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Shining a light on dark family histories

Date: 9 Jul, 2008 at 8:28PM

Daughters project finds healing in a harrowing chronicle of imprisonment and survival during the communist era May 28th, 2008 issue

By Bibiana Duhárová

For the PostWhen dealing with the past, one must count on either returning to the “good old times” or opening old wounds. Ludmila Vaďurová, 64, is looking to do neither. A pleasant, light-spirited woman who spent most of her life without a father, she speaks of the past with humor and forgiveness.“I was 6 years old when they imprisoned my father,” Vaďurová recalled recently over coffee at an Old Town café. “There were six of us children in the family. We were forced to move out of our Prague home to Vysočina, into the office area of a functioning cement factory building. There was dust everywhere and we had icicles on the windows, since there was only one heater. But, I must say, our mother was very brave and somehow gave the impression that everything was fine. She knew she couldn’t convey her fears and anxiety to us.” This is just one of many stories of children of the 1950s whose innocent parents were arrested and imprisoned by the communists.

Their testimonies are being collected for a DVD series titled Daughters of the Enemy, scheduled for release later this year.The project is the brainchild of Jana Švehlová, an academic who formed a group called The Daughters of Political Prisoners of the 1950s after writing her dissertation on the subject. A daughter of a political prisoner herself, she found women with similar histories in the course of her research, and has built a network of nearly 70 of them throughout the country. Their stories can be wrenching, as Vaďurová’s illustrates.

“One night my father was called by our family doctor to come immediately and help with a boy who had been shot,” she says, explaining what led to her father’s imprisonment. “We hid him in our house in Prague for some time. Later, when the situation became critical, Dad ran with the boy to the border. Along the way, they sought shelter at different people’s houses that they knew through friends. The boy got away, but the police caught Dad at the border. He was 54 years old, exhausted with asthma.”That was the last Vaďurová ever saw of her father. “He was at first given a death sentence, which was later changed to 16 years. The people who gave him shelter were given up to 14 years. Dad died of exhaustion and hunger in prison half a year before the great amnesty in the 1960s.

”Such experiences are being recorded by producer Zuzana Dražilová of the civic association Docs, Youth & Society (DMS, o.s.), who after meeting Švehlová started working on the Daughters project with the help of FAMU students supervised by filmmaker Helena Třeštíková. She expects to produce 25 to 30 DVDs, which will be made available to schools. Eventually, she hopes to also produce a television series and feature-length documentary.“The making of the documentary is immensely important to me, because I think this subject should have a wider presence not only here, but abroad,” Dražilová says. “I do not view this project solely as a Czech thing, but as a way to illustrate the principles of a totalitarian regime and how it reflects on other generations. Look at the current situation in Belarus, Burma and Cuba. At times, I have the feeling that people are blind to some serious realities.”High-minded initiatives usually encounter problems with financing, and this one is no exception. “There is a specific type of grant from the European Union called The Active European Remembrance, but one of the conditions to acquire the grant is to have a co-financer,” Dražilová explains. A press conference two weeks ago attracted some potential sponsors, but she’s still far short of her goal.“I understand the state budget [for arts funding] is fixed and is not large,” Dražilová says. “But when we approached commercial enterprises such as ČEZ, we had no chance. The Culture Ministry has shown some interest, and we also plan to speak to the regions. I am personally convinced that the money used for this project should be state money.”Although the content of the daughters’ testimonials and the final product might appear rather gloomy, the purpose of the project is just the opposite.“From their involvement with this project, the daughters are going through a healing process,” Dražilová says. “It should be a positive example for Czech society, which is considered to have a negative attitude toward life and people in general. It is a lesson and purification of the past, and a reminder for the younger generation that this cannot be repeated.” “One day children will vote,” Vaďurová says. “We want them to know that every day there is the danger of a new totalitarian regime, either from left or right, and in its extreme form it’s always wrong.”

Bibiana Duhárová can be reached at features (at) praguepost.com