In this blog I am featuring an excerpt (Part I of II) from Charles Novacek’s memoir which is scheduled for release in late October 2012.
Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance is a memoir describing the impact of World War II and the Cold War on a Czechoslovakian boy. It is written from the perspective of Charles Novacek who was born in Ozdany, Czechoslovakia in 1928, and who actively participated with his family in the Czech Resistance against the Nazis and Communists from the age of eleven to twenty. After escaping his homeland in 1948, Novacek fled to Germany, then Venezuela and was finally able to emigrate with his wife and children to the United States in 1956 where he became an American citizen and established a successful professional career in Detroit, Michigan.
Following is the “Long Rifle,” an excerpt from the third chapter, “Life Calls the Child to Become a Man.”
The Long Rifle
The Wehrmacht was retreating from the Soviets, but as they did, they were also placing explosives to destroy anything the Russians could use.
On April 18, I observed from my bunker how a German demolition squad placed explosives within the structure of the nearby railroad bridge. The rail line was the only link between the capital city of Brno and the southern district of the Moravian province. The soldiers had come in a locomotive to place the charges and stretched the cables to a safe distance. I concluded that whoever would detonate the explosives would have to get there the same way. I also knew that no one else was aware of the Germans’ activity. If the bridge were to be saved, it would be up to me.
The distance from my cave was about two hundred and fifty yards. None of my own weapons could reach that point accurately, and I knew I only had one shot. If I missed, the chance to save the bridge would be greatly diminished, and I myself would risk discovery.
I needed a long rifle to prevent anyone from reaching the end of the wires and completing the detonation. Only the Germans themselves had such rifles.
On the plain behind the cliff where my bunker lay were hundreds of tanks and trucks; they were the Sixth Panzer Division coming back from Stalingrad, and they had just arrived in our area. At my family’s house the local street narrowed and ended, and then changed into a field trail. Dozens of the trucks lined this street, and I noticed that one of the types of rifles I needed was strapped on the inside of the driver’s door of the last field truck. The truck with the rifle was the closest to the foot of the hill near my bunker in the cliff, but it was also very close to our house.
To prevent discovery, the long rifle had to be stolen at the last possible moment, before the Germans departed. If they found out about the missing rifle, many would suffer for it. There was no room for mistakes. My cue to get the rifle would be the start-up commotion of all the tanks; the departure of this formidable force would be preceded by the considerable disorder of the soldiers and general turmoil. The land would tremble from the vibrating engines.
I slept with my eyes half open.
In my cave and at home at night, I thought of the devastating consequences to my nation if the bridge were destroyed. After all the conflicts, the impoverished state would not be able to rebuild a rail line for a long time, and without it, lack of communication and industrial exchange would mean more hunger in the large cities and no products or supplies in the south. That bridge was as essential for us as air.
On April 21, 1945, long before dawn, the commander of the retreating Panzer Division received word about Berlin being surrounded by the Soviets; I myself heard it on the news from London. There was no other way out for the Germans. They were afraid to surrender to the Russians because of the devastation they had left behind in the Soviet territory; the division had to leave quickly to reach the American Zone safely.
The roar of the tanks filled the night as they prepared to depart, and on the streets, the number of guards doubled. TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT BLOG!
Excerpt from Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. © 2012 Sandra A. Novacek, Ten21 Press Detroit