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When they arrested dad, mom committed suicide

  • Date: 16 Aug, 2007 at 6:01AM,
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  • I was six years old in 1952 when the secret police arrested my dad. He was supposed to be a witness at the Slansky trial [the accused General Secretary of the Communist Party]. After dad’s arrest, mom injected me with the same stuff that she killed her dad, her sister and then herself. I survived because somebody took me to a children’s hospital. The pediatrician, who saved my life, paid a big price for refusing to let the secret police to take me away. He lost his job and he was forbidden to practice medicine anymore.

Mom had been treated for emotional problems since the war. She was a doctor, and at the end of the war, she took care of the women who were raped by the Russian soldiers when they came to liberate Czechoslovakia. Because mom was a Communist, she believed in the goodness of the Soviet Union and the goodness of the Russians. What she witnessed at the end of the war was a shock for her and she had emotional problems ever since. I don’t remember her well; I was too young when she died.

One of the worst moments for me was when my dad remarried. The relationship with my stepmother was problematic from the beginning. She was a stranger to me. She would beat me, often for no reason at all. I didn’t tell anyone. Dad didn’t want to hear it. I believe he was like any man thinking, “don’t bother me with any problems; I don’t want to know.” There was something else wrong with her [long pause]. The stepmother believed some quack Soviet scientist’s theory about child rearing and she would force me to turn off the light in my room at seven thirty in the evening. It was absurd. I managed to read because of the light coming through the glass door from the hallway. My grandma couldn’t stand my stepmother for the way she was treating me, but she did not want to interfere. Same with my uncle. I was in between all that bickering.

I believe my teacher knew my dad was in prison. She was very nice to me.

Q:Did the stepmother have children?

A: She had two miscarriages. I remember how I wished that she would have a child because I was hoping she would then leave me alone. I also had the childish wish of wanting her to die. It all changed when I turned seventeen. Dad told me that he had something to discuss with me. I was scarred that he found out I used the lunch money he gave me regularly in cafes with my friends. But it was then, that dad told me the whole story. He only told me because my friend’s mother heard the story from someone else and urged my dad: “You ought to tell your daughter because someone else will. It should be you.”

Q: Do you remember how you felt when you were told?

A: Terrible. Terrible. I couldn’t eat for one or two weeks. I cried all the time and whenever I could get out of our home, I ran to be with my friends. I felt slightly better when I was among my friends. But when I was alone, I was totally devastated. I never suspected that mother died the way she did. For me, it was terrible news. At that time, I told him how my stepmother had been treating me. He must have said something to her because her behavior towards me changed somewhat for the better.

Q: How did the communist ideology influence you?

A: Negatively. It must have been after I learned what happened to my parents, I was asked in school if I would join the Communist Party. I told them ‘Never’. Of course, I didn’t tell them all the details about my family. But I did tell them that I had a bad experience with the Party [Communist] and from then on, they left me alone.

Dad and mom were expelled from the Party after his arrest; he wanted his membership back. He tried very hard to get mom’s membership back posthumously. The Party refused. I was unable to understand that after what happened to me, I mean to our family, that he would even talk to anyone in the Communist Party.

Q: Did you ever discuss that with your father?

A: I asked him. But he still somehow believed that good can come from the Party and that as a member he could influence the Party. My stepmother believes the same until this day. I can’t talk to her about it because we always end up quarreling.

Q: What does your stepmother say?

A: That the idea was great but the practice was bad. That’s what all the communist idealists say [laughing].

Q: Who, besides your parents, had the greatest influence on you?

A: Perhaps a few teachers. But I can’t say that someone stands out. Perhaps the greatest negative influence came from my stepmother. I was always afraid to express myself. She kind of pushed me down and that has influenced me my whole life. I am still affected by her putting me down.

Q: Your schooling?

A: Because my dad was “rehabilitated”, I could get into high school. Then I was accepted at the medical school, but I dropped out after two years. I fell in love and I didn’t feel like sitting and studying. As my friend, who is a physician, said: “medicine wants sitzfleisch [from German able to sit patiently]. I was not that type. I left the medical school and studied journalism.

Q: Have you ever tried to learn about your father’s role in the show trial?

A: I always felt that dad did not particularly want to talk about it. So I didn’t ask.

Q: What do you think was better for you during Communism?

A: Better? I don’t know. Well, one didn’t have to work very hard and had the energy to do whatever they wanted to do after work [laughing]. Now, one has to work very hard and doesn’t have any energy for herself after work. Capitalism here is still wild. The working hours are probably the longest in Europe. I am sixty. I am retired. I have enough to do and I have a chance to spend time with my granddaughter.

Q: What do you consider the best time of your life?

A: Probably my stay in France [after 1968, citizens were briefly allowed to leave the country] and my traveling around our country; we were not allowed to go abroad. The first years of our marriage we got on well; the children were small. It was all pleasant.

Q: What do you see as the most negative times in your life?

A: Probably my childhood after dad’s wedding to my stepmother.

Q: How do you feel what happened to your father influenced your life?

A: A lot. Because of what happened to him was the reason my mom died. Then, there was the wedding that brought my stepmother, and that probably affected me the most.

Q: How does it bother you that you can no longer ask your parents any questions?

A: It bothers me a lot. I couldn’t ask my mom because I was too small. But I don’t know why I didn’t ask my dad. Probably, I was afraid to hurt him or something like that [long pause]. My dad’s parents were both Jewish. Grandpa died young. Grandma brought her sons up alone. She was also a member of the Party [Communist]. Dad joined the Party either in 1929 or 1931. He was a laborer in Prague and from an ideological perspective; he probably felt there was social injustice [laughing]. He met my mom at the Communist Youth Organization [Komsomol] meetings.

Q: What would you like to be known about you?

A: I see my story as an unbelievable horror because the secret police always wanted to steal me and put me in a children’s institution. It was a horrific behavior on the part of the authorities.

Q: What would you say to daughters of political prisoners who were not members of the Communist Party?

A: [long pause]. It is difficult to answer. When it comes to them, I have kind of a guilty feeling. It seems to me that what happened here was kind of our parents’ fault. Not that they did anything; others did that. But I feel for the others [non-communist prisoners] it was much worse. To me, the injustice done to them was much worse.

Q: What makes you think that?

A: I don’t know. Maybe it was simpler for the non-communists. They knew who their enemies were. Whereas with our parents, it was probably worse because they realized that their own Comrades tortured them to confess. I don’t know what I would say to them [daughters of non-communists]. I don’t know. I think they would not even want to hear me. I mean to hear our side of the story.

Q: But is your own story also compelling?

A: Yes, we had our own share of troubles. But [unfinished sentence].

Q: What is the reason why your story ought not to be heard?

A: Because our parents, in a way, put their signature under the Communist regime.

Q: But did you; the children?

A: We, the children did not. But we are their descendants.

Q: Are children responsible for their parents?

A: They are not.

Q: Would you be willing to talk with them [daughters of non-communists]?

A: (very long pause). I don’t know. I feel that our parents signed into the regime. I would feel that I am a bit guilty even though I am not.

Q: Has anyone ever validated what you have been through?

A: Nobody ever. Of course not. Except for the few very close to me who know about it. (Pause and then quietly) Nobody. Never.

Q: Would you be willing to talk about it?

A: For people to know what also happened to others? Yes. Yes, I would. But it is hard to tell if I would find the courage to talk with the children of the others [non-communists]. I am not sure I could do it.

Q: What would you say to the them [the daughters] if they would tell you that your parents caused what happened here?

A: Partially; that they are right. Even though my parents did not do it [arrests, interrogations, executions]. But because they were members of the Party, they were helping to what was happening here.

Q: What do you think was their reason to believe in the Party?

A: There was social injustice here. But they were probably not well read or not intelligent enough to see through what the Party was about. My stepmother visited the Sojuz [Soviet Union] in 1936 and she was very impressed with what she saw. They must have been half-blind. That is what is hard to understand because others who visited the Sojuz realized that not all was what they were made to believe. Some of them saw communism as a chance to prevent persecution of Jews and anti-Semitism in general. Many Jews were not well off. That also influenced my parents. It does not add up for me because it is said that the Jews are intelligent, a chosen nation (laughing), and then they fall for such an ideology. And they fell for it big time. My daughter is only quarter Jewish but is very connected with Jewishness. Her partner is Jewish and she is even involved with the concentration camp historical activities.

That’s about all I have to say. I do not want my name to be known.

Interviewed by Jana Svehlova

©Jana Svehlova