Vlasta Vyhnánková (roz. Pavlanová)

* 1921  †︎ 2015

  • “Let me tell you a story from the Buzuluk campaign. We had no clue they were sending us to Buzuluk because it was all top secret. When we came there, our machine gunners stole the provisions from a catering car that was intended for officers. They stole a lot of chocolate. Tonda Sochor came to me and fed me with that chocolate. When I asked him where he got it from he told me not to ask and eat. He said: ‘It’s a trophy’. We learned about it in the morning. We were told the contents of the car had been stolen. I asked Tonda if he arrested those soldiers. He said: ‘I would have arrested them if I had caught them. But I didn’t and therefore I haven’t arrested them’. That was a commander! The soldiers loved him! When he was giving orders, the soldiers replied by shouting: ‘the order has to be carried out’! He was a great guy. He was a hero and look how he ended up.”

  • “I remember one scene from battle. It somehow got stuck in my head. The Germans were attacking with their tanks – it was about fifty tanks – and one of these tanks broke through the ice on the river and immersed itself into the water. It was a fierce battle, our troops were fighting the Germans. First Lieutenant Kudlič fell in this battle. The first attack came from the second troop and the next one to attack was the third troop. Well, Janko was already fully recovered but he was very nervous when we were waiting for the order to attack. It was very depriving for him. I still remember that some of our soldiers took the coats of the fallen German soldiers. They weren’t afraid at all to look alike with the Germans. Well, I remember the German tank sinking in the river. And then we had to retreat. We retreated behind the river Don. It was on foot again. Then we marched to Novochopersk where I got married.”

  • “Well and then we went back all the way to Sokolovo. I mean we first took the train to Valujka where we got off and walked on food to Charkov. You have to imagine what it was like. We walked for over forty kilometres in freezing cold. It was 38 degrees Celsius below zero! We were handed out winter clothes but they got wet in March, in the spring. The moisture in them made them terribly heavy, weighing over five kilos each. When you fell down, you weren’t able to put yourself back up on your feet. We had to help each other to get up. When we were approaching Buzuluk, the soldiers were already throwing away their rifles. I tried to motivate the girls to keep on walking so I told them: ‘Girls, I promise you, as soon as we get to Sokolovo, the first thing we do is taking a shower’. You have to understand that after all that time without washing ourselves our clothes were teeming with lice. We were infested by them! The worst thing besides the lice was the political officers in the Soviet army. They were devoted Communists teaching the ideology of the party. Their task was to give political indoctrination to the soldiers. I remember two of them by their names – the first one was Náženas, a Russian lieutenant, the second one was Reicin, who was executed later on. We didn’t really listen their litanies and often pretended to be asleep, but he would wake us up. He was a fierce and totally devoted Communist. We had to sit down on the floor and he would stand above us and talk about how great things were in the Soviet Union. I had my own thoughts on the situation in the USSR but you weren’t allowed to talk about it because they would deport you to Siberia for these kinds of things. People had to work in the silver mines. It was these Carpathian Ukrainians, that’s where they got so messed up. They were poor fellows. Well, I weighed about 35 kilos.”

  • “This was during heavy enemy mortar shelling when we heard soldiers screaming for help. I took a colleague of mine, Anička Ptáčková, and we hurried to help the wounded. They suffered severe wounds from mortar shrapnel. A shrapnel is a tricky thing because even a tiny shrapnel can make a big hole. It is extremely sharp and produces a hole which is many times bigger than the shrapnel itself and which is full of dirt and rags from the clothes. What we didn’t know at the moment was that a Soviet Colonel was watching us with binoculars. At one moment, a shell hit the ground right beside us. It was a miracle nobody was hurt by it. Not a scratch. Well, we treated them and dragged them into safety. Then we treated some more wounded soldiers. We were taking the wounded to a field hospital near the battlefield. It was very dark inside and I could barely see what I was doing. I thought to myself that I needed to make a light in there if I was to continue my work. I took a jar, put a bit of paraffin oil inside, made a wick out of a piece of cloth and lit it up. So now the room was at least partially lit. But the Germans could see the light as well and it made a target for them at which they could fire their mortars. But they didn’t hit the right spot. They blasted away half of the building but luckily not the half we were in. We immediately went to see Janek at the headquarters. When we arrived there, we heard Svoboda calling: ‘What about the girls? Are they alright?’ ‘Yes, they are alright.’ We were lucky because had the Germans hit the other half of the building, the five of us girls and the wounded soldiers, all of us would have been dead. I have to tell you that when we crossed the Don River, we were starved to death because the catering division was far away and they didn’t send any provisions. We were issued some sugar and lard. We got half a kilo and a quarter kilo of sugar per person, but we didn’t have any bread. And the chazajka didn’t have anything to hand out either. They didn’t have a rationing system like the Germans had in the Protectorate. Once a boyfriend of a colleague of mine came and brought two burgers. The meat was from a dog but I didn’t mind at all. We were so hungry. He told me to let Jana sleep over at his place. He said: ‘You’re taking bribes, right?’.”

  • “So this guy’s name was Bedřich Reicin. He was the political officer who did these political schoolings. But the only ones who really listened to him were the Communists. We secretly ignored him. We were in the Gulag and they wanted to win us for the party but we ignored their offers. Not a single one of my fellow inmates joined the party. They were trying hard to persuade us of the Paradise that exists in the Soviet Union. They used phrases like ‘Soviet paradise’, ‘a state of freedom’ and the like. However, we didn’t believe them a single word. We knew better. We had our own minds and saw how these people were blinded by stupid politics.”

  • “When we joined the army, Colonel Svoboda didn’t know what to do with us. It was for the first time in 500 years women joined the army. He was a bit confused. ‘What to do with those women?’ So he ordered us to exercise with a drill sergeant and that’s what we did for the next couple of months. At first we didn’t have any rifles so we used replicas. In the beginning, there were just a few of us there, but our ranks grew with time. There were a lot of girls from Carpathian Ruthenia and they did the best soldiers. The Carpathians were poachers. They were led by second lieutenant Sochor. When they established the officer school and then a school for stretcher bearers and those picking the wounded, I signed up for it. I told myself: ‘what am I going to do? I’ll join the medics’. We were exercising each day. Each company had five girls and I was in command of the company since I had been promoted to the rank of a private. The training for a medic looked like this: we were mustered each day at half past one. We were trained to attack and to defend. Each girl was given leaflets which she distributed to the soldiers. A leaflet meant a wounded soldier. The wounded were lying on the ground and we had to crawl to them and treat them. There was an inscription on the leaflet saying what kind of wound the soldier had. We also had classes in medical theory where we were taught by doctors. It was our doctors, not Soviet ones! The training lasted for nearly a year. The field battalion was set up in May and we left Buzuluk for the battlefield in January.”

  • “We worked extremely hard in the Gulag. The workload was very demanding. I worked in the brick factory. I had to get up at five o’clock in the morning and set out on a march to the factory. The distance was about two kilometres. We were accommodated in huge wooden barracks that were full of lice as big as a thumb. When we lay down in the evening to take a rest after a day full of hard labour they started to fall on our heads from the ceiling. There were no standard beds there, just bunk beds and a wooden floor that was great for the lice to live in. Well, we had to hold out. Then we were transferred to another Gulag – ‘number two’. In this camp, we worked in the forest. Well, it was more of a jungle than a forest; it was across the Urals mountain range. We had to cut trees and I have to tell you it was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had. Working in the brick factory was hard as well but the work in the forest was even harder. Me and Štěpánka, we stopped to menstruate because we were totally undernourished. As far as food is concerned, we were handed out about ten grams of bread in the morning and had to sustain on it all day long. That was simply all we got to eat there. You have to consider that we had to work extremely hard and long under these strenuous conditions. It was very exhausting. We were treated like criminals. No weekends, no holidays, just work, work and work. Work from five in the morning till the evening. Another interesting thing about the labour camps was the ethnic composition of the inmates. There were all kinds of folks there, including coloured people. Once we met a sixty-year old Uzbek man who was working with us in the brick factory. We were moulding the clay to produce bricks in a very primitive way. The mould was round and you had to push the brick out of it with your foot.”

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    Vojenská nemocnice ve Střešovicích, Praha, 31.08.2010

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    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Stories of 20th Century
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“Even a tiny shrapnel can make a big hole!”

31033-photo.jpg (historic)
Vlasta Vyhnánková (roz. Pavlanová)
zdroj: Osobní archiv sběrače.

Vlasta Vyhnánková, née Pavlanová, was born on December 17, 1921, in the city of Ostrava in Silesia into a miner‘s family. The family‘s destiny was fatefully affected by the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis. According to her own words, Mrs. Vyhnánková decided not to wait any longer and leave to „the Soviet paradise that turned out not to be one“. She went on this journey together with her friend Štěpánka Cejzlarová. They spent the next two and a half months wandering in the occupied Polish territories. They were helped by the local Poles who granted them shelter and fed them. They were observing the regular exchange of the German border guard at the river bank. They then crossed the river through the ford, as Mrs. Vyhnánková couldn‘t swim. On the other side of the river, a Soviet border guard saved her life but then immediately arrested her and her friend. They were sent to a labour camp for alleged espionage. At first, they worked in a brick factory, then in a forest across the Ural mountain range. The status of Czechs held captive in the USSR changed after the surprise attack of the Germans. With the support of the Czechoslovak exiles in Moscow and London, the Soviet government agreed to the creation of a Czechoslovak army corps, which began to form in early 1942 in the Ural town of Buzuluk. Vlasta Vyhnánková and her friend were released under the condition that they would join the newly formed Czechoslovak army in Buzuluk. The third day after her arrival in Buzuluk, Mrs. Vyhnánková was struck by high fever and was diagnosed with Malaria, from which it took her several months to recover. After she recovered, she was trained as a medic and after she passed the exams, she was the first woman in the new Czechoslovak army to be promoted to the rank of a lance corporal. In the Battle for Sokolovo, she was the leader of a group consisting of five girls in the 3rd company of Lieutenant Vladimír Janek. Vlasta Vyhnánková personally distinguished herself in battle. She spotted wounded Soviet soldiers during a round of enemy mortar shelling and together with Anička Ptáčková they rushed to them and treated them. They pulled the soldiers into safety and were awarded with a Soviet bravery medal and with a Czechoslovak 1939 war cross. After the retreat behind the river Don, the army proceeded on foot to Novochopersk, where Vlasta got married to Second-lieutenant Josef Vyhnánek. After the reorganization of the army, she stayed in the 1st brigade of the Czechoslovak regiment. In the battles for the Dukla pass, she was working in the field hospital, taking care of the wounded soldiers. After Dukla, she was with the army in the battles for Liptovský Mikuláš and Žilina. She remembers the glorious liberation of Czechoslovakia. However, she also remembers the helplessness they all felt when they were listening to Prague calling for help but couldn‘t do anything. The celebration parade in Prague took place on May 17, 1945. She was marching in the first line. After the war, she and her husband moved to Rožďalovice and she still lives there today. She has two kids - a son, Zdeněk, and a daughter, Blanka. For her bravery, she was decorated with two Czechoslovak war crosses and three Soviet medals - for bravery (Sokolovo), for merits (after the battle for Dukla pass) and with 16 Czechoslovak awards. Věra Vyhnánková passed away on October, the 19th, 2015.