Why did I hate the war and the Germans? Because when I was an eighteen-year-old boy, just finished learning my trade, the Germans surrounded us, a total of four villages. The mayor came to my father and ordered him: “You take a spade and come with us.” My father was afraid that he would never return home again. I had five siblings and they could not earn their own living yet. So my father said: “Vašek, you will go!” I took the spade and went. The meeting point was about two hundred metres behind the village, there were two cars waiting for us, so we got in and they brought us to the Klapsch forest, about two kilometers from there. There they made us dig a large pit – twenty metres long, eight metres wide and two metres deep. We were not even finished yet, when two German jeeps arrived, the officers got out and guzzled some rum. One of the SS men came to us and started shouting: “Schnell! Schnell!!!” We were quickly finishing the pit and they were already running people into it. Families held hands. We were still in the pit and they began shooting them. Each of them had to kneel facing the wall and was shot in the neck. We endured the first carload, when the second one arrived; they ordered us to stand back ten metres. We heard those people moaning. They were Jews from the camp. The order was maintained by Ukrainian police. My uncle had cooked for them, and because he knew them, he begged them to let us go further away so that we would not have to hear this. They sent a guard with us and allowed us to go away about two, three hundred metres, where we hid between stacks of straw and thus waited till four o’clock in the afternoon. Meanwhile they shot seven hundred people. Then they called us to cover the pit. We had to collect those who were shot when trying to run away to the forest, and to add them on top of that pile of dead bodies and cover them with ground. What a horror, seven hundred people! I was eighteen then.
We celebrated the 27th anniversary of the Russian Revolution on Soliska. Our brigade commander, colonel Přikryl, colonel Asmolov, Šverma, Slánský and captain Marceli held a speech to the soldiers. The situation was quite grave. We had twenty wounded, whom we could not transport anywhere. And surrounded by Germans. There were about three hundred men remaining. What were we to do next? We shot our last horse and had a festive dinner on the revolution’s anniversary day. We felt empowered by their assurance that within two weeks we should meet the Red Army and advance jointly.
I and Bečan were on duty that day, we were to guard the staff. We stood sentry right next to the staff. We had a heavy machine-gun. It was terribly cold and freezing. We were so exhausted that we could not bear the stress anymore. We took turns every two hours. Only about a hundred metres from us Šverma, Slánský and colonel Přikryl were in the bunker. Colonel Přikryl brought me a fur coat and told me: “Boys, I don’t want you to freeze here!” We stood sentry till the very morning. But Bečan’s legs got frostbitten. After a week his condition became so bad he could not even walk at all. We had to transport him all the seven kilometers to the nearest village in a tent canvas.
This is what I have to say: the situation was such that we could not even live peacefully between 1939 and 1943. There was the Bender army. You could not even sleep at nights. During the day, the Germans would come, asking for cattle, and so on, and at night it was the Bender army members who arrived. This is the way it was. There was no peace at all! In 1942, they burnt the entire village of Malín. This was a Czech village. In Michno, about seven kilometers from our place, the Germans shot twenty-eight people there! They assumed it was an Ukrainian village, but Czech people were living there. There was no way you could enjoy even a short time of peace. During the day it was the Germans, at night the Bender army. And you could not tell who was who, because they could be wearing German uniforms for instance. You did not even know whom you were speaking to!
Around noon, eight airplanes marked with the Czechoslovak flag suddenly flew over our garrison. We were wondering what was happening. My comrade called a radio transmitter in Banská Bystrica. And they were broadcasting: “UPRISING!” And asking for immediate help. The second paratrooper brigade was formed by 70 percent of Slovaks, ten percent of Carpathian Ruthenians and twenty percent Czechs. Within two days we were speedily transported by train to Přemyšl. There, we left our equipment and parachutes in a storage facility. What followed was a 120 kilometre march all the way to Krosno to the front, with kit-bags. But they did not lead us to the rear of the army. It was probably a test devised by our commanders, because with us there were many soldiers who had been originally fighting on the German side. Then they surrendered on Krym and joined the Czechoslovak army. We went through two weeks of fighting, proceeding from Krosno to Polish Dukla. We reached Dukla – mountainous terrain and mines everywhere. Communicating trenches. The Germans were moving from one trench to another in an instant. While we had to advance through an open terrain with mines. We suffered heavy losses there. 157 of our soldiers lost their lives there! In two days! What a situation! We simply had orders to reach the border as quickly as possible, to support the Slovak Uprising. But we were not too successful, because the country was hilly, and the Germans had already been entrenched there in defensive for six months and had those communicating trenches. And we were sent to the worst terrain possible. There were difficulties. And I have to add that it was probably also a failure of command. Our corps was commanded by general Kratochvíl, but due to heavy losses he was dismissed from command after two or three days. The command was then passed onto general Svoboda. And only then did we advance.
We got an order to continue from Krosno to Slovakia by airplanes to support the troops there. During our first approach we did not land. We landed on the second try, but when we got over the front and were flying over Poprad, we were spotted by artillery search-lights and they opened a fire upon us. Our pilot at that time was a soldier who was a Hero of the Soviet Union. He switched off the engines and we dropped one thousand metres. There were twelve of us in that airplane. The remaining space was filled with artillery material, mostly grenades. There was one soldier with us, a little older, about forty, and he had three children in Slovakia. And he says: “Boys, I have children, I need to save myself.” But we had no parachutes, we surrendered them before. So he rushed into the cabin, where the navigator and three airmen were sitting, and shouted again, that he needs to save his life, that he has children at home. Fortunately we managed to land. There were already many airplanes there which crashed on landing. The terrain was really rough. And it was terribly foggy. Autumn weather, to put it simply. This was the Tri Duby airport, used for emergencies then.
My mother says that since that time I had been always shouting at night while I was sleeping
Václav Pirožek was born July 17th, 1924 in Butki Hubinske in the Volyně region. He learnt the tailor’s trade. At the age of eighteen he was to be sent to do forced labour in Germany, but he went into hiding and thus managed to avoid it. He was forced to participate in the mass murders of about seven hundred Volyně Jews. Following the call to join the Czechoslovak army, Václav Pirožek, who was not even twenty years old then, together with other sixty men from the village joined its ranks on March 28th, 1944. From March till July he went through a rigorous training and afterwards was sent to the 1st Czechoslovak brigade of Ludvík Svoboda. At the end of July he was dismissed and transferred to a paratrooper unit. He participated in fighting at the Dukla Pass. After the war he was also involved in clashes with the Hungarians on the state border. Later he served in the Žatec garrison, and afterwards he was called to participate in the resettlement of the border regions of Czechoslovakia. He settled in Branišovice. His deteriorated health did not allow him to work on the family farm, which he therefore let to his parents, and moved to the Krkonoše Mountains. There he applied for a tobacconist kiosk, but his wish was not granted, and he went to work in a factory in Trutnov instead. He married and in the 1950s, they returned to Hrušovany, the birthplace of his wife. They raised two daughters. Václav Pirožek died of COVID-19 on December 16, 2020 in the Znojmo hospital.