During the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, our territory was popular for ore mining. During the Cold War, our natural resources of uranium were crucial for the Soviet Union, to produce nuclear weapons. Today, you can have a tour around labor camp and mining shafts in Příbram, and explore this barely known part of our history.
Mining Museum Příbram
Mining history in Příbram started during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire when Bohemian territory provided sources of coal, desperately needed during the industrial revolution. Today, all the mining shafts are not active anymore, but you can take exciting underground tours, have a ride on the mining train, and even slide down to the shafts, just as the mineworkers use to do it.
There are three different shafts open to the public – Ševčinský Shaft, St. Adalbert Shaft, St. Anne Shaft, and the underground water wheel Drkolnov. All the shafts are from the 19th Century, and they remind me a bit of British industrial architecture, with red bricks and high chimneys that I consider as an industrial beauty.
Vojna Labour Camp
About 5 km from Příbram, you can visit a former labor camp where political prisoners under the Communist rule mined uranium for Soviet atomic bombs. This labor camp is very authentic and well preserved, even with the original inscription on the gate “Prací ke svobodě,” which means “Labour to Freedom.”
Initially, this labor camp was constructed by German prisoners of war during the post-war period 1947-1949. Then, the Communist regime used this labor camp for political prisoners, people who supported democracy, or attempted to leave Czechoslovakia without permission. Many prisoners were amnestied in 1960, and the labor camp closed in 1961. Then, the Vojna prison camp was used by the army until 2000. Since 2005, the whole area is open to the public.
Today, you can have a tour around the whole complex. After your arrival, you will be strike by the barbed-wire fence with watch-towers and wooden barracks, just as the regular gulags in the Soviet Union. In the highest building, you can buy tickets for a guided tour and take an elevator on the top, where you have a good overview of the entire camp.
During the tour, you can visit the wooden barracks where is the exhibition about communist persecution and anticommunist resistance. Then, you can visit some original buildings, such as “culture house” with Lenin portrait and library for re-educational purposes. Other interesting buildings are Commander’s office, former doctors’ surgery, and a punitive cell called “bunkr” (this is a scary place).
Personally, it was an intensive experience for me since my grandfather was imprisoned here for several years. I tried to imagine his life in wooden barracks, life under the guard control, and his everyday labor in the uranium mine shaft. This is already past, but we should still remember this part of our history.