Operation Velveta 1 — Part 3

Part 3.  Phil Marmelstein does not find Kunovice. We land on a potato field.

At the end of 4 hours of flying Marmelstein became quieter and looked a lot outside trying to fix our position with certainty. His face became more and more serious. After four and a half flying hours he asked Nagley to help him and both tried to identify what they saw on the ground to what was laid down in the chart and maps. Finally Marmelstein declared that he could not find Kunovice and started carrying out the proscribed flying-procedures for finding the target but with no success. After 5 hours flying he decided to make an emergency-landing on a large potato field. The landing was smooth. We all got out of the airplane and stretched our legs. Two kilometers north-east we saw a large house which looked like a large farm with a large barn next to it. On the opposite side, towards the north-west and at a distance of close to fifteen hundred meters we saw two people walking towards us. We decided to wait until they get to us. It was just past three o’clock in the afternoon. Marmelstein asked which one of us spoke Czech. He found out that except for Bensimon, the Count and I everybody else speak only English. Bensimon spoke English and French. The Count spoke Hungarian and German, a little Russian and some very bad English so he was the most suitable to speak to the locals but Marmelstein ruled him out and orderd him to keep quiet because he did not want the locals to hear his strong Hungarian pronunciation in any language he spoke. Marmelstein did not want them to find out that we had a Hungarian amongst us. I told Marmelstein that I understand a little Russian and speak a few words in this language as well as several words in Polish and that I speak fluent German. Marmelstein decided that I only will speak with the approaching people even if they could speak English.

The two men got to us. They were dressed in hunting clothes: Grey-green breeches and jackets, long woolen socks and heavy brown shoes. They wore felt fedoras which had, sticking at their side – small pine-wood brushes and bird feathers. Both carried hunting-guns. When they arrived they greeted us in Czech and I answered in English and asked if they spoke English. The lower one of the two answered me in excellent English. I then did what Phil Marmelstein instructed me to do before they arrived and told him that we were bound for Kunovice and that we were looking for a telephone in order to call Prague. Apparently the second man did not understand English for the first one turned to him and apparently translated what I said to Czech. Both looked at us without asking further questions and the English-speaking one said, pointing towards the distant farmhouse: “This is my home. I have a telephone. You will be able to use it in order to call Prague.” He then turned to his friend and after exchanging a few words in Czech his friend turned around and walked away in the direction in which they came. This time I managed to see in this direction and at a distance of about three kilometers the houses of what seemed like a village. Marmelstein left me with the English speaking Czech and took the others aside. I could hear them very faintly having a heated discussion. Some of them went back to the airplane to get their belongings and Marmelstein and Nagley went back to it to switch everything off and close it up. It was decided to go with the Czech to his home.

While we were busy, a fighter airplane which looked like a “Yak-5” appeared, flying low. It had the markings of the Soviet Air Force (a red star) and it made a few passes at us and some wide turns around us, five minutes later it pulled up, turned north-east and disappeared. Three minutes later a single-engine “Fieseler- Storch”  appeared, also flying low (this was a German made STOL: Short take-offs and landings reconnaisance airplane which also had the Soviet Air Force’s Red Star on it). It made a complete circuit around the “Norseman” and landed in front of the latter’s nose. The landing run was very short. A few seconds after it stopped two men came out of it: One of them was wearing a long leather coat, leather boots and a peaked hat. He had red insignia and ranks over his shoulders and coat collar and the center of his peaked-cap had the Red-Star of the Soviet Air Force. The pilot followed him dressed in the uniform and rank of a junior officer. We all froze right where we were, including your humble servant and the Czech man. The Soviet Officer (I was later told that he was a Colonel) turned around very slowly around the “Norseman” without batting an eyelid and without uttering a word and his pilot followed him silently. I knew that they were not summoned by the second Czech man whom I could see still walking away in the distance. I waited for the Soviet to approach and address us but he did not. He gave us one long look, did not utter a word, climbed back with the pilot into their airplane and two minutes later took-off with hardly a take-off run.

I concluded that the sooner we get to a telephone the better it will be for us so I said to the Czech: “Let’s go.” It seems that everybody was of my opinion for we all started a quick march while the sun was setting in the west. Before I continue describing this adventure it would be better if I first explain to the reader the situation of Czechoslovakia during that period and the trials and tribulations which it endured since New Year 1948:

Although the result of the elections which took place in May 1946 showed that the Communist Party was the strongest party in Czechoslovakia, the fact that the Soviets meddled in the elections caused great discontent among the population and many voters changed sides.This situation caused a lot of tension in the country. There rose a strong conflict within the Cabinet due to Noshek who dismissed non-communists from the Police Force and replaced them with true communists. In protest on the 20th of February 1948 11 anti-communist ministers left the government. Reacting to this move the Communists brought into Prague Police reserves from outside of  the capital as well as the executive-commitees of their party which included mainly members of the professional unions. The Communists stopped the issue of newspapers which were against them, brutally dispersed student demonstrations and arrested many people. After several days of chaos, on the 25th of February 1948 President Benes’ gave up and agreed to a cabinet free of anti-communists and led by Gotwald. Jan Massarik went-on as Foreign-Minister. On March 10 he was found dead – it was never found out if he was murdered or comitted suicide- he was replaced by his Communist deputy, a Slovak named Wladimir Klementis. The Communists believed that they would win a majority in Slovakia during the elections of May 1946 and therefore they supported autonomy for Slovakia. But the result of the election showed that the opposing party to the Communists had a huge majority in Bratislava, so on the 2nd of March 1948 the Communists threw-out the Slovak deputies from Bratislava and Slovakia remained under the rule of Prague. On the 18th of April 1948 the Social-Democratic party which was the only remaining large party joined the Communist  party. At the elections which took place on the 30th of May 1948 the electorate had no choice between parties. The new Constitution, which was  a Democratic Constitution in name only was accepted unanimously during the deputies meeting on the 9th of May, but President Benes’ refused to ratify it. Benes’ resigned on June 7th and died on September 3rd 1948. The Constitution was immediately ratified by the new President, Gotwald. The leader of the Workers Union Antonin Zapotozky took Gotwald’s place as Prime-Minister and Rudolf Slansky who was up to this time the Secretary-General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was appointed as Deputy Prime-Minister.This is how Czechoslovakia turned to be a People’s Democracy.

The young State of Israel plunged with all its existing problems into this red pot-pourri. It was only thanks to Stalin and his band of operators (who later, in July 1948, reversed their policy). And due to the covetousness of the Czechoslovak leaders, especially the Communist leaders which were ready to do anything and everything for money that the State of Israel succeeded in getting vital help in armament, ammunition and logistic services which it could not get anywhere else that year.When Operation “Velveta 1” started all the true democrat-leaders have already vanished from the Czechoslovak administration. With them the smiles and sympathy were gone too. Even when they were still there Czechoslovakia demanded exorbitant prices for every bullet and made it quite clear that payment would have to be made in Gold or in US$ or in Swiss Franks cash-on-the-table. Now that the Communists took over possession of Czechoslovakia it was not enough that we paid as we did but they started to narrow our operations and deliver to us all kinds of hinted threats.

Not all the people in Czechoslovakia were really  communists. This was hinted to me after our quick walk from the potato-field to the big and beautiful farm-house. Throughout this long walk everybody was totally silent. The sun set and the dry air became very cold. I was glad to enter the house which was nicely warm. Our host asked us to enter a living-room which was not very large, furnished with antique furniture, central-European styled and heavy carpets which lay on a wooden floor. There were a few beautiful oil-paintings in golden frames on the walls. There was a fireplace in one of the walls with a most beautiful mantelshelf. A stack of wood was burning in the fireplace and warmed the room pleasantly. We were asked to sit on the armchairs and comfortable sofas which filled the room, and our host asked us if we were hungry.


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