Viera Noy (born Viera Nováková), 1947
Viera Noy was born in Zemianske Sady, a small village in western Slovakia, in 1947, where her father, Rudolf, was a director of agriculture while her mother, Margita, was a homemaker who cared for Viera and her older sister Marta. When Viera’s father earned a promotion, the family moved to Borovce near Piešt’any, where Viera began elementary school.
Because of their Jewish background, Viera’s parents had been in hiding during WWII; their other family members were killed in the Holocaust. Viera says her parents were the sole survivors of the War. According to Viera, it was not easy to attend school as a Jewish child in communist Czechoslovakia. She explains that she was treated unfairly by her classmates and often by her teachers.
She attended high school in Piešt’any and, upon graduating, completed a degree in physical therapy in Bratislava. Viera’s first job was as a physical therapist researching rheumatism at a spa in Piešt’any. She started in August 1968, shortly before Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. It was then that she began making plans to leave the country. In November of that year, Viera and her sister Marta received visas to attend a wedding in Austria. In Vienna, they connected with the international organization HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) which provided accommodations and assistance with the immigration process. Viera says that she had the option of immediately immigrating to Israel (because both she and her sister practiced licensed professions), but that she wanted the ‘adventure’ of moving to the United States. She spent three months in Vienna where she worked in a boutique popular with Slovak tourists on Mariahilferstrasse. She moved to Rome when the HIAS building in Vienna was attacked, and thousands of emigrants were relocated to Italy.
On March 6, 1969, Viera and her sister flew to New York City. Viera says that HIAS provided them with intensive English language classes, accommodation and food. Viera’s first job was in a jewelry factory but, through a family friend, she soon found a job working for Dr. Hans Kraus as a physical therapist. Dr. Kraus was a well-known physician, and Viera says that the selection procedure she went through before getting the job was rigorous. In his office, she came in contact with many famous and influential people and used those contacts to aid her fellow émigrés, helping them find jobs and process immigration paperwork.
After becoming an American citizen in 1976, Viera began returning to Czechoslovakia on a yearly basis to visit her parents and friends. When she got married in Tel Aviv in 1984, Viera wanted her parents to be at the wedding, but says that Czechoslovakia and Israel did not have diplomatic relations at the time. Viera and her husband have two children who speak fluent Slovak and Hebrew, as they spent summers when they were younger in Slovakia and Israel. Today, Viera lives with her family in Larchmont, New York.
Viera says it was difficult to be Jewish growing up in post-war Czechoslovakia
“There was no rabbi or synagogue to really practice the religion. My parents were Holocaust survivors. They didn’t go to any concentration camp, but they survived in hiding and they were afraid to practice, but we always knew from people that we are Jews because kids in school made fun of us and even the teacher would not favor us, knowing that we were Jewish.”
How did you take it?
“Up until 12 years old, not terribly bad, but when I was 12 years old, all the children went to religious school on Wednesdays, and around Easter time, I think, the subject was the Jews drink Christian blood during Easter, and all of the sudden my best girlfriend didn’t want to sit with me, nobody wanted to walk to and from school with me, because I was the only Jewish kid – and my sister, but we were two classes apart, so we had different schedules. So it was very difficult, because at 12 years old you want to have a girlfriend. We used to walk and do things together – on the bicycle, after school we had fun things to do – and all of the sudden I’m all by myself. Nobody wanted to associate with me. Until high school, and then I went to Piešt’any for high school and things were a little different.
“In the first grade when our teacher was giving us our school certificate, she asked every student where they were going for summer vacation. Since my name started with ‘N,’ I heard the words ‘grandma, grandpa, cousin, aunt.’ I never heard these words at home, so when I came home I asked my mom ‘How come I’m not going for vacation to some relatives?’ So my mom was crying and said ‘Oh, we don’t have any relatives.’ But then she found some family in Nitra – friends – it was also a Jewish family that had no children, and they became our aunt and uncle, so we used to go there practically regularly for summer vacation to Nitra.”
Viera says it was difficult to be Jewish growing up in post-war Czechoslovakia
“I really did believe in it until the invasion of Czechoslovakia because I think my parents kind of taught us to believe in communism, knowing that this is the only system you can live in. I think they believed in communism out of fear. I really believed that this is the best because you don’t have any other literature and you’re really not connected with the world, so you really believe that this is what it is and the Russians are the best, and American imperialism is the worst and they’re enslaving people or hurting people and they’re really not good for people, and how wonderful we have a life in a communist country. So I really did believe it until it was the invasion. I was shocked. I was just finished with physical therapy school, worked for a couple months, and one morning you have Russian tanks in the city and you say ‘How could that be? They were such people?’ and ‘Why did they do that to us?’ I was just so unhappy.”
In November 1968, Viera and her sister Marta left Czechoslovakia for Vienna
“We had a choice to go to Israel the next day due to our professions. My sister was a biochemist, I was a physical therapist, and they looked for professional people and the agency was right there in Vienna. But [I wanted] some kind of adventure. I just wanted to come to America. And they wanted to send us to California because New York was full of Czechoslovak refugees who had a lot of family here since WWII, or before WWII, so they had preference, and somehow they kind of squeezed the two of us to bring us to New York, so we came to New York.”
In New York, Viera worked with physical therapist Dr. Hans Kraus, where she could help fellow emigres
“In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the job I had as a physical therapist was a place where a lot of influential people came – politicians, economists, artists – so I was able to provide jobs and accommodations for almost everybody. Even the legal papers, the senators, ambassadors. All different people. But even people I didn’t know would ask me. My parents were even scared that somebody was going to arrest them because somebody would knock on the door and bring a present for my father: ‘Oh your daughter in New York let my son stay for two weeks or found him a job.’ My parents didn’t even know who these people are. Yeah, always.”
Viera had problems getting her parents to Israel to attend her wedding in 1984
“I had to phone my parents to get them to Vienna and from Vienna to fly to Israel, but I cannot tell this on the phone because Czechoslovakia and Israel had no communication; they didn’t have any contact at the time. This was 1984. So I told my parents on the phone ‘Come to Vienna. We are changing the wedding to Vienna.’ So my parents were hysterical and came to Vienna. They said ‘Where is Eli? Where is my sister?’ so I had to whisper and say ‘They went to Israel.’ So my parents almost fainted at the bus station where I met them. Because also this rabbi got me all these connections. His daughter was married in Vienna to the Minister of Finance, and I needed a visa for my parents to fly from Vienna to Tel Aviv, out of the passport. They cannot come back to Czechoslovakia with an Israeli stamp in a passport. He also told me to be careful who to contact. ‘Vienna is full of Czechoslovak spies and your parents are going to be followed all the time.’ We needed to get to the embassy which is a little bit on the outskirts of Vienna, and not to be followed. But we got to the embassy and they already knew everything about us. They issued [a visa] on tissue paper for my parents to go to enter Israel and exit Israel. But they needed another visa to enter Austria again because they had already used it used. Everything needed to be out of the passport, so all this was issued. We happily went to Tel Aviv and quickly got married. My sister was there, her husband was there, and so we got married in Tel Aviv.”
Category: New York City, Oral History