Brotherly crime in Jičín

On 12 September 1968, a funeral took place in Jičín for two Czechs. They were killed by a private, one of the 25,000 soldiers of the People's Polish Army taking part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The case was hushed up, while the Czechoslovak services and the propaganda of the 'allies' did their best to make a bunch of counter-revolutionaries out of the victims.

Five days earlier, in the evening, Private Stefan Dorna had sneaked out of the military unit with four colleagues. They had already been drinking alcohol, which, according to later reports, they were supposed to have received from the Czechs. They arrived in Jičín and, at one of the crossroads, started arguing. Dorna did not want to return to the unit and responded to his colleagues' calls by reloading his rifle. Furious with everyone, he took aim at the young people just returning from an evening show at the cinema. He fired. When the other soldiers rushed to help the Czechs, he also fired a burst from his automatic pistol at his colleagues. Two of them were severely wounded and the other two fled to call for reinforcements.

He shot everyone

Meanwhile, the private continued to rampage: the first series hit the legs of 24-year-old Jaroslav Vesele, with his two colleagues Bohuna Brumlichová and Jana Jenčková falling beside him. The fourth young Czech, Vitezslav Klimeš, who was walking behind them, managed to retreat and hide. Bohuna, in fear of the approaching attacker, tried to silence her injured colleague moaning in pain, while Jana tried to play dead. According to witnesses, the private approached the young people, robbed the girls of their rings and watch, then, exasperated by the suffering of the wounded man, fired a round from an automatic weapon at him until the cartridges ran out. As he changed the cartridge, Jana, who had been lying next to him motionless, started to run away.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The private, having loaded his rifle, began to shoot at anything that moved. He wounded the fleeing Jana in the head, he did not let passing cars pass, a series of bullets hit tenement houses. At that moment, Vitezslav's parents ran out of the house next door. In their direction, the crazed soldier also sent a burst from a freshly loaded cartridge at close range. 56-year-old Zdena Klimešova died on the spot, her severely wounded husband miraculously survived.

The 21-year-old, who was raging in a drunken stupor, was finally overpowered by soldiers from a Polish patrol, called to his aid by fellow privates.

Radio "Vltava": Band of counter-revolutionaries smashed

On 12 September, thousands of people came to the funeral of Jaroslav Vesele and Zdena Klimešová. It was an act of courage on their part. Although the local authorities agreed to a solemn funeral, the Czechoslovak services immediately became involved, and began their investigation by surveillance of the victims' families.

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The People's Army of Poland was also opposed to a burial of a ceremonial nature. “They were simply afraid that it would cause further demonstrations and riots," admits Dr Grzegorz Majchrzak, a historian from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), in an interview with TVP Weekly.

On the other hand, the command of the Polish unit wanted to pay high compensation to the families of those killed and wounded. In the end, this did not happen, as the Czechoslovak Security Service stated that it would take care of this on its own. “The Polish Army, even the People's Army, offered compensation in many cases, also most of the material damage caused by the movement of the units wanted to settle amicably through compensation," Dr Paweł Piotrowski, from the Military Historical Office and the Academy of Military Art in Warsaw, tells TVP Weekly.

Years later, in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza reporters, members of the families of those killed admitted that the Poles felt guilty and wanted to take all the responsibility. They promised millions in compensation, but the Czechoslovak authorities were against it. They promised to sort it out themselves. In the end, the insurance company treated the tragedy in Jičín as an ordinary car accident and paid out the usual modest amounts.

And because the inhabitants were all very frightened at the time, so no one even pursued the promised compensation. This was especially true since the local services, together with the propaganda apparatus working for Moscow, began to describe the whole affair in a completely different way. The propaganda came from, among others, the Vltava radio, placed outside the occupied country just in case.

At the time of the Warsaw Pact invasion, despite announcements to the contrary, East German soldiers did not cross the border into Czechoslovakia in large numbers and in an organised manner, because it was felt that German troops re-entering their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their uniforms, would evoke unambiguous associations. The Germans' contribution to the "brotherly aid" was, instead, among other things, the aforementioned radio station. Although its broadcasts in broken Czech aroused more pity than understanding, it was the only official source of information that something had happened in Jičín on 7 September 1968.

Of course, the Czechoslovaks heard nothing about the murders committed by the Polish private; instead, according to the Czech media, they received information about the neutralisation of a counter-revolutionary group in the city and the killing of its leader...Jaroslav Vesele. Weapons and explosives were found after an action by the fraternal army taken against the counter-revolutionaries, the radio station claimed. The Czechoslovak authorities even tried to retract this disinformation - without success.

Court: death penalty

Meanwhile, the Polish soldier was arrested and deported to Poland the very next day. Initially, the military prosecutor's office was inclined to demand of the Czechoslovak authorities that the murderer hear his sentence in the country where he committed the crime. However, this thought was soon abandoned. "The decision not to try him on the spot was taken personally by Wojciech Jaruzelski. It can be said that by doing so, he saved Dorna's life. I found information about this in the materials of the General Prosecutor's Office of the People's Republic of Poland," says Dr Grzegorz Majchrzak.
Czech proclamation addressed to Polish soldiers. Photo by Beax, CC BY-SA 2.5 pl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4683949
Just over a month after these incidents, the trial of a private, charged with murder and 13 counts of attempted murder and robbery, took place. The court had no doubt. The verdict: the death penalty. "This case was highly shocking because clear orders had been given from the beginning regarding behaviour: alcohol was forbidden, even picking any fruit in the orchards, so as not to be suspected of looting, and in this case there was simply a crime", says Dr Piotrowski.

In its justification, the court pointed out that "the accused committed several crimes to the detriment of the citizens of a friendly state and on the territory of that state (...), he was oriented in terms of the mood of a small part of Czechoslovak society and was fully aware that every unfriendly gesture of a Polish soldier, directed against the interests of the citizens of that state, could be used by both the few local hostile elements and foreign propaganda centres against the interests of the Polish State".

The case seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Soldiers from his unit, as well as the Czechs concerned, were convinced that the sentence had been carried out. That is why the inhabitants of Jičín rubbed their eyes in amazement when, in 1994, they saw a documentary produced for Czech Television, entitled "The Road to the Crossroads". It featured none other than Stefan Dorna. The stocky, middle-aged gentleman enthusiastically recounts that he basically only remembers shooting for the first time. He does not remember shooting the young Czech at all. - Maybe he shot himself," he chuckles between sentences. In any case, he doesn't remember much of the event itself, as he "passed out".

How did he get away from the firing squad? "He probably did not come up with the way out of the situation himself, someone did it for him, knowing what would affect Jaruzelski," ponders Dr Majchrzak.

Letter to Jaruzelski

Dorna placated the general with a letter asking for mercy. It turned out that while the private remembered little of what he had done, he remembered precisely the motives behind his act, and it was these recollections that he shared with the general.
"I was brought up in hatred of the class enemy", Dorna wrote to Wojciech Jaruzelski. Therefore, the immediate cause of his reaction was the "insulting words directed by Czech citizens against the Polish Army, the Party and the Government of the Polish People's Republic". Dorna then introduced the general to his ideologically correct biography. Among other things, he boasted that he had been a member of the Union of Socialist Youth, a candidate for the Polish United Workers' Party and a political agitator in the platoon. He also did not forget to point out family merits: "I am the son of a worker and a working-class mother, my parents were co-creators of People's Power in the period 1944-1948. My father, a former Militia officer, took an active part in the fight against the reactionary underground, the gangs. I was brought up in hatred of the class enemy, and the behaviour of the Czech ob. towards me as a soldier of the People's Polish Army on the territory of the Socialist Czech Republic was characterised by hostility".

General Jaruzelski could not remain indifferent to such arguments. The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in an act of clemency, and with the change in the legal system, the life sentence was commuted to 25 years. Stefan Dorna was released after 15 years for exemplary behaviour and returned to his village, where he still lives and runs a farm.

Only Brezhnev's madness

According to historians, incidents involving Polish soldiers occurred even later, but never again did such dramatic events occur. To this day, the inhabitants of Jičín still remember the Polish soldiers from the People's Polish Army (LWP) through the prism of that tragedy, although initially they did not treat the Poles as mortal enemies. Many of them soberly assessed the situation, assuming that the Polish soldiers did not quite know why they found themselves in tanks outside their country.

"In the same Jičín, two weeks before the tragedy, the local radio station, which sided with the changes in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, sent appeals to Poles not to take part in the invasion. Similar proclamations were also made by the staff of the party's organ, the newspaper 'Voice of the People'. A representative of the newspaper even managed to reach the commander-in-chief of the Polish contingent, General Florian Siwicki, to hand him a copy of the magazine dedicated to Polish soldiers. Siwicki even behaved politely, accepted the magazine and kissed the woman's hand, but of course this changed nothing", recalls Dr Majchrzak.

The Czechs and Slovaks themselves were surprised by the invasion because, unlike the Poles, they largely believed in communism and trusted that the matter could somehow be cleared up, especially as a large proportion of them attributed the situation to the madness of the Kremlin leader. Hence one of the more popular slogans: "Lenin, wake up! Brezhnev has gone mad!".

Jaroslav Vesely, who was shot, was also a young communist activist.

Shots of fear

Historians admit that, for the most part, Polish soldiers were not eager to conquer Czechoslovakia. Reports from the Military Internal Service even know of reports of soldiers who wanted to stay there and start families because they had fallen in love with Czech women.

However, there are also known cases of Polish patrols using live ammunition, without reason. Not everyone was reached by Czechoslovak leaflets, handwritten, with appeals for a peaceful settlement. Polish soldiers, although they rather knew that they would not be greeted with cold beer and dumplings in the neighbouring country, received training in advance just in case. "They were told that they were going there to fight armed forces from the West, mainly Germans, who had invaded Czechoslovakia. The Polish soldiers really did not know what they might encounter on the spot," admits Dr Majchrzak.

The tension created by propaganda and disinformation was not withstood by the junior troops in particular. Polish patrols, warned of an attack at the least expected moment, fired whole rounds at anything that seemed suspicious to them in any way. Grzegorz Majchrzak recalls one incident: "The unit had spread out in a field. In the evening, somewhere far away some lights began to appear to them. Without thinking much, they started shooting in that direction. And it turned out that far beyond the field there was a sharp bend in the road, and that the unusual movement of the lights came from the cars moving along that road.

LWP massacre: sober and on command

Residents of other regions of the Czech Republic and Slovakia were more likely to remember the 'brotherly help' of the Red Army. "Against this background, the Poles were definitely better perceived. I even recently spoke to historians in Prague and Bratislava who confirm this," asserts Dr Majchrzak.
21 August 1968. Soviet troops enter Prague. Photo: CTK Photo/Libor Hajsky/PAP
Among the victims on the Czechoslovak side, there were more than 100 dead and around 500 wounded. Czechoslovak citizens died, not only by actively resisting the invaders. Many of them lost their lives in ordinary road accidents involving armoured vehicles of the Red Army, who adhered to the principle that the one with thicker armour had priority.

The bulk of the Soviet soldiers (over 80) also died as a result of actions not directly related to the war. Similarly, 10 Polish soldiers lost their lives (this number does not include suicide cases). One of them was a tank commander who, in the village of Mezimesti, in an attempt to avoid running over a passer-by, swerved and fell off an overpass.

The intervention in Czechoslovakia was the greatest tactical and propaganda challenge for the Polish People's Army after the Second World War. The next came just a dozen months later. In December 1970, the LWP massacred protesting shipyard workers on the coast. This time it wasn't a drunken lunatic shooting, disobeying all orders. The people's army shot at the workers according to orders and soberly.

The authorities did not even need the 'Vltava' radio from the brotherly GDR. The massacre on the Coast was described in his proclamation by General Wojciech Jaruzelski himself, comparing the two events: "We must feel that our soldier acted in a dignified manner, that he did nothing to aggravate the dimensions of this conflict. After all, it was similar during the events in Czechoslovakia, where also, despite, as comrades remember, numerous coarse provocations, great restraint was preserved, which became, as a result, enormous political capital both for us and for socialism as a whole."

– Sławomir Cedzyński

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: 24 October 1968, Bystrzyca Kłodzka. People's Army of Poland returning from Czechoslovakia. Photo: PAP/CAF-Eugeniusz Wołoszczuk
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