Witnessing WWII in Czechoslovakia – oral histories

Sudeten Mountains

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov, near the death march route, looking towards the Sudeten mountain range on the border with Germany.

Following on from my previous blog, I very recently decided to visit Chomutov, in the Czech Republic.  I was interested to see what kind of place produced a heroine like the young woman who gave her life to give my father bread.  I wanted to get an idea of the context at the time.  

I am indebted to Jan Krupicka who grew up in Chomutov, who arranged for me to interview two couples and two widows who lived through World War II, taking me to the retirement home, and to Amalie’s village, and who interpreted between Czech and English during the interviews.

All but two of my interviewees had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during World War II.  From my interviews, I learned about the general situation for civilians during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Food rationing was imposed, and ethnic Czechs were restricted to the extent that one could not live on rations alone.  Czech men were sent to Germany for forced, unpaid labour, to fill in for German men who were in the army.  Czech women similarly had to engage in forced, unpaid labour for ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, or if they were younger and without children to care for, they would be sent as forced unpaid labour to Germany.  “The only people who didn’t come back were the Jews.”

 From Karel and Kvetuse, a couple living in a retirement home in Chomutov, who had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during WWII,  I learned that the generation of Czechs at the end of the 19th century all spoke German.

They told me that there were Czech and German schools.  Once the German occupation started, it was stipulated that there should be a German class every day in the Czech schools, and history classes were only about the German Reich, and nothing else.  Pages of history books referring to previous history were glued together, and after that the books were thrown away altogether, and history lessons were just given through talking by the teacher, without books.

There were ethnic Czechs who said they were German during the occupation, seeking benefits. They also told me of hearsay about one ethnic Czech man who was really pro-Nazi and a snitch.

I interviewed Viera on 30thNovember 2018, and relay what she said below:

 The Germans were well-off, while food was very scarce for the Czechs following the German occupation. She knew a Czech woman who worked just for food.  Ethnic Germans in the area were on higher rations than the Czechs. 

I asked if this caused resentment.  She responded that there wasn’t much resentment.  Most of the Czechs left, [since Chomutov was being bombed by the allies – there were factories there serving German war effort].  Not many Czechs were left in Chomutov.  Those who remained had to cope with how things were.

Viera would take the animals and geese to the woods when there was an inspection [by the German occupiers).  They would be warned a couple of days in advance by Czechs working in the government office.  If these Czechs had been caught, they might have been executed along with their families. 

You couldn’t survive on the food stamps.  Life was better in the rural areas.  You were in a better position to survive – to have what you needed.

Viera was studying fashion design.  Her father was recruited at the age of 17 in World War I.  He fought in an Italian batallion.  

Czech men didn’t have to go into the German army.  They were supposed to be relocated to Germany to substitute for Germans who went to war, as forced unpaid labour.  German cities were under attack [by the allies] – the situation wasn’t good there.  Viera’s husband – a student – was digging ditches for the Germans. 

In Czechoslovakia, the men were gone, and food was scarce.

Viera’s brother was supposed to be relocated.  A German man saved him – he said that he needed him to work in his inn, where people would leave their carts and horses.  He was an old man, and said he was ill and needed Viera’s brother to work for him.

There were lots of Czech/German married couples.

 Some [ethnic] Germans collaborated with the Nazis, but others were perfectly fine.  There were people who sought benefit from siding [with the Nazis].  Maybe some Czechs were the the worst “snitches”.

 

Mrs Amalie Libuse Vinduskova had lived in the same village near Chomutov her whole life. I interviewed her on 2ndNovember 2018.  Amalie felt the need to talk about her experiences during WWII.  It caused her great anxiety to remember and talk about her experiences, but she felt it was important for them to be known.  This is what she said:

She told me about the remains of  a Jewish cemetery in a forest near the village.  Her daughter-in-law sent me photos and put stones on the graves in the Jewish tradition, since it was too late for me to go there after the interview.

 

 

Amalie also talked about where the victims were shot by Germans on the “Day of Executions”.  I am not clear about what she was referring to, but will try to clarify it and revise this blog post shortly.  I think she was referring to the death march after it passed through her village as she specified that it was in April 1945.  (My father related that on the death marches, as soon as they arrived at some distance from a town or village, the German guards would shoot prisoners who they thought could not continue, or would shoot a group of prisoners to reduce their numbers.)

Amalie said that more than 30 people were shot.  She said they may not have [all?] been Jews.  Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia were also among those who were executed – those who went against the regime.  Some of the graves in the woods are of German communists. None of the graves have names.

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I am arranging to have the notice board (above) translated, and will add the translation here.

Amalie’s mother asked a [German] soldier where they were taking the prisoners.  He responded:  “Up the hill, and when we’re done, you’re next.”  

Amalia heard the shooting and was shocked.  When they heard the shooting, she went out and saw a prisoner in a white-collared shirt lying by a small apple tree.  He couldn’t talk, but pointed to his mouth to indicate that he was hungry.  The German guards wouldn’t allow him to be given food.  On the way up the mountain, he grabbed some grass. He was about to put it in his mouth, when the German guard stabbed him with his bayonet.  Amalia was crying and shaking (as a girl) thinking of this man.

She was 13 when she witnessed the death march passing through her village. She turned 13 in February 45.  When Amalie saw the death march, she was shocked and couldn’t move.  Her mother went to sit in the creek for the whole day

Czech adults didn’t approach the death march.  Her mother and aunt went to hide.  The children approached the march because they were children and spoke German. The prisoners were so weak and helpless! 

I asked Amalie if she thought the woman who gave my father bread on the death march would have been Czech?  Amalie was sure that a German girl wouldn’t have handed him bread.  The Czech girl must have known what she was getting into. The guards were so threatening! It was huge, huge bravery! 

Until the War, nobody cared who was Czech, German, Jewish, Polish.  Only after the War started, such distinctions started to be made.  As soon as these distinctions started to be made, marriages started breaking up. 

Heller was a Jewish woman with a German husband.  He divorced her (after the German occupation) and she was deported together with their two daughters to Theresienstadt.

Amalie’s mother had had a hard time in 1937 when there was a rubella epidemic. Three of her children died.  She collapsed and received treatment for half a year.  After that, her peaceful place was in the creek where she would retreat to. 

Amalie’s father was Polish.  He was the only Polish person there, having come to that region when he was only 16. He had paid a farmer to keep (hide) the family, but her mother refused to leave.  As soon as he heard that the Germans were crossing the border, her father shot himself.  He had heard what the Germans had been doing to the Jews in Germany.  He committed suicide to save the family.  He could have killed the whole family together.  He shot himself to avoid deportation, and to save his family so that they wouldn’t be endangered by association with him. 

Previously her father would join the Germans going to work.  Once he shot himself, he became “the Polish bastard”. The Germans didn’t mind that the Jews were in the death march.  Before the War, the Germans wanted to leave for their “home country”.  Then [after the War] when they were being chased out, they didn’t want to go.  Her own uncle was one of the worst Germans who was beaten and chased out [after the War].  

28 German soldiers were put up in their house.  The officer would stay there all day.  He was very civil to her mother.  When a neighbour came round and said: “Do you know who you are drinking coffee with?” (in order to betray her because the family was Polish), the officer asked where the neighbour lived, and threatened her.

You couldn’t tell who was German, or who was Czech [or Jewish?] [from looking at or speaking to someone].  But once the War started, the [ethnic] Germans started feeling superior. 

The Jewish people were gassed in trucks, with the exhaust pipes discharging inside the trucks.  The local German people approved of this.  Her mother spent that day sitting in the creek.

Her older siblings protected Amalie from it.  She was the second youngest.  They didn’t talk about such things in front of her.  She was called a “Polish bitch” [by Germans?] once the War started.  They mostly spoke German at home.  Her parents were scared to speak in Czech.  After the War, her mother said she was not going to speak German anymore.

There were Germans who were neither communist nor pro-Hitler.  They wore white bands, and got food from the Russians. There were good and bad Germans.

It was a German-speaking region, and Amalie went to a German school.  There was only a German school in her area. Everyone went to it:  Jews, Czechs.  After the German occupation, at school, when she put up her hand to answer a question, her teacher told her there was no point in her learning.  Her teacher didn’t expect her to survive the War because of her Polish identity.  It was local Germans from Chomutov who were teaching in the school. 

The German pupils would get food first, and the Polish and Jewish pupils would get whatever was left, if anything.  They would be sitting on the steps [while the German pupils were eating]. In the winter, only the German pupils got meals at school, and the other children didn’t get anything.

The German flag was raised at school and the children had to raise their arms and say “Heil Hitler”. 

Amalie’s mother had lived through World War I, when she had had to be very self-reliant and creative (resourceful).  When there was a wheat harvest, her mother would collect whatever remnants were left on the field after the harvest, (although they were gardeners before the occupation) and would make little breads, and sprinkle sugar on top.  She told her children to eat these in the bathroom so that the other children wouldn’t laugh at them. 

Amalie’s cousin was mother to a six-week old baby.  As a punishment for giving frozen bread to a Polish worker, she was imprisoned for two months – despite having a six-week old baby at home.  The German mayor was nice, and arranged for her to be released early.

Amalie’s three sisters had to work as maids on local German farms.  They had to be German [i.e. the farmers they worked for].  They were nice people.  Ordinary people.  Some of the farmers could be mean to the girls [who worked for them].  It was forced, unpaid labour.  They were just given board and lodging. 

Her two older sisters were dating Germans, one of whom was very much in love with her sister and wanted to marry her.  He was sent to the Russian front, because he wanted to marry a Polish woman. 

Her brother was stationed with a Czech army unit guarding the border.  They were forced to surrender.  He went to Benechov and hid, so that he was not deported. Her younger brother worked in salt mines in Thuring.

Ritter was a nice farmer.  He would take a loaf of bread, carve it out and put lard in it, and give it to her mother. 

The German farmers were producing food for themselves and also had to give produce to the Nazis.

The Czech people were not allowed to breed animals or grow plants.  Amalie’s family used to have commercial gardens: they were gardeners who grew food [before the occupation], and now her mother had to collect remnants from fields after the harvest. 

I commented that the Czechs were being starved, like the Jews.  Amalie said that the German approach was that if you eliminate someone, you get what’s left.

Amalie’s first husband was from the Ukraine, from a village called Lapaus in the Damidovka district.  There, they brought the Jews to a forest and made them dig a grave. 

In Chomutov, there were lots of Jewish shop owners who were very nice. One Jewish shop owner would let his first customer have her shopping for free.  The second customer, he would let her have her shopping on credit.  If someone owed him money, he would come round and collect a little at a time.  He wouldn’t collect the whole debt at once. 

There was a Ukrainian general:  Vlasov who joined the German side.  When the tables turned, the “march” of Vlasov’s men took two days – to send them to Siberia.

There was a huge community of Czechs living in the Ukraine.  They came to the vacated farms (i.e. vacated by the expelled Germans.)

People need to know what was going on in the War.  Now they are making a lot of noise about how the Germans were expelled. But they are not talking about how the Germans behaved.  They would take a baby from its mother, and smash it against a wall. 

Thought Forms and Green Tara

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In Buddhism, the characterisation of harmful acts which we repent and resolve to avoid, includes harmful acts of the mind. There is the idea that thoughts can actually cause harm per se, rather than just being a precursor to the possibility of physical harmful acts. Such harmful acts – whether of the mind or otherwise – are characterised as stemming from ignorance, but are “evil” nevertheless.

The idea of acts of the mind being harmful is actually widespread in the world. In the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa, protection is required against the “evil eye”. This refers to jealousy which is seen as exerting a harmful force.

In the West, there is much interest in psychic phenomena. The College of Psychic Studies in London, and other institutions, offer courses in energy healing, developing psychic intuition, mediumship, etc. Among the “psychic community”, there is also the idea of harmful acts of the mind, referred to as “psychic attack”. Through intentions to heal, we can affect healing in people, and conversely, through negative thoughts or intentions, we can connect with and produce negative energy which may be harmful not only towards the person such thoughts are directed towards, but may also cause collateral damage in adversely affecting those physically or psychically close to the target. Harm may occur even if the negative thoughts are unconscious and if harm if not specifically intended.

In Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is primarily to avoid the main “evil” and source of suffering – that of clinging. We aim to train our minds to recognize that we are thinking, and then to let go of the thought, no matter whether it is a positive or negative thought. The idea is not to push thoughts away if they are negative, or to hold on to them if they are positive, since by doing either, we are practising attachment, and feeding the thought. By trying to resist an unwanted thought…. perhaps a traumatic or disturbing memory – for example –  we are actually giving it energy. If we cling to a positive thought, it will cause some degree of suffering when this thought ends, and we are practising and strengthening our habit of clinging.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea that when we feed thoughts they solidify. By allowing thoughts to pass like clouds through the sky, we do not allow them to become solid and to exert a force over our minds.

So all these factors relate to the potential of thought to become solid; to exert a force; to take a shape. “Thought forms” – a term which comes up often in psychic literature. Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now and his other books, refers to “pain bodies”. These are, essentially, solidified energetic entities created by our own negative thoughts and pain, which we may constantly tap into, tune into, connect with, and feed with further pain, and which seem to exert a life of their own!  They may, it seems, commune with “pain bodies” generated by other people’s minds.

French sociologist Durkheim refers in his work to the “collective consciousness” – which appears to refer to a giant thought form which may engulf a collectivity of people, from a family, to an entire society.  This would consist in a collection of values, ideas, prejudices.  There is the implication that while one person or group of people may be predominant in generating and solidifying the cluster of thoughts and ideas which make up the form,  each person is tapping into, contributing to and strengthening this “cloud” of thought.  (Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa come to mind as among the most extreme malevolent examples.). For those who get a feeling that this “collective consciousness” conflicts with their true individual consciousness, it must take a great deal of strength of mind to break out.  This notion of the “collective consciousness” implies the impact of external forces on the individual mind.

A psychiatrist once told me that there is a view in the field of psychiatry of the healthy mind being “sealed”. That if people feel that their minds are being controlled, or invaded, or permeated from external sources, this is a measure of mental illness. That a healthy mind is an impermeable one, essentially.  One can imagine someone in Nazi Germany going to a psychiatrist, complaining of a conspiracy by the Reich to act on his mind and control his actions…. and being diagnosed as having a mental illness for reporting such experiences!

Much of the world in fact operates on the basis of the permeability of the mind: the advertising industry; the brainwashing of commercialism – to name a couple of the more benign (although often far from benign) examples.

Then there is toxic exploitation of the belief in the permeability of the mind. There are voodoo practitioners who – if they are unethical – may employ ritual procedures to solidify thought forms to harm their targets. A Western couple who lived in Ghana related how they witnessed for themselves a schoolteacher being the target of voodoo (or juju as it is called there) and instantly becoming mad from that point on. In another case, a young woman made a suicide attempt, and her West African mother believed that someone had “worked” on her. I’ve heard it said a number of times that voodoo cannot work on someone who does not believe in it. It is fear that lets it in. Similar ideas exist among the “psychic community” – through fear, one becomes more open and susceptible to psychic attack. But this does not explain why a psychic or voodoo attack might also fall onto those who are physically or psychically close to the victim – who may have no knowledge of the attack, and no fear.

To continue on the subject of the problem with proposing the impermeability of the human mind, those who rape the minds of entire generations of entire nations to the purpose of evil seem to know differently, and it has been demonstrated to work. At the Institute of Propaganda Studies in Israel, we were shown techniques used to brainwash the German people before and during WWII into believing the Jews and other races were subhuman; techniques which were first honed in relation to the Namibian peoples – the first victims of genocide perpetrated by Germany in the 20th Century. Then there is Hamas and Isis – infiltrating the minds of their human instruments of mass murder – “grooming” them for this task from infancy.

A summary internet search offers many techniques designed to get rid of negative thought forms and the harm they may exert on people.

Tibetan Buddhism offers a very powerful antidote. For while there is an emphasis on letting go of thoughts, there is, at the same time, the ritualised solidifying of thoughts in a controlled way in order to cultivate such qualities as fearlessness, compassion. In the Green Tara Practice, for example, we visualise this deity, who has formidable superhuman qualities: she is very swift, appearing in an instant to anyone who calls upon her; her face is like 100 full moons in a Tibetan autumn. If just one full moon can light up a night sky, think how bright the night would be with 100 full moons! Her body is like a multitude of stars. Well – taking the sun as one star, a multitude would be blindingly bright! With her frown, she can destroy all adverse machinations. She whirls around surrounded by a garland of blazing fire. And these are just a few of her attributes! During the practice, we invite Green Tara into the space before us; then in an instant we are in her body, and finally, the visualisation melts into light and merges with us.

Ultimately, when we are ready to transcend notions of dualism, we see that there is no real separation between Tara and ourselves.

A practice that takes much time and commitment, but perhaps it can be a lifesaver!

Dewa Che – Tara Mantra