Eda Vedral (born Eduard Vedral), 1927
Eda Vedral was born in České Budějovice in 1927. His mother, Ludmila, was a teacher and his father, also named Eduard, was a journalist. When Eda was six, the Vedrals moved to Mladá Boleslav where his father worked as writer and editor for the local newspaper. Eda says that the year before he graduated from gymnázium, his class was sent to dig trenches for the German war effort. Since Eda had knee problems, he was sent back to Mladá Boleslav and became a firefighter to provide assistance in case of a bombing. At the end of WWII and in light of his training as a fireman, Eda took part in watching over and transporting Nazi prisoners. In the summer of 1945, Eda’s father again changed jobs and became a political writer for a newspaper in Liberec. Eda graduated from gymnázium there in 1946 and began studying journalism at Charles University in Prague. After the Communist coup in 1948, Eda switched his course of studies to law; he says he was eventually kicked out of university in 1949 because of his father’s political background. Back in Liberec, his uncle helped him to find a job as an accountant in a factory. He was fired three months later, but soon became an accountant for Liberec’s municipal services [komunální služby města Liberec].
In April 1949, Eda’s future wife Alice (whom he had met in Prague while she was at business school) escaped from Czechoslovakia. He spent the next several months attempting to join her. On October 14, Eda crossed the border into Germany with 12 other people. He was sent to Ludwigsburg refugee camp where he was reunited with Alice. They soon married and had their first child, Alice. In early 1951, Eda joined the ranks of Radio Free Europe as a writer on the Czechoslovak desk and moved to Munich. In June 1952, the Vedrals received visas for the United States and arrived in Chicago. Eda says that they were helped by the Czech community there and he quickly found a job in a steel factory, which only lasted a short time. He then started working on the assembly line at Hotpoint, making washing machines and dryers. The Vedrals moved to Cicero, Illinois, and Eda and Alice had seven more children. Eda says that he made a point to speak to his children only in Czech; today, most of them still speak the language fluently. Eda also became very active in expatriate tramping circles. He has been the ‘sheriff’ of a group called Dálava for many years and has traveled to places like Canada, the Czech Republic, and the American West for tramping get-togethers.
Eda became an American citizen in 1965; he says that he waited so long because he believed he would be returning to Czechoslovakia to live. In 1972, he made his first trip back to visit his mother in Písek. His father, whom Eda had not seen since he left the country, died shortly before his visit. Eda says he feels at home in both countries and, if not for his children living in the United States, would consider returning to the Czech Republic to live. Now retired, he lives in Cicero with his wife Alice.
Despite being young at the time, Eda recalls the early days of WWII clearly
“I remember that, yes, for sure. We remember the Nazi occupation for sure. Even as kids, we know how the situation is, we understand it. Even if we were young kids, it didn’t bother us much, but we knew it was a really serious thing, especially after the Heydrich assassination and so on. ‘Keep your mouth shut and be careful.’”
Eda talks about his experiences at the end of WWII
“The end of the War came, so we, who were working for the firefighters, we got this stuff [weapons], and we started taking the Germans together, something like that, so I had a machine gun.”
So, were you rounding up Germans at the end of the War?
“Well, they wanted some of those prisoners, they have to move them to other cities for example. So we have to accompany them, watch them, or watch them at the barracks in Mladá Boleslav, so that’s why we had to have guns. And I had it at home, and my brother almost killed me.”
Did you use this gun? Were you shooting people?
“Well, I started to. Once, one of the prisoners tried to escape and I saw him. Now, you are a young man, you never had something, and he’s an old soldier, he knows what to do. I didn’t shoot him, exactly, I shot over his head. It was nothing funny, I tell you. Now I make a little fun out of it, but at that time it was nothing funny.”
While in Ludwigsburg, Eda was recruited to work for Radio Free Europe
“Some of those people [from RFE] went through those camps, Czech camps, looking for editor-writers and so on. I had luck – it was luck – they thought I was my father, because [we have the] same name, and the guy was from Mladá Boleslav, he knew my father. He knew me personally, so he said ‘Hey, this is it.’ He said ‘You have to go to Munich and have an interview.’ So I went over there, I interviewed in English, he spoke a little bit of Czech, this English guy. ‘Ok, dobrý.’
“I was an editor-writer for announcements in between [pieces], continuity. You have to find out what the guy wrote about, say it in two sentences, and they put it between programming. So the people in Czech Republic will know ‘Hey, tomorrow will be this,’ because they don’t want to listen to it eight hours a day; it’s dangerous. But if you are interested in this program – that was my job, to tell them what the program practically is.”
Eda describes tramping – an activity he got involved with while in Chicago
“Tramps are practically wild Scouts. The Scouting organization is organized. Tramps, not. Everybody knows about everybody or what’s going on, but you have no organization. That’s why the Nazis and Communists could ruin up Scouts or other organizations, but they couldn’t ruin up tramping. So most people going with the tramps enjoyed themselves or covered what they were doing, because nobody could catch them, even the Communists. And when they sometimes went over there and beat the people, they wondered ‘How come there are so many people here? How come you know there’s something here?’ Nobody had to send anything because everybody knew from Czechoslovakia, from the First Republic, every Sunday, every second Sunday in April, we’re going there. But otherwise, it’s like Scouting. But it’s wild because there’s no organization. You can change it, you can switch it, you can close it up, you can start a new one. There can be one man, there can be two, there can be thirty. Nothing’s written either. But you love nature. The real tramps, they really love nature and enjoy it. And clean up after themselves.”
A montage of Eda’s tramping activities in Chicago created for his 85th birthday
(Video courtesy of Studio Na Koleni, Chicago)
Category: Chicago, Oral History