Edgar Semmel

* 1924  †︎ 2004

  • “We were about to leave. On March 15 in the evening we were at the Masaryk station and we were to take the train to Konstanz. And since we were to wait a couple more days, before the ship for Haifa departed, we came back from the railway station, because mom said: ´All my relatives, my mother, siblings will stay here...´And we came back and the day after the Germans were already there, it was the occupation. Then it was not possible to leave normally, we needed to have a permit from the Gestapo. But at that time, things like that could be arranged, it was actually arranged through the Čedok travel agency, and after some three weeks we got the permit. First without my mom, only for father, my sister and me. And in the afternoon on the day when we were to leave, mom got her permit as well. And at the first occasion we left from here, but not for Konstanz, there was no connection anymore, but via Italy, through Trieste. We went to Italy and then we waited for a ship to Palestine. And we then eventually got there on that ship.”

  • “I can tell you that when I was in Germany for the first time after the war and I was passing through Munich and the Bavarian Alps to Austria, in the Alps we came to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. That’s where the winter Olympics was. And me and my wife were there by car and we went for a walk there and in the market square in Garmisch-Partenkirchen we saw a monument to the dead from WWII. It was written there: To our fallen heroes from World War Two. And we looked at it – our fallen heroes... I had been shooting at them, they shooting at me, and for me they were no heroes. Although I knew that obviously it is very bad for a mother if she loses a son, or for a wife whose husband is killed. Problems like this remained with me for along time, and I even today... Because even in my age, whenever I meet someone, and I am in touch with German organizations for seniors a lot, I always think: ´Who was actually shooting at whom?´ One cannot get rid of this.”

  • “There were many foreign soldiers, especially from Australia and New Zealand. And I thought: ´If these can go fight against Hitler, and they don’t even have such an immediate reason like us, when the greater part of our relatives remained in Europe. We did not have any detailed news, but we knew that things were certainly not good for them. My parents were not happy about it, no parents are happy when their kids join the army, but they had to accept it. Then I joined our Czechoslovak foreign army in 1943 and went to a training centre, which was near Haifa at that time. I underwent training and then we were to be transferred to Tobruk, which our unit under colonel Klapálek’s command then defended against Rommel’s armies.”

  • “Really, for us there was only one thing: it was the enemy, and it was an enemy with whom you could not make a deal. And we had to fight, it was a life and death matter. And with the exception of a few particular events, during our deployment at Dunkirk, nothing much happened. What impressed me more was the state of German cities at the end of the war which we saw on our way from France to Czechoslovakia. We could not even imagine how and where those people would live. See, I would like to say this: at first the issue of the expulsion of the Nazis from our country was not clear. But then we got used to the fact that there was no other way. Because in the border region no assizes could be held with individuals. There was not even any state authority which could do something like this. And see, the first night we spent in Czechoslovakia after our arrival, it was in Stříbro, the town of Stříbro, I almost forgot the name. The night before the Wehrwolfs murdered the entire Czech district administrative committee there. And after that we said – you cannot possibly tell what kind of a German each of them is, they simply have to go away. And our argument was also the question, which became relevant in due time: And what about the future? Will we have some 3 million citizens here, who don’t see Czechoslovakia as their own state, and who would try to destroy this republic again? This point was clearly unequivocal and when I read all these discussions and various articles today, I am furious. Because they are usually written by people who did not even know it. Who were born during or after the war and who have no clue what was going on there. There had been wrongdoings, especially in the first weeks, no doubt about it. But what matters is the gist of it all and I think we can be happy with being what we are.”

  • “Naturally I did not speak Hebrew, I had to learn. I did attend some course here during the last one or two years, but as it usually is in such courses, my progress looked accordingly. And there, I got straight to a secondary school, where all classes were in Hebrew. And all the schools there are private schools. There were no state schools like here. And it cost quite a lot of money. My parents did not have that money. And in order to be able to attend that school, I agreed with the principal’s deputy that I studied some stuff in the mornings in Hebrew, and in the evening I was teaching this to adults who studied in the evening school. There were problems like this, it was very difficult. On the other hand it was good for me, because when you teach it, it’s the best way to realize what you are still missing. But there were problems with it; I was also giving private lessons. Yes, there were problems. For today’s young people it is difficult to imagine this.”

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“I lost my faith during the war, for I could not understand how God could allow something like this

Edgar Semmel was born in 1924 in Teplice-Šanov from a family of a Jewish textile traders. In 1939, the family emigrated to Palestine. In 1943, he voluntarily joined the Czechoslovak army. After his training, he was deployed to Dunkirk. In 1947-1952, he studied at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. He worked at the ČKD Praha company and lectured at the University of Economics in Prague. He was actively involved in the events of 1968 and displayed his objection to the normalization period by retiring (as a war veteran he was permitted to retire earlier). Near the end of his life, he was active as a high official in various organizations for senior citizens.