Richard Kolban

* 1924

  • “It was one night in June when convoys arrived in school and one of the men came to the room, shouted my name, and directed me to follow him. It was at two o’clock in the morning, they gathered those of us who didn’t seem to be spies and arrested us. There was a huge jail on Kařiměrovská Street, where there were really huge cells, each for forty to sixty prisoners. And just imagine, the toilet was only a slat and the like... I had been for a month there, when we suddenly heard some stomping upstairs and a sort of stir. They started to run us out. We were loaded into the cars. You know, they arranged a transport consisting of about twenty freight cars and started transporting us. They brought us throughout the Soviet Union. It took the whole month as we were on the way only at nights. It was in June or in July 1940, so days were really hot and we had to spend them closed in those cars. We got nothing, just a piece of bread and a bucket of water. One bucket of water for sixty men. The older were breathing air at windows and we, the younger, let them do so. It went this way over again. The transport moved after dark and stopped before sunrise.”

  • “The norm was ten cubic metres of raw wood, which we called fathom in Slovak. It meant we had to topple a tree, just like we had done it in Levoča, put a wedge on one side and then use axe and guide it down. We had those big handsaws and every one had the axe. We had to cut it into one-meter long fathoms, chop, and tidy it and the same with branches. Ten was our norm. However, hardly anybody of us met this norm. Russians did so, it was nothing for them. Well, we got nothing to eat during the day and in the evening, when we gathered at the Appleplatz in front of the dining hall again, the brigades, who had met the norm went first. Those were mainly Russians, who got 900 grams of bread, simply said, a sort of substantial food or nourishment. However, as we always came last at about ten in the evening, we usually got only 300 grams of bread, it was such solid bread, also the crumbs were fixed with little sticks to it, some potato soup, a bit of mash, and a spoon of oil into it. It was everything. And as we hadn’t met the norm, we weren’t allowed to go to barracks. There we had our double-decked pallets just like you could see in concentration camps, but we were placed to a sort of small prison, or strengthened billet. There were plank-beds or rather only some boards and nothing else. When we were wet, the clothes dried on us, in winter as well, and in the morning everything repeated. It went like this all over again.”

  • “In the morning there was a reveille, we had to gather at the so-called Appelplatz and divide into groups of thirty as there were thirty men in each convoy. He had a board with names and he read all of them. We had no breakfast, nothing at all... Oh, it was regarded as luxury. Then he read the warning in Russian, ‘Either left or right, where there is no work they shoot without saying a word. Do you know what it means? I shouldn’t translate it, should I? And march.’ Seven kilometres. There were four high guard towers and fencing. We weren’t allowed to approach the fence, in no case! Five meters at most! Who went only a bit closer was immediately shot dead. Just like one, who found ‘esšálek, menašku’ (mess tin) near the fence, so they zapped him.”

  • “Then, it happened that I was released from there. Each of us got twenty roubles, at first they called us to the office and the woman, lieutenant, asked us where we wanted to go. I said I wanted to go to the place with warm weather. ‘So, where?’ ‘Tashkent.’ I knew from school that it was in the south. ‘Tashkent? Not possible, there are many like you.’ And there was a list of towns beginning with a letter ‘t’, so I was sent to Temir. Cold Temir. When we were being released, we got a loaf of bread, which we ate immediately, and I also went to the town and bought some borsch. I had a drink, but as I was so hungry, as my stomach was so shrivelled, I suddenly felt unwell. I had enough time as my train departed in the evening, so I went into the community centre and curled into a ball under the stairs and there I waited for my train. When we travelled we didn’t sit, we were such decimated that we lay and huddled under the bench instead. Just like dogs. I spent the whole way under that bench.”

  • “The camp was empty, it was the first camp. Before our arrival, there had been some Polish captives taken by Russians, but then, when we came, they had already been away, the camp was empty. We came in and bedbugs suddenly started falling on us just like some heavy rain. They were raining on us and we were immediately stung, swollen, you know, it was a real filth. Those creepy-crawlies were hungry... I and other two men decided not to sleep down there. We went up to attic and since that time we used to go sleeping there. Moreover, we starved; we had dysenteries, diarrhoeas, other diseases, and the like. For instance, the first two dead men were the professor at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the mayor of Ustroń village. As they were hungry, they used to go behind the dining hall and eat the garbage such as vegetables, cheese, and the like. I was still telling them, ‘Gentlemen, don’t eat it, for God’s sake, it is full of various maladies.’ In vain. They died. They were the first, so, of course, it aroused a real disquiet. Then, we made a sort of skis so that we could go and bury them. We could see through the fence and there were some more graves overgrown with grass. We approached the gate and convoy asked us, ‘Kuda? (Where?)’ ‘We want to bury these two men.’ He called the commander, captain, who asked us in Russian about what we were doing and what we wanted. ‘We want to bury our friends.’ We were speaking Russian as we had already learnt something, but he forbade us to do so, he said they would do it by themselves. However, we wanted to make use of his presence there and we expressed our complaints. Bedbugs, foul water, hunger, hard work, you know, we worked in a forest as woodcutters, and so on. He listened to us and then said a sentence I still remember, nečevo priviekneš a nepriviekneš, padochneš. Either you get accustomed to that or snuff it.”

  • “I was accepted into the Army. I became trained and as it was winter again it was freezing and I had to wash being stripped to the waist at five in the morning and then, I lay for a half of a day in snow with machine-gun and so on. Various things were going on there. When I was on guard, I experienced something. We were guarding warehouses at night. That long tulup (sheepskin winter jacket) and rifle that I even couldn’t hold in my hand. It was dusk and just a bit of light and each guard had an order to ask everybody going past about the code word. We had to ask the name at first and then the code word. And if somebody hadn’t told it, I could have started shooting. Well, I was walking there, it was about eleven in the evening and I couldn’t wait until somebody changed me. Suddenly I saw three officers walking briskly. One went a bit ahead and the other two were next to him. They marched straight to the ramp, next to which there was a booth. Then, I became a bit stiff, but order is order. ‘Freeze, who are you?’ They didn’t say a word but moved on. ‘Freeze, I will shoot!’ No words again. Thus I fired a shot over their heads. As soon as they heard gunshot they lay down on the ground. And as a sergeant, the chief of guards, heard it he ran out and asked, ‘Što? (What?)’ They stood up and moved on and as they were passing me, one of them told me, ‘Durak. (Idiot.)’ And when they left, the sergeant major said, ‘Pravilno tys delal. (You did it right.)’ They were testing us.”

  • “We came to the Soviet border early in the morning, actually it was a back road and there also was a brook. We didn’t know it was the border and went up to the bridge. We saw nobody, it was a field with only few bushes at the back and from behind them the shooting started. We jumped into the water immediately and tried to hide there. And as we didn’t go out of there, the officer and several Soviet soldiers came and asked us, ‘Which way?’ And the Soviet soldier Steiner, who spoke Russian, said that not this way, ‘Davaj, obratno! (Go back!)’ He said, ‘But we are antifascists.’ ‘Ničevo (Nothing), go back!’ He went, unbuttoned his shirt, showed his breast, and said. ‘Shoot!’ It made an impression on them. They stayed with us, but men on horses went away and came back with GAZ 69 light truck. A little town of Sieňava was near there, so they drove us and interned us there.”

  • “For instance, one man was sitting in a latrine when they came, killed and undressed him, and took everything from him. Once I was lying on the pallet in barrack, it was like in a cowshed, there were only some small windows. As I was looking trough them, I suddenly saw a face, knife in mouth and he was about to break in, kill somebody, and take his stuff. So I shouted out and he ran away. Then, we said it to the convoy and it didn’t repeat so often.”

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    v Trenčíne, 09.02.2009

    délka: 02:02:00
    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Witnesses of the Oppression Period
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Either you get accustomed or snuff it

Richard Kolban
Richard Kolban
zdroj: Pamět národa - Archiv

Richard was born on February 27, 1923 in the Czech town of Těšín, where his parents, mother of Slovak and father of Polish origin, had settled down. When he was three, his parents divorced and Richard was given in charge of his grandfather. As his father was Polish, Richard attended Polish elementary school in Těšín, later became trained in locksmithing, and went in for sports and scouting. In 1938 the town was overrun by Poland and many people were forced to move out. Richard along with his mother and grandfather left for Ostrava, where they also lived when the Second World War started. As they feared for their life and future, they looked for a shelter where they could feel safe from the Germans, and the Soviet Union seemed to be so due to an effective propaganda. In 1939 he and his mother decided to cross the borders and managed to get to the Ukrainian town of Lviv through the town of Nisko in the eastern Poland. However, Richard arrived there without his mother. They had to be in hiding for some time when they were in Nisko and there they became separated. After his illegal arrival in Lviv, the Soviet guards considered sixteen-year old Richard to be a German spy and as he refused to accept the Soviet citizenship he was immediately arrested and imprisoned. After a month spent in custody in really inhuman conditions, he was along with other prisoners transported in freight cars into gulag. There was only hard work in forests, hunger, filth, diseases, and the sight of people slowly dying from exhaustion awaiting him. He went through several labour camps and as he said, when thanks to General Ludvík Svoboda, the Czechoslovak military forces were being formed in the Soviet Union, he was released from gulag and joined hundreds of volunteers, the Czechoslovak citizens, who enlisted from different parts of the USSR. Richard moved to northern Kazakhstan, where besides of work in fields, with tractors, and in workrooms, he finished the military training for the Dzerzhinsky Regiment in Chkalovsk territory. Along with the Czechoslovak military forces in October 1944 he gradually managed to get to Slovakia. He participated in liberating fights in Liptovský Mikuláš, Ružomberok, on Martinské hole, or in Žilina and after crossing the river Váh in Považská Teplá village, they headed to Vsetín and to Prague. At the end of 1945 he was transferred from Prague to Bratislava where he left the army. Firstly he was enthusiastic about an incoming regime, which he regarded as an opposite to the cruel Nazism, and he even joined the Communist Party, but soon he found out that an oppressive totalitarianism replaced another. He started to build a new family life gradually and worked in Pozemné stavby company for more than forty years.