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Josef Bursick : The Hero who returned his medals

Heroes & Villains is a weekly inspiring podcast that spotlights ordinary people who did extraordinary things. This week I’m spotlighting Josef Bursick in a podcast called The Czech Rebel.

Listen to the Czech Rebel

Most people like it when they’re awarded a medal. But do you know any who’ve given medals back?

 I’m JP Robinson. Welcome to the FIRST episode of Heroes & Villains where we explore ordinary people who made extraordinary choices.  

Heroes & Villains is a great way to kickstart your weekend. Like the name suggests, we’re looking at the good and bad folks of history every Friday. But don’t worry—this series isn’t JUST going to tell you about famous people.  History is shaped by ordinary men and women. The ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things that can inspire, teach, and help us understand the world around us.

So, in 5 minutes or less, I’m going to present a snapshot of a world-shaper and make a connection that’s relevant to you.

Just two quick things before we get started. The text this podcast appears on in case you’d like to read it. Take a second to like my Facebook page and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss an episode. So, let’s get started!

So, today’s episode is called the Czech Rebel. It’s especially relevant given the ongoing war in Ukraine. Most people like it when they’re awarded a medal. But have you ever heard of someone who gave medals back?

It’s 1939. Maj. Gen. Josef Buršík has joined the Czech resistance due to the Nazi invasion. From a low-income family, Josef has risen to become an officer in the Czechoslovak Army and travelled to the USSR via Poland.
During WW2 he was decorated with the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union for his role in the Battle of Kiev in November 1943. He also received the Soviet Order of the Red Star for gallantry in battle when he stood against oncoming German tanks using grenades. Though wounded, Josef managed to escape.  But in the 1943 Battle of Kiev, Josef became a legend.

With his tank, named Jan Žižka—who was, by the way a blind Czeck general from the 14th century that, though blind, led his armies to victory—Josef Bursick crushed German strongholds in Kiev.

For that, our hero earned another medal: Hero of the Soviet Union. So, it sounds like a perfect spot to end our story. A low-income man rises above incredible odds and seals his place in history.

But, to me, it’s what Josef does next that really makes him stand out.

He contracts tuberculosis and has to put off his military career for a while after the war. Of course, as a hero of the communist USSR, he’s treated inside Russia. And it’s there that Josef sees the true nature of the USSR.

“I was convinced,” Josef said, “that the Russian man is not a free man, that he is not his master and that he must, I emphasize, unconditionally obey the orders of the Communist Party.”

His break with the Soviet Union was complete. When his changed political views became known, Josef was falsely accused of treason and arrested in 1949. The Soviet Union’s hero—a man who repeatedly risked his life for the USSR—had become a prisoner for expressing his opinion.

But Josef wasn’t through yet. After spending a year in jail, he managed to break out of one of the most heavily guarded prisons in Czechoslovakia with the help of a doctor who sympathized with his cause and lived in exile in Germany and later the UK.

In 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czehoslovakia in full force. Josef returned his Soviet medals in protest. He lived to see the end of the Soviet Union and died June 30  2002 in Northampton, England.

Wow, to me that’s a hero. Not only because of his spunk, tenacity, and courage, but because of his willingness to admit that the views he once held weren’t correct. Once again the world lies beneath the growing threat of a reviving Soviet Union.

I think if Josef could see the world’s resistance to Putin, he’d be proud.

So, what stories have you heard recently that inspired you? Write in the comments or let me know online at

See you next Friday.

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About JP Robinson

JP Robinson is a prolific award-winning author. He graduated from SUNY Stony Brook university at 19 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and another in French. He is currently wrapping up his Master’s of Education.

JP is a contributor to Guideposts, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, and the Salvation Army’s War Cry. His work has been praised by industry leaders such as Publishers Weekly and secured the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical thrillers category.

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