René Šírek (* 1923) was born in Prague and in autumn 1942, after graduating from grammar school, he was sent to perform forced labour in Hamburg and Kiel at the paramilitary organisation Luftschutz. The work there was physically and mentally demanding and dangerous; it involved removing debris after air raids and searching for and liquidating unexploded phosphorus mines. According to Mr. Šírek's own words, the worst experience from those times was coming face to face with the deaths of civilians and the threat to his own life during air raids and search for mines. Conversely, the friendships that Mr. Šírek established there were a great consolation.
When working at the Luftschutz unit, he had to help the German civilian population as a member of the Protectorate and he found it difficult to cope with this role at the beginning: "I can tell you, that was perhaps a schizophrenic situation. On one hand, being members of the Protectorate, or more precisely, being Czechs, we... wanted Nazism to be destroyed.
The sooner the Germans would lose, the better for us... We did not distinguish between a Nazi and a German... for us, a German amounts to a Nazi. A Nazi is a German. And, on top of all that, when the Nazis treated this nation so cruelly and created the terror directly here; well, the nation had no choice but to hate those Germans. And now imagine that with this conviction, in this atmosphere, we come to Germany; they make us wear German uniforms, give us paramilitary training, us Czechs who actually hated [them] and yet they treat us normally, treat us like people, they were even friendly towards us; in the streets and among the population there was no hostility against us. On the contrary, since we were helping them during those air raids and were saving the population; they simply knew we were not German but there was no aversion against us... [We]... wanted Nazism and the German Reich to collapse as soon as possible, to be defeated so that we could go home, so that the War could end, so that we could again start to live the life of normal people. But on the other hand, we somehow subconsciously did not wish these people, whom we knew there and who treated us decently, to die during that defeat."
At the end of 1943, the unit was replaced by newly arrived colleagues from the Protectorate and René Šírek served at Luftschutz in Prague-Ruzyně until the end of the war. During the forced labour in the Protectorate, he was imprisoned for three weeks because of a conflict with members of the Kuratorium, an organisation educating young people and collaborating with the Nazis.
After the war he graduated from the Faculty of Law of the Charles University and started to work for companies involved in international shipment and transport. After retiring in 1986 he remained active in his profession. He also meets his former colleagues from the times of forced labour every year and participates in discussions on the topic of forced labour with students at German secondary schools.
In 2001, Mr. Šírek received financial compensation for his forced labour. What is his opinion on this?
"At our age, one does not calculate whether the value is adequate or not. One perceives it as... satisfaction or... reward for the fact that one had to go somewhere during the War and do something there but definitely does not... say that it's too much or too little... In any case, it was nice."