Army Camps—PTP (Hard Labour Technical Squads)

The rise of these units was the result of political necessity. Sitting in judgement on all “difficult” citizens and removing them from public life by way of courts was of no use to the authorities. At the same time it was profitable to have a large, cheap working force, especially in unattractive areas, or in places where the demands for a workforce was greater than the labour market could meet. From 1948 the administrative organs—National Committees—sent the political dissidents to hard labour camps. Protests against these concentration camps arose abroad, even at the United Nations. The Czechoslovak government therefore looked for a way of observing people and acquiring a cheap labour force but under another name. We have already seen how “monastery camps” were established and then the “army hard labour technical squads” (PTP) arose. At first, it was for young people undergoing military service and for people (priests) who had put off military service for a long time. Later the older people, up to the age of sixty, were involved. They were called up indefinitely for “extra manoeuvres.” So it was that the government immediately had a place for the young religious. The State succeeded in reducing the number of “monastery camps.” It could now be said that “army service is just army service.” I want the reader to understand that being in the PTP meant loss of freedom. In these camps the more easily imprisoned individuals had only their outdoor uniforms in common with the army. Work clothing consisted of various armies’ uniforms that had remained in Czechoslovakia after World War II. These “PTP soldiers” usually had to work more than eight hours daily. These “soldiers” worked either in mines and foundries or on building sites and it is necessary to take into account that the work was extremely hard. Workshops in which PTP “soldiers” were sent possessed the minimum of technology. At PTP, units political correction—brainwashing—was carried out. Marching drills were practised and various kinds of brutality were common, both on the part of section commanders, platoon commanders and “instructors”—in fact guardians. During the era of minister Čepička normal soldiers could go on leave to their parents only as a reward. This was very useful at PTP units where it could be easily asserted that due to poor work an individual was not allowed to go on leave for long time. Commanders also requested higher achievements in return for leave from those persons who really longed to visit someone.

Otherwise, the valid army regulations and agenda had certain advantages, though it was sometimes turned against the “soldiers.” It was possible to write freely, especially if the letters were posted in a post-box in some other place. This service was provided by visitors. Otherwise censorship of army letters indeed operated. The diet was substantial. Originally the soldiers had to stay at PTP for two years, but during this time the service was prolonged by indefinitely extended extra manoeuvres. The religious’ period of service ended after three years, three months and twenty-five days. The religious’ advantage and, at the same time, disadvantage was that they established self-contained sections. Only rarely, and then as a punishment, did the religious join the secular PTP “soldiers.” The disadvantage was the impossibility of carrying out sacred rites because of noise in rooms etc. But there was the advantage that the laypeople were able to resist those in charge and the authorities did not terrorise priests and brothers so much.

As I stated in the previous chapter, altogether thirty-nine Czech Province Jesuits left Bohosudov for the PTP. From the Slovak camp in Podolinec another seven Czech Jesuits were called up to the “army”—PTP. So, overall, fifteen priests, twenty-six scholastics after taking vows, three scholastic novices and two young brothers went through the PTP “school of life.” The individual place of residence changed. From among the group that entered PTP on 5 September 1950 four Jesuit scholastics were soon released on medical grounds and one Jesuit priest was released after approximately four months. They were not obliged to return to religious camps, but were released into civilian life to seek some occupation. Three priests were arrested at PTP and imprisoned and after the court verdict they served their sentence in prison. Finally I would like to state that the life at PTP varied: sometimes it was better, sometimes worse and sometimes very hard. That usually did not depend only on hard labour, but on the human factor, on the individual commanders at all levels, the “observers.” They could make people’s lives hard or easy depending on how the commanders viewed their posts at PTP. Usually Slovak State or so-called Governmental Army soldiers were sent to PTP as a form of punishment or because of loss of confidence. Therefore they often wanted to please their superiors and clear their bad record by being very enthusiastic and the “soldiers” suffered from that. The Czech Province had one loss at PTP—a priest who got married.