Jana Pochop (born Jana Triebenekrová), 1947
Jana Pochop was born in Hořic v Podkrkonoší in northeastern Bohemia in 1947. She grew up on a farm in the village of Bukinova u Pecky with her parents, Jaroslava and Josef, and her two brothers and one sister. Jana says that her village was self-sustaining, but that after the farms were collectivized she remembers shortages of food and other goods. Because her father was in the hospital for several weeks, her farm was one of the last in the area to be collectivized. Jana attended elementary school in her village, but after fifth grade she had to travel to nearby towns. She says that high school was an especially difficult time as she struggled to balance travel, homework, and housework, and her mother was in the hospital. Her mother died when Jana was 16. After graduating high school, Jana attended the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague for one year. She returned home to help take care of the farm for one year and then moved to Hradec Králové where she worked in the accounting office of a company that brought entertainment from Prague to the city. In 1970, Jana married Vladimir Pochop, whom she had known since she was 16, and moved to Prague.
Jana received a degree in physical therapy from a vocational school and, in 1975, began studying psychology at Charles University. Jana says that in order to be accepted, she applied for membership in the Communist Party; however, her application was not processed. She received her degree in 1979 and, in January 1980, she and Vladimir traveled to London for two weeks. When they were not granted asylum there, on the way home, the pair got off the train in Munich and went to the American Embassy. Jana and Vladimir were granted asylum and found an apartment; Jana says that she loved their time in Munich. When they received permission to immigrate to the United States, Jana was eight months pregnant. Their son Jan was born in September 1981. Eight months later in April 1982, the Pochops flew to Atlanta, Georgia. Jana stayed with Jan in Atlanta for six weeks while Vladimir found a job and a place to live in California. Once settled in Mountain View, California, Jana says that the language barrier was very difficult for her. She took many ESL classes and raised her sons (Martin was born in 1984) speaking English in order to improve her own language skills. In 1990, the Pochops returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time and Jana was able to retrieve her transcript from the vocational school she had attended for physical therapy. A few years later, she began working as a physical therapist at a hospital. In 2011, Jana completed a program in psychology at St. Mary’s College. As both of their sons now live in Prague, Jana and Vladimir have considered returning to the Czech Republic. Today, they live in Concord, California.
Jana describes where she grew up
“We grew up on a very traditional farm, in a very traditional way. Most of the villagers were farmers; however, the village was self-sustained because there was a cluster of villages and every village had someone who did something. There was a dressmaker and a shoemaker and a cabinet maker and a baker, and there was a little church nearby and there was a priest and there was a school in the village, which was the grammar school, [grades] one to five. For middle school, [grades] six to nine, we had to go to the little town where the church was and the castle and the school. The only things we were buying were sugar, salt, yeast, and that’s about it. When the supply of meat ran out, then we sometimes went to the butcher in town and bought the meat for Sundays. Matter of fact, we were eating meat basically only on Sundays.”
Jana says that collectivization of her village also affected religious life
“Until then, it was very traditional that people from the village were going to church, but when the so-called JZD [Jednotné zemědělské družstvo], collectivism, took place, the officials started to put pressure on people not to go to church, and if you went to church on Sundays they were threatening you that you won’t be allowed to study. So the people got threatened and so maybe the children stayed at home and the parents went only, or the children only who were planning to stay on the farm or go to vocational school, they were allowed to go. I was going until the eighth grade and then the communists came with a different idea of how to ruin the church and they relocated the local priests. They sent them to the communities where they were not known and new priests came, and it had a horrible impact on the whole church going and the church community, because people didn’t warm up to him. He was a stranger, he was different, he had different ideas of how to do things; he was a little prudish. He started to say what people should do; the other one was nicer. And at that time, I stopped going every Sunday. I was going on Easter and Christmas, but not often.”
In 1980, Jana and Vladimir left Czechoslovakia and lived in Munich for over one year
“It was the best year of our lives. It was like a honeymoon, because we didn’t have any responsibility towards the family. We thought we had money. We lived as we lived very modestly, in a very tiny apartment. I mean, very tiny. It was a studio. But we were young, we made friends. I knew German, so I quickly made connections. I’m good at that. There were people there for 20 years and they said ‘We don’t have any German friends. We socialize with only Czech immigrants.’ I couldn’t believe it because the Germans were so friendly; so nice and polite and interesting. I loved Munich.
“Our son Jan was born there, and we were very happy because he was a healthy child, and I wanted to stay there. I nested. It was close to home. All of the sudden you see how close Munich is to Prague. From Prague under communism, Munich seems like thousands of miles away. When you are in Munich, you look at the map and you finally realize ‘Oh my goodness!’ From Bratislava to Prague, it’s closer to Munich. I just loved it there, because I felt comfortable. Probably, I have some German genes. You know, being orderly and being organized, I felt like at home. It didn’t bother me. Some Czech people were saying ‘Oh, the Germans are so picky and you have to do everything in order and you have to comply with the order.’ I don’t have any problems with that. I loved that. And the city was clean and full of nice things. I couldn’t buy anything, but it didn’t matter. I was window shopping every Sunday. We lived in the center of Munich and there was a farmer’s market there. I loved their folk costumes and I thought ‘When I save the money, I will buy one and I will be dressing like them.’”
In 1986, the Pochops moved from Silicon Valley to Lafayette, California
Jana explains her sons’ connections to her Czech heritage
“I didn’t want to push on them the Czech culture, because I’ve seen in other Czech families with older children that they hated it. There was a group of Czech friends down on the peninsula and they were actually trying to do dancing lessons for their teenagers and they of course hated the idea that they will be forced to dance. So I thought I’m not going to do it. They will figure out where they are from. Which they did actually pretty soon, because in 1990 we started to return to Czech Republic every summer, and they absolutely adore my old farm. They thought that grandpa, whom they met when they were six and eight for about two years before he died, they thought he was the coolest guy ever, because he did things like he mowed the grass with a scythe, and he was doing all kinds of stuff, like mechanically and technically, repairing stuff. Metal, wood, whatever it was. They thought that he was a god because he knew how to make everything and repair everything.”
Category: Bay Area, Oral History