Colonel Jan Fajkus

 

Colonel Jan Fajkus

born 1942 in Těšín

 

(“The way it was“ in the notes of his contemporaries in Valašské Meziříčí, in his own notes, written materials left by František Vlkovský and articles about Jan Fajkus arranged by Alois Martinek at the request of Mr Fajkus´s son for his grandchildren in England)

 

Jan Fajkus, Reserve Colonel

 

By profession Jan Fajkus´s father was an army officer. First he served in Hranice na Moravě and from 1927 in Valašské Meziříčí, which had become Jan´s home for the rest of his life.

 

Originally, Jan Fajkus did not think of becoming a professional soldier.

 

He graduated from the technical college in Ostrava to start working in Bata´s factory in Zlín, where, as he often stated, he acquired the best knowledge and necessary experience with machine production, construction of machines and technical equipment.

 

In 1934 he joined the then Czechoslovak army within the national service scheme. First he served in Košice in Slovakia, then he was moved to Plzeň. It was there that he decided to stay in the army, entered a specialized school and having finished it he became a technical armament officer. As a member of the Department of the Ministry of Defence staff in charge of arms supply he checked and supervised the delivery of ammunition for the army. His suppliers came from 13 factories all over Moravia.

 

During the mobilization in September 1938 the then lieutenant Fajkus organized ammunition army supplies. During the post-mobilization period until August 1939 he was in charge of the liquidation of army production in individual enterprises.

 

The beginnings of his resistance activities after Nazi occupation were disorganized and individual. For Jan Fajkus joining the resistance movement was a matter of no dispute. He distributed weapons he had access to, his own including, among those who needed them, naturally taking care of not registering their names and the number of guns. He obviously could not remember how many and who he supplied them with. At the same time he acted as a connection for the Nation Defence group. He was able to do so because besides being still employed in the armoury he remained in charge of the individual arms producing factories. Then he was demobilized. He was offered the job of a driving license school instructor, of an inspector, but at that time he started planning his emigration to England. With the help of the Sigmund factory in Lutín near Olomouc he managed to get a passport and exit visa to Great Britain, to be employed in their sister factory in Newcastle. All the required formalities could however not have been completed before September 1, 1939, when Poland was attacked by Germany and the British Embassy was closed. This, for Jan Fajkus meant no exit visa and no escaping abroad. Events had taken a sharp turn and there was no way of telling what would happen the next days or hours.

 

Then came the 6th December 1939, the day that was to change the life of Jan Fajkus for the rest of his living existence.

 

Jan Fajkus narrates

(his story recorded by his friend František Vlkovský in 1962 and later in a shorter version published as an interview in Moravské listy in 16 February 1993)

 

Since the first days of Nazi occupation there existed an illegal organization called the Nation Defence. Its first Commander in-Chief was Colonel Klímek and after his arrest Captain Mácha. The liaison officer was my former schoolmate, Lieutenant Čestmír Rusek. My task was to organize a resistance group of the Defence in Valašské Meziříčí, where we had no collaborators. I first contacted Fl. V. Zborník and Fl. Josef Strnad, who in turn engaged Fl. Rubina, Janyška and Fr. Malík. There were others I did not know, because I was only taking care of the connection between Ostrava and Valašské Meziříčí. Gestapo learned about the resistance group from an informer and immediately started arresting its members in Brno, Olomouc and at the beginning of December also in Ostrava. They took Staff Cpt. Mácha, but his aide-de camp Lt. Rusek managed to escape and came to me on the 6th December 1939 to warn me that further arrests will follow in other organisations of the Defence, Valašské Meziříčí including.

 

So the next day we decided to cross Slovakia, because Lt. Rusek had contacts with the railway group of the Defence. My father told me to pack just the most important things and leave the very same evening, 6 December 1939. We were helped by Mr Martinek from the customs office in Valašské Meziříčí, a member of the railway group of Defence there. Lt. Rusek received from him money for necessary expenses and took us to Biňov, to the family of Mr Koláček, who was another railway Defence man. With the help of Koláček´s co-worker acting as a connection and helping refugees cross the border to Slovakia we ended up in Hungary, which at that time extended as far as Nové Zámky. We were lucky to have followed my father´s advice. Gestapo came to arrest me just the next day, 7 December 1939. (This I had not learned from my father until after the end of the war). First we took an evening train to Horní Lideč, changed there for a freight train and got off in Luky pod Makytou. From there we walked to Púchov, got on a morning train to Nové Mesto nad Váhom, where Mr Koláček left us with the manager of the hotel opposite the railway station who sent us to Bratislava to wait for him in the Grand Hotel. Mr Koláček then returned home.

 

At the station we came across other two Lt. Rusek´s friends, who had been in Bratislava for two days aready, left there without money and connection – they were Lt. Eman Kozdera, and Lt. Josef Fiala. The owner of the hotel brought us into the border zone and we met a connection who was to help us cross to Hungary. He had two dogs with him perfectly familiar with the place. He was to take us to the railway station Senec, which already was in Hungary.We were to arrive just to catch the express train to Budapest scheduled for 3 o´clock a.m. I still do not know if he was misinformed or the time of the arrival after midnight we were told was wrong on purpose, but when we turned up at the station we found that the first train was not due to depart until 5 a.m. What happened was that we were detained by the Hungarian patrol. We were taken to the police station and stayed there until the border patrol arrived. One of them could speak Slovak and so we could communicate. After the interrogation we were told we would be returned to Slovakia. This we refused presenting our army identity cards and we even asked for weapons. This changed the patrol´s decision and they said they would intern us. Under their escort we were brought to Nové Zámky where we found other detained emigrants – Melšek, Janotka, Celetka, Flt. Hendrych and a few others whose names I do not recollect. Two other fellow detainees arrived the next day - Procházka and Doležal. Three days later we were transported to the Komárno prison and then to Budapest where we were interrogated at the counterespionage department, kept in a cell on bread and bacon for 3 weeks. After repeated intervention we managed to get the right to eat in the kitchen for Hungarian soldiers. There were constantly more and more of us, having another group we had not known of and so far interned in the other corner of the barracks joining us. Now we were around 50.

 

It may seem strange but the time spent in the Hungarian prison in the Citadel had been my happiest days in the resistance. Not because we were treated quite well but rather as we were full of enthusiasm and eager to fight for our native country. And amounting to about 50 we wanted to make the most of our time having each of us tell the others something from our professions. So I remember a lecture by professor Nigrin from Uherské Hradiště, who spoke about Greek mythology and history. Well, anyway we were constantly aware that what we have to do is try to escape and we had all things ready.

 

Lt. Čestmír Rusek was extradited to the Nazis, who came over to Hungary to pick him up. After the war I learned that he and all the members of the Defence group were executed in Berlin in 1942. A handful of Czechs, me including, were able to escape. It happened by the end of January 1940 during a transport of prisoners when nine of our fellow prisoners got away. The Hungarians did not seem to mind and no repraisals had been taken. You can imagine that we were encouraged and small groups started to be organized planning to follow our friends´ example even though the premises were guarded by soldiers.

 

So on the 6th January 1940 the guards came and ordered 10 of us to go and fetch water from a water supply point 150 metres away from the fort´s gate. Three of the guards went with us. There was a hard frost of 20 degrees Celsius below zero and the soldiers had heavy furcoats while what we had on was very light. We started running towards the water supply and when we were out of sight, Flt. Hendrych, Flt. Martinec, Boris and me had thrown away the buckets and ran. The guards began to shout and even to shoot, though we were not sure if not just at random or what kind of ammunition they had. It was pretty hard running because the snow was frozen, but we managed to reach the foot of the hill nearby. There we were faced with another guard who heard the shooting and caught the first two. Only two of us went on running away. Later we were joined by Mucha, who also fled.

 

What followed was looking for a place to stay all over Budapest and finally Boris helped. Before he was arrested he found shelter in one flat and he took me there. To my great suprise who had I met there but our two guides from Biňov – Koláček and Otáhal, who had to leave the Protectorate as their connection to resistance was leaked. With the help of the French consulate, which set up an office for refugees, we started on our way to get out of Hungary. After three days of waiting we were informed by a former guide of the Czech travel agency Čedok that we were booked on a train to Yugoslavia. Due to frosty weather the train was three hours late and so instead of at midnight we had arrived to the border village of Kskunhalas the next day at noon. A connection was waiting for us. The man could not take us home and it was not dark yet. We could not stay in the local pub since everybody would notice and so we found shelter in a small wooden hut. When it got dark two sleighs turned up to take us 10 escapees to the frontier. We were dropped before the border and shown which way to proceed to Yugoslavia. We could not see much as it was quite dark. Anyway, when we were crossing we came across a Serbian patrol. They were quite friendly, offered us a place to stay and to eat and the next day under the supervision of the Red Cross they bypassed us to Beograd, the Slovanský dům (Slavic House). The main line was watched by the Fifth Column and Gestapo. While staying in Yugoslavia I had an embarassing experience. I wanted to let know my parents and people at home I was all right and asked the Czechs employed by the firm Sigma Olomouc, which had its branch in Kruševec, to help me. But the traffic was so messy that I arrived late and missed my contact. On the way back I was stopped by a patrol. They were not much impressed by my only document, an English letter, they could not understand anyway. Fortunately the Police Department in Beograd escorted me back to the Slovanský dům. At that time we were booked on the Orient Express to Constantinople, wherefrom we continued via Ankara, Homs, Syrian Halab to Beirut. After a month of waiting, 180 Czechoslovaks were shipped to Agde in France. This was a time when Czechoslovak Army troops for the Western front were formed in France. As a lieutenant I was appointed commissioned arms officer at the 2nd Infantry Regiment. Training started and the regiment was equipped with arms to be sent to the front. Since there was no commissioned arms officer in the French army I was put in charge of the service troop as its commander. The concentration of Czechoslovak armed forces was quite impressive at the place. It at least seemed so but it turned out to be just an optical illusion.

 

There were quite a lot of Slovaks living in France as aliens for more than ten or twenty years. They and their families had very little or no contact with the distant native country. When general mobilization was ordered in France they naturally had to join the army and like us they became part of the foreign troops. This meant that our numbers had risen to 12,000 men. When France surrendered they simply returned to their families and work. At the end of May 1940 we moved North to the training ground south of the river Marne near Columier. The whole front was however on the retreat and so we all finally met in Agde again. After evacuation to England there were only 4,500 of us, including 2,800 in land forces.

 

Having embarked in Sete and crossed Gibraltar we landed in Liverpool. From there we were taken to Cholmondeley Park where we stayed in tents. Now we were 3,600 including the airmen. England was quite a different place than France. The people were much friendlier than the French. Three months later we were moved to Stratford on Avon. Since out of the 2,800 men strong land force 800 were officers, officer units were formed. Getting the rank of a Corporal I joined the Bren Carrier platoon as a driver. At the the end of 1941, due to my previous experience in the field of ammunition production, I was sent by the Ministry of Supply to British arms factories and spent four weeks of getting acquainted with their work. In May 1942 I was sent to a paratrooper course.

 

The idea was that after parachutist training our group will be dropped somewhere in what then was called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to help the resistance movement in their subversive activities. Among us there were the later Out Distance, Silver A and other men. Things have however taken a different turn. We were to make five training jumps. But during the third night attempt I hit the hard ground so badly that I suffered a double compression fracture of the spine. This meant four months of hospital bed in plaster. And I was quite lucky that I was able to walk. Anyway, my spine has never been all right since then. Naturally, I turned out to be absolutely unfit for any paratrooper action. This was the reason why our Ministry of Defence offered my services to the British side. The British Ministry of Supply renewed their interest in my former cooperation and so I started working in their ammunition department in London and was put in charge of mechanical time fuses. I went around British arms factories and collected ammunition for the army. I was promoted to the rank of a Captain and served the British as an ammunition officer, specialized in fuses for anti aircraft grenades. I fell in love, married an English woman and a daughter and a son were born to us.

 

In May 1945, Staff Cpt. Bubílek and me were sent to Norway by our Ministry of Defence to act as liaison officers and put in charge of our war prisoners´ repatriation including those of the Czech citizens forced to work in Norway for the Nazis. Later we helped with the segregation of German prisoners of war serving in the Wehrmacht. There we stayed until November 1945.

 

I returned to London and did not get back home until 23 November 1945. I immediately started working at the Ministry of Defence in the 3rd department – ammunition section, where I served until June 1946. My family joined me soon.

 

In 1946, I was tranferred to the restitution mission of the Czech Foreign Office and sent to the US occupation zone in Germany, because I could speak both English and German. I was sending home military material snatched by the Germans in Czechoslovakia and sent to Germany.

 

This job took me two years, and so it happened that in fact I returned home in June 1948 in the rank of a Major.

 

I was well aware of the fact that soldiers who came from the West would not get a warm welcome from the home army circles. The six years we spent in Britain did have quite a marked influence on our seeing and feeling things. We were simply a bit different. And some of us brought their English wives and children with them. Moreover, I had been working for the British two more years after the war in the American occupation zone in Germany. But still I believed that there would be enough sensible and competent people who would not allow things happen the way they had done.

 

First I was not able to find a job, I was sent on leave and put on what was called the waiting list. Then I was dismissed from the army and on 17 November 1949 they came to arrest me. I was taken to Mladá Boleslav and put in solitary confinement. There I spent 6 months. My family (wife and two kids who had no Czech and could not make themselves understood) were moved from Prague to an old dilapidated house and left without any financial means. It was a spooky place with a roof leaking on rainy days. My father from Valašské Meziříčí tracked them out, brought both my wife and the children home and was taking care of them. My family knew nothing about me and my wife faced an absolutely desperate situation. So she made up her mind to go back to Britain. They were all British citizens and the government had to let them return to England. I was not even allowed to say good bye before their departure. My wife died in 1969.

 

I was sitting in my cell for another five months, then for another two and then I was transported to the concentration camp in Mírov. There I received a paper sentencing me to 18 months of forced labour.

 

In the Mírov camp we met again most of the soldiers who emigrated to be able to fight against the German occupants. Or rather those who survived.

 

One of them was František Fajtl, a war hero in the Battle of Britain and later Air Force General. Still a prisoner he was writing his book „Shot Down“ which we helped him to edit.

 

From the sixties on we were regularly meeting again, released from the prison, when we were invited to the French and British Embassies to commemorate the end of World War II.

 

But in the Czech Republic we were absolutely ignored.

 

In 1965 I was completely rehabilitated as a soldier. I got back my Major rank and was even awarded the Czechoslovak Pro Merito medal. In 1969, my case had been brought to court again and I was acquitted of all charges.

 

In spite of all this, after my release from Mírov I was not allowed to be employed in the place where I lived and eventually got an unskilled labourer´s job in Ostrava, which meant commuting every day. Just a few years before retirement I was working as a mechanizer in the state enterprize Roads Ostrava in Valašské Meziříčí. I retired in 1970.

 

I joined the resistance movement at home and then abroad, because I considered it my duty as a career soldier. I went where I was able to do my best in fighting the occupants and, as a regular soldier, obeyed orders and went where I was sent.

 

I had not left the republic for any racial or criminal reasons and for this reason I returned to my native country.

 

I never expected I could be exposed to so much suffering and injustice (eviction, loss of family, no right for an adequate job, etc.).

 

The other occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was another great disappointment. The army had not reacted at all, neither had the Party and government. The Russians must have been wondering how easy it was to get here. Of course we knew that nobody would help us if we don´t mobilize all our capacities, competences, and skills to overcome. This, anyway, holds good at all times.

 

In 1989, there must have been enough reasonable persons among the leading figures in the Communist Party and Government not to allow things turn into a bloodshed of a civil war. Fact is, that the Party controlled the army, police, secret police and militias. The 20,000 odd students in Prague would not be able to organize a take-over. Particularly when we know how effective the communists were in suppressing every opposition at the very beginning.

 

It looks like them realizing that the end of their rule is nearing and that things will necessarily change. We can well see how low we have fallen after the past 40 years of the Communist era, having literally hit the bottom.

 

I, myself, profited from 1989 by being fully rehabilitated as a soldier and person. I was promoted to the rank of a Colonel.

 

In 1989, we regained political and personal freedom. This is not little.

 

If we are to reintroduce justice, we have not only to make up for the wrongs done but also to see that the deeds of the brave be not forgotten.

 

And it is here that we still owe so much.

 

So far the story of Colonel Jan Fajkus from Valašské Meziříčí.

 

In conclusion let us quote from Ferdinand Peroutka:

 

The nation, which does not respect its heroes, risks having none, when it really needs them.

 

May 2009 in Valašské Meziříčí

for the family of Mr Fajkus by Alois Martinek

 

Translation

Professor PhDr. Jaroslav Machacek, Csc., a pracoviste Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic.

 

 

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