Radek Masin (born Ctirad Mašín), 1930-2011
Radek Masin was born in Olomouc, southern Moravia, in 1930. His father, Josef Mašín, was an officer in the Czechoslovak Army who was later executed by the Nazis, while his mother, Zdenka, was a civil engineer, who spent part of WWII in Terezín. Radek and his brother Joseph received bravery medals from Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš after the War. According to Joseph, the brothers attempted to render German fighter planes traveling through their town by train unusable during WWII, and at one point helped a pair of Russian POWs escape.
In 1948, Radek graduated from high school in Poděbrady and, having been rejected from military academy, began studying mechanical engineering at Charles University in Prague. Following the Communist takeover that same year, he and his brother formed a small, nameless, anti-Communist resistance group. In 1951, the brothers planned to escape with a number of associates to West Berlin, in order to make contact there with the American Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) and return to Czechoslovakia, where they would step up their anti-Communist activity. The plan was foiled and resulted in Radek spending two years in jail. Radek was first interned in Prague’s Pankrác prison before being sent to Jáchymov to work in the uranium mines.
Upon Radek’s release from jail, the brothers again decided to make contact with the CIC in West Berlin. They set off with three associates in October 1953. Their journey through East Germany took one month and saw two of the Masin brothers’ friends captured and later executed by the Communist authorities. The brothers’ escape sparked a national manhunt staged by thousands of German Volkspolizei [people’s police] and resulted in several bloody shoot-outs.
In Berlin, Radek enrolled in the U.S. Army, in which he served between 1954 and 1959. He became a U.S. citizen upon discharge in 1959. After periods spent living in Miami and Long Island, New York, Radek moved to North Ridgeville, Ohio. In 2008, Radek and his brother Joseph were awarded a Prime Minister’s Medal for their actions by former Czech premier Mirek Topolánek. He died in Cleveland, Ohio, in August 2011.
Radek remembers his trial in 1951
“All of a sudden, they yanked me out the cell, brought me to a big room full of people, I did not know… nobody told me what it was about. I was there, there were some people up there on the podium, and I couldn’t make out what it was all about. In about 15 minutes they took me back to the cell. And later on somehow I was told that I was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. That was the whole trial! No defense attorney or anything. Absolutely nothing, nobody asked me nothing, nobody told me anything, you know. That was communist justice.”
Radek says prisoners at Pankrác Prison were put to work
“Cleaning the feathers – it came in bags. Goose feathers with chunks of skin on it and all that. All putrid, you know. So lots of dust around and there was a little cell that was meant for probably two people, there were three of us or four of us. It was cold there, you couldn’t… there was a toilet tight next to the door. We had to use the toilet, you know, to relieve yourself, we had to wash ourselves in the toilet and we had to drink out of the toilet because we were not given any water. In the morning you got a little cup of bitter tea, I mean coffee, and that was it. Otherwise showers, maybe they took you into the shower once every two months. We were supposed to be allowed to go out and walk around the yard every other day or so, so maybe once a week, once every 14 days. And the food was completely inadequate. It was so little I got so weak that going, I was on the second floor, I believe, so going up the stairs I couldn’t make it. I was climbing holding onto the railing.
“Once they threw me into the correction… that means in to the solitary…because, they couldn’t prove it of course, they did not have to prove anything, they just said I was communicating in Morse code through the walls. I was, you know, but they couldn’t tell, they just said ‘okay you, you go’ and they put me I think 14 days in that solitary in the basement. Well, that was real pleasant. You did not have your mat there, nothing during the day, not a blanket, just the very light whatever you had on – a shirt and breeches. Otherwise it was ice cold in there. In the morning, they gave you a bucket and you had to scrub the floor, the whole floor. So everything was wet. Then, the rest of the day, you had to stand under the open window at attention. And the snow was coming through the window. At lunchtime they opened the door and threw in a little bowl of red hot soup, or something, you know, you had to gulp it down, you burned your mouth, because in two minutes they were back taking the empty stuff out. And when I came out of it after 14 days, that cold and all that, so every joint I was moving was cracking.”
Radek says anti-Communist resistance worked best on a small scale
“We did not have any grandiose plans, you know, like ‘Oh we are going to overthrow the regime.’ That was quite obvious that you cannot do it. You just have to do whatever you can do. Even if it is small stuff, if everybody did a little, that regime could not have lasted six months, you know. But just a little. We tried to do our best under the circumstances. So we did not, we knew something about the second resistance during the War, where people were trying to organize large groups, lots of people, getting ready for big actions. That never worked out, because you have too many people involved, there will be somebody who will blow the whistle, and it is not going to happen. So we decided right from the beginning, knowing what was happening during the War, to keep it small, really tight, really strict security, and just do whatever we could, not trying to contact other people and all that, that was a recipe for disaster.
“There were lots of people, as I could see in the prison, who wanted to do something. They were there, they were connected to some group, big group, then it blew up, they wound up in jail before they could do anything, you know. But they were willing, if they had good leadership, those people would have fought. So, saying that the people did not want to do anything or risk anything, that’s incorrect. There were lots of people who were willing, but the thing is, most people need somebody who tells them ‘do this or do that.”
The last part of the Masin brothers’ journey to West Berlin saw them stow away on a passenger train
“The guys, Milan and Joseph, they got off the train at the train station before Berlin – well I thought that was the end of it, the end of them, you know, because I heard shooting and that. So I was under the train and kept going, stopped once or twice more in different stations but now I couldn’t see the names of the stations or anything, so I was thinking to myself ‘Well, I’ve got to get off the train because maybe the train is passing through Berlin, I might wind up in the Communist sector on the other side so, just take a chance…’ I decided the next stop, I’ll just drop and see where I am. That’s all that you could do, you know?
“So I dropped between the rails there and the train left. There was some guy looking through the door there, the glass, and he kind of dropped his jaw, because he saw me there. What he did after that I don’t know, the train was gone and I ran. I got from the railroad yard and I took a hostage there. There were like little shacks or sheds and people living there so I caught a half-drunk guy there and forced him to take me to the American barracks.”
Radek was at turns disappointed by the US Army
“We had a completely wrong picture of the whole thing – what we thought the army should be like, you know, because the United States Army was something completely different from these national armies, like the Czechoslovak Army. We saw in the Czechoslovakian Army people were very highly motivated, you know, the officers corps and all that. It was the same in most of the… like in Germany, right? Or in France or in England. But here it was a completely different thing. Also, first I thought, prior to – well, it took me a while before I changed my mind but – I thought I would stay in the army. Because I couldn’t imagine being anything except an officer like father. And of course, I thought that was the thing to do. When I saw how it worked here I said ‘No, I don’t want any part of it.’ Because there was also nothing going on, it didn’t look, you see, that was the main thing… because the Korean War was over, nobody knew anything about Vietnam, and our enlistment was up and we said ‘What? We are going to run around here like jerks polishing boots and all this?”
Category: Cleveland, Oral History