Monastery Camps



Firstly we must deal with the name. It derived from communist jargon. In all respects these were normal concentration camps. In saying this we also follow definitions from the communist-style encyclopćdia of the time which says: “Concentration camps are designed for isolating, terrorising and for the physical liquidation of political opponents of Fascist and other dictatorial regimes.” In the same entry we find: “The prisoners came to the concentration camps without proper legal authority and for an undefined time.” The aim of the “monastery camps” was to isolate the religious—police watched the buildings and the prisoners could not freely communicate with the outside world. As in other camps the heads of these “monasteries” used terror as an instrument for making the lives of prisoners unpleasant—counting parades, compulsory dangerous work without any prior training. There was no fixed standard of discipline providing prisoners with at least minimum rights. Everything was left to the arbitrary decision of the camp headquarters. In the Želiv camp even the number of lines in a postcard was stipulated and this rule had to be adhered to before a postcard could be despatched. The letters could be addressed only to parents or selected relatives and always to the same address. The “monasteries” did not carry out actual direct killing, but there was indirect murder. The possibility of injury or death at work was ever present, be it because of insufficient training or lack of protective equipment while working, for instance, with various chemicals. The lack of health care was terrible and amounted to indirect murder. It is clear that we were included among the files as opponents to the dictatorial regime. Precisely at the time when these camps were being established both the Communist Party leaders and the government pompously proclaimed the dictatorship of the proletariat.

All prisoners got to these “monasteries” under police escort although there had been no judgement by the courts against them. In all cases, the period of residence was set to last for an indefinite time! The youngest novices, who were not yet eighteen, were sent away to their parents after six months. Novices over eighteen, but not yet obliged to military service, were released in the summer 1951. They were unlawfully interned in various places for at least a year.

After six months in camps the young novices, scholastics and priests obliged to do military service were ostensibly released, but in the army they were often posted to labour squads, that is, once more to camps, albeit now in army uniform.

But many stayed in the “religious” camps for a long time, some of them even more than ten years, until the final dissolution of these Camps on 31 December 1960.

At the time of operation “K” there were a lot of these camps. The number gradually decreased due to the young being released, transfers to the army labour squads, and the ageing and death of inmates. Sometimes some of the internees were released to civilian life during the liquidation of certain camps.

The camp in Králíky near Lanškroun remained open the longest, that is from 14 April 1950 until 31 December 1960. The most oppressive camp, Želiv near Humpolec, was in operation from 1950 to 1956. Many religious, including our Jesuits, lived between the years 1951-1955 in a less confined camp, Klíčava near Kladno, where they were building a dam. At first they were novices but later included the brothers of all orders.

After the closure of the Klíčava camp the brothers were released but most of them were ordered to stay as employees of the building company.

The camp in Osek, near Duchcov, lasted little more than two years. In other places the camps did not last so long—Bohosudov, Hájek, Hejnice and Kadaň—(I mention only the camps where Jesuits stayed).

A less restrictive camp for the old and ill in Moravec deserves a special mention. This camp, established in 1951, with the Notre Dame School Sisters offering nursing care was virtually unwatched, but only apparently. This camp was gradually changed into a charitable house for the priests, including those from dioceses. Many religious, including Jesuits, died in Moravec.

During operation “K” and on 14 April, Jesuits were deported (mostly to Bohosudov). So fifty-two Jesuit priests, fifty-seven scholastics (also novices), and fifty-five Brothers and Brother novices ended up in the Bohosudov camp. One priest was a member of the Austrian Province, one priest of the Polish Province and one brother of the German Province. Also the Jesuits of the Slovak Vice-province who lived in the Czech Province were interned in Bohosudov: six priests, twenty-one theologians (theology students), and five brothers. All the interned were undisruptive, but not frightened or sycophantic. The great feature here was an outspoken love for the Lord and for each other. Pursuing a life of goodness provided an example which helped everybody. Life in the camp gradually normalised, in particular thanks to our brothers, who were capable of working in many areas (in the kitchen, garden and farm) and could make life more bearable. After a few days things also got better because of the arrival of some furniture, first of all the cupboards and the beds, that we brought from our college in Děčín. The Bohosudov church was inaccessible for us, but we could celebrate Mass in a chapel in the students’ hall of residence. When one priest and one scholastic tunnelled out to the area around the church and fled, the regime became harder and the chapel was closed for about a week. We worked around the house and in the garden and soon we were tying the knots in the elastic of training suits for some unknown factory. After a month we were walked to a nearby ceramics factory. Even at work the Jesuits were closed in one room. They prepared the pressed pieces for burning out in the stoves. One event involving political training deserves a mention. After two days, when the Jesuits showed an absolute lack of interest in receiving such training, the training was cancelled. Another interesting event was recruitment for parochial administration. No Jesuit put himself forward. They did the right thing because all those who put themselves forward had to pass a special course of training, and then, in the parishes, they were a centre of attention on the part of the authorities. Mostly they were increasingly governed by the influence of the state and the police.

The fact that novices continued their noviciate education thanks to the efforts of others is also worth mentioning. In the same way the community helped a few scholastics and three Fathers who were to finish their order’s philosophy studies. They could graduate in the camp taking a test “ex universa philosophia.” The final event to note is the death of two Jesuits in this camp. First, one Czech Jesuit, a brother, died and soon after an Austrian Province priest died too. They were both already ninety, but the change of their lifestyle speeded up their decline. The number of prisoners changed, at first with the departure of novices under eighteen, then with that of novices over eighteen.

In 1950 39 Czech and 20 Slovak Jesuits went to join the army. On 8 September 1950 the Bohosudov concentration camp was wound up. The remaining Jesuits—seventy-two Czechs, eight Slovaks, one priest from the Polish Province and one brother from the German Province—were, together with Franciscans and Conventual Franciscans, brought to the camp in Osek near Duchcov. The camp was established in 1950 for Silesians, who had their theology institute there in the ancient Bernardine abbey after World War II. During the liquidation of the Bohosudov monastery two seriously ill and old Fathers were released.

The second concentration camp that I would like to mention briefly was the Želiv camp. This was the strictest camp with a very oppressive regime. Eight of our superiors were brought there on 14 April after the winding up of our houses. On the same day provincials and superiors of all other orders were brought there too. Later, six other Jesuit priests were escorted from Bohosudov to Želiv. In 1951 one of our Fathers was sent there without trial after two years imprisonment in Prague. Another fourteen Jesuit priests and one older scholastic came to Želiv from Hejnice and after the liquidation of the Osek camp in 1952. In 1952 one “rebel” Jesuit brother came to Želiv from Klíčava too. After three years he was sent back to Klíčava again to join the other brothers. Altogether, thirty-one Czech Province Jesuits and thirty-two Slovak Vice-province Jesuits were interned in the Želiv concentration camp.

Apart from the various religious, a total of ninety-eight diocesan priests were also brought to Želiv. There was also Father Tomášek, who was later to become a cardinal and the Archbishop of Prague; the apostolic administrator of Hradec Králové, Monsignor Otčenášek, and the spiritual guide of the seminary in Olomouc, Dr. Antonín Šuránek. These three were kept in special isolation in Želiv. At the time of writing this work, a diocesan process concerning the beatification of Dr. Šuránek is under way in Olomouc.

Work in the Želiv camp—as in other places—was unpaid. Later the prisoners received a monthly salary of 50-70 crowns—a paltry sum. Normal earnings for the work were used by the camp headquarters. Later, visits were allowed but nobody was informed about this. Only very brave and persistent relatives succeeded in visiting the prisoners.

The church in Želiv was also inaccessible for the prisoners. Initially it was impossible to celebrate Mass. Later, an oratory with whitened windows facing to the church was opened. The oratory was small and most of the religious attended Mass in the corridor. Brave priests who somehow obtained altar bread and wine celebrated Mass privately in their rooms. But in general only Mass in the oratory was allowed.

It was possible to receive packages, but nobody could know what was originally contained in them. Sometimes whole packages were lost “somewhere in Želiv.”

A few words about the concentration camp for the young in Hájek near Kladno. In the first wave twenty-two Jesuit novices were taken there. They were not eighteen yet. For two months they were politically educated. Young communists, especially girls, often came to see them. The aim was clear—to take them away from their religious vocation. In Hájek they had mass but only on Sundays. After two months they were taken to work on the Klíčava dam. From there they could attend Mass in Zbečno (the nearest village from the dam), with an escort. In October they were released. After the departure of the first group from Hájek to Klíčava other novices over eighteen but still not called up for military service, were deported from Bohosudov to Hájek. They also went through political training. After the release of the first novices from Klíčava a group of elder novices was brought in. They were released back to civilian life in the summer of 1951.

Of the life of Jesuits and other interned religious in Osek, we know that they kept the house and worked in the garden and on the farm and that the joinery machines from all the religious houses, including Jesuit ones, were taken there and the production of special windows and doors, especially for castles and other places of interest, was started.

The younger men were taken off to work near Duchcov. At first they worked in a factory producing the window handles and door locks, operating presses, welding plants, sanders etc. When the factory moved to Liberec, the prisoners from the Osek camp began to work in the Duchcov glass-works. They worked there in production of concave glass “bricks” and in a production unit where there were very high temperatures. Others unloaded wagons of sand, lime, crushed glass waste, soda and other chemicals. The work was dangerous for the eyes and lungs and also resulted in skin diseases. Civilian employees refused to do this work.

During the liquidation of the Osek camp in 1952 the joinery workshop workers remained in Osek but they were free. The workshop came under the administration of the joinery factory in Lovosice. There were five Czech Jesuit brothers. Seven Jesuits in total (priests and brothers), were released back to civilian life. One elder Jesuit priest died in Osek. During the existence of the Osek camp eight Jesuits from Osek were transferred to the camp in Hejnice. After political training in 1952 brothers and scholastics were released back to civilian life. The only priest among them was sent to Želiv. A group of fourteen Czech Jesuit Province brothers was transferred to the Klíčava dam camp. These Jesuits carried out the very arduous task of cementing the dam. Others worked in a quarry at the end of the dam arm. A group of Czech Jesuits was given the job of moving things. That mostly meant unloading wagons in Zbečno station and storing material on the building site. They worked mostly with cement which was transported only in bags. One Jesuit brother worked in the works canteen, another in the maintenance workshop.

The interned brothers could attend Mass in Zbečno parish church. In Klíčava they were not watched all the time, but they were strictly governed by State Security men. Brothers here, as in other places, showed great dedication to their holy vocation and they performed their order’s religious exercises as much as possible. Only three brothers left the Society of Jesus during the whole time of this dispersal.

Another larger group of older but, it was claimed, fit and able Jesuits—both priests (ten) and brothers (eighteen)—was sent from Osek to Králíky camp, where they worked mostly in agriculture on a collective farm. Two brothers from the Slovak Vice-province and one brother from the German Province were sent from Osek to Králíky. In the first stage of this camp (which lasted until 1956) Dr. Opavský from our Province was fatally injured at work (while looking after grazing cattle). He died in Šumperk hospital. Many Jesuits in Králíky became old or fell ill so they were sent to join the old religious in Moravec. From 1956, after the breaking up of the Želiv camp, Králíky lived out its second stage. Because the “prominent” religious—including Jesuits—had gone there, bugging devices were placed in the camp in advance. Watching the Jesuits was not now contemplated so much, but the religious were—ostensibly for charitable reasons—classified and told with whom they were to live. Groups of members of one order were established. I would like to remind the reader that no communist benevolence could ever be considered as an act of disinterested good will. Party concerns always lurked behind it. In this case the merits were preparations for another large-scale campaign against the Jesuits that occurred in 1959. Jesuits imprisoned here were gradually arrested and escorted to prison. A great trial of Jesuits was prepared in Ostrava (Ostrava specialised in church matters). From Králíky six Czech Jesuits and one Father from the Slovak Province were brought there. Later, five Jesuits from Králíky were imprisoned in Hradec Králové.

Maybe it is only right to mention the health “care” in the camps. At the same time as the camps were established a special detachment in Semily hospital for ill people from these camps for the religious was started. The reality of health care in this hospital has not been cleared up even to the present day. In 1995 it came to light that after an appeal for opening the hospital files, all documents concerning religious treated in this hospital had been destroyed. We can only present the general outlines of the case of one Czech Jesuit priest, Dr. Nemeškal, a philosophy professor. Dr. Nemeškal was sent from Bohosudov with ear problems to Semily hospital. When he returned he described the “cure” to us (I shared a room with him in Bohosudov). Soon after his return the cure resulted in his becoming completely deaf in his fifties. In Bohosudov we had an advantage because there were two doctors among the prisoners—one Slovak Jesuit who studied philosophy in our Province, and one Franciscan deacon. They took as much care of us as possible. Many medicines came in parcels provided we could receive them. For the old and ill, the more relaxed camp at Moravec was later established as was mentioned above. Forty-two Jesuits, both priests and brothers, were sent to Moravec, mostly from Králíky and a few from Želiv. Sixteen Jesuits, also priests or brothers, who were ill or weak, voluntarily came to Moravec after 1960, when the religious camps were closed, seeking the good nursing care provided by the nurses, guaranteed attendance at Masses and a holy death. Altogether forty-eight Jesuits passed through Moravec. Most of them, forty-seven of our Fathers and brothers in total, died happily in Moravec. They were well prepared for death and strengthened by the prayers and care of their brothers in the order. Eleven priests stayed in Moravec for some time but from there they were sent to nuns, who had to leave the hospitals in 1957 and 1958. They were left to look after old people in homes for the aged or retarded children in institutes. These priests then died in different places in Bohemia and Moravia.

In 1960 four Jesuits in Moravec were arrested and taken to prison in Brno. After a term in prison they returned to Moravec. We will say more about this later. In Moravec, the State Security Police spied until the fall of communism and even in October 1981 the institute was invaded by police together with members of the militia. They took all radio sets, typewriters, foreign currency (strictly speaking money sent from abroad changed for Tuzex coupons) and other things not only from the inhabitants—priests, but also from the nursing sisters. Our already well known Jesuit Father, Father Šilhan was accused at that time. After approximately a year the things were returned and accusations against our former provincial were stopped.