Jan Čermák

* 1933  †︎ 2011

  • „So we survived the war somehow and on May 5th my father put on his uniform and walked from our Dejvice flat to the headquarters. This time, it was Baroš, who was in the Prague headquarters. And there was also the first deputy, Kutlvašr, the general’s deputy. (So he was directly involved in the talks with the Czech National Council?) I would not say so, or not too much, rather, the political liaison officer was Kutlvašr, my father was in charge of military operations. They would always send him on business somewhere. They sent him to negotiate with - that SS commander – Piechler was his name! I did not hear this from him, I read it somewhere. And they also sent to negotiate with Frank, it was on the eighth, not the seventh. There were some indications that perhaps Frank would be willing to capitulate provided that the transfer of power would happen in a civilized manner. That there would not be an angry mob coming to get him…you know how it usually happens. So it might have appeared as if the two had negotiated some agreement. Afterwards it was interpreted as attempts at collaboration, but it was no true. The matter was that on our behalf there was a proposal of unconditional capitulation, only with certain guarantees that they would prevent mob lynching or something like that. So it seemed as if he could have captured Frank. But Frank would not have let himself get captured by some revolutionary guardsman. Eventually, it did not happen, because Frank would not agree on any conditions whatsoever, so nothing came out of it. But the fact is that my father walked on foot all the way to the Czernin palace through Prague which was in the midst of fighting, but they always let him pass through a barricade; because he limped, they would get him some officer with a white rag to walk in front of him. And it did not succeed…Therefore it had to go on till the bitter end.”

  • “I think this was the problem with some of the elder military officers. My father was over fifty then…Simply put, a soldier is here to receive orders. And the orders are given by politicians, however daft they are. And above all, at that time Beneš was the president, and Beneš, he was an icon, an idol, and you could not say a word of criticism against him. Even though afterwards you can think about it otherwise….The way I believe it, if I had said it out loud, and if my father had still been there, he would have argued fiercely with me. It was always…Masaryk the legionnaire, Beneš, the successor of Masaryk, and you simply do not blame personages like them! And if a mistake was made, then someone else is responsible for it, not the president…And there was a common belief in the ingeniousness of Beneš, that he would always do the right thing. That was in ´38, ´39, and even in ´45 when he was committing the gravest errors by signing treaties which later turned against us. But you were not allowed criticize him…And regarding 1948, the coup d´état, I remember it well, I was fifteen or fourteen years old. My father kept saying: ´This just cannot be! This Gottwald speaking on the Old Market Square… This cannot be truth... And the new government and Jan Masaryk joined them…´ So these senior officers, or at least my father – unlike some of the other young officers who thought of it differently, unless they were pursuing a career - but those elder ones, like my father…for them it was a complete shock. Such a terrible blow, and for the second time in a row, since the first one was the Munich…”

  • "So I was sent to Bytíz. And I worked various jobs there during those 16 or 17 months, but they all had to do with uranium. Even though I was not in the shaft all the time, I worked there for some time, and even when you are not mining the uranium directly, the environment itself is radioactive. At that time people did not quite know how terribly dangerous it was, and even the little about radioactivity that was known was being neglected anyway. And even in case of civilian employees, which was something horrendous…Simply putting human lives at risk…even with the information they did have. In the camp, there were accommodation facilities, and this was surrounded by another fenced area. This inner area with barracks was encircled by a fence as well, and lighted at nights…And within that outer fence there was the uranium plant of Bytíz. Not only the processing plant, but mines, administrative buildings, everything. According to a list, they would always call workers from the inner area to work in the outer one, where you could move more or less freely, obviously not beyond the fence, and you worked alongside civilian employees. And it was regular work in the shaft. There was a uranium ore processing facility, well it was not so bad as in some other uranium mines, like that Tower of Death, but still, even here the radioactive dust was present. Here, for example the rough uranium ore was being sprayed with water, and this material was highly radioactive. Radioactivity was present in the water that was flowing through it, and more uranium was processed from this liquid. And the remaining radioactive water then flowed out of the camp where it gradually formed a basin in a nearby swamp, it was called a sludge field. The whole sludge field was highly radioactive, and after the mud settled, it was still further processed. So you can easily imagine how bad it was, for us, and for those living around. But we were mostly young, so we survived, but we also underestimated the danger…”

  • "In 1950, we were still living in the Dejvice neighbourhood then, my father was already retired. He had been retired since 1948. So in 1950, it was October or November, I can’t remember exactly, 10 o’clock in the evening, some people were ringing the doorbell of our Dejvice flat and asking for my father. But he was not at home, because by coincidence he broke his leg the week before, so he was in a military hospital at that moment. As a war veteran he was entitled to hospitalization in a military hospital, where the medical care was better. They seemed quite surprised when I told them, they did not know it. They performed a house search, but they did not have an idea what exactly to look for. It was evident they were just looking anything which could be later used as a pretext. They told me they were searching for weapons, foreign currency, and documents. (How many of them?) There were four of them. (And what about their clothing, were they really wearing those leather coats?) No, they had regular civilian clothing. They looked more like working class. Well, our flat was large, and the boys spent quite a time there…There were eleven rooms total, eleven, not counting the bathroom and toilet. (They searched everything...). It lasted till 4 a.m. And they did not find anything, they left with some documents, but these were just regular papers, nothing illegal. There was nothing at all which could be regarded as anti-state, secret or espionage documents. They were trying hard to find anything to be used as a pretext, but there was no such thing. The only thing was a box with medicines and pills. By coincidence, a friend of my mother’s, her former classmate, she was a pharmacist, and she still owned a pharmacy at that time, and this friend left this box with my mother’s. She told her: “I’m just going for a holiday, and I would like to keep these medicines here in your place, because the other pharmacist who was put in charge of my pharmacy is such a thief, he surely would steal it all for himself while I’m away.” And the police officers became very angry when they found it, and took this medicine box with them, perhaps thinking they would make a case out of this, hoarding of medicines or something. They were nor able to construct a case upon this, or perhaps they did not even try. But they had to convict him of something…It was like a pogrom. But my father was not involved in anything; his heath would not allow him anyway. (So he did not even maintain contacts with other officers?) Well, he was, from time to time, when he met them, but it was no conspiracy or anything like that. (So he was not up to anything…) No, he was not involved in anything, was not planning anything, but it was a pogrom, they had to get people like him one way or other!”

  • "And one day they made me so mad that I told them I was not doing this job any more. Which meant, just by saying that, punishment in the “correction” cell. I left the shaft and was put to a correction cell, with meals only every third day. That was called “regular” fare. “Regular” food was so-called n. 1 category, I will tell you more about that, and this “regular” food was given every third day. The two days in between it was only liquids, water or the “ministry-of-interiour-coffee,” which was made of acorn or something like that, plus 15 decagrams of bread. This was every day. And the third day there was so-called “regular” food, presumably a warm meal. There were three categories: number three was the best, for hard-working people who worked in the shaft and surpassed the plan by at least 120%. Then number two, for those working outside, and doing just 100% of the plan. It was the same food, but smaller portions. You could also obtain number three if you worked on the surface, but you would have to surpass the plan by 120%. Speaking of quality, category number three was like a very poor workers´ canteen. Some potatoes on top, with some sauce, but it was fine, because the portions were bigger. But that was the bet category, which not everyone had. Then number two, the same but less food. And lastly number one, it was near to nothing. For example a quarter of liter of milk and one potato or something like that…It was not an all-day food. Nothing in the morning, just plain bread, which was available in the barracks, and which was relatively plentiful, plus some black coffee. And at noon there was a meal, number two or number three and something else in the evening, number two or three or even some other meal. And what was funniest about it – you had to pay for it if you were in “correction,” because you did not work during that time, technically speaking it was a hotel with room service, but without meals…And you had to pay full price…At that time, it was – I still remember it – 30 Czech crowns a day.”

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    Praha, 06.09.2007

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„As a student, I used to be leftist, but I became imprisoned precisely for being leftist.“

Jan Čermák
Jan Čermák
zdroj: V. Janík

Jan Čermák was born October 26th, 1933 in Prague in the family of brigadier general Ing. Jan Čermák. The family lived in Prague, but in 1950 they had to leave the city because the father was convicted of endangering government secret in a fabricated trial and was sentenced to one year of imprisonment. The father‘s office was suspended, his state pension was cancelled and the family was ordered to vacate their flat without being provided with alternative housing. The family (mother and Jan) left Prague and moved to Myšlín near Říčany. Jan had to quit his studies at a secondary school in Prague and transfer to another school in Říčany. In 1953 he started his military service, the first year with the cavalry division, the second with infantry. In 1955 he left the army and began to study law. After one year of his university studies he wrote a paper criticizing socialist thinking and circulated this thesis among his classmates. Two weeks afterwards he was arrested. Jan was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in 1958. He spent eight months in the Ruzyně prison and then was sent to Bytíz (Příbram region) to an uranium mine. His father died shortly after Jan‘s release in 1960. In 1965 Jan became an employee of Czech Insurance Company. He finished his law studies and continued to work in the insurance company as a lawyer (assessor). In the 1980s he worked in the Prague Transportation centre, and in 1983 he was offered a position of a lawyer in the Office of the head architect, where he has stayed till his retirement in 2002.