PhDr. Karel Herčík

* 1936

  • "When in 1991... I was at the Mladá Boleslav town hall already, we opened the barracks in May for people to see in what a state of decay the Soviet army had left us the barracks, which they were taking over in a perfect condition in 1968, and our army had to move from there to Slovakia. So, when I said goodbye to major Pydjora - we had to prevent some young Czechs, who saw it as a rightly great triumph that the Russians would finally pull out, from showing by mockery and clashes that we were the masters again - we pushed through the idea of evacuating the barracks at night. The Russians moved at night to the Bezděz station equipped to loading military equipment, tanks. There were no tanks here, but armoured personnel carriers. The official farewell was organized there, so that people here in the city wouldn't make a demonstration out of it and there would be no rash actions. I was obliged to go to Bezděz and talked to the major. One train [was] full of machinery, the other was partly equipment and partly passenger cars with officers and families. I said goodbye to him. He was a shorter man, I had to bend down when he wanted to hug me after the Russian custom. His tears were flowing. And he said that they were going somewhere to the Chinese or Mongolian border, that where the tracks ended they would be just thrown out, that they had no quarters, no barracks or tents ready. All that was yet to be set up. That he had kids and families here, they were living like at Wall Street, they had school here, apartments, tenements. To this day they still call it Kiev houses, those Russian houses behind the former Soviet school. From a human point of view, I felt sorry for them. On the other hand, I thought, 'Guys, who wanted you here, who sent you here?'"

  • "Around five o'clock in the morning, I heard bustle near the Kovodružstvo cottage and wondered. I went out and saw them loading things into cars. I asked what was going on. They told me to turn on the radio. They're occupying us. We had gone to bed at 11 o'clock at night and we had slept, we didn´t use to listen to the radio and TV there. I put on a live broadcast in the morning to see how everything was going. We told ourselves, what about us here, we had just a couple of tins for four days, we didn't know what was going on at home, who knew how it was going to be. We decided to go home." "I didn't want to take the main roads and I was going around using minor roads and when I reached the forest on the shortcut leading from Doubrava to Kost I reached a Russian tank motorcade standing still. In the back seat I had two children - five and two years old - my wife in front of me. A Russian signalman stopped me, I wound down the window and saw that they were Russians, so I addressed him in quite good Russian, he was visibly surprised. He asked where we were going, I told him home. He let us go, so we came home, and I went to work."

  • "Unfortunately, apparently as a result of the 1956 student Majáles, when students participated in a protest march ending at the Stalin monument, where students were walking around the monument chanting slogans like 'Give us Kahuda, we'll smack him!' Kahuda was Minister of Education at that time. Or 'Don't build halls of residence, build another monument!' Then we went to 'Juldafulda' [Park of Julius Fučík, trans.] in Holešovice and there the members of the Central Committee of the Youth Union had to make a pledge... We were shouting 'We are greeting the first and last Majáles!' because it was clear that Holešovice was surrounded by the People's Militia and policemen. They arrested many students and were investigating who had organized it all. And they found out that it was organized by art faculties - philosophy, UMPRUM, AVU [both are Academies of Art, trans.], School of Economics. All those graduates had their military training which they had already completed at the school cancelled and after graduation we started military service for 22 months, not as graduates, but as normal soldiers."

  • "The Germans spoke differently, behaved differently, compared with us these guys were so much older. I remember that we Czechs were outnumbered many times, they went to school with us and they didn't understand at all because it was taught in Czech, but on the way [home] we had to run because they were stronger. One time they tied me to a weeping willow tree that was growing in the middle of the Rose Patch. The Germans caught me there, tied me to the willow, I was like Christ, and they hit me with stones. I was nine or ten years old and the Germans were led by boys of fourteen or fifteen. I still remember that one of them was called Helmut Nowak. At the beginning of 1946 they were expelled. And he was the leader, the older ones were throwing at least from a distance, but the smaller ones, the preschool ones - he came two meters in front of me, a stone in his hand and hit me. I was crying, it hurt, then they untied me, I had bruises all over my body. Mum was checking if I was washing well in the bath, and suddenly she wondered what I had on me, and I lied that I had banged myself. But I had it everywhere, it was implausible. She called my dad, and I couldn't lie to him. 'Who did this to you?' 'The Germans.' 'Who led them?' 'Helmut Nowak.' 'I'll deal with him one day.' So I gave him away, dear Nowak. Revenge was sweet. [When] Daddy happened to be at home, I pointed out from behind the curtain, that he [Nowak] was standing there in short leather pants with braces. Dad walked out as if nothing had happened, walked up to him, said something to him in German, then reached for him and slapped him few times. I was watching and I admit to be pleased because Daddy avenged me. He kicked him once in the ass, came home and said, 'He won't touch you again.' He was right. Helmut looked at me like I was a murderer, but he kept far from me. That's such a childhood experience. I'm opening my heart and I'm not very proud of it, but I'm sure you can understand a little boy who had been wronged, that he felt satisfaction of his dad standing up for him. My dad probably would have done it even if the Czechs or anyone else had done it to me."

  • "I remember what I saw with my own eyes when my mother went with me to the devastated town at the end of August to shop for school things. I saw German prisoners in uniforms, swastikas drawn on their backs in white lime, pulling the dead bodies of the victims out of the ruins in August 1945, four months after the air raid. An experience is imprinted in my memory, which I fortunately never have seen again. A soldier was pulling a dead body by its hand and suddenly - as it had already decomposed - the hand tore away from the torso and he was holding only the stump of the hand, the body remained lying. I was standing about six metres away with my mother. That was a horrendous experience for me as a nine-year-old boy."

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    Mladá Boleslav, 16.11.2021

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He both studied and shaped history. Karel Herčík was fired from the archive after 1968

During the opening of the exhibition "Mladoboleslavsko in 1945", photo from 1990
During the opening of the exhibition "Mladoboleslavsko in 1945", photo from 1990
zdroj: Witness´s archive

Karel Herčík was born on 9 March 1936 in Kolín, where he lived through the Allies´ air raids in the last years of the World War II. In the summer of 1945, he and his parents moved to Ústí nad Labem where they witnessed the consequences of the bombing and the strained relations between Czechs and Germans. When Karel was a young boy, older German boys were throwing stones at him. Later, the communists did not want to allow him to study at a grammar school, but his father intervened, and Karl‘s steps eventually led him to study history at Charles University in Prague. As a student, he participated in the 1956 Majáles parade [traditional students´ May festival], because of which he eventually ended up doing two years of full military service. In 1961 he started working as an archivist in Mladá Boleslav. During the 1960s, he searched for the culprits of the air raid at the end of the war and was one of the few to believe that it had been carried out by the Red Army. He was also active around the reformist monthly Život mladoboleslavské kultury (The Life of Mladá Boleslav Culture) and spread the spirit of the ideas of the Prague Spring in the region actively. After the political changes related to the occupation of the Warsaw Pact troops, Karel was expelled from the party and from the archives as well. He later worked in a construction company and often dealt with the Soviet garrison. During the Velvet Revolution he joined the Civic Forum and the first free elections in 1990 brought him to the mayor‘s seat in Mladá Boleslav. He participated in the withdrawal of Soviet troops from both Mladá Boleslav and Milovice. But he also faced accusations of collaboration with State Security after Cibulka‘s lists [of State Security agents and collaborators] became public. He denied having cooperated and finished his mandate. Afterwards, he taught at the Boleslav grammar school and continued his historical publishing activities. In 2021 he lived as a recognized citizen in Mladá Boleslav