“It was a cell for two people. Such a tiny room. When they put me in this cell, there was already a guy, an engineer, and he told me that there had already been one man before me, one of the sort that call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. His talking about it seemed interesting to me, and he gave me all the - not so unbiased - information. It was interesting, but I did not pay any special attention to it. And then they would place me to a different cell every one or two months or so, probably so that I would not really befriend anyone.”
“There were so-called ´camp men,´ or ´bosses´ selected from the criminals who were also imprisoned there. We were not so much in contact with the guards. When a guard walked around, you tried to avoid him. But these ´camp-men´ were the worst ones.”
„I sincerely examined their teaching and compared it with the Bible and I had to admit it was nothing but truth. So the brothers later organized baptism for us, because there were about seven other people like me. There were cooling towers there. At their base there was a square basin filled with water, about one metre deep. This was residual water which had been discharged from compressors; everything in the mine ran on compressed air. The warmed water was afterwards pumped to this tower, and as it was falling down, it sprayed and looked like rain. We thought this would be a suitable place to perform baptism. We held a biblical lecture in the camp. Then we went to that basin, some words were said, we undressed into our underwear and we were baptized. It was all done in haste. Just quickly submerge in the water and dress again. The day after our fellow inmates asked us: ´Boys, what were you doing in there? Just after you left, about ten guardsmen stormed in, but they haven’t found anybody there.´ We also perceived it as Lord Jehovah’s protection.”
“The way they marched us to the workplace was nicknamed Jáchymov autobus, or faggots´ march. We were in rows of five, everyone had to hold his neighbours around the waist, they put a rope around us and we marched this way about two kilometers from the camp to the mine. The guardsmen encircled this ´autobus,´ and there were other guardsmen behind the fence. And if someone stumbled or changed his step, it was a great accident.”
“Afterwards they moved me camp Nikolaj. It was one of the worst camps. Prisoners suffered from hunger there! When I arrived there, one inmate just hanged himself because of hunger. I was so skinny then. Even in the detention prison. I remember one interrogator – I don’t remember their ranks or names, I was blindfolded - brought me to another interrogator and says: Here is one living corpse for you! I was so emaciated then!”
“They escorted us to Liberec to the State police department. It was really troublesome, very troublesome indeed. I’m laughing now as I’m telling it; it must be some personal psychic deformation of mine. We spent about eleven months there, if I’m correct. Without ever going outside. Only locked in a cell. This was quite nasty. Interrogations at nights, during the day they did not allow us to sleep, and similar mean things.”
“The trial went very badly, such dirty tricks they played. Not only they made everything up, they falsely accused me of arson, claiming that we had intended to set something on fire, to burn the whole thing down. Which was nonsense, of course. Something like this never happened. They were speaking lies, and nasty things, like for instance: ´Murderers are better than the ones like you,´ he repeated this several times in court, or ´scum of our society´ and such. It was really not good at all.”
“It is an interesting but arduous work. I was young then, so everything seemed interesting to me. Always after a blast in the mine, you entered the cavity it made in the rock, and there was such a small cavern full of various crystals – golden ones, red ones... It looked like in a fairy-tale. When you aimed the beam of your lamp on those crystals, it was beautiful. But it was all radioactive. You could not grab a piece and take it with you or send it home.”
“In Jáchymov it was terribly cold. We only had a shirt, a prison vest and trousers, and that was all. They would often deliberately leave us standing outside till the morning. I do not want to pry into the guardsmen’s conscience now, but usually when it rained or the weather was very nasty, they declared that the head counts did not match, and we had to keep standing there. Or if I had a towel and used it as a shawl, he would tear it off my neck and throw it away, and so I ended with nothing.”
“In the hospital in Semily they were conducting some medical experiments on priests. These were interned priests, and people said that they made some kind of a deal with these priests, that they would inoculate them with some disease, with typhus I believe, and that after they have cured them, they would be released and could return home. This is what people claimed then. I went to see this hospital at that time. And I really did notice some priests there.”
“There was so-called basic fare. The inmates would say that it was enough for dying, you wouldn’t die, but not enough for living. The ´menu´ was truly interesting. One day the meal was called sirloin sauce with potatoes, the other day sirloin sauce. It sounded very elegant, but basically it was just water and flour, such a mixture. It was always the same. This was hopeless. You came to a canteen window, put your eating bowl through, and he would take some potatoes, so I would think, it looks good today. But he just threw two or three little potatoes in my bowl and it was bad.”
“I requested a consultation with a doctor, he was a military doctor. I told him that I was feeling great pain in my stomach and an urge to vomit. He examined me and they put me to a sick-bay. I had some friends there. Pavel was there at that time. He was a murderer, but otherwise a nice good boy. He told me: ´Láďa, come here. There is a free bed next to me. They are taking you to Jičín, they will operate on you there and then bring you back in an ambulance while you are still under anesthesia.´ A few moments later a guardsman comes in and shouts: ´Where is that appendix? Let´s go!´An ambulance was waiting outside and they brought me to Jičín. They placed me in a room with four other people, and they were asking me who I was and where I came from. When I answered that from the Valdice prison, they thought that I was put there to watch them. When I told them that it was not so, that I was there merely as a prisoner, I suddenly won many friends. It was a really good time. About two weeks later, after having cared for me and wishing me well, the head doctor came and apologized to me that he had to send me back now, that he unfortunately did not have the authority to keep me in the hospital any longer. “
“My barrister told me upon meeting me for the first time. ´If there’s something that hasn’t become evident to them yet, be quick to say it now. I don’t wish to have any troubles with your case.´ During the trial, the only thing he said was: ´I ask the jury to take his age into consideration, and to judge him strictly, but fairly.´ This was all he said on my behalf.”
“I remember one such campaign, the internees were writing on the wagons which were leaving the mine loaded with uranium ore: ´We are hungry.´ It was even written in several languages. And I remember there was a hunger strike there. Later they turned it into a prisoners´ revolt. They even brought canons in there. It was called ´noodle affair.´ Miners – and they were being fed just a little scoop of noodles for lunch. We have had enough, we could not bear it anymore, and once somebody came to the canteen window, got his portion of noodles again, and shouted: ´those damned noodles again´ and slammed his bowl against the floor. And all at once left the canteen, saying that they will not eat this stuff either. It lasted several days, they did not eat. There was quite a stir because of this. Some superiors from Prague came. And what was interesting, the situation then improved. For instance, we had a shirt, a jumper, underpants and trousers. In this clothing we worked in the mine, and we slept in it at night. Nobody cared for any radioactivity; of course all this clothing was highly radioactive as well. I consider this a great crime. After the hunger strike we received another set of clothing, so we could then sleep in clean things.”
“There were some Russian engineers. They were the superiors, the bosses. Once they brought me to one of them. I desperately wanted to avoid work in the mine, because I had had an arm injury as a young boy, and my arm has been distorted afterwards. So I tried to explain it to him, I said, I cannot imagine how I could be a useful worker in the mine, just look at my arm here. He understood that I was trying to evade work, so he shouted at me in Russian, saying that I might end up in a regular prison and die there, that he did not care at all. So I became assigned to the mine Adam, and I was going there, but was not going down the mine. It was very bad for me, because I was treated as ´unclassified,´ which meant the smallest rations of food and severe bullying of the unclassified workers. Like this: Roll call! Take this, fetch this; it was really bad.”
“They moved me to another cell and there was a Jehovah’s Witness, so I was interested in him. But I think I scared the poor chap. I kept telling him that it really interests me, and asked him to talk about it. He probably thought that I was an informer who was put to his cell on purpose, because it was unusual that someone would be interested in these things so much... In a month they moved me to a different cell, and there was also a Jehovah’s Witness, and then to another, and there was another one....during the eleven months of my detention I spent time with six Jehovah’s Witnesses, I think. The others were more talkative. I did not know the Bible. I have never had the book in my hand before. But when I started to read it, I discovered that many things the Bible talks about appear in literature as well, so I began to study it diligently, and when they transferred me to the Bratrství camp, I was also asking about Bibles and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the inmates there told me: ´Oh, they treated them very roughly, it was really bad for them. They moved them somewhere else, and we haven’t heard about these people ever since.”
“One of my friends called on me in person and asked me what I would think about founding an anti-communist group. Whether I would join such a group or not. I was eighteen then, so I replied that I would consider something like that my duty. There were about thirty of us, it was not a strictly ruled organization, rather a group based on friendship. As for me, I was disseminating some pamphlets, reflections from Radio Free Europe, and statements against the communists, and that was basically it.”
“About two days after we arrived there, they held individual interviews with us. You entered and introduced yourself. And they asked: ´What are you imprisoned for?´ and I replied that I had refused to perform military service. ´Well, that’s great! If everyone did it just like you, there would be peace all over the world.´ But then he composed himself and continued: ´But precisely because everyone does not do it the way you do, we have to punish you! And to punish you severely!´ I said: ´It was you who just said that there would be a paradise on earth if everyone did it like me, and someone has to be the first one. And I’m the one who wants to begin the whole process, and you are treating me like that.´ ´Get out!´”
“I was to join the army in Krnov, but I did not even go there. I continued working in the mine, and when my superiors asked me whether I was not supposed to be doing my military service by now, I replied that there had been some confusion regarding my draft order. I even went to the drafting centre before with my draft order, telling them I wished to reject my draft. The commander there called two other officers in, in order not to compromise himself. They were all amazed why I did not want to do my military service. When I explained to them that it was because of my conscience, that the Bible says: ´Thou shall not kill,´ and thou shall not learn to fight, etc, he replied: ´Well, it’s nice that you believe in God, but we have our own god, too, don’t be mistaken.´ I answered, sure, everyone has some god, and he says: ´Turn around, this god is behind you!´ And there was a Lenin’s portrait on the wall. He was the god of theirs... But they turned my request down. So I simply did not show up in the barracks, and they came for me about four days later. I had already prepared everything. I packed my suitcase; put my Bible and toothbrush there, and so on....”
“From the beginning there were Germans there. It was funny, because they were already there since 1945, we came to the camp in 1953, and they already knew the ropes. They have occupied all the good posts, like in a warehouse, a barber. But I cannot say anything against them. Some could never bring themselves to learn Czech, and it was funny the way they mispronounced some words, like ´Wake up!´ But they were good chaps.”
“Once they sent for me from the headquarters. There was an officer for political affairs who exclaimed: ´Šmejkal!´ and he showed me a brand new book. A nice cover, and the title MARX-LENINISM in huge lettering written on it. ´Do you know this book?´ I said: ´I do not know the book, but I know Marxism- Leninism well.´ ´And what do you think of it?´ I replied: ´You know, the book you are holding in your hand is too new to determine whether it says the truth. Whereas the Bible, it’s a book whose veracity has been proven over those centuries and millenniums.´ He stared at me and than cut the discussion in a funny way: ´But Šmejkal, it is nonsense.´ And he told me to go away.”
Ladislav Šmejkal was born April 8th, 1933 in Zahrádka near Pilsen. After completing his studies at an elementary school he studied a textile vocational school in Semily and afterwards was offered a worker’s job in a textile factory. At this time a friend contacted him, inviting him to join an anti-communist group which was being formed in Semily. Together with 28 other persons he was arrested on July 2nd, 1952 and transported to a detention facility of the State police in Liberec.
Ladislav Šmejkal was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment for high treason and transported on a lorry together with other 30-50 prisoners to camp Bratrství in the Jáchymov region. Šmejkal became prisoner number A013121. He spent about a month in the central camp Bratrství and afterwards he was brought to camp Nikolaj, from which - after three gruelling months - he was sent with the first transport to the newly constructed camp Bytíz near Příbram. There he was assigned to work in the mine. Šmejkal stayed in Bytíz till the amnesty in May 1960, when he was released from the communist camps after eight years of imprisonment. After his release he was ordered to work in a furniture-making factory Kovona in Lysá nad Labem, where he - in spite of the pressure from his superiors - refused to join the SSM and the ROH (Socialist Youth Union and Revolutionary Labour Movement). In order to avoid military service, which he had vowed to evade already a long time before, he volunteered to work in mines. Thus he started to work in the coal mine of General Svoboda in Kladno. Nevertheless, seven months after he was released from the Bytíz camp, he received a draft order.
Five days after his due arrival to the barracks, where he failed to arrive, Šmejkal was arrested by the police and imprisoned in the barracks of the army rocket unit near Kladno. After several days he was escorted to Prague, at first to barracks on the Náměstí Republiky Sq. and later to the military tribunal in Pankrác. After his negative experience from his trial in the 1950s, Šmejkal refused services of a barrister and decided to speak for himself. On March 2nd , 1961, he was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for avoiding military service, plus six more years from his previous penalty, a sentence he had not served completely since he was released on probation during the 1960 amnesty. From Pankrác he was transported to a camp in Rtyně v Podkrkonoší, where he began working in the coal mine called “Tmavák.”
After three years it was somehow discovered that Šmejkal should have been assigned to the so-called 3rd correction group, instead of the 2nd one, in which he served his term in Rtyně, and since Rtyně was only a 2nd grade camp, it was decided he would be transported to Bytíz again.
On March 15th, 1968, Šmejkal was moved to Pankrác, and two months later, on May 9th, 1968, he was released. Afterwards he started working for the Czechoslovak Railways in Prague-Smíchov, where he remained till his retirement. One day in 1975 when he was returning from work, he was stopped by a secret police car. A house search followed, and several of his Bibles were confiscated. He was interrogated in Bartolomějská and accused of intervening in the state control of churches. This arrest probably occurred due to his trips to České Budějovice, where he was bringing books for a local group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was escorted to the Ruzyně prison where he awaited his trial, but after two months, on May 8th, 1975, he was released in amnesty. Ladislav Šmejkal lives with his wife in Prague.