Jan Svačina

* 1926  †︎ 2014

  • "In the evening we were to go for our shift. A truck which carried us arrived with two policemen. Normally we always jumped into the truck and off we went. But this time nothing happened. Nobody ordered us to get inside. We were waiting, and everything was completely quiet. The camp commander then suddenly came and shouted at us: ´What are you staring at?! Get them out!´ Out of the truck we lowered the bodies of two shot prisoners. Later they announced that they had been shot when they tried to escape. When we were taking them down from the truck, they ... if somebody is shot when running away, he is always shot from the back. But they had been shot the other way round. They had been shot form the front, and the flesh was ripped off from their backs... We pulled them out from the truck, just as they were. There were no stretchers. We simply pulled them out. There was blood under them, and we placed them inside a wooden shack, and the following day they called us and ordered us to put them into coffins, which were just wooden boxes. Fortunately, among us there was one man, who owned an undertaking business in his civilian life, and he knew how to handle corpses. When we had carried them to the shack the day before, we just tossed them there. The bodies were now like this. You cannot move the corpses after the postmortem stiffness sets in. But since he was from the undertaking business, he knew how to treat dead bodies. He began to break their arms somehow so that they would fit into the coffins."

  • "I realized all this when the Prague Uprising broke out. I realized that we needed to join in, too. It was not just me, there were more of us, and so we went to various places in Prague where they might need us. At first we went to ask the police. Then in the infamous Bartolomějská Street. They told us: ´We have no weapons. We cannot send you anywhere, because we have no weapons, there aren’t any left. Go to the barracks on the Republic Square.´ We went there and they told us that they didn’t have any weapons, either. They told us to go to the neighbourhood where we lived, and so we went to Žižkov. Prague was already in a state of war by then. Bullets were whizzing by us. There were dead bodies lying on the street in Hybernská as we walked to Žižkov. It was every difficult to get there. We eventually reached Žižkov, and they told us what to do. People had began to put up barricades. During this time we were going to houses where the Germans were. They were terrible, they were shooting from roof windows at the people who were building the barricades. We had to do away with these Germans."

  • "We were then transported to Marseille. But when we were there, we learnt that they planned to send us to fight in Indochina. To fight for the French and for their colonies, which they were now afraid of losing. We decided that we wouldn’t fight for the French, and we defected from the Foreign Legion. We jumped out of the train about two hundred kilometres south of Paris near the town of Auxerre. We were out there on our own and we had to survive somehow. And so we looked for work, which we eventually found at a farm."

  • "Later I made a horse. You know, it is hard to model a horse, especially the hind legs because I didn’t have a picture of a horse with me. They were giving me advice and I would always nearly finish the horse, but the legs would still come out looking like cow's legs. Finally I managed to get the model of the horse done. I thought I would send it home. But it didn’t happen. I was transferred to the prison in Bory. When I was admitted to Bory, I had to go ´through the bag,´ as they called it. It meant that you had to take off all your clothes, put them in the bag, and then walk to the warden naked, and he would check you and look if you weren't hiding anything in your ass. He would do a body search while you were naked, and he would also check the clothes that you had taken off, and all your belongings. That's when he noticed the horse. He took it, looked at it like this, turned to me and said: ´You should have chosen a different profession.´ He grabbed the horse and smashed it against the floor, and he broke it right there in front of me. There were rough wardens like this there."

  • "The Germans were attacking along the main street towards the city centre. They were in armoured vehicles and we were sent there to stop them. We were inexperienced in warfare. We were nineteen years old. But among us there were older men who were already able to handle the panzerfaust. I can still see this scene vividly – one of them was standing behind the corner of the house and waiting for the Germans to come out with their armoured vehicle. As soon as they turned there, he fired the panzerfaust at them. We were covering the men so that nobody would attack them. That was our combat experience. Many of the people who were there with us died. They lost their lives because inexperience is very dangerous in street combat. You cannot just stick your head out, for if you do, a bullet might hit you right into your head. Everybody must be careful about this."

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    Bystřice nad Pernštejnem, 28.11.2011

    duration: 02:59:22
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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Man ought to preserve his clean conscience

Jan Svačina - 1946
Jan Svačina - 1946
photo: archiv pamětníka

Jan Svačina was born in Bystřice nad Pernštejnem, where he spent his childhood. During the war he worked as an apprentice to a chemist in Prague, and in May 1945 he took part in the Prague Uprising. After the coup in February 1948 he began to perceive the injustice committed by the communist regime, and in May of the same year he fled to the American sector of Germany. He later joined the Foreign Legion in France, hoping to fight against the communist regime. However, when he learnt that their unit was to be sent to Indochina, he chose to escape rather than take part in a war in a remote Asian region with which he had nothing in common. He therefore returned to his homeland. He was arrested a few months later and sentenced to one year of imprisonment for plotting against the republic. He spent the year in several prisons and camps, the longest time being detained in the labour camp Ležnice near Slavkov. After his release he worked in manual jobs. His whole family suffered under the regime. His brother Vratislav was sentenced to 21 years, and the family pharmacy was confiscated by the state. Jan Svačina passed away on September, the 27th, 2014.