Václav Selner

* 1946  

  • I take it for very sad that forty years after 1948, we witnessed constant falsification of the famous part of the history of our country - of the time of the World War II. Facts were not allowed to be told, and what is even worse – the names of our heroes were not to be talked about. It didn’t have to be generals, but all people who sacrificed their lives on all fronts of the Second World War. Among them, there was my father as well – general Selner who went through a remarkable journey. In November 1939, he crossed the borders to Slovakia and fled to Budapest, from Budapest to Belgrade. There, he joined an intelligence group MARIE that operated on the territory of Yugoslavia. He fought in the Middle East, he also defended Tobruk twice along with our troops. After serving in the Great Britain where he was working with the chief of the intelligence department of our Ministry of National Defense, Colonel Moravec, he left deliberately for the Eastern front. There, he was part of the 3rd Czechoslovak brigade and by February 1945, he became its commander. It was a famous path with a famous end on the Old Town square in Prague, where his chest was decorated by the Order of the British Empire, The Order of the White Lion, four Czechoslovak War Crosses, medal for bravery, the Romanian King Order, the Order of the Slovak National Uprising, and many other distinctions. It seemed that our country cannot forget about these people. But it only lasted for three years. It took three years for some, four years for others, until they were “lucky” enough to hear the secret service knocking on their doors. It was the military intelligence that came for my father. He was fired from the army and went through long years of persecution. He had to work in mines and later as a shifter in the Kladno steelworks. The persecution lasted not a year or two, but until 1964 when he was partially rehabilitated. It meant that he was allowed to wear a uniform and the distinctions he was awarded with in the war. At that time, my father asked for financial reparation for the years of forced labor. One Colonel then told him: “But Comrade General, one doesn't get paid for serving his country.” And my dad replied: “You’re right, Comrade. But one shouldn’t be punished for serving his country either.”This is the motto for all he felt during Communism. People like him didn’t want any estates or properties, but just to be honored from their nation in such a way that they will be thanked for the fact that our country became one of the victorious powers of the World War II. This wasn’t about dozens or hundreds, but about thousands of cases like that. We should realize this and be grateful for it, because it’s no small deal.

  • I was fully realizing the scope of the tragedy that my father went through. His mother died shortly after she got to know what they did to him. But especially for my mother, it was really horrible. We were alone in an apartment with a stone ground and in order to heat it up a little bit, she had to bring briquettes tied together. But most importantly, she had to start working in her sixth month of pregnancy. In order to provide for us, she had to go to a nearby bakery, where she could get some bread and gingerbread, but also had to carry 50-kg bags of flower. So when being in her seventh month of pregnancy, she broke out and miscarried; the baby was born and died after three days. This was the result of my father being somewhere in mines or in the Steel Works. When he was working in the Steel Works, he had to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning every day (except for Sundays), went from Hostivař to Zahradní město by foot as there was no tram at the time. From there, he took a tram to Průběžná, where a bus for “Poldi guys” was prepared and took them to work. They were starting at 6 a.m. After the day shift that ended at half past two, he took the same road back home and arrived at around 6 p.m. His life went like that for several long years. He was not so young anymore, being over 46 with an injured knee that got hit in Tobruk. It must have already been very hard for him to be stripped of his uniform and job, to see how his family was suffering. I sometimes ask myself what was harder: being in jail or in such kind of work? I believe that his imprisoned friends had it worse as they couldn’t see their families but once a month. So from this perspective, it was rather good, but overall, it was truly terrible. Especially how his former colleagues and friends behaved, how they dissociated themselves from him, how they were crossing the street to the other pavement. The same was done to my mum by her friends. My mum went to beg Mrs. Lomská, as she was also pregnant with her second child, but she couldn’t help. It could have been true, Lomský as a minister of defense might have not been able to help, but to be honest – he just didn’t want to. All these friends he went fishing with suddenly didn’t know him. Only after 1964, after his rehabilitation, they were all like “Hey Jaroslav, how’s it going?”, but only in this condescending way. And did they ever do something for him? Never…

  • My father started to have troubles with breathing as he saw that the attack on Liptovský Mikuláš was successful, that it was going according to his assumptions and that the German tanks heavy with the SS-man black uniforms were rolling down the hill. He realized that the result of this battle is going to be very important. He said he was watching and hypnotizing the tanks. Our artillerists were perfectly covered as they started firing on a very short range for artillery – only 200 or 300 meters. He said it was a dreadful, but as for a soldier a beautiful view at the same time. It is hard to talk about these things, when one sees other people dying even though he knows they are enemy soldiers. But on the other hand, he also knew that he was saving lives of his own soldiers and securing the success of the operation. After it was over and Liptovský Mikuláš was liberated, my dad went to sleep for a while as he wasn’t able to do so for some time. The Chief of Staff, General Boček who took over the command after General Klapálek was injured, came to him. My dad started to dress up quickly but he told him: “Just stay as you are. Lieutenant Colonel, your homeland will never forget what you did today.” And he gave him his War Cross and a medal for bravery. Dad said that he often thought about these words later on, in rather negative connotations. Obviously, it was not General Boček’s fault; he didn’t know what my dad was going to go through, neither how he himself will end up.

  • My dad had to go to work in mines. He served in the Ostrava mines. I think that the one he was in was called Zárubek. And there, one thing surprised him already when he got there. There was a group of miners coming around and suddenly he heard: “General! What are you doing here?” He answered that he was going to work there. It turned out that it was one of his ex-soldiers from the Third Brigade. And he happened to be a leader of one of the most efficient working groups there. He took him to the personal department that already put my dad to some other group and insisted that the ex-General had to stay with him. So he ended up in this group. When they were together working in the mine for the first time, this soldier told my dad in front of everyone from the group: “General, if you touch one of these tools and try to work, I will break your arms! Your only task will be to sit here and tell us what you went through, where you fought, because I only know you from the Eastern front. You will tell us all about it!” He managed to do that for two days. They were sorting the stuff, which was quite a hard job, but he couldn’t accept to be there as someone with privileges. So as long as he was strong and healthy enough, he was even trying to work with a pneumatic drill. But they were really protecting him and keeping him company. So if there was anything positive on the force labor, it was these people he was there with. They respected him because they knew who he was. I didn’t write this part to that book, but it was like that.

  • I was once coming home from school through the Winter street, where the US Embassy is. In front of me, there was this girl I was in love with in the first grade. And as we had schoolbags on our backs, some boy took her bag and tore her down. However skinny, I was strong enough to grab this boy and throw him against the embassy fence that was made out of these thick bars. He stumbled and ran through the bars with his head. I was lucky that he didn’t break his head but as he was trying to get out, his neck got swollen and he got stuck there. And I was brave enough to run home. Our apartment was right on the corner of this street so I was watching how the boy was struggling and trying to get off this prison. Soon, the head of the embassy security came and tried to help him, brought some iron bars and tried to spread the fence, but he had no chance. So the boy was still there, crying until the fire fighters came and rescued him with some telescopic tools. I got B for bad manners. I might have been the only first-grade kid who ever got that at this school. When I brought the certificate home, my dad took me away and told me to show it to him. I said immediately: “Dad, I’ve got B for bad manners.” So he took me to the next room. The whole family was waiting for me and I had to leave. “What was it about?” he asked. I told him the whole story. And I could just see how he was trying not to laugh. Finally, he said: “You did good. And remember, when someone hurts a weaker person, let alone a girl in such a cowardly manner, he deserves nothing better. You did it well!”

  • Full recordings
  • 6

    Brandýs nad Labem, 16.05.2012

    (audio)
    duration: 02:52:50
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

One doesn’t get paid for serving his country; but he shouldn’t be punished for it either!

General Selner in uniform
General Selner in uniform
photo: Rodinné album

Jaroslav Selner was one of the most important Czech World War II officers. Shortly after the Nazi army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia on March 19, 1939, he got involved in the illegal resistance group Defense of the Nation. In November 1939, he got on his way to leave the country to Bratislava. Then, he made his way through Budapest and Yougoslavia to Middle East, where he joined the unit of Colonel Karel Klapálek. As his right hand, he defended Tobruk twice. Then he went to London to work under František Moravec. He volunteered to be detached to the East front to Klapálek’s 3rd Czechoslovak independent brigade. As a commander of the brigade, he oversaw the liberation of Liptovský Mikuláš. After the end of the war, he married actress Věra Skálová and in 1946, she gave birth to their son Václav. In 1949, when his friends already started to disappear from the army and were put in prison, he was raised in rank to be a brigade general. His subsequent fall was all the more deep. First, he was expelled from the army and forbidden to wear a uniform. Next, his pension was taken away from him and the same happened with his apartment. Finally, he was sent to forced labor in mines in the Ostrava region. His wife had to work despite her pregnancy in order to provide for herself and Václav. As a result of the hard work she had to do, she gave birth in her 7th month and the baby passed away. After several years, he was allowed to stay closer to his family and start working in the Kladno Steel Works as a shifter. Only in 1964 was Mr. Selner at least minimally rehabilitated. He could wear his uniform once again and was allowed to teach at a vocational school. He was fully rehabilitated only in 1968. From his childhood, Václav Selner remembers mainly how both of his parents managed to keep their dignity and sense for honor despite the hard situation. Most of all, he appreciated about his father how he was always standing by him when confronting others. Even when he knew that his son did something wrong, he supported him and only after they got home, he told him off. For example, when being in the first grade, Václav threw a boy who attacked his classmate through a fence. When he brought his certificate with B for bad manners and explained why he got it, his father told him: “Remember, when someone hurts a weaker person, let alone a girl in such a cowardly manner, he deserves nothing better. You did it well!” He supported him also when Václav wanted to apply for the Communist army. What Jaroslav Selner stressed was that it was not so important where or what regime one serves, but what he does for helping his country.