We are back in World War I. 1913 as we follow our Czech prisoners of war, taken from the Austrian front and now working behind the lines as forced labor for the Russians.
This amazing story, filled with details, comes from the pages of the 1951 edition of the Czech-American annual journal, Amerikán Národní Kalendář!
This is one of the more amazing stories we have had the privilege of translating to English!
Amerikán Národní Kalendář
Year: 1951, Volume: LXXIII, Pages: 117-144
“Old Settlers’ Memories”
Translated from the original Czech by Dr. Mila Saskova-Pierce and Layne Pierce
©Onward To Our Past®
“Experiences from the War in 1914 – In Captivity –The Happy Return”
Reported by Jan Mach, founder of the firm Mach & Son, Importers.
“On the journey the people were feeding us with anything they had. – Our next journey led us to Kiev which was already overfilled with captives. Each soldier learned how good it is to have some money. They took away from the captives, blankets, backpacks and everything that belonged to the Austrian officially issued material. The Russians justified the act saying that Austria was doing the same thing to the Russian soldiers. From Kiev the road went to Volsk where we stayed for 14 days. Many soldiers were asking to go to Siberia, where however, they found certain death. Ira and I we asked for field work.
A great number of us they drove to Rostov not far from the Black Sea. On foot it was about 20 Versts. [Versta, a Russian measurement equal to 2/3 of a mile] from the last station. On the farm where Ira and I some other were assigned there was a crowd of curious workers who welcomed us. We got acquainted with them, and they were mainly impressed by Ira. We had a good time there. There was enough food, especially when the soldiers were introducing different types of techniques which were new for the farm people. They taught them how to plant potatoes, and vegetables. Especially one of the captives, who was trained as a gardener. He asked for a piece of land from the manager, so that he could plow it and with the help of others he planted cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, onions, sweet melons, tomatoes, and everything that he could get seeds for.
Ira was an excellent helper for him and also became a good cook. I was taking care of tobacco so that everybody would have some reserve since it was easier for us to work when we could have a smoke. Among us there was a builder who built a house for the manager, which then people from the surrounding villages and even the Duke himself came to look at and the owner of the big farm; the Duke then praised the captives for their work.
The place where the manors of the Duke were located was called Don Gubernia and one of the most widespread inhabitants of this region were the Kalmyk, a Mongolian nationality that has slanted eyes like the Chinese, black shiny hair, strong beautifully grown and yellow skinned. They made good Cossacks and the Imperial Court gave them a piece of land as a special privilege, which however, they neglected, since they are very lazy. They, nevertheless, would rent it out to the Russian people, since they preferred to ride on wild horses along the wide steppes. The people are very religious and their priest is at the same time their physician.
In view of the fact that many of the captive soldiers were sent into the big manors and did not get to the small fields and therefore at the manorial estates they were asking for many “Austrians.” Ira and I thought that we would have an easier time, but we were divided. –We did not improve our lot, to the contrary, we had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and for breakfast we received only water, herring and bread. The Russian peasant eats in the fields and also sleeps there. I was looking for the first occasion to run away and leave the Russian peasant to his work.”
Tomorrow we continue following our Czech in World War I as a prisoner of war! Will he escape? What will his future hold now? You can only find out here at Onward To Our Past®
Onward To Our Past®