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The secret police kidnapped me when I was a baby

  • Date: 11 Sep, 2007 at 7:07PM,
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  • Jarmila remembers:

    “After they arrested our parents, my brother ended up in a children’s institution and I was kidnapped by the security police and placed with a couple somewhere in the mountains. Because they changed my last name. my relatives had a hard time to find me. I didn’t have many relatives; most died during the Holocaust.

That couple I was staying with, had a belt for sharpening the husband's shaving razor. They beat me with the belt when I didn’t want to eat. Now, as you can see [laughing], I love food very much.

After eight months, my mother’s sister found me.  My mom spent two years in a solitary confinement and then they released her. She was 35. I was cruel to her when she came to collect me from her sister's home.  I said to her ‘you are not my mommy; this is my mommy’ — pointing to my aunt. I was told, and I believed that, my dad was away because he was getting treated for an illness.

The worst memory I have is when I visited my dad in prison for the first time.  I was nine. I did not remember him because I was three when they arrested him. I brought him a small bunch of snow flowers and the guards did not allow me to give it to him.

My both parents were Jewish; they met in England. Dad joined the Communist party before the war.  When I asked him, ‘Daddy, when you were in England you must have known what Stalin did in the 1930s in Russia’. Dad said: “Yes, we knew. But we simply didn’t believe it. We did not believe it.” My father was a convinced Communist and after the Communists released him from prison, he joined the Party again.

My mother was also a Communist. The interrogators told her to divorce her husband and they would let her out of prison. She did not. She was very brave and had a hard life. But what I don't like that she is so bitter, that she can’t let go.  My brother was looking after me; he was very patient with me. Mom did not have much time for us. She was working long hours after she was released from prison. When dad returned, he was very sick.

How do you think your teachers influenced you?

I remember two of them. The first grade one was fabulous. Then one, in my middle school, must have known my background; she looked after me in a very decent way. Once, I said something politically incorrect about the reigning president. The teacher called my parents to school and warned them to be careful what they say in my presence, otherwise they could get into trouble. The teacher was young, she had a young child; she was fantastic.

What did you want to be professionally?

Hmm. This is something I blame my parents for but I don’t know if it’s fair. What bothers me that our parents never acknowledged what we, as kids, went through. They brought us up to believe that it is not about what life brings; it is about what we fight for to achieve in life. I finished high school in 1966; it was getting easier here. I was flirting with medical school, but mainly with biology. I had good grades. But I did not have confidence. That’s what I needed from my parents, and that’s what I didn’t get from them. Only now, after my first marriage disintegrated, my children grew up, and I have this new job [after 1989], I realize that I am more capable to deal with life than I gave my self a credit. My son said: “Mom, I don’t recognize you.”

What do you think was the reason that your parents did not give you more encouragement?

I don’t know. It’s hard to judge. Maybe because of their own worries — financial, their carriers were ruined; they lost everything.

What has changed for you personally after 1989?

New Life! Completely new life. I started to look for a new job; I speak English. And I wanted to work with people. My marriage was disintegrating at the same time, and I had some serious health problems. I entered a competition and to my great surprise, I got the job. I love my job.

What was more positive for you during communism?

(Long pause) Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was an era without any personal freedom and I felt that. Nothing bad happened to me except I could not travel abroad. For me it was terrible that I couldn’t see my brother for 12 years. He emigrated; they did not allow me to go abroad. Only when he paid two thousand pounds to the Czech authorities for his wife’s education at a Czech University, my parents could visit him. However, not at the same time. Only when one parent returned, the other one could go. I would have to think long and hard about what was good under communism; can’t think of anything. Maybe we did not live so fast. We did not work very hard. Definitely, people worked less. But I like my work now.

What was the best period in your life?

When my children were born and they were healthy, of course. It bothers me that I could not spend more time with them. I resent communism because I had to go to work so soon after they were born [She is not aware of the usual 6 weeks maternity leave in USA]. In that respect, my daughter is a much better mother than I was to my children.

How do you think, what happened to your father, influenced you?

[Pause] In general, [pause], I believe that it strengthened my brother and me. We have been able to deal with what life brought us even when things were tough. That was positive. Negative? I don’t know. [Long pause]. I am sure it had an effect on us. I don’t think [hesitating] that I feel that it had an effect on me. But I am trying to figure out my mother. We have a complex relationship because of her attitude towards life. I am a bit more tolerant towards her now because she is so old.

What questions would you ask your father if he were alive now?

(Pause). I would want to know about the trials before his. Because after 1989, we heard about Horakova [executed woman]. I would want to know about the Ostrava district because lot of injustice must have happened there and I would want to know how dad saw it.

How much do you mind that you cannot ask?

I miss him as a human being. He was very funny and very intelligent. I miss him as a dad.

Can you ask your mother any questions?

Now, not at all. It really bothers her.

If you would meet the daughters of political prisoners from Ostrava, what would you tell them about yourself?

[Long pause]. I don’t know much about what happened there. Those were weird and upside down times. Across the political spectrum. Some of the communists, who held power, were also destroyed. But they were there when the first splinters flew, as they used to say [from a saying: when you cut trees, splinters fly]. Therefore, I don’t know what I would say to them. I don’t think I would feel good. My dad probably also had some guilt feelings.

However, you also had both parents in prison. What would you say to them as a daughter of political prisoners?

[Long pause]. I don’t know. Don’t know. Maybe we would tell each other about our lives. Do you mean that we would point fingers at each other?

No; on the contrary.

We all endured something. But thank god, those times are behind us. I hope that faith [into communism] cannot return. Our children should know about it; they should not forget what happened here. I am not saying that we should indoctrinate children with what it was like here because they would soon be fed up with it. But smarter people said, “A nation that does not know its history is a bad nation.”

Interviewed by Jana Svehlova

©Jana Svehlova