Mr Jakeš's story

I was born 1923. After school I was a trade apprentice. Soon after that – 20 August 1942 - I had to leave as a forced laborer to a post office in Germany - Berlin. I reached Berlin by train, which stopped in Friestavek. A group of German post office workers was already waiting for us, eager to separate us into groups according to which post office we were assigned to. It was a very sunny day and there was no place for us to get even a sip of water. We were assigned to some workers around 4 p.m. and they led us to a train station. We were taken by S Bahn into the camp in Lichtenräde. There were 20 wooden camps with 20 rooms each. In the morning after 7 AM we were, again by S Bahn, driven into the post office SW 11, which was in the vicinity of the main train station. They led us into the headquarters. After all the paperwork was taken care of a headmaster came and forced us to swear to maintain postal secrecy. Then we were explained our duties by the post office workers. We also learned that the post office we were at is the biggest in Berlin and employs over 2500 workers (including foreigners). Each of us received a pass that gave us access to our work.

Accommodation and eating

The rooms were inhabited by 16 to 18 people. We had a table, chairs and some wardrobes. In the next building there was a collective washroom with cold water only and some toilets. Next there was a kitchen and a dining hall. In the morning we received warm tea or bitter ersatz coffee, and 125g of bread. We were allowed to take the coffee with us to our rooms.

Eintopf was served for lunch. Sometimes it was so disgusting that we poured it into the sewage despite our hunger. After work we could have whatever was left from the tea or coffee. Once a week we received 100g of sugar. The work was exhausting. Cars with letters and packages were coming into the courtyard with bigger or smaller sacks. During one shift over 150 cars arrived. The work continued even at nighttime. We drove to work by S Bahn with self-obtained weekly tickets. The first air raid happened 9th day after our arrival and lasted for almost 2 hours. Then it repeated more and more often. Sometimes even twice a night. Our shelters were good enough maybe against shrapnels or grenades. However, if a bomb was dropped near us we would be buried in rubble. We did not get much sleep during air raids and we were also being bitten by bedbugs. There was no defense against those animals. Germans did some disinfection once a year, but with no lasting effect. On 16 January 1943 I experienced an air strike during which a 500kg bomb landed 70 m away from our camp. We were in a shelter, but when we got back we saw that the whole camp was ripped from the ground and moved good 30 cm away from its original position. We could see snow from our beds and we only received one briquette for each person present in the room each night. We burned those in one hour. The rest of the night was cold.

In October 1943 I went on leave for 10 days. I had no intention of going back into the camp. Before Christmas of that year I was arrested and sentenced to 56 days in the work camp in Planá nad Lužnicí. The food was similar to that in Berlin. The tea or bitter coffee and 125g of bread. 100g of sugar per week.

We got up at 6.15, dressed quickly and ran for a morning exercise – half naked, with no shirt – whether it was snow, cold, wind... After 10 minutes back to camp, wash in cold water, eat something and hurry to catch the train which took us to Veselí - Mezimostí. A truck then took us to Blata where we cut peat. It was collected in heaps under the snow. We removed the snow and then cut it up into 7cm x 7cm pieces. Each morning before noon we had to cut 40 stretchers of peat in two people. Who failed to meet the norm got no food. Guard gave us a ticket for each stretcher we brought. It was really tough to do, especially when it was freezing or raining. We were returning to our camp cold and wet. There was no place where to dry our clothes. On Friday evenings there were appeals in the courtyard regardless the weather. In the end we had to sing. It was cold in our quarters so we tried to sleep. After 56 days some of us were taken to Prague - Ruzyně. There we were sweeping the snow so that trams could pass. Other times we packaged blue coloring dust. Seven days after that I was released and told to return to Berlin. I did not. Instead I was hiding at home for a while and then in Prague where I got illegally employed. They found me after a few weeks and took me to Gestapo. I was sentenced to 96 days in Mirošov. I worked on land reclamations. We worked each day with no regard to weather, state of our clothes, or anything else. Food was the same as in the other places. One week after the end of my punishment a policeman from Berlin came and took me back to the post office SW 11. I was accommodated in a different camp, because the former one burned down during an air raid. Air strikes were more and more often. In the beginning of 1945 I got skin rash and was put in a separate room. There was one more man in the room. Later they found out he had typhoid. They took him away and a very angry Lagerführer came and yelled at me for being in one room with such an ill man.

20th April came and at 4 a.m. the battle for Berlin began. They sounded the alarm for bombing, but never called it off, because the Russians cut off electricity. They turned off water several hours later. Day after day the shooting was getting closer and closer as the front gradually moved towards the centre of the city. I was hiding in a cellar with 34 other people. There was no daylight, no electricity, no water. The supplies ran out and the last three days we were completely without any water. At 9.30 in the morning three Soviet soldiers came and told us to wait until 2 p. m. when they led us out. They really did come, showed us where it was safe to go and pointed us towards Budějovice. I knew it was around 540 km, but we headed out by foot anyway.

We departer 28 April 1945 from Berlin and walked all the way to Ústí nad Labem. From there we were taken to Prague by train. I got home 23 May 1945 approximately at 7 p.m. My parents had not heard from me since February, there had been no way how to send them a message. It was a big surprise and hearty welcome. All of us were in tears.

I survived over 262 air raids in total. I lost count in the battle for Berlin.

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