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.