Jozef Citterberg

* 1921  †︎ 2014

  • “Dukla is still alive. On 20th September 1944 we took the city of Dukla. Dukla is still alive, yes. And we got such a house, a brick house, for the regimental headquarters, we were accommodated there. There I was with my unit. We had a radio, a telephone switchboard and so on. One day the chefs brought us lunch. They brought a big cauldron which could take about twenty liters – it was about a meter high and round. We were in the kitchen when the pounding began. The Germans hit the yard with a six-cylinder mortar, the so-called “Nebelwerfer”. The shell exploded on the yard and the blast shattered the glass in the windows. The cauldron tipped over and the green peas that were in it spilled all over the floor. The community present in the room - about twenty people, among them four or five women – got down on the ground. The peas were all over the floor and those who were nearby grabbed a spoon and started to eat the peas from the floor. When the shelling stopped everything had been already eaten up – there was nothing left for me to eat. I lifted the cauldron and distributed the rest that stayed in it among my company. And thus we were after lunch, yeah. That’s the end of the episode.”

  • “On September 8 (1944 – note by the ed.) began the artillery preparation to help the Slovak national uprising which had broken out in the Slovak Republic. And we thought that after two days we'll be in Prešov. That was an illusion of the nerds of the General Staff. Reason did not exist back then, because it was... it was euphoria. And if it wasn’t for that euphoria, nobody would even get out of the trenches. We suffered defeat on September 9 in the village of Wrocanka. We got a terrible beating there! I don’t know if those guys, for example Hejrala, remember it but I’ll remember Wrocanka to my death.” interviewer: “Did you ever get hurt?” “No, I wasn’t wounded, but I got ‘kantužen’. Do you know what it means? It’s when there’s an explosion close to you. You get deaf for a few days, you don’t see properly and you’re lost and disoriented. This happened to me, yes. But (knocking – note by the ed.) with the help of God I wasn’t wounded.” interviewer: “Let’s get back to the story about Dukla you talked about.” “Dukla lives forever.” interviewer: “Yes, did a lot of your friends die there?” “Good kid, a lot. A lot of close, very close friends of mine.”

  • “April 1944, the area around Rozdělnaja, after I joined the Russian Army, Good Friday before Easter. Our Russian rapid-advance unit got stuck in the mud which was about half a meter high. Our radio station – that I was operating – was being dragged by a T-34 tank because a regular car wouldn’t be able to move it in the mud. We made a break nearby some ruins. It was Good Friday, a beautiful day, the air was clear and crisp after a previous downpour. Suddenly German fighters, Junkers, raided our unit. It was seven Junkers that attacked us on that day. They took about three turns on us. So we dug ourselves into the dirt and defended us as well as we could. I was watching one descending Junkers fighter, I could see the pilot, his glasses, everything. I could even see him pulling the firing lever. And the shots he fired looked like a light beam, directed at me. And I tell you, the bullets plunged right into the ground next to me, tearing apart the coat that I wore.” interviewer: “And you dived into the trench?” “Yeah I dived into the trench but I was still looking at the Junkers the same way I’m looking at you now. I could see, as I’ve told you, his glasses and everything, how he pulled the firing lever. I could see him coming down at us from that height, I could see that he was gonna fire at us again. I said: ‘you monster’.” interviewer: “What did you think at that moment?” “Well. I thought to myself that he better stop shooting at us, that beast. I was lucky. I then looked at my coat, it was ragged. I even had the idea to put it somewhere in a museum. I wasn’t hurt but our Major was. And all of our equipment – the radio station and everything was shot to pieces. We had to put it all back together. And that’s the end of the story.”

  • “But my mother (read wife Věra Citterbergová – note by the ed.) didn’t mention the village of Zindranova. Zindranova, that was something. It was the first village near the border, where I met her. She was fascinating to me – in her white doctor coat. She'll never admit it because she doesn’t pride herself with it. She had a little saw in her hand. They were concentrating all the wounded soldiers in that field hospital, but also a lot of civilians, because the whole area was full of land mines. They put the patient on a table and her task was to cut off the leg and arm stumps. They put the cut limbs into such a closet. But can you imagine, after my unit arrived there, we went to sleep into that very room. We slept on those legs and arms because we thought it was timber. We arrived there in the night so we didn’t see it properly in the dark, but it was a great surprise for us in the morning.”

  • “A little episode, as we moved from Zaporozhye into Nikolayev. Krivoj Rog, oh my God, this is a heap, German cars (supplies). And we went to Odessa, where we saw a car full of supplies. It was something like cosmetic goods. And I climbed into that car and grabbed half of a bag of sugar. Now suddenly there's a Ukrainian policeman pulling a gun and pointing it at me. He shouted: ‘What are you doing? I’ll shoot you!’ I said: ‘Well, shoot, shoot, you stupid idiot.’ And I took that sugar and ran away. And then I distributed that sugar to my good people in Odessa, they were poor and were suffering. Those poor people.”

  • “Lieutenant Pagáč was then a battalion commander. And lieutenant Juriga was a signalman, a commander of the connecting company. And I was a signalman with the artillery. Once we were contemplating in one dugout near the frontline, there were explosions everywhere around us. And there was an apple-tree just next to the dugout. It was burned and the apples were half-baked. We were eating the apples and Pagáč pulled out a bottle of vodka. So we were eating apples and sipping vodka. Pagáč was weeping and said that he couldn’t stand it any longer. He said: ‘That’s it boys, this is my goodbye because I’ll probably never see you again. This is probably my last encounter with you guys. His battalion had been badly decimated. A battalion was about two hundred men. But at Dukla, the strength of units was changing every day, every hour. In his battalion, there remained about fifteen, eighteen men able to fight. His battalion had been virtually dispersed. There were attacks every day and they were often led without careful planning and reason. That was the last time I saw him, at Zbojská. About two days later I was already praying at his grave. They told me: ‘Here lies Pagáč’. It was a little tiny grave. So I would like to explain what the situation was like there. Something had to be done, some activity, because we wanted to get to Dukla and then farther. That’s why human losses were often overlooked and human material was often wasted in terrible ways.”

  • “In April (1944 – note by the ed.) Odessa fell and I was the group commander. I said: ‘Guys (because we were subject to the Slovak army), I just received a telegram from the Slovak division command. It says that we are ordered to immediately return to this and that destination’. But there were heavy snow storms and snow drifts so I sent them a telegram saying it’s a mission impossible at the moment. There followed about three days of exchanging telegrams but then, there came a strict order: ‘Move, or else you’ll be all executed as deserters!’ I responded with a ‘corpus delicti’: ‘I’m going over to the Soviet army, I terminate radio contact with you. Bye!’ That was a corpus delicti, it’s in the protocol! Then we waited for the Soviet army to come, me and my men – they were good guys – were hiding and waiting for the Soviets. Then this Soviet soldier came, a Mongolian or something. You have to understand, I was a signalman, that’s something in the army – it’s the intelligentsia in the army – even in the Russian army. And this simple Mongolian Soviet soldier came and said: ‘What are you doing on Russian soil? I’m gonna shoot you!’ I was a bit of a hot head back then so I tore open my shirt and yelled at him: ‘So shoot, shoot!’ Luckily a Soviet Captain came and said: ‘What are you doing, you stupid? This is our comrade, a Czechoslovak. He brought us a radio station!”

  • “That night we stayed in the village of Wrocanka. It was the same village where we got the building for our headquarters. But that night we were outside in the open, staying on a slope adjacent on a stream. There was a weeping willow, which I noticed right from the start. During a previous attack the Germans shelled the village and they also hit the willow. The mines exploded in the crown of the willow tree and fell down. Some of our soldiers soldiers had been hiding in the willow during the attack and these five or six soldiers were chopped-up there – the explosion tore them to pieces. But I hadn’t noticed them during the day. In the evening we were under that willow tree and we dug our shelters for the night. The night was cold, it was already September. After I rested for a moment in the dark, I felt that someone is lying next to me on that slope. So I told him: ‘let’s get closer together and warm us up a little’. So I cuddled up a bit to him. I woke up early in the morning because I was cold, there was a light frost in the morning. I reached out with my hand to that man and I touched his head, but to my shock, his head was split in two and my hand was in the midst of his brain. He had been dead the whole time, therefore he could not warm up anymore. Here at home we have a willow, too. It’s in our garden and every time I walk by that willow I have to pray and remember Wrocanka on that September 9, 1944.”

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“You can’t imagine what it was like – the explosions. Now we’re living in peace and you have to praise God and nature and be thankful for everything you have.”

„Every minute of training they prepared us for combat at a front, not for some hanging about.“ Jaroslav Citterberg during service to Tiso’s Slovak State.
„Every minute of training they prepared us for combat at a front, not for some hanging about.“ Jaroslav Citterberg during service to Tiso’s Slovak State.
zdroj: Sbírka Post bellum /Post Bellum Collection)

Jozef Citterberg was born on January 26, 1921 in the Slovak village of Beňuš, Gasparovo, in the district Brezno over Hronom. From June to December 1939 he was an agricultural worker in Mecklenburg, Germany. In October 1942, he started his military service in the Slovak army. He was trained as cryptographer and radio operator. He was then sent to the Soviet Union in Crimea, where he worked as a radio operator. In April 1944, he disobeyed orders to retreat and passed to the Soviet side with his radio station. He followed the path of the advancing Czechoslovak Army Corps and finally joined its ranks in Kamianets-Podilskyi. After graduating from the officer-training school he became a coupling-platoon commander of the 3rd Artillery Regiment Brigade of the Czechoslovak Army Corps. The artillery regiment took part in the Carpathian-Dukla operations, the operation of Jaslo and the liberation of Czechoslovakia. While being in the army, he also met his future wife, Věra Větrovcová, a medic. In 1946 he moved to civilian life, but in the years 1951-1953 he was again called to duty. He and his wife settled in Miroslav, where he still lives today. After the war he and his wife managed a local hotel there. Later Mr. Citterberg worked in a tractor station until his retirement in 1990. He died on the 15nd of October 2014.