Milos Krajny (born Miloslav Kreuziger) 1941
Milos Krajny was born in Kroměříž, eastern Moravia in 1941. His father, a doctor who practiced internal medicine, changed the family name from the German-sounding Kreuziger to Krajny following WWII. His mother, who had studied philosophy and spent one year at the Sorbonne, stayed home to raise him and his two younger brothers, and later taught music lessons. Milos has early memories of WWII, including the burning of the town’s castle at the close of the War. In 1953, Milos’s father’s practice was nationalized, and he was placed in a factory as the company doctor, caring for thousands of employees. Milos enjoyed school and extracurricular activities; he especially looked forward to a cycling trip that he made each summer to a school in Slovakia. Although he was an excellent student, Milos says that his ‘bourgeois upbringing’ hindered his acceptance to medical school. He was accepted to Palacký University in Olomouc four days before the start of the term after a patient of his father’s intervened on his behalf. After graduating in 1964, Milos practiced internal medicine in Přerov, and then, the next year, he returned to Olomouc where he began training as an allergist.
Milos was urged by a former professor to apply for a fellowship in Montreal. He was awarded the position in 1968 and says that he almost did not accept it because the stipend was so low; however, the Warsaw Pact invasion in August of that year changed his mind. He left for Montreal in September 1968. Two months later, his wife and young daughter joined him. After completing the two-year fellowship, Milos started his internship at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. He was also in constant correspondence with his parents back in Czechoslovakia, and they often sent him LPs of classical Czech music. He says that although music was always an integral part of his life, these records inspired his love for classical music. Milos began attending Czech concerts and theatre in Toronto which brought him contact with the Czech community there. As a member of the board of directors of a chamber music group, he was instrumental in bringing Czech groups to the city. Recently, Milos has started a series of classical music concerts called ‘Nocturnes in the City,’ which aim to bring Czech music and musicians to a Toronto audience.
Milos currently holds dual citizenship and travels to the Czech Republic twice a year. He has made a habit of reading Czech-language newspapers and stays on top of Czech current events. His son and daughter are both fluent in Czech and he says that his son is especially enamored with his Czech heritage. Today, in addition to his work as an allergist, Milos is the president of the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra.
Although very young at the time, Milos has vivid memories of WWII
“We were living in our house in the cellar, or basement, which had metal plates on the windows, and because there was a sign of ‘Doctor’ in front of the house, soldiers would be bringing their wounded colleagues to the house, and as a little boy I would be mingling around and I would see the blood dripping from the stretchers and stuff like that. My father had to attend to them, even though it might have been dangerous. It might have been German soldiers; it might have been Russians and Bulgarians later toward the end of the War. I vividly remember when, before the end of the War, Germans put gas on the Kroměříž castle – it was a big tower – and they set it on fire, and my parents woke me up around 3:00 in the morning and they said ‘This is the end of the War, but look what they did to us.’”
A favorite activity of Milos’s was a summer bike trip to Slovakia
“Our school had a friendly relationship with one high school in Slovakia and people who were interested in bicycles and tourism, they would ride on bicycles every summer to this university and stay with Slovak students for three weeks in the summer, and then the Slovak students would come back to Moravia. So I was part of that activity; I was actually carrying the first-aid box and if somebody had a scratch on their knee I would attend to them. And my brother, the second one, was the official reporter. He was making a movie about the trip. It was really enjoyable and we learned to speak Slovak, and that was the highlight of the year, always.”
Whereabouts was the school in Slovakia?
“The school was in Liptovský Mikuláš, which I think is Fatra, Malá Fatra. It would take two or three days to get there, so you would have to sleep overnight in some kind of barn on the hay or on the straw, among cows sometime, and we would have to look for some food. It was very exciting. If the weather was nice, it was great. If it was raining it wasn’t so fine, because we had to dry off somewhere, but I have good memories of those trips.”
Milos says his ‘bourgeois upbringing’ became a problem when applying to medical school
“I was top of the class and basically, I passed the admitting exam, but I was hanging in the air. Somehow, luckily, that was the only way you could do certain things at the time, my father had a patient who had some connection to the Secretariat of the Communist Party, and I’m sure there was some money involved, that the guy actually issued that I was accepted on a special permit. It was only four days before the university started, so it was quite a nervous summer. But by the same token, because there was already a way established how to get to university, my brother, who was two years younger, by this way also got to technical school in Brno.”
Milos describes the role of politics in medical school
“Interestingly enough, some of the teachers – especially in Olomouc because they didn’t have enough teachers educated in Marxism ideology and who would be good – there were some teachers who were not members of the Party and who were actually on the blacklist, and they were very good. It was the brother of Jan Zrzavý, the painter; there was a professor in anatomy, and we as students, we knew that, so their lectures were really attended 100%.
“The first two years we had Russian, even at the university level and then of course, first year, we had political economy I believe, and then second year we had Marxism-Leninism. You basically had this nonsense and you had to sort of say ‘Yes, yes’ and you had to study something for exams. I just barely passed this Marxism-Leninism because the teachers knew your background and they really wanted to let you fail, so that was very unpleasant. But Czechs are Švejks and we made fun from it too, even if it was almost impossible. But you had to do it. But we were not forced to join the Party or anything like that. We were students; we still had fun.”
Milos reflects on the status of his profession in Czechoslovakia
“I think in Czechoslovakia – like in all Europe – that the thing was prestige and, because doctors had such low salaries, they would be getting some presents from the patients; it was a normal thing. Because actually, the workers and miners had a salary three or four times higher, and I think the doctors were even below teachers’ salaries. But then three years after I graduated, they started suddenly paying you for night calls which were free before. So with the night calls, if you would do two, three a week, you could make some extra money, so there had been some improvement, and every year you would get two percent more or something.
“Medicine in Czechoslovakia was actually on a very high level. Maybe technologically not so much – that was before the time of computers – so certain technical things were not there, but Czechs were very good diagnosticians just with simple things and techniques, and I read some foreign literature so I could compare; I know we had very good medicine.”
Following his emigration to Canada in 1968, Milos’s parents had trouble getting travel visas
“My parents were told, when they wanted to visit, they were told they would never be allowed to visit. And then after Helsinki [Accords] was signed, my father completely refused to go back for permission, but my mother asked the city hall and they told her that one of the conditions would be that she would talk us into returning. She said ‘Well, you know, I can tell them, I can try.’ So they allowed my mother for the first time in 1979. Quite late. She came for a few weeks and when she was going back, my brother in Germany had a son born about six months before, and I said ‘Why don’t you stop in Germany?’ She didn’t have a visa, so I asked for a visa for her at the German Consulate and they wanted to put it in her passport and I argued. I said ‘You can’t put it in her passport because when the poor woman goes back to Czechoslovakia she will be punished!’ So after long interviews, they gave her special papers, and she stopped at my brother’s place for about four days, saw her grandson, and came home. And only after 1989, when we looked at our dossiers, we figured out that she was followed. They knew everything about her.”
After completing his internship, Milos had more time spend with the Czech community in Toronto
“I started to visit the Czech theatre and, of course, concerts. If there were some Czech musicians, we would be involved. Then later on I joined a chamber music organization and was on the board of directors for many years downtown, and always tried to bring Czech musicians.”
Did you do this even before 1989 and was that a fairly straightforward process? How did that work?
“Well, before 1989 there were still some Czech groups that were allowed abroad because they were bringing money back. So if you knew who was coming, you could get them to Toronto. Because we were in contact with agents in New York, and I had my brother involved with music back in Prague, we could bring people here. Of course, it was in limited numbers; it wasn’t so free like now. But it was a little different. Everything was cheaper, so that was one way, but then, it wasn’t so free.”
Category: Oral History