Pavel Knihař

* 1931  †︎ 2018

  • "At the beginning of 1948 we knew what they were teaching us in school, and also parents, that when democracy is defiled, that those who are silent are accomplices to the rapists. Therefore we decided to establish a Union for the Freedom of Students. There were about ten of us and we gave out these pamphlets, which we called the ‘The Word of Freedom’. So this lasted about three or four months. One student from the Písek Grammar School reported on us. They locked up one of my friends, whose name was Adolf Inenann, and he died. Of course they forced him to speak, and he spoke. I was arrested about the 10th June (July?). The school year was over for us and we needed money for these illegal activities. I didn’t have any money, I decided to work as a casual labourer in Holešovice in a factory for regenerating old oil. I began working there and they arrested me. They came to my house, this was on Sunday morning, two policemen came and took me off to Pankrác [prison]. There they interrogated me and found out that I was still eighteen years old. After several days they released me. I again started to work in the factory, I was there up to the beginning of September. I knew that they hadn’t finished with me, that my future is prison or the labour camps. So I decided to leave in order to continue my activities against the communists. I thought that this time the Americans would help us and that it wouldn’t take long. So I left.”

  • "[When did you first start to look again at Czechoslovakia?] “In the 1990s. They were still guarding the border.” [How did you feel about it?] “It looked as if I was on the Moon. When I was reconciled with Germany, where the gardens were full of colour, so here it was so sad and grey. It looked as if I had arrived on the Moon. Well, now it’s changing.”

  • "So I decided to leave so that I could continue my activities against the Communists. I thought that this time the Americans would help us and that it wouldn’t take so long. So I left on the sixth of September. It was a Friday. I went to Wenceslas Square and I bought some compass. I travelled by train to Klatov and from Klatov I went as far as the border. Then on Sunday morning I arrived in Germany and there I immediately reported to the police. They sent me to the Americans and they interrogated me. Several days after this I went to Stuttgart. We were in Stuttgart, I was there for about two months. In Germany we were just making a living, there wasn’t any political activities there, mostly my fellow citizens wanted to emigrate to America. I was young and wasn’t able to put my hand to any trade, not one anyone wanted, I couldn’t emigrate. My future was mostly in Germany. But I wanted to continue and fight against the Communists. In the year 1948 the only State which could fight against the Communists was France which fought in Indochina against Ho Chi Min and which had a Socialist-communist government. So I decided that I would join the Legion.”

  • 1.[What type of pamphlets was it?] “We were talking about freedom. We were re-writing the letters of President Masaryk and letters of his son Jan Masaryk. But most of the articles I wrote myself. This time I had a full head. I wrote many articles and this professor Plechatý also helped us.” [Do some of these pamphlets survive?] The police confiscated all the pamphlets.” [How long were you in the remand centre?] “I was held there for fifteen days. Then they released me, threw me out, I was a complete louse, I never knew why. I knew that things could go further. They threw me out of prison, it was this dive of a place in Bartolomějská Street, not far from a technical school in the Old Town."

  • “Primarily at that time (at entry into the Legion) they checked up on your name, however, at that time they were looking particularly for the S.S. This was a short time after the war. People said that in the foreign legion there were SS men but it wasn’t true. The Legion never engaged the SS or murderers. It wouldn’t have existed. Perhaps some criminals who had stolen a motor-bike or a car might have got into the Legion. However, the Legion wouldn’t have brought in any big criminals.” [‘What if they had been brought in under a false identity?’] “Well, the Legion would have had a special office working in cooperation with the police and they would have found them, their real names, but no one would have got through. Firstly, the doctors would have made an examination to see if these people had a scar under their armpits. If they had a scar or a tattoo these people would have been thrown out, because they would have found out if they are the SS or not.”

  • “I went further, always in a south-westerly direction, over fields. I came in such a way to a stream, it was in a wood. There was a footpath, a stream and another hill at hand. The stream was quite wide, I didn’t want to get my feet wet, so I thought – jump over it, not jump over it – so I thought it over and saw at once that on the left of me, about a hundred metres, were two policemen coming. So I jumped over this stream, and hid in a small spruce tree and waited there. I’m not sure if they saw me or not but they moved on. I waited still some time more, I was afraid if there wasn’t some ambush. Night began. I crept up the hill and slept there. In the morning I came to a path and there was the border stone. On the West side was a little village and a little church. The Germans were going into the church, they were ringing the bells. I ran down to the village and there I bumped into the Germans, who were all dressed up, I don’t know if they were going into the church or coming out of the church. There was some customs officer, he took my money, said something to me about protocol, I also had a pistol. He gave me bread and that was all. I waited there until the afternoon when for me the Americans would come.” [Where did you get the pistol?] “Well, it was my pistol, I had it when I began the illegal activities.” [Where did you get hold of it?] “Get hold of it.” [From some friend?] “From some friend.” [You don’t want to say?] “There are things I don’t want to talk about.”

  • [“You had contacts with your family up to the 1960s?”] “Written contact is very difficult. Once I wrote through the Red Cross, when I needed some documents. When I got to Germany in the year 1948, so I lied about my age a little. Because nobody would have believed that at seventeen years old I would be locked up and that I had been an inconvenience to the police for political reasons. So I simply lied about my age. I really didn’t have any documents. I wrote to the Red Cross to Geneva and my mother sent me my Birth Certificate. Later on, from time to time I wrote, the family of my wife sometimes wrote. My mother came here for the first time, with my two little sisters and their husbands in my sixty-seventh year. They stayed here roughly about a month then they had to leave. At the end of 1968 my father came to my place and stayed here for about three months. He was in prison and he was locked up for about seven years.”

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When you are up to your neck in manure see how you can get out from it without smelling its stench. – Karel Hora, Legioner 1949

Pavel Knihař, commander of bataillon in retirement and holder of the high French accolade, Foreign Officer of the Legion of Honour, was born in the town of Třešť in Moravia in 1931. In the 1930s he lived with his parents in Slovenia, after the occupation they all had to escape back to the Czech Lands. During the War he relocated to Prague, Studied at the High Technical School. At High School he and his school-mates founded the ‘Union of Freedom of Students‘, and distributed pamphlets. In the Summer of 1948 he was arrested, regardless of being a juvenile and spent fourteen days in a Remand Home. At the end of that Summer, in August 1948, he escaped to Germany. Determined to fight against the communists therefore entered the Foreign Legion. From April 1949 took part in the fight in Indochina. Later served in the garrison at Algeria, Madagascar and the French Polynesia. In retirement departed with the rank as Officer. In the year 1978 he was awarded Knight of the Legion of Honour, in the year of 2000 be became Officer of the Legion of Honour and finally in 2009 he became Commander of the Legion of Honour. He lived in France near Marseille. Pavel Knihař passed away on May, the 2nd, 2018