“It was terribly hot. We were awfully thirsty and there was nothing to drink. When we came to Rajhrad, that was the second day, we called out to one lady there, who was in her front garden, watching us, and asked for some water. She took a bucket and brought it full of water and stood on the side of the road. We took out our cups, we had these tin cups, to scoop up the water, but the boy [the guard] came and said: ‘Not for Germans!’ And he kicked the bucket and knocked it over. That was awful. When you’re thirsty and you can’t have a drink. Then it started to rain, and I licked the drops from my hand, that’s how dreadful my thirst was.”
“My mum was happy for me not to see whenever something ugly was taking place. She always hugged me hard so that I wouldn’t see anything. She protected me. For instance, when that lady could walk no more, they began hitting her and saying she had to walk on. It was still so-so there. Or those old ladies who could no longer carry their bags and so they were emptying them. There were piles of things put aside by those elderly people who were no longer able to carry their possessions. Even the most basic ones. Then behind Brno, an old lady fell down. She couldn’t go any further. She kneeled on the ground with her hands clamped, asking that young buy to let her rest for a bit. He took a rifle and hit her in the head with the butt, full strength. She rolled down. I know nothing more because mum dragged me along.”
“Sometimes I remember more than I’d like to. I remember all those special things because those were things you just can’t forget. Say the killing. I saw two murders. [Q: During the march?] Yes. The rest of it, say, someone lying somewhere, I don’t know about that, but the murder itself... I call them murders because they were murders. One old lady... We weren’t allowed to rest. We had to keep walking on and on and on. Even old grannies around eighty years old had to keep going. And if they were carrying something and couldn’t take it any further, they’d put it down by the side [of the road], and they had to go on, they weren’t allowed to stop and get some rest. One old lady fell down in the middle of the road, and the guard came up and yelled at her to keep moving, and she begged him with clasped hands to let her rest a bit. He took a rifle, and he whacked her on the head with the butt as hard as possible. I’m sure he killed her.”
“I remember the time when I was already attending school in Černá pole. That was on the hill and Husovice were down below. Whenever there was an air strike, they had already known from the radio. When airplanes flew from the direction of Vienna, the Viennese radio said that they would come and it started doing a ‘kuku’ sound. ‘Kuku’ meant an airstrike was about to take place. They probably also followed that radio at school. We also had one at home; my father constructed it himself. Back then in Brno, a bomb hit a school. All of the kids suffocated in the basement. Everyone was there – the whole school got killed there. And so they asked us… We were asked to bring to school a statement whether we’d go home or stay in a basement in case of an air strike. My parents wrote that I should go home.”
“I contracted dysentery, and I wouldn’t have survived. The conditions were horrendous, it’s hard to describe. But Auntie said she’d take care of us, so Mum wrote a letter in Pohořelice. Mum signed [a statement] wherein she as if disowned us and sent us to our aunt, who was to bring us up in the Czech spirit. ‘Dear Mimi, do not be angered that I am sending you the children, but they told me at the national committee that if you adopt the children and bring them up in such a way, they can stay with you. The hardships of the journey to Pohořelice have exhausted the children. Our little one kept crying for you to come for her soon. She is too small for such a long journey and such hardships. It might be the death of her.’ So she sent that with us... [Q: And that actually saved you...] Well... she disowned us. Later, she said when she came to the border, there was a sign there that said she’d never be allowed to return. And when you realise you’ve left your children there, whom you love, and that you might not see them ever again, it was dreadful.”
“In the meantime, he was telling me that he had to go on foot for a while. No trains were running so they walked and walked. He could walk no more because he was sick. He had a friend there who told him: ‘You mustn’t sit!’ Whenever someone fell, they shot them dead and left them on the spot. He propped him up and took his luggage. In effect, he saved his life because he didn’t fall down and eventually made it to the train which brought him back to us. He rode on that nearly-empty train through the places he knew. He hiked a lot and knew the surroundings of Brno. When they got to Obřany where the train stopped, he knew he was practically in Brno. It was early in the morning, around 4 a.m. He jumped off that train and ran to Husovice.”
It’s almost a miracle that we all met up again after the war
Maria Pekařová was born on 4 March 1938 into the German family of František and Marie Pekař in Brno. Both her parents came from mixed marriages, and so the Pekař family spoke both German and Czech. Her father worked as a tram conductor, her mother had trained as a seamstress but kept house instead. The witness had one brother, Karel, who was six years her elder. They lived in Brno in the house of her father’s sister Mimi, who had married the lawyer JUDr. Evžen Popelka. The Popelkas played an important role in the life of the Pekař family after the war, when Maria Pekařová and her children were chased out on a death march with 30,000 other Brno Germans from Pohořelice to Austria on 30 May 1945. The witness’s mother was given the opportunity to save her daughter from death by exhaustion by giving her and her brother into the adoption of her sister-in-law Mimi Popelková, allowing them to return from Pohořelice to Brno. The witness’s father was dragged off to Romania by the Soviets, but because he proved he did not collaborate with the Nazis, he was also allowed to return to Brno. Maria Pekařová returned home in 1948 thanks to the efforts of Mr Popelka, and so the family was reunited. The witness was barred from studying, and so she trained as a seamstress. She married, and she and her husband went to live in the Sudetes for some time. The family returned to Brno five years later, and after some time, they moved back to their original flat. Maria worked as a crane operator for thirty years; she brought up two children. Maria Pekařová died on December 5, 2021.