Jiří Vrba

* 1932  †︎ 2019

  • “In the neighbouring village, the innkeeper had some alcohol built-in into a niche in the wall. The Russians found out about it, broke in, took out the bottles, got drunk, got in the tanks and rode off to fight the German! The Germans were expecting them, waited for them in ditches. Infantrymen and shooters with panzerfausts and when the Russians rode by, they were shooting at them from the panzerfausts and they destroyed fifty-two tanks! I was running around, I did not realize it was dangerous, I was a boy. And still, my father would not be able to keep me at home, anyway. So I was running in the dale and there I saw a Russian tank burnt down, so I went closer and there I saw the Russian soldiers, shot down like hare. A dead soldier here, another dead soldier there... And one of them, as he was climbing out of the tank cupola, he got shot, and the tank burnt, and half of his body was inside and half of it was contorted outside and his corpse was all charred. This is an image nobody can erase from my memory. I can still see the burnt tank, that Russian soldier and the Russian soldiers shot near the tank”

  • “František Švéda was their father, the leader of the Sokol in Pivín. And he had three sons – Vašek, Zdeněk and Vraťa. Vraťa was the youngest of them, all of them were Sokol members, and naturally he was my closest friend, because we were of similar age, but I knew all of them. And this Vašek was married in Bohemia, somewhere near Pardubice, so I was no longer in touch with him. But they were members of Sokol, and so was I, so I had this motivation – Sokols are all brothers, and a brother can never betray another brother! And when I then studied the Technical University, in 1953, the semester just began, I lived in a rented room, and the landlady came in, I was having my breakfast, bread rolls and tea set on the table, and she says: ´Mr. Vrba, some people are here to visit you!´ Coming for a visit, at 7 a.m… Two of them entered, coat collars rolled up. ´Your name is Vrba?´ Yes. ´You were born in?´ Yes. ´You come from?´ Yes. ´What will you do?´ I answered: ´Well, I will finish my breakfast and then I have a lecture.´ And he says: ´You will finish your breakfast, but you will not go to school. You will go with us.´” - “What did you think at that moment?” - “I had no idea what it was all about, they did not tell me. And they took me to Olomouc. I can still see it vividly, that changing room. ´Take your clothes off! Everything except underwear, take everything out of the pockets.´ They brought me a prisoner’s uniform, and led me to my cell. And now I was thinking why was that? But since I was not actively involved with the Mašín brothers, or with Vašek Švéda, at first it did not even occur to me. At that time I thought it might perhaps be something in connection with my father.”

  • “I mentioned Jan Masaryk. I liked Jan Masaryk, because in my eyes, he was a man who liked people, and who was liked by people. Then, when I learnt that on March 10th he was found dead under a window of the Czernin Palace and that the window had been allegedly closed… as a student, you cannot help noticing such thing! For how would you be able to close the window, if you wanted to jump out of it? And this was what I was tried for!” “And this happened in class, with your classmates? In the grammar school?” “Yes, and it was enough to file a complaint against me and commence a court trial. I was underage, it was a court with a minor for having said something like that! And my father received a notification that lawsuit would be held against me. This was in May. In June, Gottwald was elected president, and those judges were not so pro-regime yet, so Gottwald granted me a pardon. Presidential clemency. That article states, I still remember it, Article eighteen, Act n. 50 of 1923 – Act concerning spreading of alarming news. So I got away with that, and naturally I became more careful. Because the worst thing is when you instill fear in people. The people withdraw and no longer voice their opinions. And then everyone, as it really was during the past regime, has one, two,…five different faces.”

  • “The February of 1948 came, my father was already old and ill, and since he was the most progressive farmer and peasant in the village, he was put to trial. Every two years he had to bring a doctor’s certificate that he is unable to be summoned to court proceedings. Thus since the 1950s till the 1960s... my father had just retired, but then came the 1950s and he, as a leading personality and one of the greatest peasants in the village…”- “How many hectares he owned?”- “We had 15 hectares, 10 of which was my father’s property, and the remaining 5 were leased. So he worked on 15 hectares, and his chief interest was breeding of the Moravian pig breed. He enjoyed it, and was respected and liked for that, and therefore the communists did not like him. When in 1946 the peasant machinery cooperatives were being founded, the peasants could form a group and together purchase something more expensive, like a tractor, reaper-binder, thresher, and so on, and my father supported that, but then it all became wasted. They did not arrest him, but practically, for ten years he stayed at home like in a prison. He did not go out, because people were now turned against him, and his presence would only provoke them. Certainly it would be bad if he walked outside.” – “And did they allow him to live on his native farm?” – “No, we had two farms, one for husbandry and the other was a smaller place to live. The cooperative appropriated the husbandry part and mother and father lived in the small house. Thus from the 1950s till the end of the 1960s he lived there like in house arrest.”

  • “I would like to know what 1989 and the fall of the communist regime meant for you and your family?” – “I can tell you, in 1990 I retired and I applied for two trade licences for private entrepreneurship. And now I tell you something amazing – I had no superiors, I was not in charge of any employees. It was just myself, with my own head, my telephone, pencil, paper and car. And I had no time to spare! I was so busy! But I loved my work! Thus after a period of forty years, from 1950 to 1990, when I worked for socialism and I had to, well, not fear, but to stand back, now it was the 1990s and I was completely free and independent and I did what I wanted. In my profession, this should have come much much sooner! Because I was already sixty, I could not begin all over, I had these two trade licences and I could make a living. But if something like this had happened when I was forty, I would have had my own company now!” – “And this brings me to my next question: What do you regret most in your life?” – “Those forty years!”

  • “And I was interrogated every day. One interrogator was all right and he asked me: ´So tell us now something about Pivín....´ and he was slowly poking me, ´And how about the Švéda family?´ I said: ´Well, they live there.´ Just inconspicuously. But the other day there was another interrogator, and: ´We will beat it out of you, don’t you be mistaken, we know it all. Confess.´ And I said: ´I have nothing to confess. I don’t know what you want from me!´ And they asked more and more, and I did not reveal anything, I showed no reaction. I was not cooperative at all. So they thought they would lock me up in a two-bed cell and will put another inmate there with me. They gave me an inmate and I quickly understood he was a shill. He would ask: ´And how about you, what are you here for?´ - ´I don’t know.´ - ´Bullshit. Everybody says they don’t know, but you know it!´ And I said: ´But I really don’t know....´ And after about a fortnight when they found out that I was not helpful at all…One night, it was 10 p.m. they took me out of the cell, to the changing room, undress and dress....A Tatra 603 was waiting in the courtyard, got in, and off we went. And I was thinking: ´Where to? They are taking me somewhere, but where? To the north, that would be the Mírov prison. If we go down south, it’s Leopoldov. But we went westward, that would be the Bory prison, but that’s far away, why would they take me there. And when we passed through Prostějov, one of the men asks me: ´Where do you want to go?´ And I said: ´If I may, I would rather like to go home to my mom.´ So we passed through Prostějov and turned left, I knew the way. We drove the right way! I was so anxious. And we arrived to Pivín and he stopped in front of the city limits sign. ´Get out!´ So I get out, the engine is still running, lights are on, and I begin to walk. My soul was trembling with fear! I don’t know if they now shoot me or ride over me. This is what I then told my sister, when I was afraid, I was afraid only then, I never felt fear any other time, but at that moment I was afraid, I did not know whether I would get home or not.”

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    Olomouc, 26.02.2008

    délka: 02:29:56
    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Stories of 20th Century
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The communists suppressed the Czech nation, they frightened them away In my case they also succeeded

zdroj: archiv J. Vrby

Jiří Vrba was born April 30th 1932 in Pivín in the Prostějov region.  His father Bohumil Vrba was farmer and his farm was put under state control in 1950. Since his youth he was an avid athlete - he played handball and competed in cycling. In 1946, he founded a boys´ club „Fast Arrows“ and until 1946 he was a member of Sokol. In the Pivín Sokol sport club he met the Švéda brothers - Václav, Zdeněk and Vratislav, whose father was the leader of the local Sokol. The eldest, Václav Švéda, joined the Mašín brothers in their resistance activities in the 1950s; however, during their escape to the west he was shot in Germany and after the trial in May 1955 executed in Prague in the Pankrác prison. Jiří Vrba was investigated by the StB (State Police) in relation to this case in September 1953 while he was a student of the Technical University in Brno. After an unsuccessful daily interrogation in the Olomouc prison, he was placed in a cell with a provocateur, but not even this man could move Jiří Vrba to share some information about Václav Švéda. The StB thus had to release him. As an active Sokol member, he participated in the 11th all-Sokol meeting in 1948, part of which was also an open demonstration against the communist regime. As his personal example, he highly esteemed the postwar minister of foreign affairs Jan Masaryk, who died under unexplained circumstances on March 10th 1948. Jiří‘s story clearly shows the prevailing atmosphere in schools and among alleged friends. In the presence of one of his classmates, Jiří Vrba stated that Jan Masaryk‘s death was a murder, and he was then tried for that. Due to his young age of 16, he was pardoned in June 1948 when Klement Gottwald took the presidential office. After completing his studies he worked in Ingstav Brno as a civil engineer, from 1975 till his retirement he worked for the Research institute on Vegetables in Olomouc. He specialized in irrigation systems, when retired he worked in projecting small hydraulic power plants. Jiří Vrba died on 24 May 2019.