Karel Štěpánek

* 1907  †︎ 2008

  • “It was not very nice after the first World War. The whole year was up side down – the Ukrainians and Petliura Group. It was Petliura, some major intruder. Then all of a sudden the Poles and the Polish legions came. And those were Polish legionnaires from America. So they kind of set everything in order there." "Were there any fightings in there?" "Yes, they were shooting there as well. We stood aside but it was just awful downtown." " So you reconstructed your house then?" "Well, yes, we fixed it. We had to cut couch grass there, then the harvest-time came so some corn grew up there. So my parents pretended they covered it. They got some thatch there. We covered it with that and it was better. When they came (the Poles - author's note), it was fantastic. They set it in order there. We had everything, everybody could farm and you could do whatever you wanted. Nobody would interfere in your business. It lasted till the Soviets came." "Were you scared of Bolshevik arrival?" "Well, yes, some of the Volynians stayed behind the border. There was a border and the Soviets were behind the border." "And they told you what was going on there?" "Well, yes, we knew what was going on there.”

  • “'The Russians and Austrians went against each other with bayonets. Well, we went as boys but then there were so many killed people because they went against each other. It was such an attack.' 'A bayonet attack?' 'Yeah, yeah.' 'And who won?' 'Well, for the time being the Austrians won because the Russians receded and the Austrians came to us there. They treated us well, the Austrian soldiers. There were also some Czechs there. But it didn't last long, it was in the fifteenth year (in 1915 – author's note).'”

  • “Well, it was also not very nice. We used to live there and there were dug up trenches in front of us. The Russians dug them up for themselves and they lay down in the trenches. There were some woods here and then two kitchens there. There just stood a colonel with us in the barracks, it was a ramshackle building. I remember that he sat outside and had some honey on his little table, the tsarist colonel. He called us like children and gave some honey to each of us. He had a knife and a spoon. But he had it with honeycomb, with the wax – such kind of white, nice one.”

  • “'Mine (my wife – author's note) with Dobruška slept at our neighbors' and I took a wheelbarrow – it was called just a barrow. I only went to the garden to cut some grass for our cattle. It was in summer. So I cut it, loaded it and when loading, some Germans went across our garden. They were as red as if you dyed them (tanned – author's note), sleeves up, they held pieces and were crossing our gardens like that. There was a chainlink fence there, they climbed over. They used to walk there, it used to be like that that they walked there." "And what did the Germans do there?" "Some kind of sentry. The Soviets ran down in the woods, state woods. And they weren't there (at the place where the German sentry was – author's note). So I fed the cattle and went home to shave. So I was shaving, I was already packing it all and all of a sudden they got out (the Russians - author's note), they went through the field. There were fields all around. Then the Soviets went against the Germans through the field. They came here to our barns and threw a grenade there. There were old machines there – they were outside because we were scared. They threw a grenade there, they came from behind around the barn. And as they threw the grenade there, then it exploded. When they started fighting, it was just terrible. There should have stood tanks there, when they started shooting us, our men, then all the barns burned down. They set the barns on fire, there were no piles left, nothing. And the cow barns, there were some cattle inside, they all died. The animals were shot through by machine guns as they shot from the tanks. Well, the tanks always came from there... And there was a tank driving just around my house. And when I heard it roaring I went to the cellar, there was a cellar in the house. I opened the hatch, it was a cellar built of stone, and I stayed there. All of a sudden, when the tank drove over, it was horrible to hear it." "He was driving over your head?" "Well, yes, he did. So I was scared, I smelt the smoke coming from the burning barns. The smoke was everywhere, we had a wooden cow barn and one built of stone. And there was one more stone cow barn built down among the trees, nothing happened there. And the wooden one burnt down, it was next to the house. And I was totally at my wit's end down in the cellar. I was thinking it was the end of the world. I had a kind of a little fur coat so I took it off and filled one vent with it but there was nothing to fill the second one with. And the smoke got inside. I thought I'd suffocate. I was looking around, I was climbing up and up and up the stairs. I slightly lifted the hatch up and I was peeping out. I saw smoke everywhere, the tanks were roaring, shooting around. It was frightful. As if you were throwing peas on the wall, it was such a rattling noise. The Soviets came from here, there were state woods here and they were in the woods. They came from the state woods here. They had machine guns, guns, nothing else. And just like that.”

  • “I was born on November 1st, 1907 in Staré Teremno." "And your name is?" "Štěpánek Karel." "And did you have any brothers or sisters?" "I had three brothers and a sister. All three of us (brothers – author's note) were in the Army. We had a farm so they worked on the farm and they had to keep it on their own (parents – author's note).”

  • “'All of a sudden in one moment... I have no idea what happened. Someone informed on something there. There was some Malín and there were Czechs there. They probably had some hiding place there, there was their hospital and they treated there. There were some Jewish doctors and they treated there." "And whom did they treat? The guerrilla?" "I have no idea whom." " So some kind of a secret hospital?" "Well, the Ukrainians may have been there or someone, I don't know. It was such a large Czech village, Malín, and the Ukrainian one was just attached to it." "And you were a witness of what happened there?" "I didn't witness it there but when they were talking at our place... It was about six or seven kilometers from us to Malín." "And what happened there?" "All of a sudden the Germans came round in the morning and they set it on fire. They took all the inhabitants of Malín and put them in the barns and shot them there dead. They burned the barns and set the houses on fire. Whenever anything moved anywhere, they shot and destroyed everything. The Russian (Ukrainian – author's note) Malín, the neighboring one... they also shot the Ukrainian neighbors dead there. They were led to the church, to their church and they set the church on fire and they destroyed it all there. Burnt down, well...”

  • “It was when we stood in Svatý Martin. All of a sudden we got a command, they took us and we were driven like crazy. I thought I'd lose my arm or my legs." "You were driven to General Sázavský's burial?" "Well, yes, to play there. So we were there for two days, we played both on the first and the second day." "His fate is also connected with your brother. Could you possibly tell me what happened?" "Well, my brother narrated me that they set off and were already on the border. And they did this and that in the paper that it was like Czechoslovakia already. And Sázavský prepared a banquet for the soldiers when they crossed Dukla. They had spirits there, the soldiers were giving it to everyone. My brother with some other guy had to be there. And then when they should go, they got in and everything went forwards. They should follow them, the transport. So they went. And as they got into the car a mine exploded. I have no idea what it was. Sázavský was killed and my brother lost his leg. He was taken away and a neighbor Karamád was killed as well. So Lojzík was the only one left." "And it was only him out of the whole car left alive? Out of the whole car?" "Well, ...”

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    Soběnice (okres Litoměřice), 20.11.2003

    duration: 01:32:07
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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And the Russians lay down in trenches and the Austrians were just opposite And they shot over our backyard, grenades were flying over and exploding above us

Karel Štěpánek in Svoboda army
Karel Štěpánek in Svoboda army

Karel Štěpánek was born in the village of Staré Teremno in Volynia on November 1st, 1907. He remembers the WWI events in Staré Teremno where the Russian-Austrian-Hungarian front ran. After the war, he experienced the fights between the professed Petliura Group and the Polish legionnaires. He became a leader of a choir in 1932. After the occupation of the Western part of Poland by the Soviet Army, he started working in the woods in 1939. From there he was picked as an orchestra member and started playing the baritone. Alois Pyšl, an uncle of Karel Štěpánek and his cousin were abducted by the Soviets and taken to Kazakhstan. His cousin was the only one that came back. After the occupation of the USSR and after the continuous arrival of the Soviet Army, he was conscripted into the Svoboda’s Army in the town of Rovno in 1943. He started playing the baritone in the Army again. They organized concerts and played at parties and dances for soldiers. They also played at burials, which included the burial of General Sázavský (Karel Štěpánek’s brother who experienced a mine explosion that resulted in the death of General Sázavský.) He lived to see the end of the war in Martin, Slovakia. Having left the Army, he settled down in Litoměřice where he worked in the Agrarian Cooperative.