Josef Švancara

* 1934

  • “There may have been eight of us. There was this armour plate, and those who worked with the pickaxes threw coal onto it. Suddenly, we felt a shockwave, and the vertical struts flew like matches. One strut hit me. I was looking around – all we had were these lamps – and it was suddenly just dark except for our lamps, and one guy was lying down on the ground, dead. That’s when I saw, for the first time in my life, a gypsy’s hair turn white in an hour.”

  • “We played there, and there were panzerfausts and what not – gun shells, mines, and grenades. We played with them and were lucky that the panzerfausts had no charge. Karel Peterka stomped on it, and then, suddenly – bang! I was standing in front of it and it hit my back; I still have gunpowder embedded in my back. That was the rear end of the panzerfaust; you are not supposed to stand behind it, and it blew me away all the way to the stream. I was wearing just boxers – all that was left was the rubber band. Uncle Němec grabbed me and dunked me. I was burnt, with blood dripping from me. My brother-in-law put me on the bicycle and took me to a physician in Olešnice. He sanitised my back, but I still have the gunpowder in me. My back is full of it, and it has grown into me, though a little bit of it will come out every now and then. My dad carted ammunition and I helped him throw it down from the cart. He was using military horses with the cart, and there were other guys and a Russian. They kept arguing on how to throw a grenade, and the Russian said he’d show them. He pulled the pin and threw the grenade, but he threw it across the road towards the power lines, on which the grenade bounced back and hit the training ground. The guys dropped down to the ground, I lay down on the cart, and I don’t know where my dad was. A massive blast; the horses didn’t move, and nobody was hurt. Only this board that was set on the cart to keep the stuff from falling down was split, like cut in half. It flashed past me without me knowing.”

  • “Poor little children. My mum used to give me lunch – a piece of bread with pork lard on it or what, and they were so hungry, they looked at me, and I was so shy. I took my bread and gave it to them: ‘Now, eat it!’ I may have bitten into it maybe twice. Later on, there would be three or four little kids, their hair cut short – I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls. They were little kids, and they were so terribly hungry.”

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    Boskovice, 09.05.2022

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I have gunpowder embedded in my back to this day

Josef Švancara in 2004
Josef Švancara in 2004
zdroj: archiv pamětníka

Josef Švancara was born in Hodonín near Kunštát on 22 September 1934 as the third child to parents Marie Švancarová and Josef Švancara. A penal colony was situated near their house, and from 1942, it was the protectorate’s ‘gypsy camp’ that, according to the available resources, concentrated more than 1,300 men, women and children of predominantly Romany origins from Moravia. The witness saw with his own eyes the suffering of all the prisoners, mainly children, and he often shared his lunch with them. He also saw deportations of Romany people to concentration camps. Towards the end of the war, he witnessed several dangerous situations that involved careless handling of discarded ammunition, poor treatment of German prisoners, and their march to Brno. The witness completed a vocational school as a bricklayer, but could not complete the next school because his father died. Following a conflict with the secretary of the Local National Committee (MNV), he was forced to join the Auxiliary Technical Battalion (PTP) for his military service in 1954. He was involved in building the new town of Havířov and then worked in the Antonín Zápotocký mine in Orlová. In 1956, he witnessed a mine cave-in that took the life of one miner. Having returned from his military service, he married Marie Pajgrtová in 1957 and two children were born to them, daughter Marie (1957) and son Josef (1961). The witness worked as a bricklayer at Průmstav Brno, taking part in the construction of the hospital in Boskovice, and suffered a severe work-related injury after falling from the roof while building the town spa. Afterwards, he was employed by the farming cooperative (JZD) in Hodonín as the head of the construction group. He personally attended the celebratory service in St. Vitus Cathedral on 25 November 1989 on the occasion of the canonisation of St Agnes of Bohemia. He retired in disability pension in 1991. All his life, he has been an active person: as a bricklayer, he helped build several houses and completely remodelled his own; he loved horse riding and raced in show jumping. He was living in his house in Hodonín near Kunštát in 2022.