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The Director’s Daughter

  • Date: 21 May, 2007 at 10:54AM,
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  •       When I searched for daughters of political prisoners, willing to talk about their experiences, one of the criteria was age 5—12 during the 1950s. Mrs. K. responded with a letter stating, “… I would like to participate even though I am older than the requested elementary school age.  My father was imprisoned for 5 years from 1949 to 1954 in Leopoldov, Ruzyn, at the end in Rocov [notoriously cruel prisons]. If there is an interest, I would like to talk to anybody.  With sincere greetings and wishing all the best, (signature).”

      I visited Mrs. K. at her home. I have no idea how old Mrs. K. is but she looks sixty something, with brown short hair, and there is the “old world” elegance about her as in films of my parents’ youth. Her tall, slender, self-assured husband with a twinkle in his eyes walks in with a tray of coffee cups and a dish of dried apples he prepared himself. He sits with us and begins to “take my history.” He is a physician, now retired. I thank him for the refreshments and indicate that I need to talk with his wife alone. He leaves us graciously.


      Mrs. K. begins with telling me she was born in a small village outside this city. Her elementary schooling was in England because her father held a senior position at a company conducting business all over the world. The family returned home just as Nazi soldiers were marching into Czechoslovakia. Because the Germans required Czechs to participate in the war effort Mrs. K., as an eighteen-year-old, found herself in a factory as a laborer on an assembly line. She remembers, “Although I always had lots of friends I didn’t succeed here. My production record was good but I still received that look, ‘See, here comes Mademoiselle from the convent, or from a finishing school’. Those people had manners I was not used to. I had to wash windows standing on a ladder. They would come under the ladder, lift up my skirt and splash beer on me. My daddy was so unhappy when he heard that, he managed to have me transferred to an office job. I met my husband in that office.


      After World War II in 1945, the Czech universities reopened. Mrs. K. enjoyed her political, social, and journalistic studies. Her husband was accepted at the medical school. When in 1949 she failed to pass the political scrutiny at the university because she was a daughter of a pre-communist era company director, she was expelled. She married in 1950, after her husband graduated from medical school. Her father was arrested while attending a Christmas concert. Mrs. K. took over the role of a prisoner’s spouse because her mother, as she says, “withdrew from the world around her. She would not speak to any officials; it became obvious something had to be done. I wasn’t going to let this injustice go on in silence.” The family had no knowledge about her father’s whereabouts for one and a half years. After being ordered by the authorities to leave their ten-room villa, her perception of the family’s humiliation is illuminating, “The state security arrived. We locked all the doors. My mommy was completely out of it. I went to open the door, they pushed me aside, stood in the middle of the entrance hall, pointing guns at us and ordering ‘this place will be completely empty within forty eight hours’. I run to the town hall asking for justice. The young official Comrade Jakes at the town hall later became one of the communist presidents. Advanced in my pregnancy, I was left to stand for a prolonged period of time while Jakes was scribbling notes, ignoring my presence. He laughed at me when I demanded explanation for the injustice rendered to my family. I knew we could survive, but I was concerned about my mother’s well being. When the security police arrived again to supervise our move from a ten room fully furnished home to one and half room apartment, half of our city’s population came to watch how cases full of crystal and china are being carried out. Everything was falling and breaking. It was a horrible performance to watch. We survived and moved into the new place, so cold it had ice forming on the walls.


      Today, Mrs. K. believes, nobody can understand what happened during those years. Her father was sentenced to five and a half years. Out of those he was interrogated for over four years. Because her mother never undertook the visits in any of the prisons, Mrs. K. remembers the first one. She packed a parcel with clean underwear and arrived in the prison. This is how she remembers the scene, “This really good looking guard takes the parcel from me. He opens it — I see him like it is today — in that prison hall. He says, ‘Excuse me, what is this? Are you trying to impress us?’ He speaks to me with such contempt. I ask what he means, what’s wrong. I encourage him to check it all out. He looks at me, as this is the “Final Judgment” and warns me, ‘The way I see you, you look the type that you need some sobering up’. He sends the underwear that I brought somewhere and a man brings in a bundle of clothes, still warm. While the guard is checking the rest of my parcel, I unwrap the bundle of clothes. The shirt and handkerchiefs are full of fresh blood. Can you imagine?”


      She pauses and cries while pulling on her white lace handkerchief in her hands. When she composes herself, she describes how she was standing under the prison building, looking up in hopes of getting a glance of her father. Instead she hears the invisible prisoners calling from the barred windows, “Hi! Who do you have here?” Years later she learned that her father knew she was there because the other prisoners used Morse code to let him know.


      Mrs. K. did not see her father until the trial day. She believes her personality is an inheritance from her father, “He suffered, yet remained an optimist. He had deep bruises on his back. He said that sometimes they broke three chairs while beating him during interrogations. Before the trial they fed him so he wouldn’t look so bad. They let him out because he was sick. He came to our new home with ice on the walls. Who cared? We were happy he was home.

       I ask Mrs. K. whether her three children, her husband, and other individuals are interested or are understanding of what she had been through. At first, she bypasses my question. Then she mentions, “He wouldn’t know. He wasn’t affected.  He passed the political background check.” Mrs. K’ does not fit in this study with her age. But because of her age, she fits in describing the experiences not only as a daughter but essentially as a spouse of a political prisoner. Is her wish to meet the other participants to have the soul mates she has yet to find?

©Jana Svehlova 1999