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Tributes to last living Czech survivor of Bataan Death March

Karel Aster was on of 14 Czech civilians who volunteered to fight the Japanese invasion of the Philippines

Tributes have been paid to the last living Czech survivor of the Bataan Death March, who is still going strong at 97.

To mark Karel Aster’s birthday, the Czech Embassy in Manila paid tribute to the heroism of the last volunteer Czech defender of the Philippines.

Czech Ambassador Jaroslav Olša said it was an honour to commend Aster and his “courageous compatriots, whose names stand alongside their Filipino and American brothers-in-arms.”

Mr Aster was born on May 15, 1920. He was working at the Manila shoe-making factory of the Czech conglomerate Bata Co. when Japan invaded in 1940.

Mr Aster immediately became one of 14 Czech men who volunteered to fight the invasion in Bataan and Corregidor.

He ended up in Cabanatuan concentration camp and later survived weeks on Japan-bound hell-ships where prisoners were held in wretched conditions.

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In a letter dated November 10, 1945, he detailed his experience as a volunteer in the US Army Service in Manila and as a prisoner of war. He also depicted in his memoirs the fate that met other Czech volunteers— seven of whom died either in the Bataan Death March or in captivity.

“The conditions were so terrible it is hard for me to describe them,” he wrote to his parents. “We no longer behaved as human beings and the only thing that helped us survive was one’s instinct for self-preservation. It shows the human can endure more than most animals.”

Aster was eventually liberated while working as a slave in a Japanese coal mine.

In 2014, he was awarded the Gratias Agit Award, the highest civilian award bestowed by the Czech Republic.

The following year, he was bestowed the Medal of Victory and the Medal of Defence in recognition of his honourable civilian combat service in the Philippines.

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The heroism of the Czech volunteers is remembered with memorial at the Capes National Shrine in Tarmac beside the Philippine Scouts and US Memorial.

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