WALK IN MY SHOES
Collected Memories of the Holocaust
as told by Leo Smilovic in his
autobiographical memoir "Buchenwald
The winds were howling and you could hardly see in front of you. In all this mess, I saw a Hungarian soldier in Prochorovka Russia, he was a friend of mine from Munkacz, Cedor Geza was his name. He was enlisted in the army and now they were told to retreat, the Russians were only 20 km away, he said. I asked him to give regards to the family if he managed to return to Munkacz.
We decided that this was the time to escape instead of retreating, we fought the blowing snow and were going forward. At the end of the day, we arrived in a small village. Four boys from Munkacz were looking for someone to help us. The village was deserted, except one little house had the chimney smoking. We approached the house and an old man answered the door, I greeted him in Russian, since I learned Russian in school. The old man looked scared and asked: Who are you? We told him that we were Jewish boys from Mukachevo, and that we had just escaped from the Hungarian forced labour camp.
He looked baffled and confused, "You sure you are not Germans?" "No sir, we hate the Germans." In that case, come in and sit down and I will give you some hot soup I just cooked. We had it made, we ate and drank some home made whisky, and we retired for the night on the floor with some straw and blankets. We fell asleep like logs, we slept for about four hours when we were awakened by Russian soldiers pointing the guns at us. We all jumped up, and held our hands above our heads as ordered. We were all taken as prisoners to a camp in Luhy.
When we arrived, some two thousand of our boys were already in this camp. But, after a few weeks in the camp, typhus broke out. Lots of boys were dying every day. After a week I felt that I was getting sick. I risked my life and escaped from camp heading for a hospital. As I was walking along the road a man with a horse and buggy passed me on the road. I immediately greeted him with a big hello in Russian. What are you up to young man? I explained to him that I wanted to go to a hospital because I felt I was getting sick. Like an angel from heaven, "Hop on," he said, "I am going to pass the hospital anyway." My Russian language helped me immensely. A Russian female doctor seemed to like my face. Without any questions, she pointed to me and said, "You come with me." She led me into a room where she examined me and prescribed medicine; she ordered the nurses to look after me at once.
After a week in the hospital, I felt much better and I was released. While walking away from the hospital I noticed three Czech soldiers sitting in a jeep. I ran over and asked them if they could help me. This time I spoke to the soldiers in perfect Czech, my mother language. What in hell are you doing here? I explained to them about being in the Hungarian forced labour, that I had managed to escape from the front lines, but I was arrested as a prisoner of war. "Did you have any military training before?" they asked. "Yes, Sir! I had two years training in the city of Olmouc in Czechoslovakia, from 1935 to 1937." "Do you want to join the Czech Brigade?" "Yes, Sir!" "Get into the jeep and we will take you to Krasnohorse where you can join up with the brigade."
I joined the brigade and was immediately given the rank of corporal. We were training as paratroopers for invading the Germans from the rear. After two months of training, we were transferred to Tula not far from Moscow. We were trained to jump into the Carphatian mountains not far from our hometown of Munkacz. We were happy that we would be able to liberate our families. Little did we know about the massacre that followed that year. It was May 1944 when I was assigned plane number 18 with 40 men aboard. We were awaiting our orders for departure when plans were changed from Moscow: no drops in the Carphatian mountains. We were to change our plans and prepare for jumping in the Tatra mountains in Slovakia. Most of the boys in the Brigade were Jewish boys from the Carphatians. When the change of order came, we were all disappointed. Politics, strictly politics, was the reason of the plan change. The Russians wanted the credit of liberating the Carphatians, since it was in the plan to annex the whole region after the war, which they did. We could have saved 200,000 Jewish lives in the Carphatians if our plans had been executed as they were originally planned.
In the meantime, we joined the fighting forces of General Swoboda, and we were driving the Germans from Proskurof, Kiev, Volin, Tarnopol, Premisel to Krosnov, and Kroschenkof. The casualties were heavy, but we accomplished our task of defeating the German forces. Our paratrooper brigade was regrouped. On Sept. 19, 1944 the Slovak revolution called for help. The orders for the drop finally came and we all prepared for it, when a captain ordered my plane to be replaced with number 20 since my plane was larger and they had a larger company of paratroopers. Plane 20 took off first and returned shortly after, the weather was very bad. The next day, they took off again, and this time the plane crashed and there were no survivors. It seems that the change of command for plane number 18 was never changed, giving my name as a casualty. Most of the brigade thought that I went down with plane number 18. They didn't know about my change to number 20. We finally made our jump and were successful in establishing a well-secured base in the hills of Slovakia.
On November 3, 1944, the Germans attacked
our base, and it was an all-out battle, fighting in the hills, on the
roads, and in the streets. The losses were very heavy, but we fought for
every inch, and we did not capitulate. We remained in the hills and
resisted every attack. One day we needed a report for the General Osmanof,
in charge of the paratroopers, to find the German lookout points and their
strength. Captain Krajcik and I were in charge of this mission. As we
entered the first village, we noticed a lookout tower and a machine-gun
nest. Krajczik and I managed to neutralize the machine gun position, and
the lookout tower within minutes. We continued to make our report about
the enemy forces when I suddenly heard someone talking in Hungarian. Since
I also speak Hungarian, I knew right away that these soldiers were
deployed with the artillery. We hid, and as they came closer I jumped out
from my hiding place and, in Hungarian, I ordered them to raise their
hands. We frisked them and removed all their guns, plus a beautiful blade
knife that I still have as a memento. We were pretty serious when we
interrogated them, and they knew it. We managed to get all the artillery
positions and troop concentrations from them. We headed back to present
our report. When we reached Headquarters, it was the first time I met
General Osmanof, Chairman Slanski, General Sherman, and Fininger. They all
served later in the Czech government. They were delighted with our report.
The next day we attacked and managed to break through the line, joining up
with the other units in the area and defeating the Germans all over
Slovakia. After capturing Lubice, we had a rest for a few days.
President Benes was in Poprad to review the fighting paratroopers. Benes was decorating the soldiers with medals. At the end, ten names were called and President Benes handed out the Medal of Honour and the Medal of Valour and I was one of the ten decorated. We returned to the front lines and things were going very good. The Germans were running faster than we could catch up with them. May 9, 1945, the war was finally over, we marched to Prague and there was a big parade and some more medals. We finally were placed in Banska Bistrica and I was in charge of the food supply for the Second Brigade.
In order to detail all the battles, the losses and the victories, in the past two years of fighting, one would need to write another book, and many more books, to be able to understand the enormity of this terrible long war. It is interesting to note that not too many people are aware of this great heroic fighting force, mostly boys in their early thirties and late twenties, boys who had just left the Yeshivot and were taken into the military force, only later to be put in forced labour camps and then joined the Czech army in the early 1940s. They are our pride and joy. They can't say that Jews did not resist. These boys emerged as heroes from the war, they were the best fighting force in the war. They gave their lives with burning guns in their hands, and with their last breath they said the "Shma Israel" (Hear O Israel!).
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