Milos Zivny (born Miloš Živný), 1935
Milos Zivny was born in Kroměříž, a city in Moravia, in 1935. His father worked as an accountant for a state health insurance company while his mother stayed home to raise Milos and his two younger sisters. Following the Communist coup, Milos’s mother worked as a nurse and his father was kicked out of his job and worked in a factory in Brno. As a boy, Milos was a member of the svaz mládeže youth organization and also enjoyed playing sports, particularly basketball and volleyball. Prior to attending a technical high school in Vsetín, Milos was sent to Zlín to work in the Bat’a factory for one year. After four years of high school, Milos studied engineering at Vysoká škola železničná, a technical university in Prague. It was there he met his wife, Zelmira. The couple married in 1955, before graduating from university.
Milos began working for Vodní stavby, the largest building company in Prague. He started as a draftsman and later worked his way up to engineer and manager. Milos says that because he was not a member of the Communist Party he was denied higher-level management jobs. He is particularly proud of working on the Prague Metro system during his years at Vodní stavby.
With his wife under some pressure from the secret police and his daughter being denied entrance to a high school she hoped to attend, the Zivnys began to think about leaving the country. In 1984 they received permission to travel to Yugoslavia for vacation and, the first day there, Milos, Zelmira and their son and daughter crossed the border into Austria. Milos says that his first thought was to go to Australia, but instead they were helped by the American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees. In February 1984, the Zivnys moved to the United States and settled in Oakland, California. Milos found a job working for a cabinet shop – thanks, in part, to his knowledge of the metric system. After a few years he opened his own cabinet-making company with a partner and ran it for close to 20 years. After retiring, Milos and Zelmira became heavily involved in the local Sokol organization and enjoyed other opportunities with the Bay Area Czech community. Today, Milos and Zelmira live in the house they bought shortly after moving to Oakland.
Milos recalls his experiences of the end of WWII
“I don’t remember too much the beginning of the War but I remember especially the end of the War. The situation of Kroměříž, in central Czechoslovakia – or this time, Böhmen und Mähren – was on the way for American pilots going from Italy bombarding Germany, going over Czech Republic. And every day we heard this humming and saw thousands and thousands of B-17s and B-24s flying over, and the sirens of course. The Germans had flights all around but they were not shooting because the plans were really high. But it was something that I never forgot because all over you see the [hum of the planes], and they were floating down these small strips against radar. And this I remember very well.”
Milos married his wife, Zelmira, before the two graduated from university
“There was some special rule at this time. Communists will tell you when you graduated from high school or university, they tell you ‘You will be working in this town at this post.’ They gave you a special paper called umístěnka and they shipped you there. But we got married the last year of university because we knew when we got married they would send us to one place, not husband to Slovakia and wife to west Czechoslovakia or something like this. We were married in the beginning of the last year, and she started working in Prague in Czech rozhlas [radio] and after we graduated we had some special meeting with the people from university and they were actually sorting out where we were going. I claimed that my wife is already working in Prague; she has a place in Czech rozhlas and I would like to get my special paper for working in Prague. And they accepted it. It was actually good. The special paper meant that I started working for a company in Prague, and the company was Vodní stavby. It was the biggest building company in Prague. They had around 10,000 people working there; it was a huge company.”
Did have the opportunity to travel outside of Czechoslovakia?
“My first year in university. Because I was playing very good volleyball and basketball and our school team had some friendship with DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) with a school in Dresden and I was on this team. We went there for one week, playing volleyball and basketball, and some travel. This was the first time I was able to go to a foreign country. I was already in university – 1955.”
Was there a marked difference between East Germany and Czechoslovakia at that time or were they quite similar?
“They were very similar, but the DDR was not strict about… Everything in Czechoslovakia was government owned. In East Germany, there were still some private, small shops at this time. You could go to a small bakery and buy something; there was absolutely nothing like this in Czechoslovakia. But the system of produce was very similar. They had maybe some more stuff – for example, I remember raisins. They had more raisins; we could buy raisins in Dresden, but not very often in Prague. But we had more lemons; they had almost no lemons. Some things were really strange. They had restrictions in foreign trade in all communist countries, but each communist country had some slight difference. But there was no big difference.”
Milos reflects upon the status of the Czech community in the Bay Area
“There is two parts of the Czech community. There is one Czech community which is old. They are immigrants or daughters and sons of immigrants which are getting very old. This is Sokol itself. We are mostly around 60, 70 or 80, and this part is unfortunately going down. There is no way to get young people. We are trying, because there is a new Czech community in Silicon Valley. There are really a lot of young people who came here for work or girls who came to au pair and got married here. A couple of years ago they asked for a contribution to a Christmas party, making vánočka (Želka baked I think eight vánočka). We went there and there were 200 kids! Czech origin, Czech parents or half Czech. This is the young community we are trying now to bring to Sokol, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work too well. Because Sokol, even in the Czech Republic, it’s not… The younger generation has a completely different point of view.”
Category: Bay Area, Oral History