Hanuš Šnábl

* 1928  †︎ 2007

  • "Esther Rantzen hosted a TV programme, and usually some kind of a surprise formed part of this show. She invited him to come for the programme under the pretext of his present-day charity work. He had no idea that we would be present there. They managed to bring 22 of us, his ´children,´as we call ourselves today. We were seated around him and as the show progressed, it became evident that they invited him precisely because of this: ´Now, Mr. Winton, if you would please turn aroud, and all the people who were saved by you and who are present here, will raise their hands.´This first meeting was very emotional. We all keep in touch with him since that time. He says that today his family counts over 5000 members, including his ´children´and ´grandchildren,´and we live all over the world. I go to visit him very often, he lives about 40 kilometres from London. He lives alone, does some gardening work, but above all looks after various charity societies. His wife passed away about ten years ago. She was a great helper for him, she truly did not know anything at all about us. Not until someone told her. There is no better monument man can have."

  • "Even the officers were not all the same, some also suffered under the system, they were transferred to PTP for being incompetent. Others were brimming with ideology, and tried to re-educate us, but we devised a countermeasure. We always managed to find some of their weak points, usually alcohol, so they got stoned several times, and then we got our own back on them. It was not a nice relation, as you can imagine. They made us work hard. Eight hours in the shaft, and before or after the shift they made us run on the training ground, so the life there was hard. Certainly harder than the life of the prisoners, with whom we took turns working in the shaft. They mocked us, they were laughing at us bragging that thay get free time after the shift, that they do not have to march to work, but are taken there by bus, and that they know how many years of imprisonment they have left. We did not know when all this would be over for us. Theoretically, military service was for two years then, but there was some clause that they can have us interned longer if required. They prolonged my internment for about two months. Then I signed what they wanted me to sign, realizing that there was nothing else for me to do. I stayed at the shaft as a civilian employee, they released me from the military service under this condition, but this job I got at the shaft afterwards was much worse."

  • "Fortunately it was not such a heart-rending event for me, because I have always been brought up to be self-reliant, even since I was a little boy. As if they had anticipated all this. They told me I was going to England, that every boy should travel when he is young. They told me that they would follow me to England as soon as possible. So it was not like saying farewell forever, but only for a couple of months. Perhaps subconsciously they knew it would not be just a couple of months, because they gave me clothing for longer than two years. I was eleven years old then, boys grow quickly in this age, and they packed a suit in my suitcase, tailored for an older boy, so they had probably expected it. Unfortunately they did not manage to get out of the country, and that sealed their fate."

  • "I was sent to a family of a country teacher in a small village. Having lived in our Prague flat, this little house seemed very primitive to me, they did not even have a bathroom, and there was a privy in the garden. These people were so nice, they gave me their son´s room and he had to go sleep downstairs on the sofa. I spent nine months with them, and started going to an English school there. I knew a little bit of English, and I learnt the rest very quickly. There is no better way to learn foreign languages than to live with a family where they speak nothing but that language. I could not speak Czech to anyone, I only had some Czech books with me, but otherwise I had to speak English. Within four or five months, I began to receive standard marks in school, and the teachers did not have to make any special allowances for me."

  • "It was in 1939, the Germans occupied our country, and I was lucky to be one of the seven hundred children who were saved by the British organization led by Nicolas Winton. I arrived to Britain without my parents, who hoped they would follow me within a couple of months. However, this did not happen, because the war broke out. Strangers took care for me while I was in Britain. Nothing had been prepared for me beforehand, as it was supposed to be. Winton´s organization however provided care also for children, who had no secured future in Britain, as the British regulations required. They managed to get these other children to Britain quickly, without papers, in order to save them, and to take care of all the paperwork afterward. When I look back, I have to confess that I joyfully approve of such proceedings."

  • "They were looking for an electrician, so I - being consciously deceitful - applied as an electrican, for I knew that skilled workmen enjoyed better work conditions than ordinary miners. But I messed it all up pretty soon thanks to my ´art of diplomacy.´I was not used to getting up at 4 a.m. and I often fell asleep during the work. That was nothing extraordinary, but one had to know where to sleep. I did not know it then. I was carrying some electric cables, unloaded them in the eighth mining district, sat down on them, and fell asleep. I was awakened by somebody pulling at my nose and blinding me with the light of the so-called blitzka torch. The foremen and superiors, called "štajgrs," had these lamps, in this case it was the chief engineer who woke me up. He asked me: ´What the heck are you doing here?´to which I replied, using my ´art of diplomacy.´ ´Polishing the windows, dude, can´t ya see?´Thus I was sacked from my position of an electrician, and transferred to undermining work, which was the hardest labour in the entire shaft, it was all drudgery for me. The co-workers were quite annoying, these miners treated me badly."

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    Praha - Holešovice, 04.09.2006

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They told me I was going to England, that every boy should travel when he is young

Hanuš Šnábl in 2006
Hanuš Šnábl in 2006
zdroj: Hynek Moravec

  Hanuš Šnábl was born in a Jewish burgher family in the Prague neighbourhood of Dejvice. At the age of eleven, his parents enlisted him in the children‘s transport from Prague, organized by British businessman Nicolas Winton. For nine months he stayed with a family in the English countryside, afterwards he lived in an all-boys boarding house in the town of Rugby. Šnábl attended English schools, for the last two years he also studied at a Czechoslovak school in Wales. He returned to Prague in summer 1945 in a gun turret of a bomber aircraft. In 1947 he graduated from a Prague grammar school, and subsequently found employment as a trainee editor for the Svět motorů (MotorWorld) magazine. During one editorial staff meeting, he made a derogatory comment regarding the coup in February 1948, which cost him his job and led to his drafting into the PTP (Hard labour technical squads) instead of regular army service. He was sent to work in coal mines. In the late 1950s, Šnábl worked again as an editor, in Prague he helped to start the publication of the magazine Automobile. He worked for this magazine until 1964, when he decided to emigrate to Great Britain. Shortly after, he joined the Czech broadcasting studio of the BBC, and continued to work there till his retirement. Hanuš Šnábl lived in a northern suburb of London, and visited Prague only occasionally as a tourist. He died on February 5th, 2007.