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Everybody is responsible for one’s luck, but totalitarians are responsible for misfortune of others.

  • Date: 26 Nov, 2007 at 9:55PM,
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  • sOr — every story has its prologue.

    The story of our family, persecuted during the communist era, is like a story of thousands of individuals and their families. The prologue of those family tragedies goes back to the 1930s when our future communist president Gottwald said in the Parliament, „ We Communists go to Moscow to learn how to break your neck. “

Later generations did not understand what Comrade Gottwald meant. We, the children of politically persecuted persons knew that he meant a political class struggle with a physical liquidation of his opponents. Our parents, brought up with Christian morals, followed those morals at home and in the public. People, with a moral code like our parents, became the main enemy of the Communists.

Our father, a lawyer, worked for the government. After the Communist takeover in February 1948, it was obvious that clergy and church going people were becoming the new government’s target of ostracism, humiliation, and about to be removed from jobs in the public sector. My father, a devoutly religious person, loathed the new totalitarian regime and the persecution of the clergy. He naively believed that the Communists understood political dialog and spoke about his feelings openly.

The punishment for his audacity came in no time at all. After his arrest in June 1949, he was sentenced to 18 years. He spent 11 of those years in the notorious prison Leopoldov. He was fortunate not to be sentenced to death, as were two of his co-defendants. The belief was that he was not executed because he had five small children at home. The „kindness“ of the Communists did not continue when it came to the persecution of dad‘s close and distant family members.

A few months after the trial, strangers came to our apartment because they were told we would have to move out. Only our mummy’s courage, resolute attitude and quick thinking caused them to feel ashamed when she pointed to her five small children and asked where were they supposed to go? At that time, my oldest sister was 8 years old, I was two, and my youngest sister was 8 months old.

That was only the beginning. I remember, my mom was told 1 September 1953, the first day of a new school year, that she was no longer allowed to teach and form the lives of children because she was a wife of a person accused of treason. For her, it was a very cruel punishment. Not only did the Comrades not consider how she was going to feed five children, but for her teaching was not just a job, it was her life‘s mission. Soon, she was allowed to teach personal hygiene habits to deaf and mute children before they began elementary school.

To make her life more difficult, we the children were forbidden to eat in the school cafeteria. That decision came from the school Principal and his deputy, both admirers of Comrade Stalin’s methods. Mom’s brother and his wife were teachers and experienced similar persecution. They were allowed to teach, but no longer in the capital city. They were forced to move from place to place in the country.

I will always remember the prison visits to see my dad. The stress with the travel was often rewarded by the guards telling us, „We don’t have a prisoner of that name here.“ While in the train, we supported each other and told each other about our feelings wondering how dad looked because the visits were infrequent and his image was disappearing in our minds as the years passed. During the first years, we were too small to see him through the small opening that was too high up for us and the slit only allowed us to see his eyes anyway. We, the children, only had brief moments to talk with our dad. Now, writing about it, I have goose bumps when I think about it. But we enjoyed the moments with him because then we were a complete family; something we always hoped for.

That dream came true 11 May 1960, when dad came home because of an amnesty for political prisoners. A cruel aftermath was the demand by the Comrades that dad sign an affidavit stating he would never talk about the interrogations, the solitary confinement, or the years of imprisonment. His family must also not talk about the loss of eleven years from his life. That loss — when he could not be with his family, he could not see his children grow up, and his children must hide behind silence — began when he was 38 years old.

I remember how our mummy told us since we were small, „You must study hard because what is in your head, nobody can take away from you. That is the only way you can progress in life because you are marked children and it will stay with you all your life.“ I admit, I did not quite understand what she was talking about. With time, I understood. Although we had excellent grades, we were not allowed to pursue education in our desired disciplines.

sOur parents had more difficult times than we did. Our dad was never allowed to work in the legal field again or use his education for any professional work. He became a night watchman and later a warehouse worker. That was the absurdity of those times, that was the way the Comrades viewed education and people with knowledge.

As I am writing, my memories go back to the times of uncertainty, suffering, and horror, but also to the heroism of my mom and the people who helped us. Sometimes, I get choked up and I have to stop remembering. I am glad they are only memories now. Those times must never be forgotten even though there are many people who would prefer that those times are no longer remembered. Forgetting suits them; they often publicly deny the brutality and the absurdity of the era their Comrades supported.

Dad passed away in February 1989. Therefore, he did not live to see the post communist era. Let us not forget that the freedom we have now is built on the suffering of those people who were convicted in mock trials and punished only because they believed in democratic principles. Many did not survive the unspeakable torture. Because of them we now enjoy freedom even though not all is yet what it ought to be.