Memories of a Wartime Childhood – Life on one Street

Memories of a Wartime Childhood – Life on one Street

Mgr. Dagmar Jelenová
Many books and articles have already been written about the old Ostrava. They deal with the first discovery of coal, the magnificent Art Nouveau architecture or the mammoth industrial giants. I would like to focus on an overview of the life of people in the neighbourhoods of Ostrava.

I was born in Vítkovice, the Mecca of metallurgical industry, and I grew up in a residential area in Kunčičky with the shaft Alexanderka and a mining colony nearby. Neighbouring Kunčice became famous for constructing a new metallurgical colossus NHKG. No more walking along the dyke of the pond and collecting chestnuts from which we created animals and figures at school. But I want to go back to the time before World War II., to the time of the so-called First Republic, and tell you the story of one street located on a very busy crossroad near the River Ostravice.

There were villas with gardens on both sides and in each of them lived several families – people of various professions, faiths and nationalities. They lived companionably together, talked together and, if necessary, also helped each other. There were Czechs, Jews, Germans. Since the technology was not so advanced, when it came to leisure activities, the whole street participated. One organizer was enough for all the neighbours to not only chat but also sing, play blind man’s buff and engage in other entertaining activities. They went through moments of happiness, but also difficult periods of crisis. There was still willingness to communicate and help each other. But then one day in 1939, the German army appeared in Vítkovice. By that time, our district had already called men to arms and then let them go again.

People from our street, which was called Květná, angrily watched a German officer controlling traffic at the intersection. I remember that one of the neighbours said to the soldier, ‘careful, your new boots may soon get too small for you.

His prophecy was fulfilled, but only after six unhappy years during which the peaceful lives of the street disappeared. The house of our neighbours was turned into a local German headquarters. Nevertheless, the Czech neighbours wanted to help the Jewish neighbours. They had to flee, otherwise, they ended up in concentration camps. People tried to rescue at least a portion of the possessions of these families and indeed after the war, those who survived and came back got their belongings back, but others were lost without a trace. Families died out either on the front or in concentration camps.

The war was about to end, freedom was coming, the Red Army was mopping up the positions of the German occupiers. Neighbours hung out our flags together with the red ones and unsew the Nazi swastikas. People were hugging each other and the Russians established their headquarters in the same villa as previously the Germans. It was later moved to a local school because Allied troops bombed Vítkovice and one stray bomb hit the garden of the command villa. However, once the residents of the street were evacuated, they managed to disarm the bomb. Shooting, taking covers, uncertainty – all of that was over. Neighbours hugged each other, counted the losses and wanted to live in peace again, just the way they did before.

In one villa, however, lived a German family – grandmother, married couple and a little boy. They had never hurt anyone and were part of the street, but now they were supposed to pay, as dictated the principle of collective guilt. A commission came from somewhere in Bohemia; people who did not know us and none of us knew them, and they arrested the family, no matter how much the local Czechs protested against it. Mother, together with the child and the grandma, was sent to the Russian headquarters where she was made into a maid, and the father of the family was forced to labour in Vítkovice, where he used to work as a technical officer. They suffered from poverty and hunger. Their property was confiscated and their personal belongings and valuables stolen. During the expulsion, this family was driven to Germany, and the grandmother died on the way; she was left behind in the ditch. After a long period, this expulsion was investigated, and the couple with the already adolescent boy could return to their street and renew their neighbourly relations. Life went on, but the hard-won freedom was somehow lagging behind. Shops, tailor’s and shoemaking were nationalized, farmers had to pay quotas of grain, eggs and the like from their fields. They began to build a metallurgical giant in the neighbourhood, also in Vítkovice was the production expanding.

It was the beginning of the era of records. Initially, people were enthusiastic about it – our republic must be renewed, so it is necessary to participate. With the development of the industrial behemoths, there were workers coming from all over the country, either voluntarily or forcibly. Red stars lit the surroundings. However, the newcomers were followed by screenings regarding who is more loyal to the leading role of the political party of parties. Life was no longer what it used to be, it echoed with fear, the street grew older and changed its name to Listopadová (November).

The new generation was gradually leaving; others came in, and the cheerful street remained only in our memories.

In: Almanach Paměť Ostravy, published by the Ostrava City Library, 2016