On The Eve Of The Battle Of The Bulge

Hey, What Are You Doing Here?

You ever run into a relative in an airport?  On vacation?  How about in combat?

My grandfather's brother-in-law showed up 71 years ago on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge in need of clean clothes and a haircut. Grandpa's Command Post was the perfect pit-stop for the buck private to get a little special treatment.  There he is below, Private John Bauknecht, smoking a cigarette and and wisecracking with Matt Konop, his brother-in-law married to his little sister, Eunice Bauknecht.  

The two hadn't seen each other since before Omaha Beach, and the so-called "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest was quiet enough for them to goof around at the Command Post.  For weeks the war in this sector had days of dullness.  So they got a kick out of running into each other just as autumn was changing to winter.  Note the little bit of snow in the film below.  The depth of the snow and the boredom were about to change, but the two of them don't know that.  In the clip, John shows off his new haircut and clean clothes for the camera.  Grandpa happily used his rank to pass along a favor to a friendly face from home. 

Private John Bauknecht shows up unexpectedly at his brother-in-law Lt. Colonel Matt Konop's command post in the Ardennes Forest.

Private John Bauknecht bumming a cigaratte and a few favors at the 2nd Infantry Command Post of his high-ranking brother-in-law, Lt. Colonel Matt Konop.

It's a long-shot to catch up with your brother-in-law during war, but grandpa had a few things going for him.  First, all had been quiet on what was was called the "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium.  There simply wasn't much going on (boy, was that about to change).  Secondly, five of grandpa's six brothers-in-law were fighting in the war.  So even if the odds were long of running into a brother-in-law, grandpa had five Lotto tickets.  Back home in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, six blue stars were displayed in the front window of the Bauknecht family home, one for grandpa, and five for the Bauknecht brothers.  And lastly, strange coincidences had a way of finding grandpa throughout the war.  

Grandpa was a quirk magnet.  That's a big reason why his story makes for a great one-man show.  This particular coincidence with John Bauknecht didn't make it in "The Accidental Hero," nor did the story of the two of them running into each other again and shooting down a plane from the wrong air force.

After his December 14, 1944 haircut, John stayed over night at grandpa's command post in a large farmhouse just outside of the village of Wirtzfeld, Belgium.  Then the snow started falling and by the next morning the Ardennes Forest looked like a Christmas card.  In the film clip below grandpa plays with a little dog as John stands next to him and the snow flies.  The big steaming barrel next to him washes another load of clothing, a wood-fire heated wash machine unlike anything they'd sell at Sears.

As the snow flies, Matt Konop plays with a dog on the "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest.  Winter was on its way.  So was the German Army.

As the snow flies, Matt Konop plays with a dog on the "Ghost Front" of the Ardennes Forest.  Winter was on its way.  So was the German Army.

The film came from grandpa's 8 mm Kodak hand-held camera.  He obviously had no idea the next day the German army would launch the largest battle in US Army history.  The Battle of the Bulge was a surprise on the scale of Pearl Harbor or 9-11.  Over 19,000 American men would be killed, 23,000 missing or captured, and over 54,000 wounded.  The day before the battle, grandpa and his brother-in-law were just killing time, catching up on the news from Two Rivers, wondering what the folks back home were doing for Christmas.

Grandpa gave John a ride back to his unit, the 99th Infantry Division, where John was in artillery.  Unlike grandpa's Division, the 99th had seen very little combat.  As grandpa drove him back to the village of Muringen, 250,000 German troops and hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces waited just a few miles across the border to attack.  Muringen would be hit so hard that later my grandfather assumed John was either killed or missing in action.  And then on December 19, after three days of terrible fighting, John showed up again.  He was fine, and the two men picked up their conversation about Christmas and life back in Two Rivers.

Below, they prepare for John's trip back to Muringen. 

Brother-in-law John Bauknecht on December 15, 1945 about to take a jeep ride back to his 99th Infantry post near Muringen, Belgium.

Brother-in-law John Bauknecht on December 15, 1945 about to take a jeep ride back to his 99th Infantry post near Muringen, Belgium.  

Most of grandpa's unit, the 2nd Infantry Division, was several miles to the north attacking into Germany.  It'd been six months since their landing on Omaha Beach and they'd finally penetrated the Hitler's heavily fortified German border.  Most Americans, from high command down to the fox holes, thought the war nearly over.

Grandpa held his position at the command post without his defense platoon.  His boss had just assigned them up to the front to carry stretchers where the snow was waist-high.  So grandpa's command post stood unguarded precisely as the Germans were about to attack.

Below, grandpa walks alone in the beautiful snowy woods of the Ardennes Forest.  Christmas was ten days away; Hitler's massive sneak attack less that 24 hours from starting.  Grandpa hadn't seen any real fighting in weeks.  Everyone believed the Germans were nearly vanquished as they prepared for a White Christmas.  

Grandpa on a walk in the peaceful woods of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, a day before it turned to hell.  Over 19,000 Americans would die in the battle.

Grandpa on a walk in the peaceful woods of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, a day before it turned to hell.  Over 19,000 Americans would die in the battle.

Holiday Appeal: Czech Webcast

Raising $2500 for Czech Tour Webcast

I am delighted to announce I have engaged a Czech film crew and an internet distributor for a May, 2017 live webcast of my show in the Czech Republic.

I've worked with this Detroit-based distributor twice before. The first time was six years ago years for my show and the webcast was viewed by over 14,000 people worldwide.  In fact, that webcast prompted my first Czech engagement; and this year will be my SIXTH ANNUAL tour of the Czech Republic!  I can hardly overstate the impact that webcast had on the show, on me, and on my Czech friends.

Now I need to pay for the 2017 webcast!  The total cost is $2500.

I would appricate your help.  If you would like to help fund my Czech webcast please email me at accidentalhero1@gmail.com

I am still amazed my grandfather filmed the clips above and others while he was in war.  My Czech webcast is in the spirit of his filming in Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

If you support the webcast I will give you a live credit during the webcast, A DVD of the performance, a signed show poster from my Czech tour.  

I wish you all the best throughout the holiday season.

Warmly,

Patrick Dewane

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Czech Sweetness

I found out about Hruska's Kolaches while on tour at Texas A&M University. 

I grew up eating kolaches. I assumed everyone else in the country knew about these delicious pastries.  Kubsch's restaurant of Kewaunee, Wisconsin made them, so did Muench's of Alverno, where dinner was all-you-can-eat family style chicken, stuffing, green beans, and hand-mashed potatoes. Kubsch's, Muench's and the other Bohemian country restaurants of my youth have all closed; yet Hruska's Kolaches of Etinger, Texas is thriving.  Its central location in the triangle of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin draws customers from all directions.  Although for a few years in the 1990s Hruska's stopped selling kolaches, they now proudly offers 16 varieties.  Their website warns the city folks the kolaches often sell out by the afternoon.  Take a half day off work if you really want your choice.

http:// http://www.hruskas-bakery.com/bakery/kolaches
 

Hruska Koloaches, Etinger, Texas

Hruska Koloaches, Etinger, Texas

Raspberry Kolache (my favorite)

Raspberry Kolache (my favorite)

I am a Hruska.   My great great grandmother, Mary Hruska, left Bohemia for America back in 1867, settling not in Texas but in Wisconsin.  Her departure drove Joseph Konop crazy; he couldn't live without her.   So he hopped ox carts and walked from Domazlice, Bohemia to the North Sea port of Bremen, Germany where he boarded a sailing ship that took several weeks to arrive in New York.  From there he hopped a train to Chicago and another to Milwaukee where he embarked on a steam ship that plied 75 miles up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to the town of Manitowoc where he got off and walked the final 23 miles to the budding New Bohemia settlement of Stangelville, Wisconsin.  Once there, he resumed courting Mary Hruska and they finally married in St. Lawrence Church, Stangelville, Wisconsin, named after the St. Lawrence Church back in Mrakov, Bohemia. 

That's the love story that started our family in the New World -- a crazy Konop chasing a Hruska across two continents and an ocean.  Back in the Old Country, Mary Hruska's family didn't like him as he was 12 years her senior and illiterate.  Plus Mary Hruska was beautiful, with the high cheekbones of a Slavic princess.  The Hruska family thought Mary could do better than the old and very-ordinary Joseph Konop.  That didn't stop him.  And without Joseph's persistence I wouldn't exist. 

Hruska Building, Domazlice, Czech Republic, Main Square

Hruska Building, Domazlice, Czech Republic, Main Square

On May 4, 1945 my grandfather parked his jeep in the main square of the town of Domazlice, Czechoslovakia, looked up, and saw the building in front of him was named "Hruska," same as his grandmother, Mary Hruska.  Of this unexpected experience, grandpa wrote, "Now I knew my past was really catching up with me, but I had no time to go hunting for distant and unknown relatives so I walked around town to see what was happening."

It was the end of World War Two, and in an unlikely string of coincidences my grandfather was liberating the Bohemian villages of his grandparents.  Mary Hruska's kolache recipe had come from this same little pocket of Central Europe, and the word "hruska" is Czech for pear.  Grandpa knew this because Czech was his first language, the only language his grandparents ever spoke to him, the language that landed Lieutenant Colonel Matt Konop the assignment of Commander of the Advance Party of the Second Infantry Division's liberation of Southern Czechoslovakia.  Grandpa's General Patton/Forest Gump/Luke Skywalker adventure in Czechoslovakia is the heart of my show about him, "The Accidental Hero."  

I didn't have enough time to get to Hruska's Kolaches in Etinger on my tour to Texas, but I learned quite a bit about the Czech-Tex culture. Many of the Czechs who settled in Texas crossed the Atlantic to the port of Galveston, Texas and headed inland to chase the American Dream.  The audience after my show at Texas A&M University stuck around for about 45 minutes to ask questions and tell me about the Czechs of the region.  I was there on a repeat engagement sponsored by the George H. W. Bush Museum and Library.  Since no one in the audience brought any Hruska's Kolaches I have a very good reason to return. I am picturing a meal of barbecue brisket followed by two or three Hruska's Kolache, a Texas version of my boyhood dinners of family style chicken cooked so tender it fell off the bone at Kubsch's of Kewaunee and Muench's of Alverno.   

After the end of the war in May, 1945 grandpa made a trip back to Domazlice to talk to Arnost Hruska, the owner of  the Hruska building.  Granpa's unexpected encounter with the land of his grandparents ignited a life-long passion for his Czech heritage. As an old man in 1979, grandpa made a final trip back to Domazlice.  The Czechs were under the oppression of Russian Communism and the terrible conditions broke his heart.  When grandpa died four years later in 1983 the Czechs were still under the thumb of Moscow.  The freedom he helped bring in May of 1945 at the end of World War Two had lasted a scant three years.  He watched his people go from Hitler to Stalin.  

Proclamation: Matt Konop an honorary citizen of Domazlice, Czech Republic

Proclamation: Matt Konop an honorary citizen of Domazlice, Czech Republic

Of course, the Czech story ends sweetly with the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  They have been free ever since. And last May the Czechs of Domazlice made grandpa an honorary citizen.  Plus, the Hruska building in Domazlice now sports a plaque honoring my grandfather and his special connection to the area.  The plaque includes a bronze relief of him being carried on the shoulders of the Domazlice townspeople on May 4, 1945 shortly after he had parked his jeep in front of the Hruska building.  He didn't live to see his tribe get its freedom back, but they welcomed him home posthumously anyway.  I got to stand in for him, an honor I did not deserve at all.
 

Bronze plaque in Domazlice, Czech Republic Main Square

Bronze plaque in Domazlice, Czech Republic Main Square

Below is the only picture I have of Joseph Konop and Mary Hruska.  The illiterate, former-peasant Joseph wed his princess, Mary, and saved his money to buy sixty acres of swampy and forested Wisconsin land he transformed into a dairy farm.  

My grandfather was born and raised on their farm.

Joseph Konop and Mary Hruska, my great great grandparents

Joseph Konop and Mary Hruska, my great great grandparents

 

Czech Tour, May 1 - 7, 2017

Main Train Station, Prague

Main Train Station, Prague

Old Town Square, Prague

Old Town Square, Prague

So far eight people are coming on my May, 2017 tour of the Czech Republic.  If you are interested, please contact me.

My Czech performances are:

May 2, Prague (at the American Embassy)

May 4 and 5, Domazlice

May 7, Pilsen

Spires of Prague from the Charles Bridge

Spires of Prague from the Charles Bridge

I will have a live webcast of my August 4 show in Domazlice.  My last webcast was seen by more than 14,000 people worldwide.  More details to follow.

The flowers are always in bloom the first week of May, just as they were when the US Army liberated Southern Czechoslovakia in May, 1945.  My Czech friends are eager to become your friends.  They will never forget who brought their freedom at the end of World War Two.  It is always magical that first week of May in the Czech Republic.  This will be my sixth year in a row.
 

May flowers in Pilsen, Czech Republic

May flowers in Pilsen, Czech Republic

Veterans Day, Grand Rapids, MN

 

November 11, 2016 is the fourth Veterans Day I will bring my show to the Reif Center for the Performing Arts in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  The public performance is November 10, then I have a student performance and a senior center engagement on November 11. 

My last trip included a surprise at the senior center.  Resident James Trembath had earned a Bronze Star medal for heroics at the Battle of Iwo Jima in March, 1945.  However, Trembath's son told me there had never been a public ceremony for his father's Bronze Star.  The award citation arrived in the mail seventy years ago and sat in a file in his father's house.  So the son asked if I would read it aloud at the Senior Center.  I said of course, and the son handed me the citation.
 

With James Trembeth, awarded a Bronze Star for heroics at Iwo Jima.

With James Trembeth, awarded a Bronze Star for heroics at Iwo Jima.

Everyone in the room welled with tears as I read the description of the actions of the modest old man they thought they knew well.  At Iwo. Jima Trembeth spent three hours running through enemy bullets, hopping from one wounded soldier to another to bring relief.  Amidst the hell fire of the raging battled he'd land in a fox hole with his medic's kit and ask, "what happened? I'm here to help you."  


As I read the description of his actions I didn't dare make eye contact with James Trembeth, his son, or anyone else.  He'd waited seventy years to have his actions finally recognized in public, so I didn't want my emotions to screw up his moment.  The citation is below.  Please take a couple seconds to read it.

James Trembeth's Bronze Medal Citation.  When I read it aloud at his Senior Center two years ago it was the first public acknowledgement of his medal.

James Trembeth's Bronze Medal Citation.  When I read it aloud at his Senior Center two years ago it was the first public acknowledgement of his medal.

Three of the widows at the Senior Center had husbands who served in World War Two.  One of the husbands spent months in a German prison camp.  As we talked more, the seniors opened up and shared many stories, including how the nearby mines of the Minnesota Iron Range worked round-the-clock to supply the war effort with its essential commodity, steel.  Many of the residents spoke fondly of how united the country was during the war, and how they missed that.  I asked if they felt united by our conversation. They laughed and agreed, were we united.  I told them I feel the same every time I talk to people who lived through the war.  Frankly, I feel it whenever I do the show.   

Reif Center, Grand Rapids, Minnesota show poster.

Reif Center, Grand Rapids, Minnesota show poster.

The first time went to Grand Rapids the show was still called "The Mushroom Picker" (seemed like a brilliant title at the time) and the Reif Center's director, David Marty, had to be talked into bringing me.  The quote I've been told is, "some guy telling war stories about his grandfather -- I fall asleep just thinking about it!"  Against David's better judgement, he booked me.  Then he and his staff sold out their 400-seat house and the audience response was electric.  Just amazing, a high point of my first tour.

After the show, David came on stage and we chatted for over an hour. He strongly encouraged me to make the show a priority in my life because it is an important story for people to hear.  He thought the show had the chops to tour nationally.  He encouraged me to dream of what might be possible, and I've been running on that encouragement ever since.  In a few days, I'll be back on David's stage.

Sign in a barber shop, Grand Rapids, MN.

Sign in a barber shop, Grand Rapids, MN.

The second time David had me to Grand Rapids I met a WWII vet who knew my grandfather.  They were both stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX before the war.  And like my grandfather, the Grand Rapids veteran made it through 11 months of combat with just a few minor injuries.  He brought books from the Second Infantry Division, including a roster that showed the division had as many casualties as men serving, 15,000.  That is a 100% casualty rate; only constant reinforcements kept their numbers up.  

He and I traded stories, laughed a lot, and then he saw the show with his daughter and grandchildren. David Marty made sure that he and all local veterans attended for free.

This next Grand Rapids gig is sandwiched between trips to Rochester, NY, New Orleans, and a gig at the George H. W. Bush Museum and Library in College Station, TX.  It will be a return engagement to the Bush Museum and Library, as that organization has also become a champion of my show. George H. W. Bush was the Navy's youngest pilot in WWII, and then was president when Soviet Communism fell.

Veteran's Day this year falls just three days after the election.  James Trembeth didn't care whether a foxhole was Republic or Democrat, conservative or liberal.  Those men crying for help were simply Americans.  And when I visit the Grand Rapids senior center this Friday I am certain the residents will comment on how united the country was back during the war.  And when we talk about our country's shining moment of the 20th Century, we again will be united.  

World War Two veterans with me in Rochester, NY after a performance.

World War Two veterans with me in Rochester, NY after a performance.

The Holocaust: What Grandpa Saw

Grandpa filmed the joy of the liberation of the Holysov Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia.  The women in the striped uniforms in the clip below are Jews from Belgium and France, slave labor finally freed in May, 1945.  Grandpa arrived at the Holysov camp as they were liberated.  

My grandfather's ability to speak Czech was his passport into a wide range of adventures in the last week of the war.  The US Army desperately needed translators as they liberated Southern Czechoslovakia, and Czech was grandpa's first language.  What had made him odd within his division -- the only officer whose native tongue was Czech -- suddenly made him quite valuable.  

Above, grandpa looks like a rooster in a hen house as the freed female prisoners crowd around him, vying for his attention.  He also wrote that the women in the Czech towns he helped liberate kissed and hugged him.  I chuckle at the thought of my grandpa as a George-Clooney-in-combat-boots, but apparently it happened.

Holysov was one of 80 sub-camps of the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Germany. Over 30,000 people died in the Flossenburg camps.  I visited both Holysov and Flossenburg with my guide and dear friend, Amar Ibrahim, on my recent research trip.

Holysov Camp guard tower                         

Holysov Camp guard tower                         

Crematorium, Flossenburg Camp

Crematorium, Flossenburg Camp

The final weeks of the war, Flossenburg's crematorium burned all-day to keep pace with the Nazi's accelerated kill-rate.  As Allied troops approached, the SS officers running Flossenburg evacuated many of the prisoners in a death march toward the Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich, 140 miles away.  My grandfather unexpectedly discovered dead bodies and escapees from the Flossenburg death march as he and his driver crossed alone into Czechoslovakia on the morning of May 2, 1945.  He wrote:

As we drove along I began to notice dead bodies on the right and left of the highway. This puzzled me as I knew of no battles in this area. I noticed they all wore the same uniform, all were above apparent military age, and all shot through the head; some with one and some with two bullet holes. 

Flossenburg death march fatality    

Flossenburg death march fatality    

FlosLt. Colonel Matt Konop  

FlosLt. Colonel Matt Konop

 

 He continues:


After a few stops to take pictures, my driver called my attention to some men coming down a hill from the woods, waving their hands.  I asked them (in Czech) who they were and what they were doing in this area.  They told me that they were escapees from a column of thousands being moved from concentration camps in Germany and that the tail end of that column passed the point we were at not more than fifteen minutes ago.  Three days before, the inmates of the camp were told to assemble to move out of the camps.  With little food and water the prisoners were formed as a road march unit and, guarded by SS German prison guards who road vehicles, put on the road.  Their marches were mostly during the night as they did not want to be spotted by American airplanes during the day.  

I asked them about those dead along the road and how they happened to be shot.  They told me that these dead were members of the prison camps and march unit.  They said that the gruesome march in the warm spring days caused many to fall out only to be shot as the German SS came upon them as he road in his car.  

They said that when a man became exhausted and about to fall, his buddies on the right and left of him would take the exhausted under their arms and just about carry him until all three became exhausted and all three fell out of formation on the road and then all three were shot and dumped in the ditch. This explained to me why I saw a single body here and there and then again I saw three in one pile dead.


My grandfather got the men food and water.  They took him to a building of about 100 other escapees, many sick and dying in front of him.  He noticed dogs in the building and asked why they kept dogs if they had no food for themselves.

This scene was a pathetic one and I was helpless.  The answer I got was unexpected; they said they ate the dogs. I noticed a little dog and went over to pet him, much to the delight of the many in the camp.  This little dog was picked up along the road and carried as he was too small to walk too far.  They told me they were saving this special pet for the day they would have to eat him as a last resort after all other dog meat was gone.  Now that I came there, they told me that I saved his life.  I arranged to have farmers get whatever potatoes, beets, or bread and bring it to the se people along with water.  I asked two medics to get medical supplies to the escapees.  I bid goodbye and proceeded to the next village, Klenci.

From that horror scene, my grandfather and his driver entered Klenci, coincidentally the home village of his grandmother, Mary Hruska (my great great grandmother).  While snooping around town he stumbled upon a meeting of the Klenci resistance.  As he walked into their secret meeting, the men were surprised to see an America officer, and then shocked when he spoke Czech.  When he told them in Czech they were now free the men burst into joy, hugging and kissing him. They also marveled at the good fortune to be, as they said, "liberated by one of our own," as all four of grandpa's grandparents had immigrated to America from this little area of Czechoslovakia.  The men made him a folk hero, less than an hour after he had left the hell scene of the dog meat.

Grandpa never spoke of the death march, but he did yell at anyone in his house who threw away food.  I learned that the hard way.  He did write about his experiences, including what is quoted above.  He also filmed the liberation of the Holysov Concentration Camp, and the disturbing scene below of German citizens forced to exhume dead bodies in shallow graves outside the Czech town of Volary.  A column of the Flossenburg death march passed through Volary and the dead were just piled in a mass grave.  They were like the fallen death marchers my grandfather found after crossing into Czechoslovakia.  I wonder what my grandfather thought as he filmed it, bodies like the ones he saw as he crossed into the land of his grandparents.

I knew my grandfather well and was a pallbearer at his funeral in 1983.  But it has only been in the last two years that I've discovered what I've written about here.  In fact, up until a few years ago I did not include the Holocaust in my show, The Accidental Hero, because I wasn't certain if grandpa's description was accurate. I needed proof.  I discovered the movie clips two years ago in a canister of film that sat unwatched in my aunt Jean's basement for decades.  Then my Czech friend Amar Ibrahim unlocked for the meaning of the clips for me.  I had my proof and changed the show.
 

On my recent trip to the Czech Republic Amar took me to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.  His grandfather, Arnost Hruska, had been imprisoned in Flossenburg during the war.  

The Nazis rounded up Arnost and 150 other men from Domazlice, Czechoslovakia  in 1940 and threw them into Flossenburg in retribution for the resistance activities of a local native, Jan Smudek.  Arnost Hruska was a successful businessman in Domazlice, his stately building on the main square sits just five doors down from City Hall.  The Nazis made an example of him, a display that no Czech regardless of position in life was safe.  Lucky to survive hard labor in the Flossenburg granite quarry and the daily presence of death, Arnost returned to his family weighing eighty pounds.

Today, Arnost Hruska's white and salmon building on the main square sports a bronze plaque dedicated to my grandfather.  Grandpa had parked his jeep in front of Arnost's building on May 4, 1945, his first visit to Domazlice.  Grandpa looked up and saw his grandmother's name, Hruska, on the side of the building.  Now my grandfather's name is on the side of that building, along with a bronze relief of him being carried as a hero by the people of Domazlice.

Plaque in Domazlice, Czech Republic

Plaque in Domazlice, Czech Republic

Amar Ibrahim and his daughter with me in front the plaque of my grandfather, Lt. Col. Matt Konop.

Amar Ibrahim and his daughter with me in front the plaque of my grandfather, Lt. Col. Matt Konop.

Amar and I are good friends.  He lives in the Hruska building where he keeps a museum to my grandfather on the second floor.  If you visit Domazlice he'd be happy to show it to you.

These war stories are personal.  Amar's grandfather and family were victims of the Nazi terror reign, while my grandfather's story has connected me to my Czech roots.  On the train ride from Domazlice back to Prague after spending a few days with Amar, I re-read my grandfather's writings.  I discovered, with the Czech scenery passing by the train window, that our grandfather's had met.  Yes, these stories are personal, often terrible, and sometimes magical.

I managed to drive to Klenci and Domazlice to see what I could discover as to my forefathers. The first place I stopped in Domazlice was the Hruska building where I met Arnost Hruska, operator of a general store.  

Matt Konop carried in the main square of Domazlice, Czechoslovakia on May 4, 1945.  The photo was taken a few meters from Arnost Hruska's building.  Note the movie camera in my grandfather's left hand.

Matt Konop carried in the main square of Domazlice, Czechoslovakia on May 4, 1945.  The photo was taken a few meters from Arnost Hruska's building.  Note the movie camera in my grandfather's left hand.

Jewish Monument, Flossenburg

Jewish Monument, Flossenburg

Hruska Building, Domazlice Main Square

Hruska Building, Domazlice Main Square

2016 Czech Tour

Friend:

For the fifth year in a row, I took my show to the Czech Republic.

Highlights included my grandfather being made an honorary citizen of the Czech Republic, two sold-out student shows, the Czechs of the town of Domazlice surprising me with a pewter copy of the bronze plaque of my grandfather, my second engagement in the town of Klatovy, and new revelations about my grandfather's time in Cold War Czechoslovakia.

A commemorative coin was also created in honor of my grandfather's extraordinary experience at the end of WWII when he helped liberate the same villages his grandparents came from.  

Plans are already being made for the May 2017 tour. It is a great time to go to the Czech Republic, as they have many celebrations honoring the US Army's liberation of a portion of the country.  If you are interested in coming along, please let me know!  A fan of my show, Ben Jones of upstate New York, came along this year and had so much fun he'll be coming again in 2017.  

We might do a live broadcast or webcast of the show next May in the Czech Republic. 

Thank you for your interest.

Patrick Dewane


PS  I also have DVDs ($20) and commemorative coins ($10) for sale.  Email me if interested: accidentalhero1@gmail.com

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Why Didn't He Talk About World War Two?

It's the most-asked question. Last night, a woman asked it right after the show. 

I'll never know for sure. But I've thought about it a lot.

I used to beg my grandfather to tell me about World War Two, but he wasn't talking. I'd learn about the war in school from nuns who had to try to imagine what had happened, yet my grandfather -- someone I'd known my entire life -- was an officer in the war but wouldn't say a word. It didn't make any sense to me why grandpa wouldn't talk. 

The woman after the show last night offered an answer to her question, "was it the trauma?"

Yes, I said. I think the trauma was a big part of why he didn't talk.

The woman's father had been in the war and he, too, didn't talk about it.  She wasn't even sure where he had served, a fact that made her quite sad. 

My grandfather might not have talked about it, but he did write about his experiences. Although even that was strained, as nobody in the family knew what he was doing. He had no plans to publish his writings and didn't tell anyone what he wanted done with them. They sat in my aunt's basement for 20 years after he died. My sister stumbled upon his memoir about ten years ago and made copies for family members. I was shocked with what I read. Shocked, and then obsessed. The obsession led to my one-man show, which has taken me and grandpa's story across the country and to Europe. And when I do the show, I always get asked this question about why he didn't talk.

My grandfather was in combat for eleven months straight, with but a few breaks.  My aunt told me a story of a family vacation to Chicago in the 1960s.  It was a beautiful summer day and the family was walking along the shore of Lake Michigan right near the Shedd Aquarium.  At the time, a small airstrip was next to the aquarium and when a single engine plane made its landing approach my grandfather jumped under a park bench and started yelling at the family, "get down! Get down!"  Traumatized? I think so. Why anyone want to talk about something that dark? 

Even if you did want to talk about it, how do you have such a conversation? Someone who has been in combat knows that no matter how well they describe it, a person who hasn't been there will never understand. Plus, culturally the WWII generation just didn't say much about such things, any more than women of that era would talk about the details of child birth in mixed company.  And many of the WWII veterans I've talked to have said to me things like, "we fought the war so we could live in the peace," and "that was then and this is now." My sense is they didn't want to get stuck reliving the war. 

At the same time, many do want to talk about it before they die.  I think this was part of my grandfather's impulse to write about his war experience. He wanted someone to know.  So he told his typewriter. And his typewriter never asked stupid questions or made eye contact. I still can't believe how close we came to never finding out about his story. In fact, the woman last night after the show pointed out how lucky I am to have his writings.  Yes. Lucky indeed.

Patrick Dewane with US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Andrew Schapiro at the 2015 Domazlice, Czech Republic liberation celebration.

Patrick Dewane with US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Andrew Schapiro at the 2015 Domazlice, Czech Republic liberation celebration.

We also have his film footage, which might even be crazier than discovering his long-forgotten writings. Above is some of what he shot when he and his young family were stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. My mom is the youngest of the three children in the video.  Clearly, grandpa liked to document things, even if he didn't talk much about them. 

I get to hear a lot of stories after I do the show.  Funny stories. Amazing stories. And sometimes horrific, heart-breaking stories. I heard a WWII veteran in my hometown tell of a kamikaze dive that exploded on the deck of his ship, right in front of him. He snapped. I realized later that day that  the man who told the story had worked at my high school when I was growing up. None of us at the time had a clue as to the trauma he'd experienced. He didn't talk about it.  But he paid one hell of a price and finally later in life received treatment for his trauma.

I don't presume to be an expert on war trauma. But it was interesting last night that the woman asking the question went right to that answer. For my grandfather, I'm pretty sure his trauma was a major factor in his silence. For the veteran I mentioned above who survived the kamikaze attack, he told me as much.   

Ultimately, my grandfather did tell me about the war. He did so in a way that was comfortable for him, and has changed my life incredibly.

May 4, 1945, Domazlice, Czechoslovakia

Who caries a movie camera in World War Two?  

My grandfather, Matt Konop, did!  In his left hand above is a Kodak 8 mm camera he had from Omaha Beach all the way to the end of the war in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. He's carrying a camera, while the newly-liberated people of Domazlice are carrying him.  

In the clip above are scenes he shot in and around the town of Domazlice, Czechoslovakia right before the end of WW II. Konop's grandparents had grown up in the same countryside that their grandson was now improbably liberating. A string of jaw-dropping coincidences brought him face-to-face with the truth of his obscured identity. It took being a Lt. Colonel of the US Army and commander of the Advance Party freeing Czechoslovakia for him to discover his roots.  Only eleven villages, barely 10,000 people, comprise the Czech district of Chodsko where Konop's four grandparents, my great great grandparents, were born and raised. They all left Chodsko for America in the 1860s, settling near Stangelville, Wisconsin, about 15 miles outside of Green Bay. Konop's grandfather, Joseph Konop, couldn't read. He bought his first 20 acres of Wisconsin frontier land by signing an "X" for his name.  My lineage is not royalty!

But when Matt Konop entered Domazlice, Czechoslovakia on May 4, 1945 he was treated like a king. Arriving in the main square by himself and ahead of the rest of the division, he was greeted with banners in Czech with his name.  Konop's first language was Czech, and the banners stated "Matt Konop -- we are liberated by one of our own!". The people hoisted him on their shoulders and shouted in Czech the same thing, parading an American Lt. Colonel who had returned to the land of his ancestors. As he was being carried, the Czech national anthem, "Where Is My Home," played over and over from loudspeakers in the main square. Konop knew the song from his Czech-American upbringing, and that day was the first time in six years that the song was played in public. The Nazis had finally be quelled. And it was quite a homecoming for my grandfather, paraded on the same cobblestones where his grandparents had begun their journey to America some 80 years earlier. 

It doesn't seem real, does it?

My grandfather never talked about it. I only found out about it when we found his forgotten manuscript.

Soon after that, we found his film footage. 

So let the film from his camera do his talking. The music that kicks in is the Czech national anthem, and the main square is indeed Domazlice on May 4, 1945, the day that changed my grandfather's entire conception of who he was.

He had spent the first 38 years of his life trying to run from his poor Czech background. He desperately wanted to "become American." And then as a Lt. Colonel in the American army at the end of the war, he discovered what it meant to be Czech.

His tribe called him their liberator, but I believe they liberated him.

Patrick Dewane
Movie camera in hand, Matt Konop experiences a surreal homecoming at the end of WWII in Czechoslovakia, the land of his ancestors.

Movie camera in hand, Matt Konop experiences a surreal homecoming at the end of WWII in Czechoslovakia, the land of his ancestors.