Pribrans and Prague
Report No. 290
Reported by: engineer Ing. Kurt Schmidt
On May 5, 1945 my family and I were imprisoned by Czech partisans. My wife had our three children with her, all of them under the age of three years, and we all were imprisoned in Pribram (Pribrans) in Bohemia, 75 km south of Prague, together with 300 other Germans, mostly women and children, primarily evacuees from Silesia. We were kept in a former orphanage.
We were quartered in groups of 15-20 per each small, totally unfurnished room. The few straw sacks that were there were hardly enough for the children to sleep on. We got nothing to eat for the first three days, and after that only a little soup once a day. There was no bread at all for eight days. We were allowed to open the windows only once a day for barely half an hour. The children were permitted to go our into the yard once a day, only for a very short time, and had to keep walking in circles.
Everyone was put to forced labor. The men had to dig mass graves and bury the corpses of the executed SS men. For example, my colleague from the office, engineer Leinweber, and a young girl had to work at a pit where the SS men that had fallen into the hands of Czech partisans had been executed. With their bare hands they had to dig up the bodies that had been torn apart by machine gun fire and hand grenades and were in some cases already partly decomposed, and had to load them onto a truck that took the corpse pieces to the mass graves.
The women were also put to this kind of work. For example, my two sisters-in-law Else Hübner and Marie Prutky had to work in the hospital morgue where they had to wash the bloody furnishings and floors. Other women had to sweep the streets, and they were maltreated by Czechs. In one case I myself witnessed how a group of women were attacked. They were shorn bald, their faces were painted with oil paint and the last clothes they had were smeared with oil paint, rendering them useless. The women were also robbed of their shoes and beaten and spat on.
After May 9, 1945, when the Russians marched in, the maltreatment grew even worse. Especially the women were in great danger after nightfall. The rooms in the internment camp could no longer be locked. The Russians, aided and abetted by the Czechs, came and got whomever they liked, and they did not hesitate to use force. For example, in a neighboring camp set up in a former community college a woman who would not submit to the Russians was plunged to her death from the third story into the square below. In the same camp another woman was raped repeatedly until she was dead. Of the women whom the Russians fetched from the camp, four never came back at all.
On May 12 partisans came, led by Czech gendarmes. There were women among them too, and they demanded at gunpoint that we surrender all our jewelry, watches, valuables, all cash down to the last penny, savings bank books and papers. We were not even allowed to keep our wedding rings. We were left with one set of cutlery each, but sharp knives and scissors were also confiscated.
That same day around 8 o'clock in the evening it was announced that the next day, Sunday, May 13, we would be marched off to Prague or Pilsen. We were allowed to take some hand luggage, but everything else was to remain behind. That night another group of prisoners arrived but because the camp was so overcrowded they had to spend the night on the staircase and outside in the square.
In the morning we were ordered to march out. A few carts were available to carry the old and ill prisoners as well as toddlers, but they were not enough to hold everyone who had need of them. And so we set out in the direction of Prague. It was scorchingly hot. Every now and then some old and sick people remained sitting by the side of the road because they could not go on, and in that way many died in the ditches, partly of exhaustion, partly at the hands of the Czech Revolutionary Guardsmen that accompanied us. We had not received any food for several days. In the towns we passed through, many were attacked and robbed of their last few possessions. The women and children were dragged off the carts and relieved of their luggage, and then they had to continue on foot as the cart waited for no-one. We reached Doberschisch in the evening after a 16-km march, and we camped in a meadow. The townspeople came in droves, rifled through any luggage they found, and whatever they liked, they kept. We were instructed to leave everything lying on the ground, since we would be relieved of our things anyway, one way or another. That evening my wife and our three children found a place in a car full of German soldiers being driven to Prague into captivity. Our march continued until 2 o'clock in the morning. The Russians came and took what they liked: suitcases, bags etc., and preferably women. From 2 to 5 o'clock we rested in the ditch. Then we were marched on to Königssaal (Zbraslav), where we were herded together in a large meadow. A Polish member of the Red Cross was holding a two or three month old infant that he had taken from its mother, who had died in the ditch. We got nothing to eat during this rest stop either. Even though it was oppressively hot, we were allowed to fetch only small quantities of water from the town, and only under close guard. In the course of the day several corpses were put on display in the camp near the entrance, and the camp inmates were forced to view them. They were the bodies of women with children who had chosen to commit suicide to escape further tortures.
On May 15 the order was given to move out, but all men between the ages of 16 and 60 were held back in the camp. These men were closely examined by the Czech Revolutionary Guard and the Russian military, and anyone who was suspected of having belonged to the Wehrmacht or the SS was detained. I was among the lucky ones who were allowed to return to their families. As our group left the camp we saw a young man standing in front of a pit ready to hold the bodies of executed prisoners. Four other men were digging more pits. As we crossed the street, we heard the sounds of shots from the camp square we had just left.
And so our march went on. Anyone who still had any luggage at all soon threw one piece after the other into the ditch just to be able to keep moving at all. In this way I too lost my last worldly possessions. In every town we were met with curses and thrown rocks, and beatings as well. Guards stood beside some of the wells and refused our requests for water with the words, "this water is for horses, not for Germans." The heat became ever more unbearable, and it was our third day with not even a bite to eat. At dusk we arrived in the suburb of Motol. Here we were allowed to rest in the ditch until 2 o'clock a.m., and then we were marched through Prague in the dark at high speed to Strahover Stadium, where we arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning of May 16, totally exhausted.
Some 9,000 to 10,000 people were confined in Strahover Stadium, under the open sky and on the bare ground. Most of the prisoners were members of the Wehrmacht, war-disabled ex-servicemen and sick people whom the Czechs had thrown out of their hospital beds. After 8 to 10 days the Wehrmacht members were sent to a different camp. Their vacated places were filled with new civilians, mostly women and children. According to the camp cook the population consistently remained between 9,000 and 10,000 people even though approximately 1,200 were sent off every second day to labor camps. The new arrivals were mostly taken from trains. I know of two cases personally (Mrs. Schlegel from L. and the engineer E. from Stauden in Bremen). The aforementioned had been interned in Winterberg and Budweis, respectively, then released again as they were citizens of the Reich proper, and furnished with train tickets and official release papers from both Russian and American authorities. On their trip home, as they passed through Prague, they were detained by the Czechs, taken from their trains by Revolutionary Guardsmen, and dragged into Strahover Stadium. The Czechs paid no heed to American or Russian papers.
The rations we received in the Stadium were quite inadequate. We got nothing at all for the first three days, and then, in irregular intervals of about 36 hours at first and a little more regularly once a day later on, we were given a cup of black coffee, some watery soup, and 100g bread - once a day, as I said. When the mortality rate began to rise, a little barley soup was cooked for the children and the sick people. The food was distributed to groups, not individually, and the buckets - insofar as there were any at all, since the inmates themselves had to provide them - were generally used for other purposes at night. Otherwise there were only open latrines in the middle of the stadium, with no segregation of women, men and children, healthy or ill. The latrines were crawling with vermin. It was mostly the great shortage of food that resulted in an outbreak of dysentery. The Czechs did not provide the German doctors (who were themselves prisoners) with any medications whatsoever. The Wehrmacht physician from the Red Cross station told me that children under two years of age and the elderly would not be able to cope with this situation, and would not leave the camp alive. I too lost my 15-month-old boy to starvation there, and the paper which the medical post issued me in this regard gave malnutrition as the cause of death (signed by Vogt, NCO). The bodies of 12 to 20 persons daily were taken out of the stadium on a manure cart.
Executions were done in full view of the entire camp. One day 6 young fellows were beaten until they remained where they fell, then water was poured on them (which the German women had to fetch) and then they were beaten some more, until they no longer gave any signs of life. The horribly mangled corpses were put on display beside the latrines, and were left there for days. One 14-year-old boy was shot, together with his parents, for allegedly having taken a stab a a Red Guardsman with a pair of scissors. Beyond that there was also the standard corporal punishment, which was usually carried out in the staff room. Even the women had to strip naked and were then whipped.
Both men and women were urged along on their forced labor duties with blows from rifle butts. This work consisted mostly of tearing down barricades, and the working people were mocked and jeered and spat at, and stoned as well. There were cases where some women, and sometimes even some infirm men, did not return from this work. At some work sites, however, the laborers received somewhat better rations (in Russian barracks, hospitals etc.).
The women were fair game for anyone. Everyone could come and choose whomever he liked, and if the children screamed for their mothers they were forcibly silenced. The Russians and Czechs often did not even bother to lead the women off, but raped them right then and there, between the children and in full view of all the other prisoners.
The transports into labor camps began in late May. On June 3, 1945 I and my family were sent to Kojetitz, outside Prague, for farm work. There were 63 of us in all. On June 5 another group of 54 civilians arrived in Prague from another camp. This group worked on the estate, while our own group had to hoe sugar beets for two large farms. We were quartered in a horse stable on wet straw, while the second group was put into an open shed. We were locked into our stable right away on our arrival, and the stable was then locked. In one of the corners, a tub served as makeshift toilet.
These conditions continued until early August, when members of both groups - specifically, those unfit for work, and families with many children - were culled and sent away. My wife's father and two sisters were among these, and we were unable to learn anything of their whereabouts despite our best efforts. The rest of us who remained in Kojetitz, a total of 79 persons, were divided up among a few farms on the one hand, and four damp, dark, dingy little rooms on the other, where we first had to sleep on straw sacks that were rotting from below. Later we got some Wehrmacht pallets. Our room, 12x15' in size, was home to 13 people, 6 of them children.
In summer our work day lasted 10 to 12 hours, in winter 8½ to 9½ hours, even on Sundays, and we were expected to do the hardest kinds of field work. We didn't receive a penny in wages. Among the area's inhabitants there were a few that felt some pity for us, but they didn't dare help us since any attempt to do so resulted in the others denouncing them as being "friendly to Germans" and depriving them of their livelihood. At Christmas the town council even passed a special order, forbidding the locals to give us any assistance whatsoever or letting the children have any baked goods. On Christmas Eve we got black coffee like on every other evening, and that was that. For the first 8 weeks the Red Guards kept us under very strict supervision and even accompanied us into the fields with submachine guns. Later, a Czech named Vales was assigned to guard us. He would urge us to greater speed when we worked, and when it was time to distribute the already meager rations he would keep part of them back for himself. The treatment we got at the hands of the foreman Vysinský was very rough. He never called a German woman anything other than "German whore", and the men "bloodhound". Administrator Marek preferred to beat us, and he would whip the women across the face with his riding crop. He also beat a camp inmate with his whip until the man was unconscious on the ground. This administrator was the only Czech officer in town and was a member of the Czech National-Socialists (Beneš Party). He liked to play the big man, and instigated various torments against the internees. Another man who bore a major part of the responsibility for the conditions in the camp was the Chairman of the Národní Výbor, the Communist Suchý.
The children could not dare set foot outside the door to our poor hovel without immediately being cursed at and stoned, and by teenaged Czechs, no less. The grown-ups were also tormented by these youths. Some of them, approximately 14 or 15 years old, even tried to attack and rape our women in broad daylight.
In the very first days of our stay in Kojetitz, a child not even two years old died of the repercussions of measles. We were forbidden to bury this child in the cemetery, instead we had to bury it outside the town behind a straw shed, without a coffin of course. The farmer Tuma (Kojetitz No. 10) shot a 16-year-old boy after locking him up and starving him for two days in the pigsty. He paid no heed to the boy's cries for his mother, and after shooting him he had him thrown into a shallow pit in the farmhouse garden. A German named Pelz had to carry out this burial. After about 14 days Mrs. Anderson, about 67 years old, died in our camp of starvation and infirmity, and two days later the Silesian woman Mrs. Wittkopp succumbed to the same. These two women had been Protestants, and we managed to notify the minister from the Czech Protestant church. He came to the camp and saw to it that the bodies were put into wooden coffins and were given a proper burial in the Protestant cemetery in Libis. Mrs. Treske from Neiße, who died of heart failure a little later, was given the same care.
The Catholic priest of Kojetitz behaved quite differently. At first he would not permit the Germans to enter the church. Later he allowed them to attend a service on Sunday afternoons, but continued to forbid that any German should receive the sacrament. He also refused any other assistance whatsoever for the Germans. The Catholics who died are buried without coffins in mass graves in the Criminals' Corner of the Catholic cemetery. The flowers placed on these mass graves on All Saints' Day and Christmas were removed and destroyed by Czechs. Among those buried in the Catholic cemetery are: the men Hollmann (who committed suicide on his arrest), Wieck (from Prague, age 46, probably of the consequences of a liver and stomach condition), E. von Stauden (furunculosis combined with a weak heart, age 52, from Bremen), the women Marie Prutky (my wife's mother, she died of heart failure and malnutrition, age 72, from Brünn), Mrs. Große (infirmity, gangrene and malnutrition, age 70, from Weißwasser, Silesia). The child Baduschek (4 years old, probably of diptheria, from Brünn), and an infant, Enders, of malnutrition. All these deaths took place within the first three months.
The doctor, who visited the camp only twice, refused to enter the stable for fear of all the vermin. He did not even examine the sick people, but just stood in the doorway and said that he couldn't help them. To the Czech guards he commented that it would be fine with him if all the Germans "croaked". This doctor was from Neratowitz, near Prague. Both my children caught the measles, and the younger of them, my little girl, also contracted pneumonia and inflammation of the middle ear. With a raging fever she had to lie on the straw in the drafty barn. Even while the children were so ill my wife nonetheless had to go to work from morning till night, and was forbidden to stay with the sick children on pain of being executed.
On April 6 we were sent to the Prague camp of Hagibor, where we were received in a halfway humane manner. Our treatment and rations (especially for toddlers) were somewhat better. On the work details we were usually treated well and received adequate rations. There was a labor shortage in Prague at the time.
On April 24, 1946, families with children and people unfit for work were sent from the Hagibor camp (with a population of 200) to the expulsion camp Modrany, where the housing and rations were again bad. 350 men were crowded into a small wooden barrack meant for about 100 people.
On May 1, 1946, 1,200 internees were loaded into 40 cattle cars and sent off to
Bavaria as "Transport D". As travel rations we were given a little watery
soup, one-eighth of a loaf of bread, and a slice of cake. On two rest stops along
the way we got a bit more watery soup, and then, on May 2, 1946, we crossed
the Czech border at Wiesau, and were taken in and cared for in exemplary
fashion by the Bavarian Red Cross.