Josef Krettek: a pair of football boots and the Second World War

12-08-2003

Josef Krettek lives in the little village of Bolatice, near the town of Hlucin. People here call the area "Prajsko" - Prussia. They do so because "Prajsko" - as part of Silesia - belonged to Prussia for nearly 200 years. But after the First World War, Silesia was carved up, and a small piece of it - Prajsko - was sliced off and given to the newly-emerged state of Czechoslovakia. Twenty years later, Nazi Germany marched in and snatched it back, and made the area's Czech-speaking inhabitants German citizens. As a result, Josef Krettek and thousands of other young Czech men were forced to join the German army. Josef - now in his eighties - remembers his time as a Wehrmacht soldier...and a treasured pair of football boots...

"For me the war ended in Africa. I caught hepatitis, and was sent to hospital. But the front was getting closer and closer, and so after about three weeks they moved us to a field hospital outside Tunis. Shortly afterwards the Americans arrived. Three American officers turned up and told us that from now on we were prisoners of war. They said we had nothing to be afraid of, that we'd be treated well. More American soldiers came, and put up tents for us. Within three days we were playing football with them."

"Anyway, one day, their commanding officer came up to us and said 'Boys - those of you who don't have enough clothes to wear, go over to that tent and take what you want.' I didn't have much at all, so I went over to have a look. I took a pair of trousers, some shirts - and then - Christ Almighty! - I saw a pair of football boots. I didn't even try them on. I just grabbed them and ran back to my tent. But they were massive. Far too big for me. So I went to take them back to the stores. But on the way, I saw a bloke who was also carrying football boots, and they were too small for him! So we swapped."

"A few weeks later we were relocated to a POW camp in England. For some reason we were guarded by Polish soldiers, and they treated us Wehrmacht boys pretty badly, as you can imagine. We were kept in a football stadium. As soon as we got there, we were ordered to take off our clothes. I had the boots slung over my shoulder - I didn't want to lose them. But one of the Polish guards noticed them - they were lovely boots, not a scratch on them. And he came up to me and asked in Polish - 'whatcha got there?' I pretended I didn't understand. But it didn't make a difference, he said 'I play football, give me them.' And he took them and walked off."

"I thought that was the end of that, but later on, when we were having lunch, an English officer came along to see if we had everything we wanted. He said he was sorry the food was so bad, but that was all they had. We told him we were fine - we were starving and were happy to have something to eat at last. But I still wanted my boots back. So I nudged the guy next to me, who spoke a bit of English, and whispered 'tell him that Polish bloke nicked my boots.' The English officer said 'What? Which one? Point him out to me!' And we said 'over there - he's got them on his shoulder.' We watched the officer go over to the Polish guard, and saw him shouting and waving his arms around. Finally he came back, carrying my boots. He grinned at me and said - 'it's your lucky day son. Before the war I was an army sports teacher.' I think that was one of the happiest days of my life."

12-08-2003