Josef Prokůpek

* 1920

  • “On October 6th we were the first ones to cross that border, our battalion was just crossing it. The first village was Krajná Poĺana, then Nižný Komárnik. And we got all the way to the Nižný Komárnik – it was in a valley, there was a small river running down there… And we saw that there was a fire. Probably our soldiers were attacking the place, with mines, etc., and they put it on fire, and thus we could not get closer, because the Germans stood in our way. We had to get to Komárnik which was under the hill. First we climbed over Nižný and then we walked downhill. And the Germans had a good view and they opened fire at us, with machine guns and mortars and they pushed us back. So we returned and dug trenches and waited for further orders. And in a few days we reorganized and decided we would attack in the early morning. At the Germans, at this Nižný Komárnik. And then in the morning we launched an attack, we were covered in shrubs up on the hill, we got there to their positions. But their defence was very powerful, we attacked and they responded with grenades, it was terrible, and we had to withdraw…The forest was awfully big, with strong trees, their trunks were half a meter in diameter, and this was what saved us when we were retreating. But as we were attacking, I suddenly saw my machine-gunner, and he was hit by a grenade and it tore his leg off and threw it onto a tree! Literally, his leg! We realized we stood no chance against them, we were outnumbered and they had good positions. So we retraced our steps and returned again. And then, there was an attack every other day. The situation we were in was such that you could not do any artillery preparation, because there was the forest and you could not fire from canons there or something, only sometimes we were aided by mortars. So we would approach their positions every evening, we turned it into a regular guerrilla war. We would get close to them, we could hear the Germans talking. It had to be in the evening, because in daylight they would see us. So we could hear those Germans, eating their supper from their mess-tins and chatting. And we would always entrench ourselves in the place we were, and then we would do an assault on them in the morning. Sometimes we were lucky, and we pushed them out of there, other times we had to retreat with losses. And thus I spent 20 days in a row on the front line. Without washing, without bathrooms. Because there were no officers, there was nobody who could be sent to relieve us.”

  • “I was sitting in a bunker, which was oriented in the opposite direction; the Germans were on the other side. My task was guard its right side and shoot. But we did not even see that the Germans had left machine-guns on that mountain. Hand machine-guns… And I was looking at this machine-gun the Germans had left there, it was daylight, we were sitting in trenches, the trenches were firm enough... And then the Germans bombed us with their heavy artillery. It blasted right next to me, it made a hole in a rock. And for a long time we could not see anything at all, there was so much dust and everything. But we were in the trench, and there was that rock, and this helped us to stay alive. But were it only three metres closer, it would have smashed us all to pieces.”

  • “On the right side there was that hill for which we were fighting all the time. The Red Army was there for two weeks and they did not succeed at all, they could not chase the Germans out of there. Therefore our groups, those who were still alive, reorganized and we attacked them. And after that we did chase those Germans out. It was in the evening. So the Germans were out of there, they also had their bunkers there and thus I entered one of those German bunkers and I could not believe my eyes! This was a war, indeed! Not like us, in mud, constantly threatened by machine guns and mortars, etc. The Germans had their bunks there, the place was stocked with wine, booze, there was food in the bunkers. And they had trenches, they would only bang on an iron girder for a signal, and the German soldiers would leave the bunker and get into those trenches to defend the place. And we, poor guys, were now looking at it and we were happy that it now belongs to us, all that they had made, and that now we will be shooting at them from their own bunker. But this bunker of theirs had an all-round defence; it was aimed in our direction, that was a problem. So whenever we wanted to attack, we had to get out of this bunker and go into the trenches, and what trenches they had! All made in solid rock!”

  • “We saw what they were doing. We had a workroom for agricultural machinery in the place where I worked, or we were made to work there. Because when the Germans came, they confiscated everything, and we had to work on repairs of all this various machinery, threshing-machines, grinders, winnowers, and this kind of machines. The former sovchoz, the state farms, owned by the Bolsheviks, Russians, socialists, were immediately turned into a Staatsgut – state property – by the Germans. And they had threshing machines there, and what not, and we were repairing them. We were forced to work on these repairs.” Interviewer: “And regarding the Jewish community – have you witnessed anything in person…?” “I have. I had my friends from the grammar school there, about eight Jewish boys and girls. We were great friends. I still keep in touch with one of them, certain Hanka Gorenstein, she now lives in Tel Aviv and writes to me. And by miracle she has been saved. In the place where they had lived, it was an old town, and the houses there had large basements, almost like caves, under this old town. And somehow she hid herself in one of those caves and the Germans did not find her when they were searching the houses. They were looking for people there, loading them onto trucks and transporting them to a place in the woods behind the town, there were pits dug out, and the Hitler’s men, the SSmen, were shooting these people there.”

  • “In the evening the Germans gave us hell again. They knew our position, and they threw couple of mines there and I got wounded. I was blown by the blast, it injured my ribs, tore through my shoulder blade and it also hurt my lungs and heart. It was aimed directly at my heart, but luckily the blast was somewhat muffled by the bones, by the shoulder blade, it was not that powerful and thanks to this I remained alive. I was picked up by the medical team, they carried me to our first-aid station, it was called sanbat, and there was a Russian doctor who operated on the wounded. It was at night, around midnight, I had a hole in my body the size of a pigeon egg, I was bleeding from my lungs and back, and I was coughing out blood. And this Russian said: ´budět operacija,´ meaning we will perform a surgery. I did not know what he would do, whether he wanted to remove the splinter, or what... And he made two incisions on my body, about twenty centimetres long, and he could not get any further. But he was already slightly under the influence of alcohol and then he let me be. And in the morning they carried me back to the battalion first-aid station, which they called sanbat, meaning sanitarnaja batěrija, and later I was transported to Jasliska, there was our brigade hospital. And I was there and I was dying, I was running a 42°C fever, they were applying cold compresses on me… And two days later…There was our commander, general Škvařil, who arrived there as a supervisor over this hospital, and when he saw me, he ordered: ´Operate on him immediately.´ He operated on me, he took out of my body a bowlful of stuff, pus, blood, and whatever was there when he opened the wound. I was in pain, the pain was horrible, but then it got a bit better.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Karlovy Vary (?), 01.09.2001

    (audio)
    duration: 25:16
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Karlovy Vary, 14.12.2002

    (audio)
    duration: 01:25:44
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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My armpits were so full of lice that I was bleeding. I wanted them to send us some other soldiers to relieve us, but they said they had nobody to send.

Prokůpek Josef
Prokůpek Josef
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Josef Prokůpek was born on August 5th, 1920 in Luck in Volhynia. In 1939, he graduated from a grammar school, then studied at a teachers´ college for one year. During the German occupation, he witnessed the Holocaust in his native town. In 1944, he voluntarily joined the Czechoslovak Army, took part in fighting for Dukla and Nižní Komárnik. He was seriously wounded at Stropkov. After a number of surgeries he recovered in spring 1945, as a war veteran he remained in Czechoslovakia. Until 2002, he managed a tobacconist’s shop in Karlovy Vary.