I come from Strážnice, where we lived in Za valy street, no. 245. My father died in 1926, and he was for many years a coachman on the estate of Count Magnis. My mother stayed at home and looked after the children.
My youngest brother, Adam, was born after my father's death in 1926, the eldest, Martin, was born in 1911, then there was František in 1914, Karel in 1919, me in 1921 and my sister Růžena, who was born in 1924. Both my elder brothers went to work after they left school, and helped my mother to support us younger siblings. Karel and I learnt a craft - Karel was a cobbler, and I was a tailor. We were all imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps. My mother and Martin died in the gypsy camp in 1944. We don't know where the youngest brother, Adam, died.
After leaving elementary school and the first grade of secondary school I was apprenticed for a year as a bricklayer to František, a relative, who was a master bricklayer. Then I was apprenticed for three years in Strážnice with Ježek the tailor, and went to three years of continuation school. In 1939 I started work at Baťa in Zlín, where as young workmen we built the line to Vizovice. Around 60 of us were later sent to a labour camp near Linz. However, typhus broke out there, and I escaped. In 1941 I got to Koblenz, where I found work in the Stollwerke chamotte factory. I didn't like it there, and ran away in November, maybe. I was caught on the Protectorate border and put in prison. In January 1942 I was released, and I returned to my mother in Strážnice, working as a tailor in the SLUM cooperative. I then had to leave, together with Jiří Kýr and my cousin Josef, and I worked on the construction of a road in Tišov.1
Then I and six other men were taken to Slavkov, where we stayed for several weeks. From there Jiří Kýr and I were taken to Brno and included in a large transport to Auschwitz (main camp). We were the only two Gypsies in the transport. I can't remember what my number was, I know there was a nine in it. This was in autumn 1942, I can't remember the exact date. I told them there that I was a bricklayer. I only stayed a short time in the main camp, before being transferred to Birkenau with a construction commando. We were all given striped coats. We built ovens and heating channels between them, in blocks in the future gypsy camp. In the neighbouring camp there was another commando doing levelling work. Soon, in the spring, I was sent to the gypsy camp, where they interrogated me as to why I was imprisoned, and in the end asked me if I wanted to see my brothers. When I said I did, I stayed in the camp, and in a block whose number I don't remember, I met all four of my brothers again. The block head was a brutal Sudeten Gypsy, who knew Czech.2
Shortly after that I was transferred to the main camp, together with my brothers Martin, Karel and Adam. I went to block 18 with the construction commando, which was building a road to the I.G. Farben factory (as I later found out) and also brought building material for the SS men. One Sunday I was boxing (when I was at home, I used to go to boxing lessons) when I was recognised by František S., a People's Party deputy from Strážnice, and with his help I got into a tailors' workshop. I worked there until I was sent on a transport to the Natzweiler concentration camp.
Natzweiler - pseudo-medical experiments
One day I was summoned to an inspection in the hospital, and a few days later I was transferred with some others to block 5. We stayed there for a few days and then one afternoon we left. We didn't know where we were going. The next day, in the late afternoon, we got out of the goods train at a small station. There was a lot of us, but I don't know the exact number. After about half an hour's walk we came to a camp lying on a slope. The gate was at the top of the hill, and the crematorium was the lowest down. There was a forest on one side of the camp, and fields on the other. It wasn't a big camp - about ten blocks - and it hadn't been there for long, as I later found out.3
We lived in a block next to the hospital, number 6. After a few days I and eleven other prisoners were transferred to the hospital. There were six German and six Czech prisoners. Together with me were Antonín K., Jan D. from Petrovice, Jaroslav K., Jiří K. and me, almost all the same age. The next day in the surgery they vaccinated us at the top of our left arm - me on my right arm, though, because I had a big mark on my left from being vaccinated as a child. On about the third day we all went down with a high fever, which lasted for about 10-14 days. During that time they kept measuring us, and a Dutch doctor who was also a prisoner gave us an injection to bring down our fever. My wound went septic, but it healed in about three weeks. None of us in the Czech group died. I don't know what happened to the six German prisoners in the same room with us, we didn't concern ourselves with them. Later I found out that it was an experiment with an African disease.
After the experiment was over, my five friends went back to the camp, but I was chosen by the SS doctor Krejčí to act as a nurse, and also as a domestic servant. He lived with his wife and child in a small villa just behind the gate. I washed, ironed, cleaned and sewed for the whole family. To start with, an SS man accompanied me to the villa, but after a while I walked by myself from and to the camp, under the eyes of the guard at the gate. Dr. Krejčí spoke German to me in the hospital, but at home he and his wife spoke Czech to me. He was from Opava. No one beat me or shouted at me, and I got more to eat, but I wasn't allowed to go into the camp and I couldn't see my friends. This is why I don't know what happened to the others.
In spring 1944 new experiments took place. Dr. Krejčí was on holiday at the time. There were twelve of us by the gate. I didn't see anyone I knew there. They took us away in a prison car, and after 15-20 minutes they shouted to us to get out. We were in a little park, outside several SS men were sitting behind a table, and behind them was a long, brick building, where I caught sight of test tubes behind the open door. They divided us into threes. There were two Poles with me, one about my age, the other a few years older. They took the three of us into a small, high-ceilinged room with a small window near the ceiling, and with cushioned doors that had a peep hole. The SS man threw two test tubes at us through the half-open door, and they broke. He locked us in and told us to walk around the room. Every five minutes he checked on us. I remembered a first aid course I had taken at home, and so I peed on the bottom of my shirt and put it over my face, breathing through it. Soon I lay down on the ground so as not to tire myself out walking. After about 15 minutes one of the Poles fell to his knees, and then he lay down, followed by the second. I moved towards them. After 25 minutes our guard stopped checking on us, and they came with large tongs, as if for bricks, grabbed us with them under our knees, put us in a car and took us to the crematorium in the camp. A civilian and two SS men came, inspected us and measured our pulses. Of me they said: Noch nicht! and left. The two Poles still showed some signs of life, but both of them soon died. The kapo in the crematorium knew me, because I used to carry corpses there, and he gave me three cigarettes. They took me on a stretcher to the hospital, where I got some beef broth and, after a short while, some better food. Meanwhile Dr. Krejčí had returned from holiday, and when I told him I had been in an experiment, he brought me a bit of butter and some other nice things.4
About a month after that experiment, Krejčí learned that another gas experiment was being prepared. At that time a commando was supposed to be leaving for a new camp about 15 kilometres from Natzweiler, and with Krejčí's help, I went with them. Before I left , he gave me a letter for the commander of that camp. When we arrived at the camp and got out, and they were counting us, a young SS officer of a higher rank came, and I gave him the letter. He took me to the camp commander, who also know Czech. I couldn't explain it - maybe Krejčí and the camp commander knew each other well.
The next day I went with a commando that was working underground inside a hill, maybe making parts for the V2. I cleaned the rails (there were four) and alongside them were walls with a window and doors, where both civilians and prisoners worked. As I worked I sang a song about an owl, which had been very popular at home.5 A question came from one of the windows - where was I from, and when had I arrived. It was someone from the same area as me, a civilian worker from Uherský Ostroh. When I walked past for the third time, a parcel with the remains of a snack fell in front of me. I was only there for three days, the next day I chopped wood for the kitchen. Then for about two weeks I took jugs of tea, coffee or cocoa into the SS canteen before breakfast and supper, and poured it out into 36 prepared cups. For this work I received new striped clothing and gloves.
One day my number was called and I was transferred back to Natzweiler, to Dr. Krejčí at the hospital again. I found out from the kapo at the crematorium that during the new experiment, prisoners had to be naked, and that they had all died.
About three to four weeks later, Dr. Krejčí was transferred, and left with his family. I went to Dachau with a transport of about 80-90 prisoners. I worked on a vegetable plantation there, before leaving for Munich, for the station, in order to pull out corpses buried in the bombing raids. I lived in block 31, where I met Antonín K, with whom I had taken part in the African disease experiment. From Dachau I was sent to Neuengamme, from where I was sent to Oranienburg for a short time and from there back to Neuengamme, then to the Danish border, where we dug ditches, from there to Meppen near the Dutch border, where there was an airport. We were evacuated from there and I got to the Samposten camp near Bremen - a camp for prisoners of war. It was liberated by the American army. I came back to Prague on 26 July 1945 via Nuremberg, and from there went home, where I met my brothers František and Karel and my sister Růžena.
Taken from C. Nečas: Nemůžeme zapomenout. Našti bisteras (We Cannot Forget), Olomouc 1994, s. 174-177.