* 1926 †︎ 2016
“And he said: ‘Hans, yeah, they’re there.’ The moment he said it, the place was a roar. I was also in the turret, so I copped it into my face. Lucky I had a helmet. It ripped into my nose. But he was down there right where it happened, poor sod, it ripped him to pieces. The first lieutenant. I know I touch my face like this and felt the blood. Like someone had blasted me with a shotgun. I fainted and fell down. I could still sense how everyone jumped out of the tank. They crawled away. It was snowy, and there were mines all around us. I had seen it like a shadow, before the explosion, by the side of the house, but I didn’t want to [shoot]. Why would I shoot there?”
“They said back then that they would catch German soldiers, put different clothes on them, and then do this kind of thing. In a forest, we were in a forest, we came to a road, we turned left, kept trudging on and on, nothing. A car drove up, a German car, a military one, small. We wanted to stop it. Not a chance. He’d have run us over. We had to jump aside because he thought we were [partisans] of some kind. If he’d have run us over... So on we went, and it felt bad, so we decided to go to the other side. We still couldn’t find that stud farm in the night. So we went to the other side, that boy and I, and suddenly a lorry drove up, full of [German soldiers] from the anti-aircraft guns. There were ten of them on the deck under the tarp, plus the drivers. So we halted them, they stopped, but they shouted at us. We had to put our hands up.”
“Well, all in all... we didn’t really shoot much. I know that we shot the turret off one Sherman tank. The whole turret. We had a 120mm cannon on a Tiger. Then I served in a Tiger. A 120mm cannon. Apart from that, I don’t know what all we hit, but I remember that one. We were hidden in the forest and they came out. If we hadn’t fired, they would have. Nothing you can do about that.”
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The Revolutionary Guard took American uniforms off the men and gave them German ones instead
Jan Růžička was born on 15 January 1926 into a mixed Czech-German family. His father came from the Austrian village of Rohrau, but he was of Czech ethnicity, whereas Jan’s mother was from an enclave of Sudeten Germans. Therefore, the witness was registered as a citizen of Czech ethnicity until the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In 1944 he was summoned to take up mandatory military service; he was assigned to the paramilitary organisation Arbeitsdienst, which was a precursor that led directly to joining the Wehrmacht. At first he served in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), then he was posted in Kostrzyn nad Odrou. A few months later he was assigned to the 25th Motorised Infantry Regiment in Regensburg, where he underwent basic training. The witness was then selected to study at tank school in Postupim, becoming a tank commander. He was later reassigned to the 10th Tank Regiment and sent to the Ardennes. He took part in a number of battles there and received a face injury. When he recovered and returned to the battlefront, he was captured by the Allies. He was held in POW camps in Compiègne, near Paris, and in Clermont-Ferrand. He was repatriated on 24 July 1945. He was imprisoned in a POW camp in Prague for a further two years. He was not given citizenship status until 1950, after which he was immediately drafted into the Auxiliary Engineering Corps (forced labour). He served in Děčín, Litvínov, and Karviná. After completing his mandatory service he moved to Jaroměř and found employment at Petrof in Hradec Králové. Jan Růžička passed away on September the 26th, 2016