Mr Sova's story
A bike goes without stopping – goes and goes
goes to infinity – where to? - no one knows
I was born in 1921 and I am one of approximately 640 000 people that were forced to work in what used to be Reich.
After my final exams at the technical school I did all I could to postpone my deployment to work (injury, medical condition) and was eventually transferred to Reich by the employment office (Arbeitsamt). I was lucky. The Moravian Protectorate allowed (after previous negotiation) that I was employed as a building technician in the Neues Heimat in Salzburg. Practically our whole class – 34 pupils, filled free positions in various companies – especially in Vienna, Graz, Steyer, Villach and so on.
At home in České Budějovice I got blessing from my mother and some advice from my father. On 2nd January 1942 I stood in the hall of the bus station in Salzburg as a 21 year-old inexperienced lad. Later I compared it to a non-swimmer being thrown into water and told to swim. I wasn't far from crying. Mom, mommy, I would like to cry for a while near you.
After my arrival I made my way to the sleeping quarters. I was greeted by my future colleagues. We were young and got used to each other quickly. Accommodation was good, two beds in the room, heating, bathroom (warm – cold water), toilet, food from the central kitchen. I got around quickly and got used to the regime of the place. Many older Czechs that had been in the camp longer than me told me and my younger colleagues when to speak and when to be quiet and loyal.
We were taught German since the 4th grade of the primary school in Czechoslovakia. I was quite proficient at grammar. Conversation was quite a different thing, though. Dialects, different pronunciation, accents, I could not grab it at first. I had a dictionary from my father. I remembered school and German classes. “Students, learn words, they are the foundation”, teachers told us.
The management of the company was German, other workers (accountants) were Austrian. My salary was 250 Marks (circa 177 USD).
On Sundays we usually went to the Salzburg downtown. Quarters were at the edge of the city at that time. Salzburg is a beautiful city. The river, the view of the medieval castle... And there were trolleybuses in the city at that time. As far as food goes, we could buy different vegetable salads or fish mixes, that were still available without food tickets. We didn't have those since we were eating together. I remember that in 1942 the winter was extremely cruel. Over one metre of snow, 15 – 20°C below zero. But our quarters were warm.
Czechs are a nation of musicians. I was strumming the guitar even back home. One Czech had an older guitar with him and so we played and sang our songs, Hašler's songs.
One of the houses was occupied by 15 bricklayers from Italy, Dutchmen and 10 Poles (who were marked by a letter P – purple in a yellow field). Time went by and some time at the end of March 300 Italians arrived. Not from Sicily - they were not too fond of Italians from the north. And so we discovered the differences between industrial north and religious south.
By the end of April the head of the company announced that the end of the factory is near. When the ship is sinking, it is time to leave and find another one. We are a nation of travelers and savvy guys with an apparent effort to get near home. It is under our skin. Those genes are priceless. After some negotiations and with the help of my classmates I got to Linz with many of my friends. Thousands of Czechs lived and worked there. It was only 100 km from home. I managed to get into Matias Schlager – Dombaumeister, an Austrian company constructing temples, cathedrals and church buildings. It was calmer environment. Still, there was a Nazi Party member at the top of each company. For us foreigners, this meant to behave and watch our mouths.
Also I learned the position of Catholic Church in Autstria. And what pastor means. An old man Schlager (over 85 years-old, very nice) liked old order and greeting “Grüss Gott” rather than the required “Heil Hittler”.
I was experienced enough to know when, where, and what to do to make it through. There was no other solution. I lived in a camp. But luck stood by me even at that time. I got an older bicycle and with my friend Ludvik we set off for shorter and longer trips. Once even to Alpine lakes. As if something was telling me: Buddy, grasp the opportunity, you might never return here again. There were even shorter trips with a group of friends, always on Sundays, to the top of Pöstlinberg. First we crossed the bridge over Dunaj to the URFAHR district, then by foot or cogged lift. There was a large restaurant with in-garden seating and beautiful view of the city during summer. When the skies were clear you could see the Alps.
During the war, apart from food tickets, there were also so called smoking tickets (Rauchekarte). Non-smokers were getting them too. Sometimes I exchanged them for food tickets, because strong smokers did not have enough of their own. But most of the time I saved them for my father, who smoked and as a train driver had to keep smoking to stay alert (especially at night).
Now shortly about “Love houses” where wine, schnapps and 4° beer were drunk, busty women were messing with the heads of handsome men, including the eventual sexual harassment. That was the life – day to day. All is connected with everything. I turned into a man one February night in 1942 in Tingltangl – Salzburg.
The names of the houses were MAXIM, LA-PIC and VILLA NOVA and there was even a tune:
Heute nichs arbeiten
Abend Nova Villa
Morgen wieder gut
(Today no work / machines dead / evening in Nova Villa / tomorrow good again)
With the help of my friends I managed to get private accommodation in a shabby pub “Zur Stadt Steyer”. Therefore I had the police application and the right for food tickets. That was a big advantage. Hundreds of Czechs took the opportunity. That would be a great topic to be written about – what all can Czechs do when they are successful with women. I was eating here and there. In pubs, sometimes I managed to snuck into staff canteen. There was a lot of sea food. And the amount of red beet that I ate would fill a nice barrel. I was thin. The beer was 4°, in autumn we drank apple juice. At that time, there were no obese young men like today.
The end of the year 1942 was near. I got leave from work and a pass home. Mom – a terrific cook – did what she could to nourish me. I saw how people in Protectorate suffered. The portions on food tickets were small. Every household was looking for food where they could.
In 1943 the leader of propaganda Dr. Goebbels declared total war. 1924s were all sent to arms program with no respect for their field of expertise. Life became tougher, but we had to live. In Reich a cultural organization KdF (Kraft durch Freude – Strength through happiness) existed. It supported the nation through music, to boost morale. The forced laborers in Linz had a pub ORIENT at their disposal for cultural purposes. Bands were coming from Protectorate (also singers, artists, magicians).
In 1944 we formed a music group. We got together followingly:
Vlastimil Kravák – Guitar Prostějov
Ruda Albrecht – bass Budějovice
Miloš Matoušek – voice Budějovice
Franta Sova – voice, guitar Budějovice
We were trained by a composer from Prague, also a forced labourer. What will our name be? We agreed on the name BODELE: We were named after a privately released utopic book by an unknown writer. The book was shared among a group of friends. We did not understand many of the passages, but we did not mind, we had a name.
For life not to be boring first air raids of the U. S. bombers began. And when there are air raids, there are injured and casualties. We were young and we withstood the situation easier then the older and married. You get used to it, you get careless and you risk. I will survive it, I will make it, and if I get hit, there will be no orphans. Mom will cry for a while, dad will cry for his lost son. But there were thousands of soldiers dying at the front, what is some Ausländer? That does not count. Time went by quickly. Soon, it was the year 1944.
And in this situation BODELE performed in a camp 56 in an enormous hall (which was an eating room as well) in front 1500 people or more. There is a difference between practicing in a pub and performing in a giant hall. We rehearsed for three months an American song “Cowboy of Cheroke”. How come we were allowed to? I do not know. But the management was occupied with other pressing matters. Those who sing do not make trouble.
We were a big success in front of a mixture of nations. The life went by. A little black brinola in the morning (coffee substitution) with a piece of bread, something to eat at midday, the same in the evening.
During carpet bombings pubs, restaurants, and even our singing got hit. It became very irregular. In 1945 those sirens were screaming every day. American flying fortresses B-17 and Liberator covered the sky. The morale and eating habits were highly disturbed. In spring Vlasta Kravák suffered a minor injury during one of the air raids and he returned home to Prostějov. The band BODELE slowly faded away. There was no mood for singing – the falling bombs were singing to us.
For the memory of BODELE not to fade away completely, my colleague Jaroslav Pouzar started to draw a fictional tour of the band around the world that was climaxing in Prague. Although he is 95 he keeps drawing characters for national rhymes.
České Budějovice, March 2014