Dagmar Lawrenz (born Dagmar Láclavová), 1941
Dagmar Lawrenz was born in Bratislava in 1941. Her mother, Irena, was a secretary while her father, Jozef, was an engineer. The oldest of five siblings, Dagmar was often tasked with watching her younger brothers and sisters when her parents were working. As a child, Dagmar participated in the Pioneer organization and says that she and her siblings were ‘expected…to do well in school.’ After graduating from high school, Dagmar attended Comenius University where she studied to be a teacher. She says that the availability of jobs as well as the attractive schedule led her to choose this profession. Dagmar taught math and physics at a middle school for about seven years.
In the wake of the Soviet-led invasion in August 1968, Dagmar recalls ‘a mood’ brought on by ‘everybody leaving Czechoslovakia.’ In addition to several friends who emigrated, Dagmar’s brothers left, as well as her sister-in-law. Although her brothers returned, she and her then-husband decided to leave the country as well. They crossed the border into Austria on December 28, 1968, only a few days before the borders tightened. After three months in Austria, Dagmar and her husband traveled to the United States and settled in the Chicago area, where Dagmar’s sister-in-law now lived. Dagmar found a job at Western Electric one week after arriving. One year later, Dagmar’s son was born.
After several years in Chicago, Dagmar’s family moved to upper Wisconsin to join some friends in the restaurant business. In 1975, Dagmar bought the Village Square restaurant in Evansville, Wisconsin, which she ran for over 17 years. She also had a daughter while living in Wisconsin. Dagmar then returned to the Chicago area, where she has lived ever since. Dagmar first returned to Czechoslovakia for a visit in the late 1970s, and she describes Bratislava as appearing ‘gloomy.’ Since then, she has returned many times for visits, and has seen a difference in the country since the Velvet Revolution. Today, Dagmar lives in Itasca, Illinois.
Dagmar describes what it was like growing up in a household of five kids
“Ever since her first child was born she was working. She was a career woman. First we had some help at home, but then after the communists came you couldn’t have the domestic help anymore. So when I was seven, eight, I had to take care of the kids. Over there, they start working at 7:00 in the offices, or everywhere, so my mother and father had to leave before 7:00 – at about 6:30 or so – and my father, at the time he was a [telecommunications engineer] and we had a telephone ever since I remember, so when they went to work, we were still in bed. So then they called us to wake us up over the phone and we got ready to go to school and we had to drop the youngest ones off at the daycare center, or like a daycare center for little ones. The youngest one was like two; the other two were four and five. We had to drop them at another daycare center and then the two oldest ones, me and my sister, we went to school. It wasn’t far, but I was like eight years old. Many times, the two that went to the other daycare center… We went from home and, as we were walking to school, there was a little side street they had to go down to get to the daycare center. So we didn’t go down there with them; we went on to school and they went down to the daycare center. They were supposed to go there and sometimes they just went down to the city. They never went there! Sometimes people brought them home – they had found them somewhere in the city.”
Dagmar explains one of the reasons she decided to be a teacher
“She [Dagmar’s mother] always worked as a secretary, and she had to be at work at 7:00 in the morning and she got done about 3:00. She had some friends that became teachers, and she always envied them because they went to work at 8:00 and by 12:00, 1:00, they were done. Plus they had Christmas vacation for about two weeks, then in January there’s a half year break (about a week), Easter vacation, summer vacation [for] two months, and growing up we were hearing all these things about this being such a great thing to be a teacher that I automatically went to be a teacher because it was the best career to have because of all this free time. So that’s why I went to be a teacher. And, actually, all three of us – we were three sisters – all three of us were in education.”
After leaving Czechoslovakia in 1968, Dagmar was able to return for a visit in the late 1970s
“When we lived there we didn’t realize it, but when we came back for a visit, it was so gloomy. It was gloomy all the time until I went for the first time after communism was over, and it was kind of more optimistic all over the place. I don’t know what it was, if it was just my impression or something, but before the revolution, it was so gloomy all over the place. People were so… gloomy. That’s the only way I can describe it. And then after the revolution it just kind of changed. The mood changed.”
Dagmar offers her thoughts on the Velvet Revolution and Velvet Divorce
“That was about time. You knew it was going to happen. In ’68, before the Russians came, it was kind of building to that point. So I kind of expected that something like this is going to happen. What really kind of bothered me and shocked me was the fact that they broke up Czechoslovakia. I don’t like that part. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t a good thing to do. In 1968, when the Russians came, it was getting better already. I can’t really pinpoint, but it was getting not so… There was times when they would just come, pick up somebody, load them on the truck and move them out from the apartment or whatever, and these things were not happening anymore. In school too – I taught school about seven or eight years – the first few years was a lot of emphasis on doing different things to distract kids from doing religious things, and as time went on that kind of died out. I was glad it happened and it was about time.”
Category: Oral History