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I was more taken back by persecution of communists

  • Date: 28 Jul, 2007 at 12:26PM,
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  • Intorduction

    The questions posed to me by Jana Svehlova are more applicable to individuals who were much younger than I was when our parents were imprisoned. In the fall of 1949, at the time of my father’s arrest, I was twenty eight. A year later when my mother was arrested, I was twenty nine. Furthermore, I survived with my brother and my mother the Holocaust in Terezienstadt and in Auschwitz. Although my both parents joined the Communist Party, they did not belong to the upper echelon. My age and the parents’ position in the Party will make a difference in my answers. Most of what I am saying here is already covered in my autobiographical book “Zivot mezi úzkostí a nadejí” (nakl. Paseka, 2002); translated title would be “Life between anxiety and hope.”

 by Jiri Kosta

1. I had many pleasant experiences during my childhood: harmonious relationship between my parents, ski trips, Sunday family outings, and later trips abroad.

2. I admired my mommy’s energy, her lively nature, her popularity and good looks. I wanted to be like her but I am not sure I succeeded.

3. Mommy was in charge of a dry flowers shop in the center of Prague. The business belonged to her parents.

4. My father influenced me emotionally and intellectually from when I was about ten. His influence grew even more after the divorce of my parents in 1935. I was fourteen then, moved in with my father and stayed with him until I was eighteen. My brother, who was three years younger, stayed with our mother.

5. Father taught German, French and Czech at a Prague high school. He wrote poetry and essays. He was involved in left wing organizations. He spent the Second World War years in emigration in London. After the war he returned to Czechoslovakia to be an information officer at the Ministry of Information, responsible for contact with foreign politicians and journalists, until his arrest in the fall of 1949.

6. Besides the influence of my parents, especially my father, being involved in left wing youth organization also had an effect on my way of thinking.

5. Because of my father’s status in my life, other teachers had less of an effect on me except a history teacher Mr. Kamenicky. He was probably a communist. He was executed by the Nazis during the German occupation of the Czech lands.

6. The first shock in my life was the divorce of my parents. I thought of them as a harmonius couple before I was fourteen.

7. The trauma of my parents’ split did not last long because of the political events that began the persecution of Jews after 1938. Those events put the trauma of my parents’ split in the background. In later years I realized that my parents’ split was inevitable. They were so different in many ways and even intimate issues must have played a role in their divorce.

8. Because I was twenty eight when my parents were arrested by other communists and because of my previous experiences (the Holocaust, my gradual loss of illusions especially during the communist rule of terror 1948/49) I believed my parents were innocent. I was very soon convinced that the public propaganda about alleged enemies of the state within our society is a lie.

9. Before 1938 I wanted to follow my father’s professional path: to study German,maybe history, to teach or to be a researcher, to write. The war did not allow that. The University was closed, then the concentration camps. After the war I studied what seeme to be available — economy and political science. Only after my emigration from Czechoslovakia in 1969 [after the Soviet invasion], I became a university professor, a scholar, and a published writer.

10. I had a chance to return to my homeland after twenty years of exile in Germany. But I chose to divide my time between the two countries.

11. What did I find more positive during communism? Available nurseries and kindergartens, full employment. However, such social services were absolutely overshadowed by loss of personal freedom and a cruel injustice that resulted in execution of innocent people.

12. Since the fall of communism in 1989, I appreciate the return of the possibility for citizens’ self realization in a free, democratic society. I am happy to be able to experience, after a forced exile, a return to a free country.

13. There are four time periods that were significant in my life: (1) the liberation at the end of the war in 1945; (2) The Prague Spring in 1968; (3) the German exile during the 1980s; (4) the Velvet revolution in 1989.

14. Now, as an active retiree, I realize that one cannot completely stop the aging process.

15. I appreciate many things that overshadow the process of aging. Besides being satisfied with my professional acheivemnsts, I appreciate my happy family life with those who are dearest to me: my wife, my daughter, my son as well as our five grandchildren.

16. The injustice that met my father and my mother [by their Comrades] strengthen my desire to live in a just state and protesting any unjust deeds, however seemingly insignificant.

17. I must admit: During the rule of communist terror I was more taken back by the persecution of the communists by other communists; within the Party. Later on, especially at the end of the 1950s, I was fully aware that the same political crime was committed on Milada Horakova [non-communist woman politician; executed after a mock trial], on Marie Svermova [believer in communism; imprisoned after a mock trial] or anyone else falsely accused of activities against the communist State.

18. I never believed that father committed any actions that would not be in the interest of the communist regime. At first, I did ponder whether he could have done something unintentionally. But even that I put of my mind after he spent the first few months being interrogated. The same was with my mother who was accused of a different “crime.”

19. I don’t remember when exactly, but with time I deplored the show trial with Horakova just as with the other victims (the “Trotskyites,” the alleged “spies,” etc.).

20. After the return from prison — my father’s after two years (1949—51), my mother after four years (1950—54), I was thirty, and thirty three, respectively. Then, I would characterize our family discussions as an exchange of opinions rather than “parents talking to children.”

21. The questions that had to do with the events of that time — how could the show trials happen, how were they treated during imprisonment, what was going on during their interrogations, what about the coerced admissions of guilt — but also questions concerning the deeper reasons for the dichotomy between our ideals [concerning communist ideas] and the existing rality of the [communist] totalitarian system we managed to discuss extensively during the 1970s.

22. There was a different kind of questions that, unfortunately, I did not ask my parents. I did not find out more about the life of our ancestors. Their place in the Jewish community and similar issues. To be honest, while my parents were alive I was not interested in those stories; today I am sorry I didn’t ask.

23. I am especially sorry that I don’t know more about my father’s ancestors; their role in the Jewish community (greatgrandfather was a scholar and a publicly active rabbi) — well, these are my questions that are unanswered.

24. Yes, I was a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party since 1945. I believed in the Marxist ideology that our family embraced, thanks to my father’s influence, already before the war [WWII]. The reasons for the belief I explain thoroughly in my autobiography. Well, the inclination of many Jews in Europe towards Marxism and the communist movement in the nineteenth century was not an exception. Just a brief point about that inclination: faith in developing a society without any oppression — racist, nationalistic, religious, class — this was understandable among Jews based on their own experiences of centuries of persecution.

25. What do I say to my children? I tell them the whole truth about my past, and about the past of my parents. I speak about our illusions and about our later, about our too late, disillusionment when faced with the reality. I tell them about the “life between anxiety and hope,” as I describe in my autobiographical book.