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Jan Jansa from forced labour in Norway to Czechoslovak army in Great Britain

26. 7. 2020

 

Jan Jansa was born on September 21, 1923 in the village Cizkrajov (German name Sitzgras) in South Moravia close to the Austrian border. However, he had a home affiliation in the not too distant town Želetava, where he also attended primary and middle school. In September 1939 he entered the apprenticeship of blacksmiths and farriers which he completed in August 1942. Since at that time the Germans and the protectorate authorities were already carefully mapping all available labor, he had to appear at the employment office (Arbeitsamt) within a week. To avoid the threat of deployment in Germany, he signed up for a German company operating in the surrounding area.

To save myself for a while, I joined Phoenix Vereinigter Rohrleitungsbau Berlin. The company worked on an oil pipeline leading from Romania to Berlin. The company accepted me because it had few people. The fact that it was a German company was also allowed to me by the labor office.

During the construction of the pipeline, he learned to oxyacetylene welding. However, the work lasted only a month, after which he had to return to the employment office:

After finishing the work, we all had to report to the employment office within a week.

On November 3, 1942, he was selected for the Todt's organization, and three days later he left the Czech Lands for Berlin. Over the course of ten days, he completed various administrative matters, issued documents as an employee of Organization Todt and was assigned to work in Trondheim.

They took us to the Schlachtensee Stammlager. The next day, Todt's ID cards were issued to us for work in Trondheim – Norway.

Jan Jansa left Berlin by train to what was then Falkenburg in West Pomerania (now Złocieniec in Poland), where he and the other Czechs waited for transport until December 1, 1942. As soon as the next transport was ready, they left for Szczecin, where they immediately boarded the ship s.s. Urundi, which landed in Oslo on December 3, 1942. After four days, he went to Trondheim, where on December 9, he started working for the first time at Sager & Woerner, which built submarine bunkers in Trondheim. In April 1943, Jan Jansa was transferred to a quarry in the village of Melhus near Trondheim.

I was in the workshop for three days. They also put me to concrete pumps, which pushed the concrete to build a submarine dock. I worked here for five months. On April 25, 1943, I was transferred to Melhus, 20 km from Trondheim. Here I worked for sand-cleaning machines that drove to Trondheim to build a dock. There were two Czechs in Melhus.

In June 1943, after half a year of work, he was given eighteen days' leave. He visited home, but then had to return.

They confirmed our holidays and gave us money on the way home and back to Berlin. Of course, I enjoyed home, but not other things. Wherever one looked, everything was devastated. Shops empty. Everything was rationalized, there were even shoelaces on the tickets. Which little thing was without tickets, it was not possible to buy here. I didn't I didn't enjoy that vacation at all.

Further work awaited him. Food rations and working conditions deteriorated.

It started to freeze and the sand stopped cleaning. We worked in a workshop. There were two Czechs, one Norwegian and two Germans in the workshop. I worked with oxyacetylene torch. Work had to be done, every day. When there was no work, no food. We were forced to work every day. I was already cursing and cursing at everything.

In January 1944, on the advice of a Danish worker, he decided to flee to Sweden. He agreed with another Czech, Václav Dostál, and after the necessary preparations, they both set out on 19 February. They took a boat to Steinkjer, and from there on foot to the Swedish border.

He turned to the mountains in Gaulstad. It was worse here. Snow for two to more meters. But I slowly overcame it. […] But I was tired of impossibility. In addition, the wind and the snow came. I knew the really white danger, and I believed I will find the white death.

His companion couldn't stand the arduous winter march through the snowy mountains, and returned. However, Jan Jansa continued, and after five days of marching, he managed to get to Sweden with the help of local mountaineers.

After three days and three nights, I got to human dwellings. I was happy as a child when I saw the smoke from the chimneys. Heat, heat. I asked for coffee. I drank three cups of coffee, ate pudding and cookies. […] I reached [the municipality of] Klepen in an hour. I got coffee there again. The young man also gave me skis. I paid him with a pack of tobacco and fifteen cigarettes. I only bought cigarettes and tobacco for the case I need help. Norwegians will do anything for cigarettes. I left at nine o'clock. I drove about four kilometers on the road and continued to turn into the mountains. The fog was falling. I was soaked, cold – I broke my shoe. My leg is frozen, but I had skis.

After several days of interrogation and verification, the Swedes took him to Stockholm, where he reported to the Czechoslovak embassy, which worked there semi-legally. He then joined several dozen other Czechoslovaks in a camp in Södertälje southwest of Stockholm. In October 1944, he was flown by plane to Britain, where he went through another round of intelligence interrogations, before he was finally appointed into the Czechoslovak army-in-exile on November 13, 1944. After basic training, he was selected to serve with ground personnel of the Air Force, and in early January 1945 he joined the replacement depot of the Czechoslovak Air Force in Cosford (Shropshire, UK). After special training, he found himself with the Czechoslovak 311th Bomber Squadron, which then operated from Airport in Tain in northern Scotland. He served with the rescue squad and on the ground radio station. Here Jan Jansa was caught by the end of the war. In August 1945, he returned to his homeland, and decided to become a professional soldier and stay with the Air Force permanently. After the communist coup in February 1948, however, former members of the air force in the West became uncomfortable because the new power did not trust them. Jan Jansa was also released in December 1948 as unreliable. At the beginning of 1949, therefore, he went abroad illegally. At first he stayed in an internment camp in Germany, in 1950 he went to England, where he found a job as a welder – the profession which he learned under the German occupation. In 1957 he emigrated further to Canada. He worked for a company based in Edmonton as a welder and foreman on various construction sites throughout Canada. In 1965, his wife and son were finally able to visit him. He remained in Canada after retiring.

 

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