Josef Větrovec

02.09.2015 | 20:46
Josef Větrovec

Romance in the reality of life
Josef Větrovec‘s complex life begins to unfold on March 5, 1922 in Pilsen. He was born in the workers’ quarter, Petrohrad, which, from the end of the 19th century was mainly intended for railway workers and workers at the newly opened factories. His dad František († 1942) was a tailor and his mum Anna († 1953) a house servant. In spite of very poor conditions, Josef completed four classes at junior school and then trained as a locksmith/ metal-pattern maker at Škoda factory.

The family lived in Sladkovského Street, in house No. 29. Josef‘s lifelong love for the theatre manifested in childhood. He was fi rst on the amateur theatre stage at the age of nine. He also played handball in competitions, was a member of the Workers‘ Youth Club Kovodělník (Metalworker) and the Reckov-Pilsen 5 Youth Recitation Team. It was probably at that time that his left-wing beliefs matured, intensifi ed by the environment he came from. After the arrival of the Nazis and the creation of the Protectorate, he actively participated in the resistance in Pilsen and was one of its organizers. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 for the distribution of illegal leafl ets, interrogated and imprisoned in the Bory prison in Pilsen. From there he was taken to the Terezín prison in the Small Fortress, where he arrived on May 8, 1943 at 5 pm.
In the Small Fortress, Josef was given a cell with another 64 inmates. “There was one squat toilet and one water tap, so when they shut us in, you could have stuck a knife in the air,” he said. “I got to cell No. 1, where I was until the end of my stay. First, for about three days, I was in cell No. 30 near the morgue. You walked there over a wooden bridge; it was just a few slats, then I was in No. 1. There I found appropriate friends for the fi rst time in prison. Young people, many from the Communist Party; Vančura brothers, Dr. A. Vomastek, Václav Krumlovský. I remember that in May 1943, large transports arrived to the Small Fortress.”
“The first task force was Storch-Kommando, as is usual with the newly admitted. I did it for fourteen days, and it was terrible. Both Kunze and Neubauer were in a rage. Pod šancemi, there was a faecal stream, where the National Cemetery is now; many Jews were beaten to death there. I was lucky that I was not assigned to the push-cart on which the earth was carried. Guards or kapos chose one of the Jews, they beat him and pushed him into the ditch, and then the prisoners had to keep coming with the cart and cover him with soil. Sometimes it took hours, and there was a terrible scream, and it was agonizing. The Jews then had to take the dead way. The rescue from this horror and shame came when Eduard Buriánek asked for the entire group to be moved to the tannery in Želetice. I worked in this factory until the end of my stay at the Small Fortress. In this factory, there were French captives, and even among the staff there were decent people who gave us cigarettes and food (biscuits) every day. There was solidarity here. I worked in the part of the factory where the leather was cleaned, there was terrible noise and dust. There was foreman Němec, who helped us younger people. He gave us bread with jam and always said: ‘Junge, junge, das ist Krach.‘ The SS did not go in, so it was not checked to see if someone was sitting or even lying. I remember the Schicht’s task force used to bring forage cake, from poppies, or the like. And once it was revealed, there were checks and exercises long into the night, beatings, and jogging. Occasionally, you could see grotesque scenes. Sometimes, the guards were shattered more than the young prisoners. Older people, however, suff ered. Phlegmons formed from the wounds. Unloading of forage cake – warehouse in Litoměřice. It was unloaded from boats, rolled in wheelbarrows. Before noon, we went from the harbour for food from the canteen and it was terrible, potato peel, but it was hot. I went about three times with a pot. An SS gave me cigarettes from his own supply, and then he went to Lovosice with us two ‘helpers‘ to a tobacco shop, which caused a lot of outrage. He also bought chewing tobacco and told us how to infuse it in the water and get rid of the slick surface so that it was good to smoke. He also bought us playing cards we brought to our cell. There were 65 people in there and one squat toilet.”
“It was an early summer evening, and Neubauer came into the cell and asked who was going to water his garden. First, no one spoke, there was 65 of us, only Dr. Vomastek and I decided to go. We entered through a small gate behind the SS barracks, through the door from the courtyard behind the mansion, where the guards had their gardens. Nobody was watching us while we watered the garden. And then it was the evening when Neubauer brought us his shoes and said, “Clean them!” I remember sitting on two steps behind the house, cleaning the shoes. Then Soukup appeared, he was from Chotíkov near Pilsen, and he said, “You clean that bastard’s shoes, and not mine?” Terrible things went around the camp about Soukup. Dr. Vomastek stood to attention and said, ‘Commander, we will also clean your boots.‘ So we cleaned until eleven o‘clock, and our buddies did not sleep, thinking we were dead. When we fi nished, Mrs Neubauer called us in and gave us hard liquor in a clean room, small blankets everywhere, an idyll. She was particularly fl attered that Dr. Vomastek cleaned their shoes.”
“Saliler was ‘above‘ the doctors and took turns with some sort of ‘orderly‘. I got angina and was treated by MUDr. Kryšpín. Twice a day he swabbed my neck in the cell where I stayed. MUDr. Kryšpín was a smaller, dark-haired, handsome man with distinctive eyes. What he did in the adjacent Jewish cell was fantastic. While I was lying down and not going to work, he secretly operated in the other cell three or four times. People could not go there and it was terrible there. MUDr. Kryšpín liked me, so I ‘assisted‘ him a few times. During surgery, the pus went to a can.”
It was on Sunday after we’d watered the garden the day before, when he asked us, ‘I need to rake the hay. Who will come?’ We all volunteered, he picked fi fteen, handed out rakes and we went. It was a beautiful June, or more like July, morning and we went in front of the fortress, to the right between the meadows and apricot alleyways. Neubauer in his short trousers with his Luger hanging on his backside, walked in front of us. Václav Krumlovský silently began to hum a melody to his marching, the March by Laurel and Hardy, Neubauer got hooked, looked back and said, ‘Gut, schön.‘ So we started the V + W song Against the Wind, and so we marched with this song with an SS man. Neubauer lay on the fi rst small hill, ate apricots and did not say anything to us. We moved the soil around and then collected ‘stuff for a smoke‘, including coltsfoot. Then we dried it, packed it the Russian way into newspapers, and our heads ached afterwards. We brought this smoking stuff to our quarters.” “After the solitary at Bory, I felt amazing among young friends. It was diff erent with the older people. When singing, as I talked about on the Pilsen march, they held their heads and said, ‘Brother, brother, what are you doing to us? You will bring misfortune upon us!‘ Today I understand it more, people had terrible experiences. At Bory they moved a mayor of a village in with me at the end due to the lack of space, he had terribly cut up buttocks. I gave him compresses. As I sang, he got terribly frightened. Here at the Small Fortress, it was diff erent. There was more of us. So we recited in the evenings: Wolker, Neumann, Halas, we sang, mainly songs by Ježek. Today, I remember this and think that it was desperately and beautifully courageous, what we did. During our passionate political and other debates, the worried ones hid under the pallets, as they also could see it as a provocation. I understand that today. But at other times, these people were crying over a cake from home.”
(Memories of J. Větrovec, recorded by Dr. Miroslav Kryl, prepared for the publication of a book by Miroslav Graclík)
Josef left the Small Fortress in Terezín after 75 days, on July 22, 1943 at 6 am, and was transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Here, thanks to his good physical condition, he managed to survive all the hardship. The liberation of the camp took place under particularly dramatic circumstances by 3rd Unit of the US Army on April 11, 1945. However, the prisoners previously took over the control of the camp thanks to the resistance group (predominantly Communists and Social Democrats, Jews and Christians), which secretly acquired 91 rifl es and machine guns (since 1942). The following day, the camp was taken over by the US 80th Infantry Division.
After the return from Buchenwald to Pilsen, Josef founded the Theatre of Our Time ‚45 and, thanks to his indisputable talent, he became a member of the J. K. Tyl Theatre where he created a number of interesting roles during his time there. After 14 years (1960), he left Pilsen and went to the E. F. Burian Theatre in Prague. Between 1973 and 1988 he was its artistic director. He remained in the Theatre afterwards, as an actor, until his fi nal retirement (1990). Although he never studied acting, the years of experience made him an excellent actor. He started acting in fi lms only after his arrival in Prague, thanks to a small part in the drama Cock Scares Away Death (1961). He was given most acting opportunities by Czechoslovak Television; he was involved in all classic projects (Cottagers, Circus Humberto, There was One House, Today in One House, Sons and Daughters of Jacob the Glass-blower, Good Water, Collection of Curiosities of Prague Town, Adventures of Criminology). His last fi lm role was a hospital director in “Poets”. He was one of the best voice actors; he was the voice of Jean Gabin, Bud Spencer or Joff rey de Peyrac. He was also known as a commentator, reciter, and storyteller on radio or television.
He won a number of awards, not just for acting – Artist of Merit (1973), Order of Labour (1978), Jaroslav Průcha Prize (1978), Medal of Merit for the Capital City of Prague (1981), Medal of Merit of Czechoslovakia Soviet Friendship (1981), Medal of the World Peace Council (1982), Klement Gottwald Medal (1982), J.K. Tyl Medal (1983), and National Artist (1983). His colleagues loved him, especially for his rare, sincere nature, and as some people recall, he never intentionally harmed anyone.
After 1989, however, he lived in seclusion and spent most of the time from the spring to the autumn at the cottage in the Kokořín municipality. He was married three times. From his fi rst marriage he had a daughter, Jitka. Thanks to her he became a triple grandfather and a fi ve times great grandfather. He died on February 11, 2002 in Prague at the age of nearly 80.

For Památník Terezín Luděk Sládek

One of the cells in the Small Fortress Card of J. Větrovec from the Small Fortress Buchenwald, April 16, 1945 Obrázek č.4 Grave of Josef
Větrovec in Střešovice

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