Honour for cremator’s son who helped preserve dignity of executed

František Suchý, photo: archive of Post Bellum

As a teenager František Suchý helped his father secretly record the names and hide the ashes of people executed by the Nazis and the Communists. He himself was later sentenced to 25 years in a communist jail. Now, aged 90, he is due to receive a Memory of Nations award on Friday’s state holiday.

František Suchý,  photo: archive of Post Bellum
František Suchý’s father, also named František, was for two decades director of Prague’s Strašnice crematorium.

During the Nazi occupation and following the Communist takeover of 1948, father and son took extremely brave action to preserve the dignity of people executed by those regimes.

The pair made records of those who had been secretly incinerated during the night at the crematorium, their ashes destined for unmarked mass graves. They also hid urns containing the remains of some victims in a cemetery so they could one day receive a proper burial.

Mr. Suchý – who held in his own hands the ashes of resistance leader General Josef Mašín and politician Milada Horáková – recalled their ruses in an interview for the Memory of Nations project.

“When ashes were swept up they were meant to go on a compost heap. But father relied on the fact that if anybody took an interest in this, he could show them ashes that were actually just ordinary ashes. Of course, human remains contain burned fragments of bones… One time the head of Pankrác prison asked where he had put the ashes and he said, In the compost. He said if they liked they could dig it up, but the man just nodded and said he believed him.”

František Suchý was just 16 when he began helping his father carry out this courageous work.

“Of course I knew about it. It was happening at our place and I copied the lists myself… One time I took a lift down to the crematory, where there were boxes of these victims, with blood flowing out of them and so on. There was so much blood you’d almost be wading in it. The people had had their heads chopped off and the blood kept flowing out of them.”

According to Mr. Suchý, his father said he couldn’t cremate somebody if he didn’t know their names. The Nazis therefore allowed him to look at their lists, but said if the identities were betrayed he would meet the same fate.

Strašnice crematorium | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
Sometimes Suchý senior got the Nazis drunk and managed to get his hands on the lists, when he or the young František copied them. Thanks to the pair's actions, the fates of over 2,000 people executed by the Nazis were known to their families.

Later František’s parents were jailed for helping another family defect. Things got worse for the Suchýs when he himself was arrested for aiding a people smuggler working for US intelligence who after his capture had been forced to betray him.

Suchý was pressured to become a collaborator with the Communist secret police. However, he refused to do so, despite being threatened with the gallows.

Instead, in view of his age, he received 25 years in tough communist jails. He was released after serving half of that sentence.

Now 90 years old, František Suchý will receive a Memory of Nations award at the National Theatre on Friday, a state holiday marking the anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution.