* 1915 †︎ unknown
“While we were getting ready, the artillery commander Sachar was inspecting the units. He also came to me: ´Save the living material! I cannot give you anything, because I don’t have anything. Nobody from the unit is allowed to take anything without the permission of the platoon commander,´ such was his order. ´Be ready, if I need direct fire I will take the platoon, not the battery´. It was assumed that in direct fire, most of the soldiers would lose their lives. We were ready. My battery was renamed from the fourth to the first. We were needed for direct fire. An order came: ´Popjuk and his unit to direct fire!´ I could not choose otherwise, so I went. But it went well; it was a success and without any losses.”
“When we stayed at one place for a longer time, let’s say for a week, we would put up a camp and set sentries around it. In the camp there was always one platoon commander on duty and beside the sentry he had two soldiers at hand. If a shot was fired, they woke their commander. For instance, when I was on duty, they came to wake me up and told me from which direction that shot came. We go there, come to the place and there is a civilian with a horse. He was carrying some hay. He did not let the sentries inspect his load. I came there and asked why he had not wanted them to check it. He started making excuses. So I said, well let’s have a look at it. The soldiers were already trained. They searched through it and out of that hay a Russian officer fell down, with a submachine gun and another gun. He had enough ammunition. I grabbed him, the soldiers took the guns and the submachine gun. I led him to the staff commander. At that time we did not have tents yet, we were in trenches. The staff commander only had a bunker for himself, and one messenger with him. I come to him and report what happened. He says: ´Lead him out of the camp and let him go.´ He heard it. No way, I thought, I will not let him go. He has a gun, a submachine gun, he can pull the trigger and shoot us and we kick the bucket here. So to myself I thought I would not let him go.”
“He was of Jewish origin and he told us what had happened there. We called them field gendarme – they were allowed to shoot a soldier if he committed some offense. Only they had this right. They rode in a car, six of them, and one of them fell out. The guy was a Volhynian Czech, and aspirant. He fell from the car into a creek and he was killed. There were rocks at the bottom. We suspected them. There were six of them, so how come that only one of them fell down from the car?! And right at the place where the stream was?! Eventually they left it like this. Nothing was done about it.”
“We left the cannons there, we took out the gunlocks, hid them and went away. We met one guy (we were wearing out uniforms with our rank insignia and numbers), and he says to us: ´Guys, take it off, your ranks, number, everything, get rid off it. They are looking for the 36th regiment and all who served there.´ We rushed into the stock room and changed out clothes. We threw away the coats and hats with ranks and numbers, and we walked away. I took one gun that was in the stock room. One of my comrades took one for himself, too. And he tells me: ´You are crazy!´ I also took one box of cartridges with me. But what now, how to hide it?! We kept thinking about it. Before the war, coats had their inner lining, and we thought, ´Let’s sew the gun here under the lining. And the cartridges under the other one.”
“We crossed the border and the infantry was supposed to enter the day after. In Poland the houses were made of wood, and the Germans would choose a house, break into it and install a tank or a cannon inside, you were not able to see from where they were firing. That’s why we lost so many of our tanks there. I was in direct fire. I saw a shot fired from the window – a flash. But not from a cannon, just from a light weapon. I told the battery commander: ´I shall fire a few shots in there.´ We were short of ammunition: thirty-six shells was our emergency reserve, we were not allowed to use them. But I have already sent the soldiers to bring this last stock. The commander was reluctant but then he agreed. I slammed them in and I hit the cannon which was in the house. The Germans were jumping out of the house and running to the corner of the garden, they had their cannon there. From the lookout point they were shouting that the battery which was firing right now should keep firing. And we also responded with fire and we advanced an awful lot there.”
Byt Štefana Popjuka, 05.08.2003
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I served in the army till the collapse of the First Republic. Our 36th regiment mainly fought against the Hungarians.
First lieutenant in retirement Štefan Popjuk was born June 25th 1915 in Carpathian Ruthenia. He was trained as a carpenter. Before the outbreak of WWII, he served in the Czechoslovak army. After the Hungarian occupation of his country he was forced to return home and work as a civilian. In 1939 he attempted to escape to the Soviet Union but he was intercepted after crossing the border and sent back. In the occupied Carpathian Ruthenia, he found another job and eventually was forced to join the Hungarian army, where he served for about 3 months. In 1943 he managed to cross over from the USSR, where he joined the Czechoslovak military unit and further served as a commander of an artillery platoon. He fought at Kiev, Jaslo and Dukla, taking part in the liberation of Czechoslovakia. After the war he left the army and after a short time began working with the State Police. He left from there in 1963 and returned to the army. Until his retirement, he served in Litoměřice with the communication unit.