Hubert Procházka

Hubert Procházka was arrested for eleven years of prison as a member of a group "Beneš Scout Revolt." He also worked three years in the so called Tower of Death where uranium ore was milled in the Jáchymov labor camp "L."

Interview with Mr. Hubert Procházka
"Live in such a way that you will not do harm to anyone else." ~Mr. Hubert Procházka

Interviewer: Tomáš Bouška
This interview's English translation has been gratefully edited by Ms.Olivia Webb.

What do you remember about your youth?
I was born December 27, 1930 in Brno to a family of psychiatry professor whose name was like mine, Hubert Procházka.  My mom was a doctor, but at a housewife at that time.  I have a sister who is two-and a half years younger than me. She is a doctor of pathology in Prague. My dad was shot in 1935 by a madman at Zelný Market in the city of Brno. Mom was Czech, so we moved to Hradec Králové, where we lived until 1946.  Then my mother became a head doctor working with radiology at the Janské Lázně spa.  We lived there until the February of 1948.  Then they fired her, and for about two years she went without a job.  Then she started working in the Physical Therapy Department in Pardubice.  During that time we lived in a family house in Heřmanův Městec[1].  That house was constructed and remodeled by my grandfather. 

How did you struggle through the World War II when you didn't have a father?
My mom held a normal doctor's practice as a neurologist so we made it through the war quite well.  I went through the five classes of primary school before starting a classical eight-year grammar school, which I had to postpone for a year.  Since I was born in December, I began school half a year earlier.  But I lost a year after primary school when, at the beginning of the Occupation, the Germans began using a principle of Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei - and because they thought that I was a member of the Bourgeoisie, I wasn't accepted to the grammar school.  However, it was changed again in another year, because by that time, changes started happening quickly.  I graduated in 1950 and went to study medicine for one year at Hradec Králové.  But then they threatened us that they would change the Medical Faculty to the Army Academy and so I transferred to Prague. 

Do you have any special memories of February 1948?  Were you politically active in anyway?
I was a member of the National Socialistic Youth and the Scouts.  I was active as a scout since the age of seven.  I was also with the Water Scouts...but when I left Hradec Králové to move to Janské Lázně in 1947 I became a little less involved since there wasn't this tradition in the border land and the contact was limited.  My mother wasn't a member of any political party, but would cooperate  more or less with the People's Party.  She would give lectures to the party about various medical fields - mainly physical therapy. So we could say that she was more or less politically active.

How did you come to join the National Socialist Party?  Was it your decision?
It was strictly my decision since the rest of the family was Christian.  I voted for the National Socialists because I was convinced that it stood the furthest to the right. 

In which year did you join?
In 1946 we moved from Hradec Králové so that my mom could travel to the United States in order to study polio for over half a year.  She received a grant from the American Red Cross and one of Roosevelt's foundations.  Roosevelt himself had polio - he was practically working on a chair all the time.  During the time that she was away, we stayed at Heřmanův Městec for about a year.  She left in October and came back around Easter of the following year, so it was almost one whole school year.  Then I would kind of jump from one school to another.  Over the course of my first year of grammar school I first went to Chrudim, then attended another half year in Trutnov, and then spent the rest of the time in Chrudim up until graduation.  It wasn't possible to do it any other way. 

How would you define your so called "anti-regime" activities?  Were you actually aware of doing something wrong?
Yes, of course I was. We started to issue leaflets, and I also made contact with two agents - Milan Eliáš and Marcal. They were connected to the CIC[2]. The one named Milan had an uncle in the American Embassy in Germany.  Therefore they had a direct connection with Germany and I worked as a wireless operator.  In addition to that, thanks to my Christian relatives, I was also helping monasteries which wanted to stay in touch via mail.  So I would go to them and distribute letters.  This whole thing was organized by Vít Tajovský, an abbot from the Želiv monastery.  I was asked to help with this by the dean named František Kolář.  They knew I was reliable because my aunt served as an assistant to the head nun of the Sister's School.  At the beginning of the war the whole monastery moved to Rome.  My mother cured Mr. Tajovský during the war and saved him from being conscripted.  The information I would distribute was accurate as of 1949.  Then monks were imprisoned one after the other, and so it was no longer that up to date.  We would do three different routes.  The first one I did with the Dean, because he had a motorcycle.  The other two I did alone, since that would not be as conspicuous.  However, they didn't find out about all that - only the leaflets. 

When did you start helping and printing the leaflets?
I started in 1949.  Before that year the situation was completely different.  The Sokol[3] gathering in 1948 was very anti-communist, but after that the regime became stricter.  Generally, people thought that the situation could not last for a long time.  Gradually they started suppressing free news in the media, so we all wanted to inform people about the truth - whether it was national or international news.  The edition ranged from one to two hundred printed copies.  The conditions for copying were very challenging at that time so we had to use stencils.  Since the printing was done in Eastern Bohemia, and the headquarters was in Heřmanův Městec, it wasn't very easy to produce a high number of printed copies.  The majority of people from this group came from that town.

How often did you distribute the leaflets? For that matter, who wrote them?
On average, once every two months.  Of course the terms were not fixed.  When there was a lot of news we wrote commentary on the issues as quickly as possible so that the leaflets would still be up to date.  The content would then be set after we had reached an agreement, and then each of us would prepare one response.  Then we laid them out and edit them.  We were distributing them unofficially of course, putting them into people's mailboxes.

Do you remember the names of your colleagues who helped you write and deliver the leaflets and were later sentenced as well?
Naturally, they were guys who were attending the grammar school or college in Chrudim, or else they had recently graduated.  There wasn't a big age difference between us.  There were also other people sentenced with us who were older.  The main group from Hařmanův Městec was plus or minus two years apart in age.  There was Mirek Kabeláč, Milan Netušil, Josef Řehák, and Vláďa Doležal...  As time went by, we not only edited the leaflets, but also got in touch with two agents - Eliáš and Marcal - to whom we would deliver some spy information, mainly about the airport in Pardubice.  That had always been an army airport so there was always a deep interest in it.  They had their own operator and radio transmitter, but they wanted to have a back-up plan.  Sometimes the radio didn't work, which was the second reason.  They had troubles with that. 

How did you get in contact with the two agents?
It was through a schoolmate, B. Capoušek - Capoušek - another guy who, along with my mom's patient, helped me make contact with two agents.  Together we talked about radios.  Fortunately, no one else knew about them.  The secret police had me on a list because I had officially kept a radio as an amateur operator until 1949.  Then they took away my license.  I still had some receivers, but I put away all the transmitters because I didn't want to risk it.  The one I used to send out messages for this purpose, then, was bricked in a chimney of our house only for the event of an emergency.  The agents had their own operator, but sometimes they needed to check or had problems with their own.  I was the substitute when theirs didn't work.  We were all nineteen or twenty years old.  I was locked up a week after my twenty-first birthday. 

How did it happen?
I was traveling from Hradec Králové, where I was studying medicine for the first year, to Heřmanův Městec almost every single weekend.  Later, when I was in Prague, nothing was very easy.  I would meet with my schoolmates and other people from the group who studied in Prague.  We weren't meeting periodically; more by chance or when we needed something, and then we just arranged it and went somewhere else.  Coincidentally - and I was really lucky at this time - I met my friend at a tram stop at Wenceslas Square.  It was before Christmas, and I was going to go back home that evening.  This boy told me that my schoolmates from the group had been locked up two or three days previously.  So I went home and when the secret police came for me in the evening I was lucky enough to be prepared for it.  I had the chance to destroy a lot of things before they came.  I had done these activities from the spring of 1949 to midway through 1951, before I came to Prague.  So it lasted for about two years, maybe a little more. 

Were you aware of any monitoring?  Did you have a feeling that they assigned someone to you?
I was riding motorcycles professionally.  In 1950 I was nominated to go on a six-day race, which would take place in England, but the invitation was rescinded.  In 1951 the invitation came again, but all of a sudden I was told that I couldn't go anywhere.  This six-day race always takes place in September or October.  In late August the two agents with whom we were cooperating were locked up.  I assumed that I had to be a suspect as well.

That was a sign for you then?
Yeah, but unfortunately I didn't take it very seriously.  If I had taken it seriously, it would have been possible to cross the border and I wouldn't have had to stay here. There wasn't any other option than to have run away. That would have been my only other possible option.

When were you locked up and what was the process like?
On January 4, 1952. Until Christmas, they interrogated me all night in Bartolomějská Street[4]. In the morning they released me and I didn't wait for anything. I hopped onto my motorbike and went straight to Heřmanův Městec to destroy the radio.  If that didn't work then there would be a bad ending for my whole family since it was in my family's house.  But I destroyed it successfully, and on January 4, I was officially locked up.  It happened in the evening on Charles Square while I was coming home from school. They took me back to Bartolomějská. They left me there for four days. I was in such a state that it would have been hardly possible to transport me somewhere.  Then they took me to Pardubice.  The whole group was investigated in Pardubice in the State Police Department.  In Bartolomějská I had a hearing, but of course I denied almost everything.  I only admitted that I knew the people from the group and they had offered me cooperation.  I found that repugnant, but I made an agreement with them that I would reflect on it.  By the second hearing there was nothing to think about; so I had to say this, and sign a piece of paper with a statement that I was not going to cooperate with the state police.  After that, things started moving in a different direction.  At first they were trying to convince me to work for them because they needed skilled people - especially people who knew foreign languages.  By that time I was already able to speak English and German very well.  So for this reason I was a really attractive person to them.  However, we didn't make any agreements (laughs) and then a big brawl started (fighting motion) and of course I answered on the first punch.  I knew jiu-jitsu and was even boxing for a while, but that didn't help in the end.  At first it was three on one and I don't even know how many of them got together on me there after that.  They really finished me in a bad way; it cost me three teeth and one ear. Today I hardly hear out of my left ear.  

Where in Bartolemějská was this happening?
In some police room and I don't know where because they were always blindfolding me.  When you don't know the building it's hard to get any chance of orientation.  We went up the steps, down the steps, and then they turned me around three times, and took me somewhere again.  What sense did I have? I don't know.  Maybe they were trying to depress me.  They could have had my trial anywhere; it wouldn't have mattered.  I knew I was there and that they were interrogating me, but why were they making such theatrics, I don't know.  Because this wasn't clear to me, it didn't depress me at all. 

Did someone give you first aid?
No, no one gave me first aid through the whole investigation proceeding.  I don't think they even had a doctor there.

Were you alone in Bartolomějská or were you with someone?
I was alone for the first two days, but before I was taken to Pardubice, they took me to an escort room where there were three or four of us.  I hardly saw the people because they threw me into the room in the evening and took me out in the morning.  I don't remember anything.

How did that beating affect you?  How did you explain it to yourself?
Someone had warned us about the methods of investigation that the SS had.  We knew that and these methods would not be better or worse.  I personally wasn't really surprised by it at all.

What did they want? Or, to put it another way, what were they trying to beat out of you?
Including the curriculum vitae, it made three pages of protocol.  For almost five months I didn't say anything on myself.  When I could stonewall them, I did.  From the others, they found out about the distribution of the leaflets, which was enough to arrange my conviction.  In my case, they were more interested in the radio and my radio connections.  Since I was an amateur operator, until 1949, I was officially allowed to have my own amateur radio.  In 1949 they banned it, took my license, and I had to cancel the official radio, which I did.  But I had another radio, which I built up in the chimney.  We didn't use the chimney and they didn't find that one.  After the first interrogation I went to Městec and destroyed it, because I didn't want to put the whole family at risk. That was an idea that I couldn't live with. 

How did it end with the two agents?  What happened to them?
They crossed the borders a couple times and, of course, they were caught.  When my group was investigated, the investigators didn't make the connection between us and the agents.  A guy named Zdeněk Dušek didn't say it to anyone else.  It was a big advantage that the others from our group were not involved with that. 

After four days in Bartolomějská they took you to Pardubice. What happened there?
There were normal investigations. But I was placed into solitary confinement, which was appalling.  It was a real small room with four small windows, none of which could be completely closed.  That was in January.  They turned the heating on for one hour a day.  It was a complete atrocity. 

What was the food like there?
There were two or three potatoes from the bottom of the pot without anything on them.  We would say served once with caraway seeds and once without anything. They were not even salted.  We also got some water-downed soups and some fake coffee in the morning.

Did you meet anyone from your group when you were in custody in Pardubice?  Did you sit together?
For my entire incarceration I was in a solitary cell.  I saw only one of them when they showed him to me and asked, "Do you know each other?"  "We do."  So then we turned our backs on each other and that was it.  That was the end of the confrontation.  It was like being in a crazy house.  Then they took us to the prison in Chrudim.  There we awaited the trial, which was open to the "public."  Part of it took place in Heřmanův Městec, and another part in Sokol Hall.  But the "public" is in quotes, because whoever actually wanted to come, couldn't.  They chose who would be there, and brought in party functionaries and workers.  I don't know who else they brought in, but they were trying to make a circus of it.  It took three days and was a huge attraction.  That was right after the 20th of June.  They took us before people from the party and were showing us off like wild animals. 

What was it like during the proceedings of this three-day trial?
They wanted the accused to repeat the same thing that was on the written on the hearing statements.  I was not shy and started arguing about the communist ideology with the head judge.  The funniest thing was that those idiots were recording this and playing it out over the town's public announce system.  So my discussion with the judge was broadcast for quite a while before they figured out what we were talking about.  The sentence was eleven years for high treason and espionage. 

What happened to your colleagues?
At fifteen years, Mirek Kabeláč received the highest sentence.  They made him the leader of the group.  He was older then us by about three years and so they made everything look the way they wanted.  Then they brought in the agents, Milan Eliáš and Dušek.  I started to be afraid for the second time since I received the messages from them on the radio, but they didn't say anything.  They kept it to themselves.

What was the name of your legal case, and how many people were in your group?
We were called the Beneš Scout Revolt, named after President Beneš[5].  The abbreviation was S.O.B.. There were fourteen or fifteen of us and they caught everyone.  The lowest sentences were two or three years.  No one was lucky enough to escape. 

Do you remember the name of the judges or the chief prosecutor?
The judge was a Hungarian Jew named Roth.  Then he changed his name to Rudý[6].  The chief prosecutor was Čížek.  It was a noble breed; both of them were bad guys.  It was a show trial.  There was not much happening in that area so it seemed like something quite useful for them, which is why it took three days. 

What ran through your head when you heard the sentence at court?
We didn't take it seriously at that time. We were very foolish.

Where did they take you after the trial?
First the court left us in the prison at Chrudim, and then they took us to build a dam in Křivanovice.  That was only through the summer - just a short time, maybe three weeks.  The dam was built at the beginning of the fifties.  Then the authorities took us back to prison.  We found out that the working camp by the dam was mainly comprised of "měsíčkáři,"[7] who were farmers who didn't meet their quotas.  The place wasn't guarded much, but it didn't really hit us that we could escape.  But to be honest, we didn't really have a place to go or a way how.  All of the escape routes we had prepared before were already blocked, and, in 1952, it was too risky to try to go through.  That wasn't really possible.  Then in mid-August they took us to Jáchymov[8].  They took us to the central camp named Bratrství.  That was the central camp in Jáchymov - the mine which had two camps.  The normal camp had pits, and the other part was separated to serve as a central building.  There we waited for three or four days until they distributed us into different camps.  I was taken to "L"[9] with Milan Netušil.

What did you do in the camp?
It was a very small camp with about three hundred people.  We crushed the uranium ore[10].  There wasn't any other work.  We were surprised about that.  Right away I was put into the tower because I was almost deaf.  They put me on the main grinder.  There was a lot of noise and no one wanted to be there.  With one ear I didn't really mind it, so I was working there.

What did that mean?
In the tower we worked on the rock that contained a lot of uranium that was brought by cars. From these, it was put in big boxes and from these put into smaller ones.  The radioactivity was measured, and according to its size, it was sorted into these boxes.  From the boxes, two prisoners took it out and threw it onto a big, wide conveyor belt.  When there were about fifty tons ready in one big box, they were all crushed and processed as one load.  From the bunker, it went to the grinder where it was ground up.  Then it was sent back up to the tower, where the finely ground portion was suctioned with a sieve.  The large chunks would fall back down into the grinder, and this is how it kept rotating until everything was ground.  Meanwhile, the finely ground portion was barreled.  The barrels were then stored and, once every two or three days, depending on how the process went, the uranium would fill about about thirty wagons.  Half of these wagons were loaded with poor uranium ore.  They also brought low quality ore in open wagons, which were only sorted, and the loads on different cars would be mixed into big containers that filled up a wagon.  That made fifteen to twenty tons.  The high quality ore was processed in the methode that I described in the tower before being loaded into closed wagons.

What exactly did you do with the grinder? Also, how were the working conditions?
I had to make sure that a stone didn't get stuck and make one of the two slabs crack.  The grinder consisted of two huge slabs that would grind against each other.  The rocks would fall down and be crushed in between them.  There was a lot of dust and noise.  You could hardly see anything there - especially when the rocks or materials were dry.  Usually they were dry; the camp stored fifty tons.  In the storage boxes they would dry very quickly.  Of course it also depended on the weather. For example during the fall the rocks were wetter, but then they would dry out again.  That was a nonstop operation.  That means there were three shifts with eight hours per shift.  Everything was organized like that.  According to this schedule and to which shift you worked, that's what the routine looked like, okay?  Everyone except for the night shift would get up with the morning shift which was at 5:15 or something like that.  The loaf of bread was split into thirteen slices, so you would get about 15 decagrams of bread a day (.33 pounds).  Hunger was terrible from the beginning until Stalin and Gottwald's deaths[11].  The hunger was so terrible until the communist cult of leader´s personality was over and then it got a little better.  I didn't even weigh 50 kilograms (110 pounds).  You must consider that I was 15 centimeters taller than I am right now because I've gotten shorter since then.  I was a relatively young man and we all looked like this. 

What did you wear for work?  Did you have any gloves or masks?
We wore what we normally lived in.  We wore something called a "halina," which was made from a higher quality burlap or freight material.  We had trousers in this fashion and also a jacket.  We had one pair of long underwear underneath, a shirt, and a hat.  Otherwise we got linen pants and a linen jacket for summer.  That was everything.  We didn't have anything else.  We didn't have any special working uniforms because those idiots thought that all these working places weren't radioactive on the surface.  They didn't even admit it was radioactive down below in the shafts.  Sometime in 1954 or 1955 they brought us some air masks, but those were for little kids.  You really couldn't breathe in those.  So when it got to be very dusty we would use damp clothes to cover our noses and mouths, tying the cloths behind our heads.  That was all.  We didn't get any other care. 

How long were you on the grinder?
After one month all working positions rotated, but that didn't mean that everyone went everywhere.  One had to get some practice with the grinder and find out when to push and when not to and when you should stop things for a while.  Of course I couldn't stop it very often because there were guards - Russians.  There was a minimum of Czech employees and all of the ones who were Czech would not do any manual work.  They were either bosses - but there were many bosses - or else they were guards.  So I didn't go to throw the uranium ore into containers very often because I never really liked working with shovels - not that I couldn't learn it, but there people who liked shoveling more than I.  So in our group we were switching the positions a little bit.  Our group had about thirty people and we formed the staff of the tower.  For example, one of us wasn't able or nimble-handed enough to roll the barrels.  We would roll the barrels through the storage which was about 150 meters long.  The barrel or oil drum was rolling when you kicked it well.  We had hooks to give them direction while lifting them up since three barrels were stored on top of each other.  Not many people could do it really well, so it was better if someone went to do something else than break his legs trying to do this.  Each barrel had to weigh a minimum of 60 kilograms (121 pounds).  All barrels were weighed.  So I can't really tell you how long I was at the grinder, but it was at least a third of the time I was in prison.  That means a third out of three and a half years. 

How many people do you think lost their lives there or left with permanent health effects?
I suppose that all of us had some permanent health effects.  Those who worked down in the deep holes, the ones who were digging out the uranium ore, and everyone who worked on "L" had to have received some health damage for sure.  It wasn't documented anywhere.  One had to stay in these radioactive zones for the effects to become apparent.  That is an utterly different mechanism of damage than, for instance, a nuclear explosion.  You can't really compare them because they are so different.  The illness you get from being exposed to uranium radioactivity looks different.  No one really knows how it looks.  At the time when they were supposed to study it, no one really did.  That means that all these examinations were done post-factum after a long time gap.  They started examining it in the seventies.  That was with a twenty-year lapse. 

Was it called "A Tower of Death" according to the mortality rate?
I don't know if we can say mortality.  That didn't really occur there because while you are exposed to the radioactivity there is some time of latency before the changes happen to the organism.  These changes are gradual and each organism reacts to it individually.  For each person it comes out differently.  Only if they would examine a certain amount of people - at least thousands - could they identify these trends.  No one ever did that, although Jáchymov was required to undergo regular research as early as the second half of the 1930's.  During the first Czechoslovakian Republic they were measuring the activity, taking measurements in the mines and checking the employees.  So the Communists knew very well where they were sending us.  There were no questions marks about these things - and there were already rules for this under the Department of Health and Human Services.  No one took this into consideration, and everyone was pretending that nothing serious was happening and that there were no potential risks. 

How was it with injuries?  Were you ever injured?
Dealing with injuries was particularly atrocious as there was only one nursing room for the whole camp.  There was one room for a nurse's room, and another room with four beds where the injured could stay.  The doctor who served there was a retribution prisoner and he was a real jerk.  Only a few of these retribution prisoners were as bad as this one.  He was a German living in Prague and had served as a SS doctor - but originally he was a pediatrician. Yes, as a pediatrician he served the SS before he was sentenced to work at our camp.  There were major problems with him because he didn't take any of the injuries seriously. His favorite phrase was, "Oh my grandma suffered from this as well."  Fortunately I didn't have any injuries so big that I couldn't take care of them myself. 

Were you aware of the risks in the conditions you worked?  Were you taking measures to protect yourself?
Of course I was aware of that.  I studied physics for doctors with Professor Santholzer who was one of the most well respected researchers from the Institute of Radiology.  So he told us a lot about radioactivity.  How could I protect myself?  All I could do was tie a cloth over my nose and mouth.  I simply couldn't do anything else. 

How did Jáchymov prison affect your own health?
First of all, I got skin cancer.  The most critical were caused by the alpha rays from the radon since we worked in areas without ventilation.  Sound ventilation was implemented in the beginning of the 1960's.  In spite of the fact that the administration concerned with mining put these notices out in the 1950's, no one put this into practice.  It took another 5-7 years before conditions started to get better.  It improved probably in the mid 1960's because everything depended on ventilation in the chutes.  As for the work places where the material was processed and ground there was a lot of radioactive dust, but those places closed in the second half of the 1950's - maybe 1956 or 1957.  At that point, the ore started to be processed chemically.  Therefore, because these methods were no longer continued, they thought that there was no point in studying the effects.  Even if someone was studying the changes they could only look at the after-effects but not the original health.  These effects were generally attributed to age and workload - not necessarily where they worked or the effects of radioactivity.  The Institute of National Health began to examine the Jáchymov mines in 1959.  However, since the institute was affiliated with the mines, it wasn't an independent organization.  In addition to the cancer I also have damaged joints.  I am 15 centimeters shorter and have an artificial hip joint.  I should get another artificial hip joint in the next six months.  My backbone is damaged as well, because my spinal discs are disintegrating.  My fourth vertebra pulls forward towards my stomach.  So actually I can't move very much, or else the vertebra would move further and pinch my spinal cord.  Then I would have to be in a wheel chair. 

How did the guards behave and in what ways did they persecute you?
There were polite ones and worse ones, but of course there were fewer polite ones.  We had to go to brigades, which meant compulsory employment outside of work.  During that time we couldn't go to the prison house and if they found you there it wasn't good.  There were guards who never checked on us - especially if they knew that the commander was not in the camp.  They would give good reports on each other.  When the commander was around they were much more active. 

Who were your prison mates?  Did you know anyone who worked with you in the tower?
At the beginning there was my accomplice, Milan Netušil, but after half a year he was taken to Příbram.  He got relatively better over there.  In our group you made contacts very quickly.  You either you got acquainted immediately or you didn't get in-touch at all.  It depended on who it was.  Mainly there were political prisoners and there was also a group of fifty retribution prisoners, those were the Germans or German/Czechs who were sentenced for cooperation with the Germans during WWII according to the so called retribution decrees.  These people were released in 1955 and some even in 1954.  There were many interesting people.  Some people were quite famous and from the upper class.  There was General Paleček, the head of our mission; and Doctor Jan Pospíšil who was a General Secretary for Minister Stránský. They were people with strong moral fiber.   There was also the son of the Social Democratic Minister, Zdeněk Bechyně; and also many great clergymen, like Josef Zvěřina, who was a theologian and art historian.  One could learn many interesting things from him.  There was also the head of the Czech Jesuits, Mr. Pepek Cukr.  They were really a class of men unto themselves, and there were many others like them. 

Were there any communists there with you?
There was only one, who came after the process with Slánský.  His name was Vavro Hajdů, and was from Slovakia.  For some time, he was our UN representative, and also served as a civil servant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He was quite nice and polite for the time. 

Did you ever meet any civilians working there?  Do you remember any of the guard's names?
I remember the names of the main commanders; Mr. Píbil, for example; one can't forget that, of course.  There were no civilians working there at all. 

Not even women, for example in the infirmary?
At the working camps, that was unacceptable.  The first woman came when the prison hospital opened at Jáchymov in 1955.  She was there as a head nurse and part of the main staff in the surgery unit.  I don't remember the name now, but I already recalled it once because people from UDV[12] wanted to hear my opinion about the head staff in the hospital.  The second half of my prison stay I was in the prison hospital.  I never worked in another working camp after that.  For three weeks I was at Mariánská hospital, where I was a doctor treating a flu epidemic. 

So after three years they transferred you to the hospital? 
They took me there not because they wanted to, but because they had to.  I got jaundice. At that time there was an epidemic of jaundice and - thanks to the kindness of people who worked there - I started working there too.  Of all the "mukls"[13], the highest boss there was Professor Koch, a sergeant from Bratislava and my father's friend.  They served together during World War I in a hospital in Udine, Austria.  In 1920 they established an army hospital in Bratislava together before demobilization started.  So I was transferred to the hospital.  One fact that also helped was that it was already 1955 and in 1956 the grinder was shut down so that the uranium could be processed chemically.  So they would have had to transfer me somewhere else anyhow. 

Where was the hospital located?
The hospital was located near the new headquarters of Jáchymov, just a little way from L.  From the crossroads there was a field and today there is a factory for tram buses.  Then there was Camp L, the processing work place with the tower, and right next to that was the central camp headquarters.  This camp always worked in two different ways.  On one hand, it provided transportation while on the other there was C Block, which housed construction crews.  They built the town Ostrov upon Ohře and other buildings. 

While you were in the hospital what were your responsibilities?
That was at the end of 1955 and the situation was completely different.  I started to do physical therapy.  I exercised with people after their operations and injuries.  I learned this from my mom, who worked in Janské Lázně. Then, because there wasn't a dermatologist, they bought me a book on dermatology and I had to also learn that.  Fortunately for a short amount of a time there was Doctor Standa Novák, who was a dermatologist.  Then they took him to Leopoldov[14].  I learned a lot from him.  In addition to that I worked in the infectious diseases department as a nurse.  The boss there was Doctor Hlaváč, a Slovakian from Žilina.  He was a pediatrician, but he also was an expert on radiology and tuberculosis, which was a big problem at that time.  He taught me a lot.  After him there came Honza Šmíd, who was an army doctor and the family doctor of the Beneš family[15].  He was also an excellent doctor. Unfortunately, he only stayed for a short amount of time and then was also taken to Leopoldov. So, finally, I took care of the whole Infectious Diseases Department by myself, with only a doctor of internal medicine coming to check on me once or twice a week.  This department wasn't really an Infectious Diseases Department. There were three rooms for tuberculosis and one for jaundice.  There were also problems with curing syphilis. These people who were also getting special treatment would stay in two rooms as well.  If it was documented that they had syphilis when they came to prison then they had to get treatments.  Then I also had two rooms dealing with dermatology illnesses. 

How long did you serve there?
I served there until November 6, 1958.  On that date I was released because they reviewed my case and - I don't know how - but they shortened my eleven years to seven.  I then should have been released on January 4, 1959 but they released me with 10 years of probation on November 16, 1958 and I was lucky they didn't give me back my human rights.  That saved me from being sent to PTP[16].  As a citizen without rights I didn't have to go to the elections and I didn't have to go the compulsory service in the army.  I had some problems concerning this after the pardon of the president in 1960.  I got a blue book because I had jaundice.  I really went through that illness and I had permanent effects from it.  Until today I am on a diet that is not very strict, but I am on a diet.

So the jaundice was harmful to you?
It certainly was. The truth is that I didn't turn yellow when I was ill, so it was hard to see that I was not healthy.  It was Doctor Honza Šmíd that figured it out.

Were you ever in touch with your family?
The contact was very limited because if you could even write letters from L twice a year it was a miracle.  Out of the three and half years I stayed there I had one or two visits.  When I was at the hospital it got much better. 

Was your family persecuted in any way?
My sister wasn't allowed to take her graduation exam and it took her five years before she could take it.  Then she wanted to enter medical school but it took her another four years to be accepted.  She wanted to be a dentist and in that year they were accepting more dentists so they took her.  My mom wasn't especially affected since after a year and half of unemployment she became the head of a Physical Therapy Department in a hospital in Pardubice.  Professor Řehoř got her a position there and then when they built a new hospital in Chrudim she commuted daily from our hometown, Městec.  There, she started doing neurology as well since there was never more than one neurologist, if that.  She worked as a neurology consultant as the hospital needed.  So it was okay for her. 

Do you remember your prison number?
Of course - AO6997.  That was my number when I came to Jáchymov. According to this number you could find out on precisely which day exactly you came.  These files still exist since there are about twenty thick books because there are about 16,000 names of people who went through that. 

Were you officially rehabilitated?
Of course; without the rehabilitation I couldn't have any rights to claim.  I was rehabilitated in 1990 or 1991.  I had already handed in the demand in 1968, but no one really took care of that at that time.

What comes into your head when I say Jáchymov?
Well, in comparison with other things, it was a great school for me in the spheres of knowledge and morality in general - but on the other hand, I paid dearly for it when I come to consider my health.  I can't tell you that I didn't count on being sentenced.  That would be a lie, because I was aware that what I was doing could endanger me.  But I really expected that everything would work out fine and that I would have time to escape.   

What helped you to survive?
All kinds of work - and my interest in many things helped.  I didn't believe that communism would fall during my lifetime, or in 1968, that the regime would get better.  That was impossible, and I was always realistic about that. 

Do you think that we devote enough attention to this historical period?
A minimum is being devoted - and when we do, it is really misrepresented.  First, at school, kids aren't taught the history the way it should be taught.  In the best scenario they finish with WWI.  Also imagine which teachers were there and how were they hired.  There are some normal people among them, but the majority came from Communist families and the families that didn't want to shit into their own nest.  The same thing works for historians.  Don't tell me that during the eighteen years after the Velvet Revolution there was any solid material written out that could be counted as true and accurate.  Have you seen anything like that?  I haven't yet! 

Do you have any advice for the young people who are trying to figure out their own way of living? Like, how to go through life with their heads held high?
I think this recommendation is really simple.  Live in such a way that you will not do any harm to anyone else. 

Thank you for the interview.  

[1] Heřmanův Městec- A town in Eastern Bohemia, in the region of the town Chrudim.
[2] Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC)- An American Intelligence agency established in December 1943 to eradicate German agents from among the ranks of the WW II Allied Armies. Following WWII, the CIC shifted its focus to the Soviet Block.
[3] The Czech Association of Sokol (ČOS)- A civil association which organizes voluntary sports and social activities among the clubs of Sokol in order to promote camaraderie among its 190,000 members.
[4] Bartolomějská- A police interrogation prison in Prague.
[5] Edward Beneš- The second president after T.G. Masaryk from 1935 to 1938. He was also a president in exile in 1940-1945 and the president of Czechoslovakia after the War from 1945 to 1948. Together with T.G. Masaryk and M. R. Štefánik, he took part in the resistance movement during WW I and stands as one of the founders of Czechoslovakia.
[6] "Rudý" means „red" in the Czech language.
[7] Měsíčkáři- derived from the Czech word "měsíc" or "month," this term denotes people who stayed in prison  for only one or two months.
[8] Jáchymov- originally a spa town near Karlovy Vary and Czech-German border. Jáchymov later became famous for its labor camps which operated uranium mines. At first there were only "retribution prisoners" or those with German connections; later there were also political and criminal prisoners. Political prisoners tend to call these forced labor camps "concentration" camps, although historians prefer "labor camps," since "concentration camp" is strongly connected to the holocaust.
[9] Camp L- Also called also a "liquidation camp,"  Camp L had a "Tower of Death" where prisoners came into direct contact with radioactive uranium.
[10] By uranium ore we mean pitchblende mined in the Jáchymov district for scientific and military purposes of former USSR.
[11] Year 1953.
[12] Counsel for Crimes of Communism, Documentation, and Investigation (ÚDV)- Established in 1989, this organization analyzes historical data in addition to investigating accusations of communist crimes. Since 2008 some of its functions were taken over by the newly established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.
[13] Mukl- a slang term for "a man on death row" derived from the Czech phrase "muž určený k likvidaci." In this case, the word referred to any man sentenced for political reasons.
[14] Leopoldov- a prison in Slovakia.
[15] Beneš family- family of the second president of the Czechoslovakia, Mr. Edvard Beneš.
[16] Czechoslovak Army's Auxiliary Technical Battalions (PTP)- were established in 1950 for so-called "politically unreliable people" who were subjects of the military law. People in PTP worked in mines, or on military buildings, on civil buildings, and other construction projects. From the last months of 1953 to May 1954 they were all closed down.


Hubert Procházka with subtitles