* 1909 †︎ 2012
“Not long before the war, workers came to install poles and stretch lines in our village. In 1914, just before the war started, the village was electrified. Yes, but as soon as they turned it on, they began to cut the power supplies because there was no coal to produce it. So they usually cut one of the three phases, which meant that the engines stopped working. People soon brought their ladders to the poles and were checking which phase was working at the moment so that they could connect their house and light up their homes. Power cuts had the worst effect on craftsmen because they could not use their tools and engines. Copper wiring was used at the beginning but it disappeared quickly, so they replaced it with steel. Copper was also needed for manufacturing hand-grenades. So, the wiring was made of steel and then aluminum was used; the core was made of steel with an aluminum coating which made for better conductivity. Pure steel wires were horrible.”
“I didn’t know that! I woke up before five o’clock and I left the house at five. Usually I walked, but this time I was a little late and decided to take a bus. People on the bus said: ‘The Russians took the town. There is shooting at Wenceslas Square.’ We could still get to Wenceslas Square by bus. The place was full of tanks, cannons and machine guns. I was watching it from my office in Mezibranská. I was sitting by the open window and I heard a roar and somebody shouted that there was an advance on the Czech radio building. And it was true. I went there and saw the tank already in flames. But the Russian soldier had done it himself by knocking down a trolley wires, which fell on the gas barrel and exploded. It was a short circuit that had started the fire. None of the protesters did it - it was the guy himself, but the tension was great. There were crowds of people and the soldiers were sitting on the tanks and maneuvering all the time. I told the others: ‘Don’t be foolish, it’s not worth it. You won’t get anywhere and they will shoot you on the spot’. They were really ready to shoot.”
(Mr. Vejdělek and his pregnant wife decided to travel from Ostrava to Prague just a few hours before their daughter was born. They were accompanied by their second daughter who then suffered from pertussis. Mrs. Vejdělková figured out by the frequency of the contractions that she should endure the journey.) “So we set off and I told her that we could get off the train in Olomouc but she insisted on going on so we continued on to Prague. When we arrived she told me that she could not stand up. So I jumped off the train and found some workers with a small cart and explained to them what was going on. They decided to put her on top of the luggage. The three of us had to carry her out of the train because the baby was almost crowning. We wheeled her to the front of the train station where my parents were waiting with a wood gas car. We headed directly to the hospital. I ran into the reception and asked the staff to bring a stretcher. There were two large guys who thought they could carry her without it, but they found out that this wasn’t possible. So they laid her on the stretcher and our daughter was born in a minute. Our second child – Eva.”
“In Ostrava, in Bohumín, I also witnessed the monetary reform. They started striking at the steelworks because two days before that, president Antonín Zápotocký visited the factory and promised that no reform would take place. Then the reform was announced two days later. The workers thought the government should have had more decency in dealing with them. The army came in the wink of an eye. Soldiers surrounded the factory and you could see machine guns everywhere you looked. On the first day, people were protesting at the square. There was a statue of Masaryk so they blamed him for that. They closed the entrances to the square and started arresting people. They needed someone for manual work, so they let the workers be. But when the workers came to the factory the next day and refused to work, the soldiers were there immediately and put cannons next to each of the gates and ordered people to work. So they worked. At noon, a man from the ministry came and started handing out decorations to the soldiers. They were all Slovak from an officers’ academy. They also arrested a lot of people. I worked in the construction department, building new factory houses. That was the Hahn’s steelworks, with the blast furnace, which wasn’t in use anymore. They were building a heating plant designed by Energoprojekt, whom I worked for, and that was how I got to Bohumín.”
“the Gestapo from Hradec Králové would come to Vamberk regularly because they were looking for food for their families. There was a large mill at Zdobnice, where you could change wheat for flour and the rate was quite reasonable. For a hundred kilograms of wheat, you had a fair amount of flour and groat and things like that. There was a guy who had to supply the officers. I visited him a few times and he told me: ‘Boy, if you knew, how much alcohol flew through this room, one could easily drown in it!’ It was the same thing in our factory. Each time the gatehouse had been pissed and vomited all over, we knew that Gestapo had been visiting. There were rooms above the gatehouse where they could engage in whatever they liked, so they used to get drunk there.”
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“It was a crazy century.”
Prokop Vejdělek was born on the 12th of December 1909 in Zásmuky, into a family of teachers. His family often moved for work. He graduated from an electro-technical high school. He remembers the end of monarchy and the First Czechoslovak Republic. Twice in his life, he saw T. G. Masaryk. In the 30s, he lived in Ostrava and by the end of the first republic, he worked in Slovakia. During WW II, he worked in Vamberk. He was called to both Czechoslovak mobilizations and in 1953, in Bohumín, he witnessed protests against the municipal reform. Later, he returned to Prague and worked in Hutní projekt and witnessed the events of August 1968.