Karel Beránek

09.04.2013 | 00:00
Karel Beránek

Imprisoned for Nothing

Another of our stories is the memories of a student from Roudnice, Ing. Karel Beránek. Karel was born on 17th December 1925 in Bílina in north-east Bohemia, as the only child of a brewery’s malt man Karel Beránek and Anna Foryová from Nové (formerly Německé) Kopisty.

Having had to change his job for health and fi - nancial reasons, Mr. Beránek rented a pub in Břežánky near Bílina around 1930. His customers were both Czechs and Germans, who were on friendly terms. They would put the tables together on special occasions and would sing and drink together while holding each other’s shoulders. However, this friendly mood started to fade away with the rise of Henlein. The family therefore moved inland to Vědomice near Roudnice some time around 1937, where the father again rented a pub. The situation in the Sudeten Land was escalating further. After mobilisation in 1938, not only more Czech families were coming inland but also Germans and social democrats who were often arriving with only what they were able to carry. They were put in makeshift accommodation in great halls and about ten families found refuge at Beráneks’. Unfortunately, our nation’s resolve was not suffi cient. The remaining rump of the Republic was occupied by Germans in March 1939 and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was declared. Karel fi nished his primary school and in 1940 started going to the technical college in Roudnice. The assassination of Heydrich on 27th May 1942 triggered a further, more brutal, wave of violence. The inhabitants of the Protectorate were overwhelmed by fear of everyday arrests and executions.
On Saturday, 20th June 1942 the students in Karel’s second form of the technical college in Roudnice and other two classes at the grammar school in Roudnice became victims of revenge by the death squads from the Gestapo in Kladno. They were put in cars and buses and they left for the Small Fortress in Terezín, full of insecurity and fear. Karel recalls some of the boys confi dently saying on the way that they would go swimming later that afternoon in the Labe River. But Karel did not really believe it and was more looking forward to seeing his mom and dad. However, everything changed dramatically as soon as the gate of the Small Fortress shut behind them. The wardens, who had until that moment been calm, immediately forced the students to leave the bus that had brought them there by kicking them and hitting them with their fi sts. They had to stand and face a white-washed wall, without turning and talking and they had to wait. This uncomfortable long wait changed into suff ering. It was scorching hot but none of the thirsty students standing on stiff legs for hours was thinking about swimming in the Labe any longer. And what was moreover, the interrogation was about to come. Karel entered the offi ce where the interrogators from the Gestapo in Kladno asked him weird questions such as why he and his other schoolmates wanted to fortify Roudnice. How could he answer that?
Karel had to decline this accusation because it was ridiculous and despite that, he was given a few well-aimed hits which resulted in him losing one of his teeth. Many of his schoolmates were treated far worse and some ended up in solitary confi nement. In the evening, Karel and some of the others were taken to cell no 26. Russian prisoners from the cell next door were begging them for food. It was an unexpected and horrifying experience of the reality in the Small Fortress.
Karel recalls that the wardens after the inmates’ work had fi nished and the others had returned to their cells would often call “Raudnitzer Studenten raus” and then they had to go to do other work. This was brought to the attention of inmates-assistants in the offi ce of Hofverwaltung, who soon managed to place them in diff erent cells. Karel and a few other schoolmates were moved to cell no 4. He recalls that not long after that, also many distant male relatives of Jan Kubiš, who were brought here from Špilberk Fortress in Brno, were put in the cell. There was a memorable moment after their arrival, when one of Kubiš’ relatives took out a home-made loaf of bread out of nowhere, cut it up and distributed it amongst his co-prisoners. That was something, considering how he managed to smuggle bread from Brno and what’s more, under the noses of the wardens in Terezín. The labour in the fortress is linked in Karel’s memories with an individual warden – ‘beater’ Albin Storch. He was notorious among the students for what he did – after the line up at the appellplatz (assembly square), he would force them to roll around while he was walking among them beating them and kicking them. He also recalls mothers and children, perhaps from Lidice, perhaps from Ležáky who the warden “camped” on a grassy area to where Karel and other prisoners carried for them buckets with something remotely resembling boiled milk or semolina pudding. It was his reward to have the dried-up crust on the walls of the bucket. When he was a child and was given milk with crust, he would vomit. But now, it was a delicacy for a starving prisoner. Soon after that, the women and children disappeared, possibly in one of the transports.
The Christmas of 1942 was approaching. It was on 4th December when Karel and his three schoolmates were released from the fortress. They had to report to the Gestapo in Kladno on that day and they were instructed on confi dentiality and on the same evening they had to report to the police in their home town of Roudnice. He was lucky to be assigned to forced labour in Hněvice (about 15 km from Roudnice) where he met with his other schoolmates “working on the shovel”. It went on like this day by day until liberation day. With the end of the war came the chance of fi nishing his studies.
It was easy for the grammar school students. They fi nished their studies in their grammar school building but it was diff erent for the technical college students. Their college had been dissolved and that is why the students including Karel decided to continue at the college in Ústí nad Labem. However, it was not easy at all. First, they had to clear up the building which had served as a German infi rmary until the end of the war. They had to clean and furnish the classrooms but also fi nd professors willing to teach in a town which could not yet be called a peaceful one. Recognition of these postwar students’ merits came later in the form of a plaque installed at the entrance to the building. They resumed their studies in the academic year 1945/46, passed their fi nal exams and were considering what would to do next. Karel had a wish to study at university. He therefore enrolled on the Czech Technical University in Prague – Mechanical and Electro Engineering Course, and graduated four years later. His teachers, however, convinced him to go on studying aviation for two more terms.
After his university studies, he started working at the Mechanical Engineering Research Institute. He was approached by an engineer Karel Limbora, a well-known expert who was authorized to establish a new department at the newly founded National Research Institute of Heavy-current Electrical Engineering in Běchovice and Karel was off ered a job. In 1951, before he got familiar with his new work, Karel Beránek managed to get married to Hana Ladýřová, who was a schoolmate of Bardfeld, Kubík and Křivohlavý (whose stories are also told in this publication). During his two-and-a-half-year military service “under the minister Čepička”, he worked at the Research Aviation Institute in Letňany in Prague. When he returned, he fi nally started working with engineer Limbora and in the seventies he took over the department from him.
Karel and his wife have a son Karel (born 1953) but today, he is a widower. He is also a proud grandfather and recently, also an inexperienced great-grandfather. Although his immobility prevents him from doing things, he perseveres in making plans for himself and for others like him about going to the seaside and not spending the rest of his life within his fl at’s walls. It is possible to do but only with the support of charities. We should also mention a Czech non-governmental organization called “Living Memory” founded by the Offi ce for the Victims of Nazism of the Czech-German Fund of Future. Every year, this organization along with their German counterpart arranges regular visits of female volunteers – German sixth-formers – at the fl ats of former prisoners. Karel too has been involved in this scheme for the third year running and he comments on it: “We spend our time talking and drinking tea and later, until the end of the visit, at the computer. The volunteers are very computer literate and they like to pass on their skills to computer illiterate people like me. I am afraid I cannot participate in other programs organized by Living Memory because I can’t aff ord to go by car. Well, that’s life!”
Recorded in April 2013

For Památník Terezín, Luděk Sládek


Release order from Terezín (December 4, 1942) Summons to the family for sending underwear to Karel to Terezín Police registration, 1942 Small Fortres Terezín Small Fortres Terezín Small Fortres Terezín Karel was excluded from the schools in the Protectorate Tableau of alumnis of the State Industrial School in Ústí (1946) About in 1960 Karel Beránek

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