Josef Lesák

* 1920  †︎ 2009

  • “When we came to the Hradčanské náměstí, (a square on the grounds of the Prague Castle) we were welcomed by a strong special police unit with machine guns (as we learned later they had sharp ammunition.) So the policemen formed a line against us. Their commander stepped forward and started to yell at us to immediately disband and go home. He said he was authorized to use all available means to disperse us and that he was prepared to use them. He said, 'Don’t force me to use those means.'”

  • “We expected the Americans to liberate us- the army of General Patton. This army liberated Marienbad, Pilsen, and stood a few kilometers away from Rokycany. It would have taken them at the most one and a half hours to Prague. And they couldn’t!”

  • “It was a terrible premonition. We drove through Kolín, Poděbrady, we said to ourselves: isn’t this ‘Sojuz’? It was no fun at all.”

  • “On that February the 20th there was a session of our regional committee of the National Socialist Party of Czechoslovakia. From that session I sent president Beneš a cable in which I wrote (citing): ‘Mr. President, we appeal to you not to let anybody dictate you what ministers you’ll appoint to the government. We believe that you’ll exercise your right to appoint ministers according to the letter and the spirit of the constitution. We expect you to strive for a redress of the injustice committed by the state security body. On behalf of the State Unioun of the Youth: Josef Lesák.´”

  • “Well, we were ready. We had a rifle and two hand grenades and my revolver. The plan was to throw the grenades and to run away. We were no fairytale heroes. Luckily it rained.”

  • “The first time I saw my father crying was on the 29th of September when we learned that the four representatives of European great powers that conferred at the Munich conference decided that we had to cede all of the Czechoslovak borderlands to Adolf Hitler’s Reich. Initially this was Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Then, after another agreement, southern Slovakia was added to the list. This amounted to a full third of the Republic and to 4 million of its citizens. After this occurred, tens of thousands of people were leaving the border regions and were seeking shelter in the interior of the Republic. On that day I was crying together with my father. It was a tragedy. I loved that Republic.”

  • “After two weeks I received another invitation, this time to the very director of the state police. I stepped in and he shook my hand. He said that he apologized for his officer. He told me that it would have meant a promotion for him if I had said yes. He said: “We need you”.

  • “After the end of the interrogations I was transferred to a prison on Karlovo náměstí. The mother with the children was released home in the afternoon. On one day a few weeks later I was handed a notification saying my youngest child had died. I was permitted to attend the funeral with police surveillance. I got a pen and paper because I first had to write a request for the funeral attendance. After I was released from prison later my first visit was to the physician that had been attending my child. She said the dead resulted from a complicated hernia that the child had gotten from continuous crying.”

  • “Officers that weren’t members of the Communist party were fired from the Czechoslovak army and police corps. Even the highest ranks like generals and colonels were dismissed and degraded. Then, all of a sudden, we saw that two armed forces – the army and the police – as it is usual in democracies, aren’t enough anymore. They set up a special state police corps that was composed of communists only. Additionally there were the people’s militias that consisted exclusively of communists as well. These units were armed and distributed sharp ammunition in the critical days in February.”

  • “Me and my relatively young grand mother went to bow before the deceased president who was on display at the Prague castle. We came in the morning and left in the morning on the next day because we stood in the queue for one day. It was a long and winding queue coiled up in the Hradčanské náměstí. It was proceeding very slowly. The people waited for a whole day to be able to see the death president. It was the first profound experience.”

  • “Total war broke out. Part of it was the so-called ‘Totaleinsatz’ which meant that we were sent to do various jobs to help the war effort. It all culminated in 1944 when I was assigned to the Todt organization in Pardubice. My task was to clear off debris from regular allied bombings of an oil refinery. At this refinery the Germans were converting diesel fuel into aircraft fuel that the retreating German army direly needed. In Pardubice I witnessed the death of several of my friends but I don’t remember their names anymore after all those years.”

  • “In the underground, we were true friends. They told me the rules before. You can do whatever you like above the ground. But when you’re down here, you’re one of us. If you get buried, we’ll dig you out with our bare hands and if one of us gets buried, we expect you to do the same without a moment of hesitation.”

  • “But there’s something we need from you. It’s actually just a trifle. Just a little help from you. My car is parked outside the building. We’ll take my car and drive to the Radio Palace on the Vinohradská Avenue where we’ll make a radio broadcast in which you’ll explain to the people how Krajina, Zenkl, Drtina, Stránský and Ripka were plotting against us, how they were organizing a coup d’état against the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. It’s as simple as that - it will only take a few sentences and afterward I’ll take you right home to your flat. I looked at him and said, 'But I can’t do this.'"

  • “On that fifth of May, I joined the revolt, the Prague uprising. I was building barricades because we wanted to prevent the retreat of the German troops from Prague. A strong unit of German soldiers occupied a school building in Hanspaulka. These Germans surrendered to us on that May day thanks to Vladimír Krajina.”

  • “Later on when I landed in the forced-labor camp in the mining complex of Kladno I talked to the local mine workers who lived in the region. They said: ‘Look Joseph, we joined the Communist party in 1930 when I had four hungry kids crying at home and I didn’t have a dime to buy them something to eat. The Communists were promising the world to us so we joined their party.’ I said: ‘But you’re still in their party.’ ‘Joseph, when you say a word against the Communist party, you’re an enemy and you go to jail, but when I say something against the party, as a member I’m a traitor and then it’s not jail, it’s the gallows.”

  • “Later there was a congress in the Smetana Hall of the Obecný dům at which I was elected as the regional president of the National Socialist Youth.”

  • “It was a kind of a weird welcome. We arrived at the site and I was assigned to the miners. My task was to operate the cart. I had to discharge the loaded cart and bring it back empty so that they could load it again.”

  • “There was shooting on the Neruda Boulevard. A column of state police officers with machine guns approached them. There was some gunfire. Pepík Řehounek, our colleague and a university student, was hit in his right ankle. He was crippled till the end of his life and had to walk with a stick.”

  • “It was a glorious 28th October. There were people standing on the corners and selling red-blue-white tricolors, which we attached to our clothes. It was a kind of a demonstration that I’ve since never seen again. It was completely silent! There wasn’t a single shout, a single buzz word and consider that this was in the center of Prague, in Příkopy, on the National Boulevard, and on Wenceslas Square. The streets were packed with silent marching masses.”

  • “I organized the first post-war Majáles in Prague in 1946. You can’t imagine what it meant in 1946. There were large crowds of students of all kinds - university as well as secondary school students - walking in the streets in gay masks and costumes. They were singing and celebrating and Prague was cheering them on. The reception of the Majáles was astounding.”

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    U Havlíčkova Brodu, 28.08.2008

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Stories of 20th Century
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Although I don’t regret a single hour or day, it wasn’t an easy life as I’m going to tell you

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Josef Lesák
zdroj: AA; J. Lesák 28. 8. 2008

Josef Lesák was born in 1920 in Červené Janovice, near Kutná Hora, but his family moved to Prague in 1930. The father of Josef Lesák, Antonín Lesák, founded the National-Socialist party of Czechoslovakia in Červené Janovice and continued his political activities in Prague. The young Joseph was raised in the spirit of patriotism and early on, became a member of the Sokol (a Czechoslovak youth organization.) At the time of the outbreak of the war, he started to teach Czech and German at an elementary school. During the war, he was working in the Todt organization in Pardubice and later also in Prague-Ruzyně. In May 1945, he fought at the barricades in Hanspaulka during the Prague Spring uprising. After the war, in the year 1946, he held a high position in the National Socialist Youth Organization. In Prague in 1946, he also organized the first post-war Majáles (a celebration of the advent of the spring traditionally associated with students.) In the 1946 elections, he won a seat to the Czechoslovak national parliament. In the fateful days of February 1948, he sent a letter to President Beneš and led a group of students to the Prague Castle. As a consequence of his activities, he lost his seat in the parliament and was thrown out of university where he studied political and social sciences. What followed were repressions against him and his family, an attempt to escape from the country, and further police harassment and arrests. In 1949, he was put in a labor camp in Kladno where he worked in the mine complex Zápotocký. He worked in mines later as well. In the seventies, he attended a meeting of the remaining former members of his national socialist party. In 1988, he founded the illegal Club of Milada Horáková. In 1990, he became a member of parliament for the second time.