • "The forest was over there, that's where Fritz was holed up. And we said to the Russian bloke: 'Guy, drives there with the tank.' And he said: 'Now how can I drive the tank there, if I don't know what to expect, could be an anti-tank cannon or goodness-knows-what there.' And they said: 'Infantry, forward!' Now there was this stream with willows growing along it, shrubs and such. Can you see the stream?" "There's something or other here." "Big shrubs. So the boys were crouched, they got right up into the forest, but they didn't have any ammo, they'd used it all." "So why did they go there?" "Their butts - they used their gun-butts to finish off the Germans."

  • "We carry on a bit further and suddenly machine-gun fire. So I hide behind a beech tree, I'm lying down, shooting from my gun and this one gipsy is screaming, shouting, he's wounded. So I threw him his rifle, I keep shooting, and then bam! - I see something hit my hand. No matter. I took the gun into my left hand, I keep on shooting and suddenly pow! It must have gone a good fifteen metres. It snapped through these here muscles and my gun went flying. Now me with no weapon." "You were shot in both arms..." "Shot in both arms. So I used my elbows, crawled backwards and away. And now, dirt, my eyes full of it, he was pelting me with his machine gun. My eyes were full of dirt. The gipsy made a run for it too, and when we got out of range, we got to the medics, I say: 'Boys, check out that gipsy, he's wounded somehow.' So they took off his coat and he was only scratched, a bullet had skimmed his skin." "He was lucky." "And I had my coat shorn off, just the collar left hanging, I lost my shirt pocket, my shirt was ripped, torn and had a hole right here. ´And he's screaming like a baboon, and he's hardly hurt, you're half dead, and you don't say a word.´"

  • "My name is Vladislav Opočenský, I was born in Boratín. That's in Volhynia. District of Luck it was called, or maybe it was the 'regional capital of Luck'." "And your date of birth?" "2nd October 1921." "And now I'd like to know what were your parents' occupations, what did your family do for a living?" "My father was a farmer, but he was a carpenter by training. He learned the craft at one German in Łódź, so he could speak German as well." "So that was useful for him later on..." "No it wasn't, because he died in 1933, '34. I was thirteen when he died." "What happened?" "Liver cancer. But probably due to exertion, because he did carpentry and there were no machines, he had to do everything by hand. He built a new house, a whole building out of wood. The door frames, everything was of oak planks and it all had to be worked by hand. It was an awful amount of work, awful." "And how many siblings did you have?" "There were five of us all in all, five siblings. Two sisters and three brothers."

  • "Smrečany. Okay. We dug in... well, dug in - it was all frozen and powdered with snow, so we just used our spades... the spade, that was our second weapon, rifle and trenching spade. Anyone too lazy to carry a spade came to regret it. As soon as the fighting stopped, dig in and hide so that not even your bum showed. Everyone who wasn't too lazy to dig in had a chance. We dug in, put on the white camo, and in the morning, as the sun was rising, we charged out! 'Huraaaah!' There were Hungarians in the trenches. They legged it, left their guns and ran. And we followed of course. We go to the village beyond the hill - we left that behind us. Mikuláš was also behind... The Germans and Hungarians in the village had left their plates with boiled hen, right. So we breakfasted and carried straight on, like towards the main railway line. The last building was a church. And from the church tower, the Germans started pelting us with a heavy machine gun. We just had hand grenades and rifles. And then we see: three tanks. Tigers. And we only had grenades and rifles. No chance. So we dodged around the houses and fell back."

  • "They nagged me, they said if I was to take office, I'd go bankrupt. And the treasurer said: 'I've got twenty five thousand in the bank, and I'm curious about how soon you'll lose it all.' I said: 'Leave it to me.' And next year instead of twenty five thousand, I had two hundred and fifty thousand in the bank, because we were improving the village and they, the state, gave out lots of grants. To those who worked."

  • "The worst moment for us was when they deported the rich farmers to Siberia. And what happened - it was a harsh winter in 1939, up to thirty degrees below zero (°C - transl.), and the Bolsheviks were deporting the Polish legionnaires together with their families. To Siberia they took them, in cattle wagons, with wired-up windows, in thirty degree frosts."

  • "We formed a little skirmish line, I waited and after a bit we see: Germans. Coming at us." "They were returning?" "Returning. But it was misty. And they were covered only by the mist. So of course we primed the grenades. Man, when he's scared, is doubly strong. We lobbed those grenades at least fifty metres far. And I saw: boom, boom. The Germans had stopped, and I saw: a clearing, roots in the air, like when a forest topples over, a good two metres high. I'm looking, there's a German standing there and suddenly another one runs up. But covered only by the mist. And me with my pea shooter: phut phut phut. So I took the German rifle, bam, and both of them, as I saw, both dropped down. The shot went through one and the other. (They stood one behind the other or what?) Hm. Those Russian pea shooters, especially in the mist. And I shouted: 'Captain, Sir,' - because I saw those infantrymen, they were slacking, they didn't want to go - 'Hurry the boys up, 'cause we're only three of us here and we can't hold it.' So I heard him urge them forward, and he was the first to get to us, so I told him: 'There's a wounded German there in that bunker.' And he grabbed that German rifle of mine, and bam, finished him off."

  • "When we came out of the station, as soldiers, right, three abreast, each to his own house, which he had chosen earlier. I came out with my brother, we had chosen number one, so we didn't have any trouble. Some of the houses were already occupied by them, what-they-called, pillagers, so they had to leave, because we had priority, we could choose." "So there weren't any pillagers living in the Ungermanns' house?" "None. The residential building was wooden and it was the first building of the whole village. Like the first to built all those hundreds of years ago." "The oldest building of them all?" "Yes." "And it's still standing there to this day?" "What?" "The building is still standing even today?" "Yes, for sure it's standing. It's listed for heritage protection, of course."

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    Chotiněves, 30.12.2003

    duration: 02:57:21
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“I was weaponless, both my arms were shot through.”

Vladislav Opočenský
Vladislav Opočenský
photo: Pamět Národa - Archiv

Vladislav Opočenský was born on the 22nd of October 1921 in Boratín, near Lucek, Volhynia. He experienced both the Soviet collectivization following 1939 and the Nazi occupation of Volhynia - he remembers the massacre of 17,000 Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto in Luck during that period. In 1944, he joined Svoboda’s army; he fought at Dukla and during the liberation of Slovakia. He was put out of combat duty due to an injury at Žilina. After the war, he decided to live in Czechoslovakia. He was given a farm belonging to expelled Sudeten Germans in Chotiněves near Litoměřice. There he spent a year with a German family by the name of Ungermann. They formed a close friendship, visiting each other after the expulsion. Opočenský resisted collectivization until 1957, when, having been stripped of all machinery, he joined the JZD (United Agricultural Co-op). He continued to work there until 1964 when he became village secretary, later mayor. In 1947, he married Ludmila Vlková - they had three children. Vladislav Opočenský passed away on July, the 16th, 2013.