The title of the article is certainly not an exaggeration. The question really came up in Trutnov’s Krkonoší Museum during the opening of the unique exhibition Summer Pioneer Camps in Czechoslovakia. When the curator of the exhibition Ondřej Vašata said it, everyone present really signed up. There were about seventy people in the museum at that moment.
Pioneer camps literally became a phenomenon in socialist Czechoslovakia. They belonged to the summer holidays, they became a matter of course for practically all children. In order to participate in the camp, it was not necessary to be a ragged pioneer.
“The camps were named after a pioneering organization, but in many cases they did not organize them at all or only organized a few of them. Most of the camps were organized by ROH competition committees,” pointed out Vašata.
That is also why most of the children do not have pioneer uniforms in the exhibited photographs. When the camp was not directly organized by a pioneer, red scarves and blue shirts were practically unnecessary.
The main ones were nature, all-day games, a campfire with a guitar, a night trail of courage or sleeping under a tent. These are usually the first memories that come to mind when people talk about summer pioneer camps. Someone remembers experiencing the first summer without their parents. Others are more like friends or first loves.
The museum exhibition serves something similar almost on a golden platter. Hundreds of photographs, documents and three-dimensional objects on display are eye-catchingly reminiscent of famous camp sites: Kateřina u Chotěvice, Velký Vřešťov, Horní Bradlo or Kamenice.
“Locals remember two camps the most – the tented and later cabin-based Borek near Miletín, where the children of Texlen company employees went, and Libín near Ostroměř for the children of employees of the Jan Šverma Mine in Žacléř,” said Ondřej Vašata.
In our district, there was also a pioneer camp in Pilníkov, belonging to the Kara Trutnov enterprise. A tent camp was held in Pekla near Trutnov for the children of Texlen 01 employees in Horní Staré Město. There was a Gagarin camp in Dolní Dvůr, it was owned by the Východočeské state forests. “Camps are still held in some places, albeit with a different name and organizer. An example is Bokouš near Chvalkovice, where children still go for recreation. It once belonged to a pioneering organization at the Rudolph Friml Elementary School, today it is run by the Trutnov Leisure Center,” pointed out Vašata.
Other organizations also organized the camps. This is evidenced, for example, by photographs and a chronicle from the Young Health Care camp organized by the Czechoslovak Red Cross in Bělé u Machova. Some others were so-called social ones, mainly children from Poland and East Germany rode them. “But we know that there were also children from England in Dolní Dvor. Apparently, the local leftist organization of woodworkers sent them to us in the sixties. But it was an exception in the Western world at that time,” said Vašata.
There were also itinerant camps, for example rowing camps, as well as suburban ones. Winter camps were also held. “They usually only lasted a week and took place mostly in mountain resorts. For example, in the winter of 1977, children of employees of the District Institute of National Health Trutnov stayed in Špindlerův Mlýn,” said Vašata.
The atmosphere of the former summer camps is described in the museum, for example, by perfect replicas of tents with padding, a notice board with the daily schedule, eshus, camp knives (fishbowls), badges, sleeping bags, commemorative sheets, but also manuals for leaders or camp cooks.
Most of us associate pioneers with a blue shirt and a red scarf. Among the items on display, however, a rarity catches the eye – a pioneer shirt in green. “It was a work shirt, worn rather sporadically. It was sometimes used as a defiance. When the Boy Scouts were abolished in the seventies, many people and organizations wanted to continue operating, but it was only possible under the Socialist Youth Union. They wore green shirts on purpose,” said museum worker Jiří Kuťák.
Perhaps you too have things at home that remind you of summer pioneer camps. If you can afford them, donate them to a museum. “We are happy for every photo, badge or medal, diploma or camp postcard, simply anything related to summer camps,” added historian Ondřej Vašata.
The exhibition is open every day except Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It will last until November 19.
Photo: Miloš Šálek