Even within a ‘land of immigrants’, the city of Cleveland has long been known for its ethnic diversity, a characteristic of the city which survives to this day.
1985 Cleveland Slovak Festival poster
Czechs, and more particularly Slovaks, form two very important ethnic groups in Cleveland. Slovaks and Czechs have shaped the city as we know it today through their religious institutions, social halls and cultural activities. On Sundays, Slovak and Czech can still be heard on the radio, accompanied by polka and traditional folk music. During the Cold War period, Slovaks and Czechs in Cleveland played an active role in pushing for political change in Czechoslovakia, and sponsored many of their countrymen who fled the Communist regime.
Below are some of the stories of the Slovaks and Czechs who settled in Cleveland during this period:
September 23, 2010
Ludmila Anderko was born in the small mountain town of Kolačkov, North Eastern Slovakia, in 1949. Her mother stayed at home and raised Ludmila and her three sisters, while her father worked in a textile factory in nearby Kežmarok during the week, coming home to visit the family on weekends.
June 10, 2011
Brother Gabriel Balazovic was born Julián Balažovič in Dolná Krupá, Slovakia, in 1949. His father worked as a forest ranger and then in a facility for the mentally ill, while his mother stayed at home and raised Julian and his six siblings. Julian trained to be a gardener in Rakovice before coming to Canada in 1967. In Toronto, he became an active member of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slovak Roman Catholic Church. In 1980, he decided to become a part of the Benedictine monastery at St Andrew Abbey in Cleveland, Ohio.
June 14, 2010
Ludvik Barta was born in the town of Liberec, north Bohemia, in May 1945. His mother was a Sudeten German, while his father was a Czech who narrowly escaped execution after working for the Nazis as a translator during the War.
May 30, 2010
Paul Brunovsky was born in the spa town of Piešt’any, in what is today western Slovakia, in September 1930. He left Czechoslovakia in October 1949. After 18 months in refugee camps in Germany, Paul sailed to Canada, where his first job was as a lumberjack in Batchawana, Ontario. He moved to Cleveland in 1959.
July 18, 2011
Paul Burik was born in the southern Bohemian town of České Budějovice in 1954. He left Czechoslovakia with his father on August 23, 1968 and spent almost three months in Vienna, Austria, where he attended English classes at the Berlitz language school. He arrived in Cleveland in November, 1968. Paul worked as an architect for the City of Cleveland for 25 years until he retired in 2010. He is currently president of Cleveland’s Czech Cultural Garden.
July 08, 2011
Vladimir Cvicela was born in Kl’ačany, Slovakia in 1946. When he was 19 years old, Vladimir was conscripted into the Czechoslovak Army and sent to České Budějovice, where he trained as a tank driver. He says his tank unit was disbanded two years later, however, following the Soviet-led invasion in August 1968. He came to Cleveland in March 1970 and became an American citizen in 1977.
August 12, 2010
In 1969, Kveta’s mother and stepfather moved to the United States, when the latter was offered a position at Kent State University in Ohio. The pair defected and Kveta was, in her stepfather’s words, ‘kept hostage’ for six-and-a-half years in Czechoslovakia. Following the signing of the Helsinki Accords, Kveta was reunified with her mother in Cleveland in February 1976.
November 30, 2010
Ladislav Fedorko was born in Eastern Slovakia in 1946. In 1986, he decided to visit the United States. During the visit, he met his cousins who lived in Connecticut. When he returned home, Ladislav says the secret police took an interest in the fact that one of his relatives was working for GE. In 1988, Ladislav was told that the secret police would fake his escape from Czechoslovakia and that he should move to Connecticut. He fled shortly before his faked escape was due to happen in September 1988.
May 10, 2012
Jana Fiserova-Dadik was born in Prague in 1925. She was raised with her three siblings in the Smichov district of the city, where her parents owned a restaurant. She trained to be a doctor at Charles University in the 1950s. In 1968, she was granted permission to travel to Yugoslavia. She found herself in Yugoslavia when the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia took place on August 21, 1968. Jana traveled to Austria and applied for asylum.
October 31, 2011
Rasto Gallo was born in Lučenec, Slovakia in 1970. He grew up in Banska Bystrica and attended university there. The Velvet Revolution occurred during his first year at university, and Rasto participated in the student-led protests. While studying music at the conservatory in Bratislava, he won a scholarship to the United States, and moved to Cleveland in 1997. Today, Rasto lives in Chicago.
July 22, 2011
Otomar Hájek was born in Belgrade in 1930. He spent his childhood in several different places because of his father's military career. Otomar moved back to Prague in 1945 where he began a career in mathematics and engineering. He and his wife, Olga, left Czechoslovakia in 1966 when he was offered a position at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland for one year. Today, they live in Fredericksburg, VA.
November 21, 2011
George Havranek was born in Prague in 1927 and grew up in the city's Pankrác district where his father worked as a guard in Pankrác Prison. Unhappy with the new government after the Communist coup in 1948, George decided to leave Czechoslovakia. He crossed the border into Germany in September of that year and stayed in refugee camps for a while before immigrating to Australia. Two years later, George received a visa to the United States and settled in Cleveland.
November 22, 2011
Lubomir Hromadka grew up in Jičín, northeastern Bohemia. Shortly after the Communist coup in February 1948, Lubomir participated in a student march supporting the former president Beneš. After the march, he feared arrest and left Czechoslovakia, spending one year in Ludwigsburg refugee camp before immigrating to Brazil. In 1957, Lubomir moved to Cleveland where he led a brass band and was involved in Czech theatre.
March 16, 2011
Andrew Hudak was born in Kecerovské Pekl’any, Slovakia, in 1928. His father owned a farm, which he had purchased after returning to Slovakia from America. Andrew came to America in 1948 and has been involved in Slovak-American affairs ever since. In 2002, he became head of the Cleveland Slovak Institute; an institution which aims to preserve and protect the history of Slovaks in America.
July 08, 2010
Radek Masin was born in Olomouc, South Moravia, in 1930. His father was an officer in the Czechoslovak Army who was executed by the Nazis. In 1953, Radek and his brother Josef decided to go to West Berlin to make contact with American forces. Their actions sparked a manhunt staged by thousands of German Volkspolizei and resulted in several bloody shoot-outs.
June 29, 2010
Vladimir Mlynek was born in the small village of Hamry, North-West Slovakia, in September 1926. A life-long radio enthusiast, Vladimir has been involved in Slovak-language broadcasting in Cleveland for over half a century. He has hosted the Slovak Radio Hour on Cleveland’s WCPN with his son Gerald every Sunday since 1985.
July 21, 2011
Bruno Necasek was born in Semily, northern Bohemia, in July 1932. Both of his parents, Marie and Karel, worked as laborers in textile factories in the region. He crossed into Germany with two friends on October 20, 1951. He spent several months in Valka Lager refugee camp before joining the US Army. Bruno served between 1952 and 1957, completing basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia and then traveling to Austria, where he was stationed as a member of the 516th Signal Company.
December 17, 2010
Zdenka Necasek was born in February 1948 in Košt’álov. She was introduced to her future husband, Břetislav, in 1972. Břetislav was born in Semily but had emigrated to Cleveland in 1951. When the pair decided to get married complications arose; Zdenka was repeatedly refused a visa out of the country and Břetislav was no longer granted visas to visit Czechoslovakia. After three years of legal wrangling, Zdenka and Břetislav were married by proxy.
August 09, 2010
In 1951, Karel was accepted at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied organ with Jan Krajs for the next five years. Karel was conscripted to the Czechoslovak Army in 1957. Through his oboe playing, he was sent to Písek to become part of the Army’s musical division. He was allowed to travel to Iceland in 1961, to become head oboist with the National Symphony Orchestra there.
August 04, 2010
After gymnazium, Stan went to the Univerzita Pavla Jozefa Šafárika in Košice, at first studying general medicine and then dentistry in particular. A keen handballer, Stan continued to play for his home team Michalovce throughout his studies, as well as making it to the university world cup in the discipline in Prague.