In the previous several chapters, we were looking at four detailed scenarios how Silvestr might have died during the Battle of Singapore. It was most likely in February 1942, shortly after he celebrated his 22nd birthday.
At the end of my research and writing I would like to come back to Silvestr’s home place, a Czech village of Vemyslice in southern Moravia.
In this village, I have myself enjoyed a wonderful childhood, spending almost every weekend and school holidays at my grandfather’s and grandmother’s house there. It’s been the place of the best adventures one can imagine: climbing up the trees, playing battles by building straw fortresses and throwing apples at each other in the autumn fields, catching the fish from the local river on a home made fishhook (and then running away when an official found us), jumping to the several meters high piles of grain at the local cooperative farm, reading old magazines at the corner of a mysterious attic, as well as picking grapes at our small vineyard, and other types of work around the farm which – perhaps surprisingly to many – I really enjoyed doing.
How did the village look like at the time of Silvestr’s childhood? What do we know about Silvestr’s family and his ancestors?
Photo: A group photo of the 2nd class of the secondary school in Vemyslice from the school year 1931/1932 when Silvestr attended it. We can find his name on the backside, first in the left upper corner. On the picture, Silvestr is sitting in the front row, to the right of the boy holding the sign.
In my quest for such information, I was mostly relying upon historical document stored at the State Archives in Znojmo – the former regional capital. It maintains an impressive collection of documentation about Vemyslice – stacked upon each other, they would make more than a pile higher than eight meters! These include a number of medieval parchments that relate to the extraordinary history of Vemyslice (you can learn more in a chapter about my visit to Vemyslice I published earlier). I would like to thank to Ms Pekarkova from the archive who was very kind and helped me to orient myself in their large collection.
Photo: State Archives at Znojmo. Picture taken during my visit there in October 2017.
Most of the information bellow comes from several chronicles, written at the municipality as well as its several schools. The school chronicles also contain information about contemporary events in the village, and therefore nicely complement the official municipal chronicles.
Photo: Chronicles of the school and municipality of Vemyslice.
Silvestr was born on 20th October 1919 as a fourth and last child in the family of Silvestr Nemec. I succeeded in tracing his direct ancestors seven generations back, down to Vaclav Nemec who was born around 1655 in Horni Kounice, a small town several kilometers distant from Vemyslice. Silvestr’s grandmother Marie Sklensky was a descendant of an old local family. Her oldest known direct ancestor was Pavel Ripl born around 1580, who back in his times even served as a mayor of Vemyslice.
Photo: Parents of my great-uncle and my grandmother, Silvestr Nemec (here pictured in an old Austrian military uniform) was born in Vemyslice in 1880. His wife Frantiska Netouskova was six years younger.
The school chronicle mentions that in 1919 – a year in which Silvestr was born – seven legionaries returned home to Vemyslice from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. It’s nice to see a reference like this, reminding us one of the most heroic achievements and roles of Czechoslovakian army in the Great War.
Just a week after Silvestr was born, the village was celebrating first year of independent Czechoslovakia.
A local head teacher, Mr Orlicek who apparently had a very progressive yet idealistic vision of the society, shared his grievance in the school chronicles in early 1920: “I can’t omit the sad fact that there is a lot of gambling going on in the two local pubs. There is not a single table where cards would not be played. As a result, it is entirely impossible to have a useful conversation about important matters or historical events in the pub.” This was not his only complaint captured, as we can see in yet another record from August 1922 that reads “It’s a hard work here, when everyone blindly believes in the Vatican’s delusions.”
Photo: One of the laments that Vemyslice’s head teacher Orlicek written into the school chronicles – this one is about religious backwardness of the villagers.
Land Reform – Vemyslice’s Manor and meadow named “Envy”
An important event that significantly reshaped modern Vemyslice – and with it, also Silvestr’s childhood – had been the state Land Reform conducted in 1924. In February, Earl Kinsky received a court’s eviction from his Vemyslice’s Manor (the Manor was initially established by the monastery in Tisnov, who in 1740 sold it to the Lichtenstein family; later, Earl Kinsky bought it from them). As a result of the reform, the Manor’s land was divided into smaller allotments that were distributed to new owners.
Photo: A historical map of Vemyslice made in early 1800’s. You can see the Vemyslice’s Manor as a large square object on the north-west of the village (upper left side on the map). When the land reform took place, the municipality got rights to the large chunk of land to the west/left of the Manor as well as its park (dark green area to the north/up). Source: CUZK.
In total, 90 families applied to get some share of the former Manor’s lands. The municipality also claimed part of it, and eventually was given the meadow and a park attached to the Manor. In the coming years, three new modern buildings were built on this newly acquired public land: new school, local gym hall, and a protestant church. Together, they established a new, modern center of a public life that the village was very proud of. We can be certain that Silvestr spent a lot of his time there during his childhood.
Photo: Three new public buildings erected during 1920’s on the former meadow that belonged to the Vemyslice’s Manor. In front is the local gym hall (“Sokol” was one of the popular sports national associations); behind it a school, and at the very back a small protestant church. We can be certain that Silvestr was coming to all three of them during his childhood. This photo is dated in 1935, when he was 16 years. Source: personal archive of Arnost Hrdina.
The land reforms were also dealing with another allotment, a large meadow called Zavist (“Envy”). Until then, it could have been used only by some privileged families, according to an old deed by the Tisnov monastery: based on that, the right to use the meadow was granted only to the families whose men provided their services as guards at the monastery’s complex. Therefore, newcomers and settlers who came to Vemyslice in later years had no right to use it. The chronicle mentions that the meadow was traditionally used according to a 10 years’ roster: every year, there were 8 families using it, while 1/10th of it was available to the mayor, and the remaining 1/10th to the municipality itself. The chronicle reads: “This year, in 1924, the old families utilized their privilege for the last time. In the future, the meadow will be accessible to anyone, so that the new settlers won’t have to envy the old families anymore.” There chronicle also provides a a list of 80 families from Vemyslice who had this ancient privilege; we can find that our Nemec family from house number 23 belonged to them.
There is another mention of the Nemec family in reference to the land reforms in Vemyslice. This one relates to a record of a public auction of the vicarage’s land in 1923. In the school chronicles, it states that one of the three auctioned allotments – a 4600 m2 garden – was purchased on March 23rd, 1923, by Silvestr Nemec for 18,100 Czechoslovak crowns.
Photo: A record in the Vemyslice school’s chronicles that describes the outcomes of the public auction of the vicarage’s lands in March 1923.
An idea was born to build a new school on the former Manor’s lands that now became a municipal property. The local council was discussing this matter in August 1924, and by a narrow majority of 8 against 7 votes agreed to take further steps. This decision was quickly challenged by a protest petition signed by 42 citizens – we still know their names as Mr Orlicek wrote their list in the school chronicle, accompanying it with his own comment: “Work and education represent our salvation!”.
The political fight over the new school continued, and Mr Orlicek was keeping a record of it. He quotes one of the members of the local educational board as saying: “What we need are people to clean the dung in our stables – not people with academic education. All the educated people will just run away from the farming work!”
Seven oppositional members in the council filed a complaint that states: “The undersigned can’t support the expensive project of the new school, because the times are tough and not suitable for it. The local farmers struggle financially and the local poorhouse needs also an investment.”
The narrow majority managed to push the project through despite all the obstacles, and the building was finally accomplished in August 1926, allowing the new school year to already begin there. This was much to the delight of the chronicler who comments: “School – the monument of progressive efforts of the Vemyslice citizens – has been finished, radiating an unbreakable will that majority of our people are in favor of education – a fundament of prosperity.”
The old school building was later used as a police office, which was moved to Vemyslice from the neighboring smaller village of Tulesice.
Silvestr at school
By the time Silvestr enrolled in the school, the Czechoslovak educational system was unified based on a novel legislation from 1922. The universal and compulsory school attendance was set to last for eight years: five in primary, and three in secondary level. Some of the pupils then continued to the so called “continuation schools”, which were providing already specialized type of education.
From Silvestr’s date of birth (October 1919) and the starting date of his job with Bata (September 1936), it’s easy to deduce that he was attending the primary school from 1925 to mid 1930, and secondary from mid 1930 to 1933. We can also assume that he then went through a business academy for additional three years before joining Bata – the fact that he had graduated a business academy is captured in his record at Bata archives.
In the school year of 1925/1926 when Silvestr began his school education, the first class had 43 pupils in total. The school in Vemyslice had two classes at the primary level, and they were probably divided based on the age: this first class being for 6-8 years old, and the second class for those 9-11 years old. The teacher in the first class, which Silvestr most likely attended, was Mrs Vlasta Musilova. At that time, the construction of the new school building was already ongoing (see above), but – according to the school chronicle – the classes were still taking place in a building of the old school, where the former teacher’s apartment was converted into an improvised classroom.
Photo: The old school building in Vemyslice, where Silvestr was going during his first year of school, is located behind the local catholic church. The following year though, he and his classmates began to go to the new school building that was finished in the summer of 1926. Photo: archive of Arnost Hrdina
In May 1926, the pupils went for a trip to an old castle of Pernstejn and visited also the famous karst caves at Macocha. In June, they went for a day-trip to the Leskoun Hill above the village of Raksice, which is about ten kilometers from Vemyslice.
Leskoun… as my parents never had a car, I often walked by feet from Vemyslice to Raksice’s train station to get back home to Brno after the weekend spent at my grandmother’s place. It was about 8 km walk, and most of the time, i had Leskoun right in my sight; it was really a nice dominant landmark. It was therefore with some sorrow that I have witnessed the hill being dismantled and eaten up by a large gravel quarry. It was feeding a construction of a nearby Dukovany nuclear power plant, as well as other industrial development. Today, there is not much left of the previously photogenic hill that Silvestr visited on a school trip.
Besides the lectures of his teacher, Silvestr must have witnessed also some naughty behavior of his schoolmates. When I was reading the old school chronicles, there were moments when I had to laugh. Four boys (Hlavka, Ruzicka, Sklensky and Kopecek) got the lowest mark for their conduct, because they were picking birds’ nests and were making fun of beggars. A record of teachers’ conference from 3rd March 1926 reads: “Miss Musilova suggests that Leopold Hejmala from the first class is sent to a reform school because of his regular thievery, lying and disobedience.”
As for the contemporary events in the village, it’s worth to mention that three new bells, fabricated by a bell maker in Broumov, were delivered to the local church.
When Silvestr entered his second year at school, i.e. 1926/1927, the number of pupils in his class increased to 55 children. Thank to the new school building being finished in August, the education found a new home there. The school records say that the teachers were soon concerned about the problem that when the lectures were over, the children were rushing out and running home in chaos; thus they agreed that the pupils would be accompanied by a teacher up to the main road, before they would be released.
The behavior continued to be an issue. In September, one of the boys was caught in a pub during the local festival despite an explicit ban by the principal. In December, two girls stole some money from the cloakroom. A number of pupils were reported to talk dirty language, throw stones and break the planks in the fences. At the end of the academic year, the school principal held a speech about proper behavior during the summer holiday time – well I would not hold my breath for how effective it was.
In July 1926, the central section of the main road through the village was paved – another visible step towards modernization of the community.
Photo: An old postcard from Vemyslice. The photograph is not dated but must have been taken after 1926 when the road in the center of the village was paved with fireclay bricks. The lime tree with a statue of St. John beneath is located just some 30 meters from Silvestr family’s house – it’s would be just to the left from the frame pictured. Source: archive of Arnost Hrdina
Without doubt, one of the big adventures of that summer’s vacations for Silvestr were extensive, 10-day long artillery maneuvers that took place in the area of Vemyslice in August 1927. The army setup a training firing range there. The local chronicle says that: “One of the divisions was based in Vemyslice. They established a makeshift office in the school, with 25 soldiers accommodated at its ground floor. The horses were kept at its backyard. The first training shooting took place on 9th August…”
His third year at school, i.e. 1927/1928, must have been especially exciting for Silvestr. At first, on 22nd September, electricity was brought to the village and first electric lights were turned on. The municipal council had agreed a year earlier, unanimously, to connect Vemyslice with the electric grid, with costs of it being covered by a 30-years loan taken from the local savings bank.
On 8th October, the villagers experienced an earthquake. The chronicle has a record of it: “An earthquake – a natural phenomenon unheard of in our region, took place around 9pm on 8th October. The glasses and plates were clanking, furniture rattling. It was felt most strongly when one was laying in the bed.”
In January 1928 the pupils performed a theater play “Nanynka from Tynice“. Similar performances were done at least twice a year, judging from the local chronicles, however this one was extraordinary because special rococo costumes were borrowed from a city of Brno.
In April 1928 the school organized a charity collection to help the people of Bulgaria who suffered from a major earthquake; in total, 362 Czechoslovak crowns were collected. Also, a first doctor’s office was opened in Vemyslice, serviced by Dr. Weiss, coming from Ivancice.
Perhaps the most exciting moment of that academic year came in June, when Czechoslovak president T. G. Masaryk paid a visit to the region. All pupils from Vemyslice went to Moravsky Krumlov to welcome him upon his arrival.
On the contrary, the next academic year of 1928/1929 appear to had been quite uneventful, except of a very harsh winter that brought massive snowdrifts and temperatures as low as -30 °C. A new principal arrived at the school, and Mr Orlicek went on to a new mission to Velke Bilovice. Before he left, he wrapped up his era in the school chronicle by – what a paradox in his case! – a quote from Jesus: “Amen I tell you, nobody is a prophet in their own land”.
In July 1929, a new church building for the protestant denomination was finished, and started its service on 1st September 1929. The local protestant community first appeared during the census in 1921, when 170 out of 934 citizens declared to belong to the Czechoslovak Church of Brethren. The chronicler however documented very uneasy beginnings of their faith: “On 8th May 1921, the local branch of Church of Brethren was established in Vemyslice. It is chaired by Mr Jiri Seiner from house No. 56. As a result of continuous harassment (ban on using the bell during funerals, not allowing them to use crosses or have their own church building), the protestant movement weakened a bit, yet as of today (that is 15th August 1921), 136 members of the Catholic church dared to convert to protestants.”
Silvestr’s family declared themselves as Catholic during the 1921 census, yet they soon joined the ranks of the protestants. I remember my grandmother attending Sunday services at the protestant church that has a Hussite symbol of a red calix above its entrance, along with a slogan “The Truth Will Prevail”.
Photo: The protestant church in Vemyslice, where my grandmother – Silvestr’s sister – was regularly going for Sunday services. I took this photo in 2013. In the background, behind the birch tree, you can see the building of the new school.
Upon departure of Mr Orlicek, the village chronicle was taken care by Mr Dubsik, a teacher from the secondary school. He made a ceremonial record about the completion of the protestant church – the last of the three new community buildings at this end of the village. Next to the school and the protestant church, a local gym was built as well. Mr Dubsik refers to these as the “Three centers of progress, endorsing health (gym), wisdom (school) and devotion (church) – in line with the three noble ideas of humanity: the truth, the beauty, and the goodness.”
The three new community buildings were accompanied by an adjacent old park, which the municipality obtained during the above mentioned Land Reform. The park has been left on its own for several years, and then in 1929 the council decided to put it under custody of the local school and its teachers who did a clean up and restoration.
The academic year of 1929/1930 has been Silvestr’s last year at the primary school. A new principal Mr Placek decided in the autumn of 1929 to establish a new educational facility in Vemyslice – an agricultural school for the graduates of the secondary school. On its first year, 5 boys and 15 girls signed up. At the beginning of the chronicle of this agricultural school, Mr Placek complained: “As a matter of future interest and for the record, I can’t stay silent about the fact that the pupils did not like attending this school.” Few pages later, he glued in a photo that entertained me – because I think it nicely illustrates both the dislike, as well as its reason.
Photo: Pupils establishing a school compost. From the chronicles of the agricultural school in Vemyslice.
In October 1929, local elections took place in Vemyslice, and were won by the Agrarian Party, followed by the Popular Party. It is interesting to read that the participation at the polling was 92% – something hard to imagine today.
In March 1930, the municipality prepared spectacular celebrations of the 80th birthday of the Czechoslovak president, T. G. Masaryk. Most of the houses and buildings in Vemyslice were decorated with national flags and on 7th March, a full day ceremony began. At the sunset, a parade took place. It was headed by the pupils of the local school (therefore, also Silvestr), followed by a local band, members of the local council, policemen, fire brigade and national gymnastics associations “Sokol” and “Orel”. According to the records, in total 1,400 people marched in the parade. Given that Vemyslice only had 980 citizens at that time, it means that almost half of the participants came from the neighbouring smaller villages of Dobelice, Rybniky, Tulesice, Cermakovice and Dzbanice.
Photo: A scene from the school festival in 1930. The school chronicle has many photographs glued in it, thanks to Mr Dubsik who was using them to document major events in the village.
When Silvestr was 11 years old, he entered a secondary school in the years 1930/1931 – at that moment, it had 28 pupils. In November, the school purchased a new piano and furniture. In the spring of 1931 both primary and secondary schools were united under one management; the primary classes were located on the ground floor, and secondary was upstairs.
Next year, 1931/1932, brought some tragedies. The local chronicle has a big headline “Murder” and a detailed report beneath:
“On 25th November 1931, a local women – Marie Nemcova from house No. 28 in Vemyslice – was murdered as she walked from Moravsky Krumlov back home. The crime happened on a top of the Perk Hill. She was carrying 2,000 Czechoslovak crowns in cash for the sugar beet delivered to the Krumlov sugar factory. She was supposed to have 13,000 crowns on her, but the factory gave her only a first payment. It is speculated that the killer assumed she would carry the full amount, otherwise he would not have killed for only 2,000 crowns. The investigation has been complicated by the fact that initially, based on autopsy by Dr Janicek, it was considered to be a car accident. Only later, they found a shot in the back of her head. The murderer has not been found yet.”
Marie Nemcove was a relative of Silvestr, though not in the small family circle – yet this tragedy must have shaken everyone at his home. There is a small monument of this violent death at the Perk Hill till these days, and its text says that the murderer was never identified. As a boy, I was often walking by it, on my way to catch a bus home from Moravsky Krumlov.
Photo: A monument of murdered Marie Nemcova next to the road from Vemyslice to Moravsky Krumlov. Source: Google Street View.
Another death that undoubtedly hit Silvestr and his friends came in February 1932, when their school teacher Marie Vaskova died while giving a birth to her child.
In August 1932, Vemyslice – after an long effort, as its first application was submitted back in 1892 – was permitted to establish its own post office. The municipality had to appeal a negative decision of the general directorate of the State Post from a year earlier. It seems that the Vemyslice post office was established despite the will of its neighboring villages that used to – as did Vemyslice – fall under the jurisdiction of the post office in Moravsky Krumlov, but now, to their disliking, they were transferred to Vemyslice. The post office opened on 1st October, and had three employees: a chief officer and two postmen.
That was already the academic year of 1932/1933, when Silvestr reached his 13 years and attended the last class of the secondary school, along with another 24 pupils. In November, another dramatic tragedy occurred in the community:
“In the evening of 15th November 1932, a passenger car driven by Mr Sustacek from Moravsky Krumlov was arriving from Dzbanice. In the turn in the front of Mr Pelaj’s house, it slipped and its left wheel got stuck in a ditch next to the road. As a result of this impulse, a worker Mr Hrubes was ejected out of the car directly towards a plum tree. The frontal hit killed him. Both the tree and its surroundings were covered in blood. Mr Sustacek, who works as an innkeeper and tax collector in Krumlov, managed to survive with only light injuries.”
March 1933 brought a telephone and telegraph connection to Vemyslice, as the village got hooked to a communication line between Moravsky Krumlov and Tulesice.
We also learn that the municipality council collapsed as a result of harsh political disputes, and new elections were held in March 1933. Its outcomes were tight again, with a majority of 8 votes against 7 in two main blocks in the council. So the disputes continued, as the chronicle documents. Apparently, the political life in Vemyslice was quite lively in these years!
There is also an interesting chapter in the chronicles that describes the local winter sports in Vemyslice – a fun that surely Silvestr participated in.
“A lot of modern winter sports became popular recently among the local youth. People are ice-skating above the Steinmetz weir, and on the section of the [Rokytna] river towards Rybniky. The boys are passionate about ‘hockey’, which substitutes football during the winter season. A lot of influence came from the radio and its reports from various sports events including the Winter Olympic Games. Sledges got a lot of use on the slopes of Kopec and Sibenicnik. Adults are joining the children, mostly during the weekends and holidays. In the evening hours, things are very lively even downtown, where boys and girls ride their sledges on the main road from the fire squad’s warehouse down to the pub – as long as the police is not expelling them.
Most recently, a new phenomenon called ‘skiing’ arrived to our village. In the former years, this beautiful winter sport was unknown to us. I started promoting it myself back in 1928, especially amongst the students and members of the local gymnastics associations. The number of young skiers have been growing since. I was teaching them the first steps on the skis made at home from wooden planks, or for little money at the local warehouse. This winter, skiing became popular here, and many kids and teenagers dare to ski down from bigger slopes of Kopec, at the Brick Factory, trying to perform acrobatic turns,” recorded Mr Dubsik in the municipal chronicle.
At the end of the academic year, all pupils went for a trip to a castle ruins at Rabstejn, to Babylon and Vlci kopce. The chronicler is pleased that “the children learnt about beautiful and so far unknown to them valley of the Jihlava river, and discovered that there is enough natural beauties in our homeland.”
The upcoming summer entertained Silvestr with another artillery training in the village, as captured in the chronicle: “An observation point was set at the hill above Vemyslice. From there, the soldiers as well as Vemyslice citizens had an opportunity to watch the explosions of the fired shells. The shells that failed to explode were recovered immediately based on the spotting and destroyed with small charges. Yet, many farmers were afraid to plow the fields in the autumn, scared that they may run into a forgotten shell.”
We don’t know where Silvestr attended the business academy that he went to after graduating from the secondary school, but quite likely it was in Moravsky Krumlov, the nearest city. In such case, he was probably still living at home and commuted daily.
Then in September 1936, he left to work for Bata in Zlin.
I have found three other documents in the Znojmo archives that directly relate to the Nemec family in Vemyslice.
The oldest record I found is in the “Book of punishments” that documents the penalties and sentences of local citizens. This one covers a historical period from 1871, i.e. the old times of the Habsburg Austrian empire, to 1930. These are mostly smaller offenses such as cheating, vagrancy, beggary, loansharking or assault. The penalties are sometimes financial, sometimes in the form of several days spent in the local jail.
Silvestr Nemec senior – Silvestr’s father – was in July 1903, at the age of 23, sentenced by a court in Moravsky Krumlov because of an offence according to the article 335 of penal law. The sentence was 5 crowns or 2 days in jail. However, according to the record, his sentence was pardoned by an amnesty. I was trying to find what the article 335 of the old Austrian penal code means – apparently it’s covering “misdemeanors and offenses against safety of life”. In today’s terminology, probably something like endangerment due to negligence.
Photo: Record of Silvestr father’s sentence and its amnesty.
Another document kept at Znojmo archives is a plan for reconstruction of a barn that Nemec – Silvestr’s father – proposed in 1910:
And finally, a record sheet from the 1921 census conducted in the house Vemyslice No 23:
This is an interesting one. It indicates that apart from Silvestr, his two siblings and parents, there were several other people living in their house: Silvestr’s grandmother and grandfather (of Netousek family), grandmother Nemcova and uncle Jan.
Photo: Silvestr’s mother with his three older siblings: oldest Frantisek (born in 1908), Julie (she died around age of ten as a result of tragic accident she suffered when she was a baby); the youngest is Frantiska (born in 1914) – my grandmother.
This is how far I have managed to get in my research about the unknown life and fate of my great-uncle Silvestr Nemec.
In the coming weeks and months, I plan to once more go through all the documents and information gathered, and add things and edit in the text whatever necessary.
Next step will be preparation of a book to get the whole story ready for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Silvestr, in October 2019. Stay tuned!