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Two Sisters – Mrs. J.

  • Date: 18 May, 2007 at 6:52PM,
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    Miss. S. leaves the room and comes back with her younger sister Mrs. J. The three of us chitchat for a few moments. I reassure them what matters are their individual views on the events, rather than whether their stories match. The older sister leaves the room and the younger sister and I sit at the opposite sides of the dining room table. Mrs. J. is nicely tanned from her seaside vacation abroad.

She begins her story without much hesitation, “I have lived in this house since the day I was born. We had a very pleasant childhood. I was my daddy’s darling. It was difficult to come to terms with his imprisonment; actually, I never did. My daddy had a car and the local comrades used him as a messenger. He didn’t like it. I always thought he did that to help my brother to be permitted to get into high school.

We are in the room that used to be her father’s. On the day of his arrest, Mrs. J. remembers waking up and coming to this room as she did every morning. The room was a mess. Her mother stood there facing the wall. Her father was taken away early that morning. The state security man, seeing a child, allowed her mother to go in the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Mrs. J. does not remember whether she ate that breakfast, yet she has a vivid memory of running down the staircase and passing a man with a submachine gun. She stayed in the garden with her dog, lying on the grass and crying for a long time. She did not know what was happening around her. Her grandfather came at noon and took the children out for lunch.


She perceives herself as a sensitive individual for whom the arrest of her father was a watershed that ended her carefree childhood. She was nine years old at that time. She believes, “People were giving me weird looks. I felt it. I came to see my friend. We visited regularly. Well, from time to time. The mom of my friend reprimanded her with, ‘I told you not to ever bring her here’. I never went to see her again.

Her father was arrested during the summer school vacation. Her brother was not allowed to return to his high school when that summer vacation ended. On her first day of school, she remembers, “My teacher ordered me to sit next to a girl who was dirty and who failed her previous class. She was the worst pupil in our class. She was from a farmer’s family. When we meet today, we stop and talk. Then it was difficult for me because nobody else would sit next to her.”

Mrs. J. speaks with the same admiration of her mother, as did her sister. In her opinion their mother suffered the most since she lost all means of support immediately after their father’s arrest. Even the children’s saving books were confiscated. Help came from grandparents before they lost all savings during the money reform in 1953. Their former employees and servants, as well as neighbors helped by offering eggs or meat. Eventually, their mother sold their Persian carpets and other items to have money for food.

Although Mrs. J. says her mother never talked about it, she brings up that her mother was interrogated by the secret police in a room streaked with blood; she was threatened with imprisonment and having her children placed in state institutions. She points out, “Mom didn’t want us to be parentless but I don’t think she confessed to what ever they wanted to know. We never found anything about it in any documents. The only job she could find was working in a barn. I know that one Communist, who must have been a reasonable woman, told the other comrades, ‘Do you want to kill her? Look, she’s got three kids. We’ll have her in our office and we’ll keep an eye on her’.

Mrs. J. begins to cry when she tells me about visiting her father in prison. She remembers him having his hair shaved off, and her crawling under the chains to hug him. According to her, “I don’t think we talked much. I knew he was sentenced to twelve years when I first saw him in that prisoner’s uniform. We know from the documents, we got in 1990, that he was in a solitary confinement.”

She speaks about her father’s interrogations; admitting it was terrible to hear about it and at the same time wanting to listen. This is how she describes what she remembers, “He spoke of it in a fragmented way. You could see, he found it disturbing to talk about it. How they beat him, how his head was injured when he fell on a heat radiator, how he had to march days and nights in the solitary confinement without sitting down, without a pause. How his feet and legs were swollen. Something must have happened; they made him kneel on a chair and they beat him on the soles of his feet. Then they made him march continuously. His foot became infected. On the way to the prison hospital, they cruelly told him, “Your wife will not wait for you. She is going to divorce you, because you’ll never return home.

Her father did return home to his family. He first ventured into town when Mrs. J’s sister begged him to watch her performing at a sport event organized by communist cadres. He could see on the way to the stadium how some people ignored him and others greeted him cautiously. When he reached the stadium, he came upon a group of Gypsies sitting in a group. When they noticed him, they surrounded him with, “Doctor, you don’t know how much we prayed for you to come back to us!

As a married woman, Mrs. J. believes her father’s return after nine years of absence, “was quite difficult for my mommy. He didn’t know the value of money; he didn’t know how difficult it was for us, all that humiliation we experienced, how my mommy was encouraged to divorce him. She didn’t. He thought that everything was going to be like before his imprisonment. But that was not possible. He was offered a job as a manual worker, but he wanted to return to his profession.” Her father did not live to see the fall of communism, but her mother did. She points out, “We talk about daddy a lot with our children. My younger daughter seems to be more interested than the older one.” Mrs. J. wanted to study architecture but with her political family background she did not have a chance. She is grateful that she was allowed to get a diploma as a kindergarten teacher. As a pedagogue, she suggests, “I would like to meet the other daughters of political prisoners. We could talk about our experiences from those times. It would be good to get to know each other. We could plan how to approach the young generation about the fifties. It is important to make sure that it is not forgotten.”

©Jana Svehlova 1999