Jewish WWII veterans commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day

'They Fought on All Fronts'

Several events were held in the Czech Republic on Thursday to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Several Jewish veterans and resistance workers from the Second World War met at Prague’s Czech Centre on Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to the victims of the Shoa, and to remember their fellow fighters.

'They Fought on All Fronts'
Deputy chair of the Czech Senate, Alena Gajdůšková, addressed several surviving Jewish veterans and resistance fighters at the Czech Centre in Prague on Thursday. They, along with several dozen guests, came to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and to honour those who had the chance to join the struggle against Nazism.

The event was organized by the Prague-based Magen association that has published a new edition of a collection of memoirs of Jewish WWII veterans and resistance workers, entitled They Fought on All Fronts. The idea came from a former head of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomáš Jelínek.

“The perception of the Jews is generally that they were the victims of the Holocaust, that they were murdered in concentration camps. But what was very little known was that they formed a significant part of the resistance movement, of the Czechoslovak exile army in the West and in the East, and that they served in the RAF and the Red Army, and so on. So we are making the story of Jewish suffering more real, showing the stories of those who had a chance to fight, and who were ready to fight, against the Nazis.”

Jindřich Heřkovič
One of some 5,000 Czechoslovakia’s Jewish soldiers who fought against Nazi Germany is Jindřich Heřkovič, who will turn 88 on Saturday. He was born in the easternmost part of pre-war Czechoslovakia, known as Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, and is still fluent in his native language, Yiddish.

After that part of Czechoslovakia was annexed by Hungary, Mr Heřkovič ended up in a labour camp. In 1943, he was sent to the eastern front where he and several of his friends managed to cross the front line, and surrendered to the Soviet troops.

“We were quite surprised at how they received us. We were happy to hear the Russian language, and we wanted to embrace the Red Army soldiers but they were pointing their guns at us. But it turned out well in the end. They took us to their commander who interrogated us, and sent us further inland.”

Mr Heřkovič finally joined the Czechoslovak army’s tank brigade in January 1944. He fought in the Battle of Dukla Pass on the way to liberate his country before he was severely wounded in fighting near the city of Ostrava.

Auschwitz concentration camp, photo: CTK
“In the battle of Ostrava, I was seriously wounded. But the worst thing that I was really sorry about was that I couldn’t go on fighting. My injuries were so grave that I was later granted full disability, but I was still sorry I could not continue, as the end of the war was approaching.”

Mr Heřkovič, whose parents and nine siblings were murdered by the Nazis, settled in Prague after the war. He proudly sports a WWII veteran badge on his lapel, and says that out of the 1,600 or so members of his unit, more than 50 are still alive.