Vasil Sofilkanič

* 1921  †︎ 2012

  • "My task was to spread the telephone wires to the observatory, because every brigade must have had an observatory. There was a view finder in it and this way we could target the Germans." "Someone was locating Germans there?" "Yes. And I had to report that to our battery." "So you were actually watching the movements of the troop?" "That’s correct. We were in Ukraine, in so-called neutral ground, where was nobody. Not even soldiers or the tanks. During the day we could even move our heads, because if the Germans would have found out about our observatory, they would have destroyed it in no time. So we always got our breakfast and dinner only at night. And during the day no one was allowed to show up there."

  • "Each of us was sentenced to three years for an illegal crossover. That was a common thing. And those who were also communist party members got five years instead. And if someone was in the party and was on top of it an official, then he got seven years. That’s how we got paid back for serving our country. Then they transported us to Siberia to the forced labor camps. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I was weak a mosquito. We were digging the stones and throwing them onto a truck. The handle of the shovel was made of the birch tree. The shovel itself was very heavy. I threw away few shovels. I could hold them anymore. There was some poor Ukrainian from Odessa town who told me: ´Look, son, grab a pick instead, maybe it will be better for you.´ But also the pick kept falling off my hands. I was so weak, it was just hard life. Twelve hours a day, no Saturdays. Not to mention the Sundays. We didn’t know what month was, we didn’t know the date or which day was. All the time we have been under supervision of course. And then on November 6th when I was being released from the camp, the guardian was taking me out and told me: ´You are now going to the Hungarian army.´ And I thought: ´I’ll go anywhere if I just don’t have to stay here anymore. So he took me where he was supposed to bring me and there our Carpathian boys were waiting for me and they knew where to go now. We arrived to the Pechora place. That was a collecting camp. Three Czechoslovak army officers came and provided recruitment. They asked us if we would like to enter the Czechoslovak army. Of course, we wanted to. There was nobody from all of us who would say: ´I don’t want to.´"

  • "I was born in 1921. I grew up in Klecanov village. At first I have been trained by some Josef Hrdlička, who was a sign painter and a varnish. He came originally from Mladá Boleslav town (Central Bohemia) and now he lived in Mukačevo. I didn’t really like it there, so I have quit and began to study the carpenter school. I like that a lot. But then the year of 1940 came and I was supposed to be entering the Hungarian army. Our boys who were soldiers already and served the Hungarian army during the ´First Republic period said: Boys, you better ran away, because you will always get beat up by the Hungarian officer.´ so me and other four boys went to the borders pretending we want to saw some wood. We knocked down one beech tree and we were about to cutting in when one of the boys said: ´ I’m out of here. I’m going to Russia.´ so we all left everything there and went with him. We meet some people going from the other direction and of our boys asked them: ´ Where are the borders? ´ The people answered: ´Not far from here over there.´ And some other man told us: ´You go somewhere and you have no idea what is waiting there for you.´ Because they already knew what did it look like there. We have spent the night near the border line among the cow herd. There was no sign of anyone there and we didn’t know where we are. So we kept walking through the woods and we meet some children. We asked them: ´Where are we? ´ They said: ´Here is the Red Army already.´ So we went on. Then all of a sudden two armed soldiers jumped out of the ditch and cried: ´Halt and put your hands up! Step to the right! Step to the left!´ So they managed to disarm us, and took away whatever they thought they might need. The fired in the air and in few seconds another two soldiers on horses came. Then they took us to the village. There they locked us up in the chicken house. We realized that there were already some other boys from our neighborhood villages. I think there were at least ten of them. The boys started to knock heavily on the door. We thought: What is it they want? The guard came and asked: ´What you want?´- ´We want some food, we are starving.´ We still had some left over bread and bacon so we were not hungry yet, but these poor boys were already starving."

  • "It happened like this in Liptovský Mikuláš town: The Soviet army liberated the town (Liptovský Mikuláš) and the Czechoslovak army was supposed to replace them. So we were changing places, but the Germans found out about it. And as we were in the middle of the trade, Germans attacked us when our defense wasn’t prepared yet. The barracks have been liberated. They made a quick attack and occupied the train station and the barracks. I was supposed to draw out the phone wires. So I was doing just that and pulled the wires to the regiment headquarters. The commander told me that the Germans are attacking us. Alert. And if we heard the alarm nobody was allowed to go anywhere. I suggested that the commander would stay there by the phone and the rest of us will go out and see what’s going on. But that didn’t work. So I said: ´If we can’t do it today, we will surely do it tomorrow.´ But that was even worse. The commander announced the alert again. He gave me so-called ´kulatch´ which was a field bottle filled up with some whiskey and told me to take a sip. So I drank some. Then he ordered me to drink so more. So I did. Then I walked out (we were at the local school) and I saw the commander chasing the infantry to build up a defense. But the infantry was backing off. And when I looked out again in few minutes, nobody was there anymore. The whole infantry simply backed off. Then I noticed that the school yard was right next to the Váh River. And I found there in a bush an anti tank cannon that was left there by ran away crew. Our technical sergeant came back with another soldier and grabbed the cannon and pulled it away. We kept backing off. It was quite far from the headquarters to the other end of the town though. As we walked through the crossing the Germans were firing at us heavily so I could see the bullets flying around us. So I thought to myself: ´Oh God, what am I going to do?´ If I would have gotten killed, I wouldn’t care. But if they hurt your legs and you can’t walk and you know the Germans are coming soon. And that would be like: ´What is your name? Where you from? How many of you are there?´ It was a common thing to ask these questions etc. I thought to myself again: ´God, I wouldn’t want to experience this. ´And as I was thinking that I said: ´Jesus, we can to pass the crossing walking through the gardens instead.´ so we walked around the crossing. The other Volhynia fellow carried the radio station and I carried two telephones. Poor guy, he asked me already in Liptovsky Milkulas to help him carry the radio station. And I told him back there: ´Look, when we will be out of the town I will take it.´ When we were on our way to the town (Liptovský Milkulíš) there was a Soviet infantry there, or some part of it. And now when we god out of the town we couldn’t believe what we saw there...I haven’t seen such mess through the entire front line. Not even in the future. There were tossed guns and coats allover. The cars have been thrown off the roads as the roads were destroyed. We had to walk through the side ditch puddle in a snow as high as our knees. And this Volhynia fellow said: Take it.´ And I replied: Just throw it away. I hardly walk myself.´ But he didn’t throw it away. Then we finally came to the same village where we started at the beginning. We heard suddenly: ´Stop right there. Who are you?´ Some Soviet officer was standing there... I heard a voice behind me: ´Go get him!´ There was nobody else in front of us and nobody else behind us. So I have explained to him that we are the telephone operators and we need to get in touch with our troop."

  • "I would have liked to join the communist youth party that was already in the village. But I would have must paid some money for the entry and I didn’t have any. I wanted to meet some new friends there. That was the main reason. There was nothing else to it." "Did you sympathize with the communist back then?" "Well, yeah, I did. But it wasn’t the communist, but the Soviet people. Because from what we knew or heard life in the USSR was like in paradise. There used to be two or three students standing in front of the church all the time, who kept praise for the great living conditions in the Soviet Union. But when we arrived there, we sow a paradise on Earth... When we were in Starobielsk town I noticed - it’s Sunday and the people are working on the fields. We thought it was weird, because in our country nobody lifted a finger on Sunday. That was just impossible. And we saw the people here... And that wasn’t still all. Everyday we went out for a walk. And there was some sort of a hill there with a five pointed star on top of it. We walked and then saw... Someone defecated himself on the star. So I thought to myself: What a mess. It is such a splendor and someone did this. So I wondered about the life in paradise. But later on in Siberia I´ve learnt more about it. I talked to people, who were judged and spent some time in prison what have they done and why they were in prison. There was one student. His name was Yuzkovsky. He was about ten years older than me and was sentenced to ten or fifteen years for some incorrect talks. When we finally entered the army we were sure that the communist party in our Republic would never win. We have been convinced that. Unfortunately there were only few of us - soldiers, who knew about it. Here, the Comrades didn’t know anything. They knew only the good stuff - not the bad one."

  • "Just as we crossed the Slovakian borders, we entered Vyšný Komárník town. I have been ordered to check the telephone link. So I grabbed the wire in my hand so I wouldn’t get lost anywhere. I walked and when I found a place suitable for the phone connection, I engaged the wires there and walked on. I climbed on top of some hill, where all the trees were cut down. It was snowing. I noticed a troop of our soldiers walking my direction. But when I looked closer I recognized, those were not our soldiers, but Germans. I quickly jumped back in the trees, because that was the only safe place. I wanted to start firing from my automatic gun - I pulled the trigger and, nothing happened. The Germans already knew about me and started firing at me. But as long as I was inside the woods, they couldn’t hurt me. And they ended up later like this: our infantry was on one side of the hill and the Germans on the other side. They found a small leak and somehow got to our service command. And when they saw me, they turned around again and went back. But there they walked into our infantry from behind. Then they were in a huge trouble. After a while I saw our soldiers taking the whole group of Germans including their commanding officer into the captivity. Later on when I checked my automatic gun I realized it couldn’t fire, because it was stuffed with sand. The hammer spring was jammed. It was completely foxed. It couldn’t fire at all. And even if it was OK I couldn’t have use it on such long distance, because this kind of automatic gun can fire only at short distance. What I would have needed was at least the machine gun."

  • Full recordings
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    Plzeň, 12.12.2002

    duration: 01:28:38
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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“If I would have gotten killed, I wouldn’t care. But if they hurt your legs and you can’t walk and you know the Germans are coming soon - God, I wouldn’t want to experience that.”

Vasil Sofilkanič
Vasil Sofilkanič
photo: Pamět Národa - Archiv

  Vasil Sofilkanič was born in 1921 in the village of Klecanov in the Carpathian Ruthenia region. He learned the carpenter trade here. After the occupation of Carpathian Ruthenia by the Hungarian Army, he refused to enter the Hungarian troop and ran away to the Soviet Union, where he was immediately arrested and was sentenced to three years in prison. The reason for his arrest was alleged espionage. He went through several detention camps in Siberia and after two and a half years he was transported to a detention camp in Ural in the Pechora River region. After his arrival to the town of Novochapersk, he entered the 1st. Czechoslovak independent brigade. He first worked as a telephone operator and after he underwent training, he was moved to artillery. He participated in several battles and fights e.g. in the towns of Kiev, Bila Cerkev, Yaakov, Ostrozany, and Torain. As the Army was approaching Slovakia, he also participated in fights for the town of Krosno and the Dukla Pass battle. After an unsuccessful defense followed by a backup to the town of Liptovský Mikuláš, Sofilkanič was honored and promoted. He spent the end of the war in Prostějov. After the end of the war, he started to work in the Plzeň-Bory prison as a warden but was dismissed in 1948. After that, he worked in Plzeň Škoda Works until his retirement. Vasil Sofilkanič passed away on April, the 14th, 2012.