George Havranek (born Jiří Havránek), 1927
George Havranek was born in Prague in 1927. He grew up in the city’s Pankrác district where his father Josef worked as a head guard at Pankrác prison. George’s mother Sylva, meanwhile, stayed at home raising him and his sister Marta. He attended elementary and high school in Pankrác with the intention of pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. George remembers the end of WWII, in particular the Prague Uprising, which occurred several days before the liberation of the city. He says there was heavy fighting in Pankrác in which several of his friends were killed. Following the War, George graduated from high school and worked at Českomoravská zbrojovka for one year, during which he built cars and tanks and learned to be an auto mechanic. He then enrolled inprůmyslová škola [technical college], but did not finish his studies, going instead to work at Barrandov film studios. George says he lost his job there for speaking out about the production of Soviet films in the facility.
After the Communist coup in 1948, George was not happy with the new government and says that there was ‘nothing to hold him’ in Czechoslovakia. In September of that year, he took a train to southwest Bohemia and attempted to cross the border with an acquaintance from Prague. He says the two were chased by border guards and dogs, and were lost in the forest for a few days. Once in Germany, George spent eight months in refugee camps. He says that his plan was to go to America but ‘the door was closed’ for him. In the spring of 1949, George traveled to Birmingham, England, where a friend he had met in Prague assisted him in finding a job and a place to live. While in Britain, George applied for a visa to the United States; however, he had an opportunity to immigrate to Australia and in 1950, sailed to Sydney. He found employment selling carpets and stayed in Australia for two years before receiving a visa to the United States. His trip to America in 1952 took about two months, including a two week stop in Fiji.
George settled in Cleveland where his second cousin lived. Shortly after arriving, George joined the U.S. Army, attended military intelligence school, and was sent to Korea and Okinawa. He was granted citizenship as a result of his military service. After his stint in the military, George returned to Cleveland and worked evening shifts as a tool and die maker while attending classes during the day. He eventually earned a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1969, his parents were able to visit him in the United States; he says that they had been punished because of his escape, as his father lost his job and they were forced to move from their apartment in Pankrác. George has been back to Prague several times since the fall of communism, but considers America home. Today he lives in Fairview Park, Ohio, with his wife Martha.
George remembers propaganda in the Protectorate during WWII
“There was propaganda night and day. Night and day. Communists have the same thing. Night and day propaganda. Propaganda, that’s all they can do, propaganda, because they have nothing else to give. Radio, movies, or news. Propaganda on a streetcar. They write ‘Victory.’ Stuff like that.”
George witnessed the Prague Uprising on May 5, 1945
“A lot of the people went on the streets – revolution – and they have not much of anything. I lost ten friends of mine. Ten of them were killed by Germans. That was the biggest fighting, up in Pankrác. I was there. I went up there and I was hungry. I went home. When I came back, the other guys were dead. Killed by fighting the SS with tanks. With what? With brooms?”
After the Communists came to power, George was sent to work on a farm for three months
“They sent us – people who were born in 1927 – they made us to take care of horses and stuff like that. What the heck, we were in Prague, we don’t know nothing about horses. They kicked the Germans out – the farming Germans, they sent them away, they deported them – who will do the job? They expected us. There were a lot of guys that were well-educated men up there my age. Well, it was completely disastrous, economical disaster. Everything they did was a disaster. I figured out that this is no place to live in this country like that. I have to get the hell out from there. This is impossible to live like that.”
In September 1948, George left Czechoslovakia
“I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the government, what they did, what they were doing. It was chaos. I had nothing to hold me. They kicked me out of work from the movies. They country started getting good between 1945 and 1948, but after 1948 when the revolution was, I figured that that’s the end of the story. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. I like to be dressed up like an American with good clothes. I don’t like to dress like the Bolsheviks. Little leather pants and shoes and work for nothing. I don’t want to live like that.”
George discusses his reasons for leaving England for Australia, and his journey to Sydney
“There were nice people, but I didn’t feel comfortable, and I thought there would be much future and better to go to overseas to Australia, and I think Australia was a good way to go. And I took a ship, Orion. It took five weeks, and I went to Australia. I had five pounds in my pocket, that’s all. Five pounds, traveled to the whole world with five pounds. We took the Orion, I had five pounds in my pocket. Well, you take [the ship] from England, you go to the Mediterranean, you go to the Suez Canal, you go to India, Ceylon, Arabia – Aden – you stop in Arabia. It was Aden, now they call it Yemen. We stopped up there, and after you go to Freemantle, from Freemantle to Adelaide, Adelaide to Sydney. It took five weeks.”
When George joined the U.S. Army shortly after arriving in Cleveland, he was granted U.S. citizenship
“They gave me citizenship right away, because they made a law. When I went to the army, the school up there, they decided to give us citizenship. I was over here for a few months, and I was an American citizen. I don’t know what is the difference between George Washington and anybody else over here – Lincoln. I don’t know the difference. I never studied American history. I studied all about Hitler or Czech, European history. I don’t know about these guys. I know now, but I didn’t know before.”
Category: Cleveland, Oral History