Jiří Pavel

* 1922  †︎ 2017

  • "I wanted to operate a machine gun. As a boy, I wanted to shoot. But the order came that I was supposed to go to the NCO school. However, we had nothing to do at the school. They gave me a magnificent horse to ride, but I had no idea how to sit on it. It had no brakes. We were doing circles, but that horse started to trot. The commander yelled at me: 'Pavel, what are you doing'? I was clinging to the saddle as well as I could so I wouldn't fall down, but in the process I was kicking it in the belly and that made it ride even faster and faster. In the end they stopped it somehow. Everyone was finished but I was still training."

  • The Germans were good soldiers. Pavel's unit faced some Hauptmann Türke, who had trained a raid unit and was ambushing mostly Frenchmen. "When our boys went on an attack, they were supposed to take no prisoners...but when you stand in front of a guy on the battlefield and you are supposed to shoot him.... well, it's more about being human then being a hero. This was towards the end of the war when we were in a section that had been mapped and mined by the Germans. We had laid only a few mines near the road. We were shelling their water purification plant. One morning we woke up and the Germans started to shell us with their 88s guns, which were manufactured in Pilsen and were greatly feared. Our 75s guns were no match for them. I was sitting when suddenly I saw an explosion somewhere on the road. We went to look there and found our soldier, Karul, who had a head wound. They sent him to the hospital screaming 'Mom, mom'. The next day, a message came saying he had died. They took his belongings and the war was over."

  • "There were more of us at the school in Dvůr Králové who wanted to enlist in the Czechoslovak army in France, but only two of us had the resolve to do it in the end. That was on Monday, November 20, 1939. Instead of going to school, we went by train straight to Hradec Králové and from there to Hranice na Moravě. My friend Jiří Sochor and I were going to join our army, to do something. During one debate with my father we were discussing the creation of the Czech army in France. He said to me: 'If I was single with no commitments, I'd go as well'. That strengthened my resolve to get in."

  • "I wasn't wounded in combat, but in France we trained rookies in shooting and I was their instructor. I was standing on the right side and one of the trainees' stenguns jammed, so I told him to give it back. But suddenly, it exploded and I got hit to the head. The tiny piece of metal got stuck in the bone, only centimeters next to my eye. It's weird how easily you can die. I was covered in blood but the medic told me it wasn't serious, he patched me up and that was it. But I still felt a pressure in that place. One day, after the war ended, I came home and asked my mother to grab a needle and take it out. So we pulled out a little piece of bent metal – a shrapnel – about 3 millimeters and I threw it away. My father went to pick it up straight away and said: 'You had it in you all this time and you want to throw it away just like that'? Except for this, I was not wounded."

  • “On New Year's Eve I crossed the border. A day before that we got our tickets and they told us that they need to try to make the crossing from Yugoslavia. It was still illegal and when someone was caught, he went to Tolonchaz (a famous prison). Only if you said you were Polish, was it ok. But as soon as they learned that you were Czech, it was impossible. Hungarians and Poles were great friends back then. So we got our tickets on December 30, 1939, and headed to Szeged, which was on the border with Yugoslavia. Altogether there were five of us and they wanted to check if the crossing was safe. We were supposed to inform the Yugoslav patrols about the transports. On New Year's Eve we were taken to the border by a Hungarian on a local railway. The whole area was flat like a table and it was freezing. It was there that I saw peppers for the first time even though they were frozen. At one farm, the Hungarian said goodbye to us and told us which way to go. As soon as we reached the border the guys started to sing and rejoice about how easy it was, but suddenly a door opened and a man with a rifle stepped out. We ran away but I was running last. That Yugoslav guy chased us on a frozen pond and then he sent his dogs at us. But fortunately the dogs were poorly trained and went the other way. We were heading to the reeds at the edge of the pond, where we wanted to hide. But suddenly, we heard them yelling: 'stop'! So we stopped and they said: 'Czech brothers'! And they were greeting us and asked: 'Why didn't you fight back (referring probably to the German occupation)'? - 'We were alone'. 'No, no, we were with you'. Then they started to give us their rifles to prove to us that they were our friends. Afterwards they took us to a station, gave us food and offered us rest. The Yugoslavs told us, that they had been following us from the train that we arrived in. I remember that they gave us Rakia (a drink) and that it tasted like grinded razorblades."

  • Mr. Pavel worked in the fur-processing factory, Kara. One day a group of people came to the factory, trying to recruit some of the workers for labor in the Jáchymov uranium mines. “Director Franz was speaking about how important it was for peace and similar stuff. About 12 people were supposed to go to Radvanice and I was supposed to enlist as well. The director said: ‘What about you comrade, don´t you want to go’? I replied: ‘Mr. Director I have done enough for this country, but you could go’. I though he was going to have a stroke. But I also added: ‘Just so you know, if you and these other people who came to do the recruitment will come, I will join you’. And the director said: ‘So put me on that list’. And they did, but later on he was cleared for medical reasons, of course. It was a blast to tell him in front of 400 people to go himself as an example to the others. Of course he later fired me.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Česká Skalice, 22.08.2004

    duration: 02:29:43
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Česká Skalice, 06.09.2011

    duration: 06:42:26
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Being always human is more than being a hero

Jiří Pavel
Jiří Pavel
photo: archiv Jiřího Pavla

Jiří Pavel was born on April 27, 1922. He comes from Říkov and went to school in nearby Česká Skalice. After one year of studying at a business high school he went on to study at a secondary textile school in Dvůr Králové. In 1939 he and his friends decided to leave the country and join the fight against Nazism. On November 20, 1939, he went on a trip with his friend Jiří Sochor to the Beskydy Mountains. Through Slovakia, Poland and Carpathian Ruthenia he reached the French embassy in Budapest. On his journey he endured hunger, cold and several arrests. On New Year’s Eve, he and a group of Czechoslovak soldiers crossed the borders to Yugoslavia and continued via the southern way to the Near East, where they were accepted to the foreign legion. They sailed to Marseille on a ship called Patria, upon their arrival they were assigned to the 1st Czechoslovak infantry division in Agda. He ended up in the 3rd reconnaissance platoon. Because he hadn’t turned 18 yet, he was sent to an NCO school. After the French defense had collapsed, they departed to England. Jiří Pavel was assigned to a brigadier MG squad, but due to an excess of officers he ended up driving a small cargo van. His unit was relocated to Kineton, where he met his future wife Betty. Between the years 1942-1943, he completed a special training for operations behind enemy lines, but he was not filed for parachute jumps to the Protectorate. During the invasion to the European mainland in 1944 the Czechoslovak soldiers besieged the fortress of Dunkirk. Jiří Pavel was assigned to the brigadier staff company bombarding those German positions which threatened allied pilots. After the war was over he returned to Česká Skalice to his parents. He shortly stayed in the military service and graduated in Brno in natural science at a high school. He brought home with him his wife Betty and his son. He then worked as an operations accountant in the textile factory Lina and later in a fur-processing factory (today’s Kara). He was arrested for a short period of time in 1948 during the funeral of president Beneš and he remained under surveillance after that. His parents were imprisoned for alleged illegal weapon possession. In 1969, he emigrated to Great Britain with his wife. Jiří Pavel passed away on June, the 30th, 2017.