Zbyněk Čeřovský

* 1931  †︎ 2024

  • "The only thing I could do was choose people who were either clean or had nothing to do with the prison as my coworkers. It was terrible, though, because the prison was... the Pankrác prison had been through a riot. They even burned the cells; there was such a group of people who were left in, and nobody wanted to talk to them. Here we were, there were the bars, and there was a group of people who were capable of killing us all if given guns. So we said we had to do something. I said, 'Okay, I'm going in there to them.' 'You can't do that, they'll kill you.' I said, 'They won't because I'm one of them.' I went in there to meet them. They calmed down. We have documented what I'm telling you - no made-up stories. The guards opened the bars for me. I went in there among them. And I said, "Friends, I'll tell you something. You're not here because of me, you're here because you committed some crimes and the court sent you here. And we're here to make sure you serve the sentence they gave you. I guarantee you that we won't do any of the things that happened earlier. No solitary confinement, no hunger torture, no bullying, nothing like that. Calm down, and if you have any demands, choose two or three people to come to me, as I can't deal with a hundred people, and we'll figure out what needs to be done. And rest assured we know there's a lot that needs to be done.' So that's how the message got through to them."

  • "First of all, when we got there, they put us in some sort of induction ward. A guard in the captain rank was in charge of that ward. He made our lives miserable every morning. We did marching drills, training and things like that, like when a soldier, a new recruit, first enlists. That's how they made our lives miserable. That induction ward took about a month, and then they assigned me to a scrap metal sorting shop. They would bring in scrap metal and we had to sort it. My wife fought hard and got me reassigned to a book binding shop, and it was worse than the scrap yard. The standards were virtually impossible to meet. If you didn't deliver, you could be bullied over that. First of all, you were making ridiculous money; it was pennies, literally. Secondly, they could forbid you to receive parcels or any benefits. They wouldn't let you... We worked in a dusty environment, but they wouldn't let us take a bath, and they bullied us for example by referring us to some pointless interview when food was being issued. By the time it was over, the food had been issued, and they didn't give us anything and we were starving. That was such a miserable situation to be in."

  • "In the 1980s, I was summoned to the regional administration and I was told that I had to move abroad by decision of higher-ranking authorities. I asked which authorities those were. 'We won't tell you'. They decided that I should move abroad. The higher-ranking authorities were the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Interior, Obzina. That's where it came from. They told us what to do. I picked up the forms that they told us to pick up and completed it, the application for eviction. It's unbelievable the document has survived in the original copy. I wrote that I was applying for eviction due to pressure from StB. I wrote we were not going to give up our Czechoslovak citizenship because I assumed the political situation was temporary. After completing [our stay abroad], we would return. That must have made them furious because from that moment on they just started treating me and my wife ugly."

  • "Then they discussed who would continue to serve this regime and who would not, and so some guidelines and directives were drawn up that included the Warsaw Pact, the main political administration and the Ministry of National Defence. The way it went was, as I hinted at last time, that we were actually shaping our own destiny from the first day of the occupation. They were watching us. With those troops came the NKVD and the KGB, the GRU. The Poles who came two days later also had counter-intelligence or intelligence units in their line-up that were scoring us. They also asked about our cooperation with the police. There was a police officer among us. He told me in a personal conversation that the Soviet army officers spoke to him and asked what we did and how we acted. If we showed a good relationship and agreed with the so-called 'international aid', it was in line with the changes, and if not, we just sealed our fate. Later on, they managed it using these forms they gave each of us to sign. I don't remember the details, but the form said something such as we simply agreed with the international aid, as they called it. Those who signed it were fine. Those who didn't likely knew that was the end of the line for them. I was determined not to sign anything like that because I had claimed from the very beginning that we had sworn to defend our country, even though nobody told us against whom, nobody knew. So, whoever didn't sign it, it was only a matter of time before they got fired. And again, there was this weird loophole that they made. Many of us, myself included, chose to leave the army [voluntarily]. But they didn't want to discharge us because, according to the regulations, any soldier who left the army voluntarily was entitled to some kind of severance pay. Whereas when they fired you, they didn't give you anything."

  • "Then the airborne unit got there. I was on patrol with the commander of the airfield battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Jelinek, since there were the aircraft there and I was in charge - nobody relieved me of that responsibility. I wanted to know what was going on at the airport. It's over a kilometer from the headquarters to the hangars. Lieutenant Colonel Jelinek and I went to the hangar to see if it was guarded, if there was anything being done to those planes because we were responsible for them. One or two cars arrived. I don't remember because it all happened so fast. Ten or twelve soldiers in red berets, Polish paratroopers, jumped out of them. They immediately put us in front of the hangar, ordered us to raise our hands and pointed their automatic rifles at us. We were waiting to see what was going to happen, whether they were serious or whether this was some kind of provocation. So we stood there. I have always wondered: when people were being killed and brought to their death, what were they feeling? And it's like, if you don't know what happens to you, you don't have any feeling at all. We weren't even afraid, I don't know. All it took was for some soldier to lose it, pull the trigger, and we'd be dead on the spot. So we stood there with our hands up. It looks like we were yielding or weak, but at that point you have no choice. You either put your hands up and wait to see what happens, or you don't put your hands up and they shoot you. Just the way it is. Then all of a sudden they just jumped back in the cars and drove away. And we stood there looking at each other, flabbergasted. By the time we got back to the airport headquarters, there was already a rumor circulating to the effect that the Poles had shot us."

  • "At 6:30 a.m., a fighter-bomber regiment armed with MIG 17 aircraft arrived from the Polish airport of Zagan, a well-known name. It used to be called Sagan, it was in East Prussia. There was that infamous prisoner of war camp where the western airmen were kept. The airmen POW tried to escape from there, and Hitler then had shot fifty of them. The commander of that sortie was Lieutenant Colonel Gaponov, the deputy from the division. I had talked to him in May that year when they came for an inspection. He got off the plane and went to the airport tower. I was already there, and since we hadn't received any orders, I ordered the radars and radios turned off, the lights turned off, and everything locked up and nobody allowed in. He walked past me and acted like I was invisible. He just acted like he'd never seen me in his life, like he didn't know me. He walked next to me, past me, I was standing there in my capacity as the deputy airport commander, the person he could deal with. But he went up to the tower and tried to break in because he knew there were more planes coming in. Everything was shut down. He didn't ask me any questions, I wasn't contacted. He went down and started directing the landing planes from his own airplane that he flew in with. Now, imagine this: The theory or the idea is: you go in to suppress an act or preparation of Czechoslovakia against the Warsaw Pact. That's how these people were indoctrianted; we learned that from them later when they told us. So, now the planes are coming in, landing. They have no fuel. They're on the ground. We gave them nothing. Plus, it started to rain. Pilots with no fuel at an airport that wasn't operational. They're waiting. What kind of strategy is that? How can a plane fight if it has no fuel? It lands at the airport, and now there are fifty planes and they don't have a single litre of fuel. and there is no fuel at our airport either."

  • "He called me in, we were six months away from graduating [from the military academy]. And he said to me, 'Look. You're graduating in six months and you're the only one of the thirty of you in the class who's not in the party. Either you join the party and graduate, or you don't join, don't graduate and will have to serve more.' I told him, 'But, comrade lieutenant colonel, I can't make that decision, it's too much for me.' 'You have no decision to make.' He reached into a drawer, took out a completed application form and told me, 'Sign here.' And I did. I came home, I was briefly married, I had a young wife. She was twenty-three years old. And I thought, 'I have to tell her, but I don't know how.' I just didn't want to. I considered it a weakness. But I told her later that night. And she said, 'You made a big mistake and you're gonna regret it.' And I thought, 'Look, she doesn't know shit, she just has no idea.' I said, 'They'd fire me. What could I do?' 'You'd find a job.' And she was right. Well, that's the way it is. I signed it and became a candidate."

  • “The occupation of Hradec Králové was very aggressive, and the Poles acted even more aggressively than the Russians. They sent their paratrooper unit there, I don’t know how many men, whether a column or a battalion. We did not have any contact with them. Unlike Russians who believed that they came here as our liberators and saviours, the Poles treated us in a very aggressive way. The first thing they did was that they took over our command station, and they totally looted it and destroyed it. They even – and I have this documented– made me and lieutenant colonel Jelínek, who was the commander of his own battalion – stand in front of the hangar. I don’t know if they meant it seriously, but they told us that they would shoot us. We really did stand there with our hands above our heads in front of the hangar waiting whether they shoot us or not. They were Polish paratroopers. They did not shoot us. We were standing there with Jelínek. I remember that lieutenant colonel Jelínek exclaimed: ‘Fuck, let them press the trigger, or I pee my pants.’ I have never been in a situation like this before. I have been in dangerous situations while flying. But I have never stood against the wall with somebody aiming a submachine gun at me. I don’t know how a person would react to it. An insane number of thoughts run through your head. If they had pressed the trigger, you would have been dead and unable to do anything against it. Eventually they let us go.”

  • “When we evaluated the operation from the military point of view, it was done in a very primitive way. An air regiment lands somewhere without securing anything, they don’t have any fuel, they have rockets and bombs in they planes but they have no fuel. The ground units which ought to provide for everything for the regiment, including radio coverage, are waiting somewhere in Trutnov. They demanded fuel from us, but we did not have any fuel at the airport. The reason was that the bunkers which were built there were leaky, and fuel was leaking to the ground, and we therefore stored extra fuel at two other airports, in Eš near Pelhřimov and in Jičín. There were fuel tanks at the airport in Jičín, but somebody opened them and all the fuel leaked to the ground. We were thus not able to give them any fuel. It started raining, they had no place to stay and they were sitting in their planes, angry and tired and without food and fuel while they were expected to fight. I cannot imagine something like that. From the military perspective, it was a botched operation. That’s really the way it was.”

  • “I had no money, and before they released me from pre-trial detention, they were therefore so kind to give me the Rudé Právo newspaper every morning, which was the official daily, and while reading it I learnt that there was some Charter and that they were all criminals and subversive elements, and as the newspaper called them. The article stated that the society condemned this activity, and that companies and schools were issuing proclamations against it. I thus tried to find out more about what this Charter was. Imagine this: after I learnt the names of those involved, nobody wanted to speak to me. Nobody wanted to communicate with me. All those who did not know me thought that I was an agent, a dangerous man. But eventually I got to Vaculík. Vaculík invited me for some session in a pub and there we discussed everything. He gave me some papers to sign the Charter. He asked me: ‘Do you want to make your signature public or not?’ ‘If I sign something, it becomes public, does not it?’ My wife was waiting in the car, and she then said: ‘Now you will get into hell of a trouble, this is just the beginning.’ I signed the Charter at the end of February 1977, after my release when I was on parole, but when Prečan published the book about Charter 77, he listed my signature as if from May 1978, but I don’t know why.”

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I swore an oath to defend my country against the enemy. There was no telling who that enemy would be

Zbyněk Čeřovský
Zbyněk Čeřovský
zdroj: Zbyněk Čeřovský

Zbyněk Čeřovský was born in Hořice v Podkrkonoší on 13 July 1931. His family was of the left-wing orientation. His grandfather, who worked in a textile factory, was originally an anarchist, later a social democrat and finally a Communist Party official in Hořice. His mother was a ladies‘ dressmaker and his father worked for the Elektrolux company. When the witness was eight years old, he experienced the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by Nazi Germany. In the autumn of 1945, his father was offered a job as a national administrator of the agricultural machinery shop in Litoměřice where Zbyněk Čeřovský attended the Josef Jungmann General High School. After graduation, he entered the Officer Cadet School and from there, he was assigned against his will to the Artillery Military Academy in Hranice na Moravě in August 1950. He was discharged in the lieutenant rank on 3 August 1952 and assigned to the 32nd Heavy Artillery Brigade in Kostelec nad Orlicí. He was selected to study at the Klement Gottwald Military Academy in 1953. In the autumn of 195,8 he joined the 45th Artillery Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment at Plzeň-Bory Airport. He was assigned to Mimoň Airport in 1961 as the Chief of Staff of the Evaluation and Photography Centre, and in 1965 he became its commander. The following year he joined the 18th Fighter Bomber Aviation Regiment in Pardubice as the Chief of Staff, and when it was disbanded in 1967 he received orders to report to the 30th Fighter Bomber Aviation Regiment in Hradec Králové. This is where he was caught by the August 1968 invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops into Czechoslovakia. Zbyněk Čeřovský, together with several other pilots, starkly opposed the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops. He was therefore expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1969 and dismissed from the army in May 1970. In the autumn of 1976 he was arrested by the StB for alleged anti-state activities and held in detention until February 1977. After his release, he signed Charter 77. He also became more involved in anti-regime activities. Among other things, he established contact with the US and German embassies. At the same time, he was monitored as part of the StB project called the Neighbour. On the evening of 9 November 1981, he was detained by the StB again, and after several months of interrogations, he was brought to trial and sentenced to two years‘ imprisonment. He met many opponents of the communist regime in the prison in Plzeň-Bory, including Jiří Dienstbier Sr., Dominik Duka and Václav Havel. After his release from prison, he was deported to Germany together with his wife and son as part of the StB project known as Asanace. The Čeřovský family returned to Czechoslovakia after the November 1989 revolution. In September 1991, he took up the offer of the post of director of the prison in Prague-Pankrác. He passed away on 25 June 2024.