After I graduated high school, I applied to Charles University to study languages, and I was probably the most nervous because I kind of had to lie in my resume. I could never be truthful about my father’s past. Of course I said he was from a family of 14 and that kind of thing, but I never really talked about his business success.
1968 emigrant/refugee Tag
I really didn’t want to leave because I had a good life there, I like Slovakia. Just my friends [were] bugging me ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go to America or Australia!’ We decided the year before the Russian occupation came to the country, and we left a year later, ’69 – ’69, September we left from Slovakia
Surprisingly, maybe you don’t know about it but, I went to the American Embassy first, but you had to commit to the draft – not at the Embassy, but once they gave you the entry paper to the United States, you would have to sign up for the draft here. I, as an 18 year old, got scared.
I said ‘I’m not going to leave. I’m going to fight for the freedom and I’m staying here.’ I did not want to leave. When we got occupied by the Russians, I was involved in it and [when] I went back, second day, to the hospital, we put posters there and we all wore black because we did that at midnight when the Russian tanks were all around the streets. So I was involved in it and I was hoping that the Prague Spring, nobody is going to kill it because we were going to win.
I remember they were always teaching us about how great the Soviet system was, but it really did start changing in the mid-’60s and I remember when everybody was saying ‘Oh every guy from the Soviet Union is great,’ and then I remember one teacher – there was this picture with Stalin in it – and she said ‘Well, he is no longer on the good list because he had some of his own people shot.’
There was this reform movement and people wanted to help the reform movement. With me, I also had several of my colleagues who did the same thing. As soon as the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, in August ’68, I simply cancelled that thing, and that was also a very bad mark on my profile. This was one of the reasons why I started to do everything possible to get out of the country.
We were washing dishes and the soldiers showed up and told my mother and my father that we need to pack up something that we can carry on our backs and we are going to leave. So we were taken to the camp in – the concentration camp – in Žilina. You know the difference, there is a concentration camp and there is an extermination camp, so we were just taken to the first place.
Once I was assigned to the kitchen to wash dishes. I washed them very quickly – they were surprised how quickly – but every one was dirty. They had to delay military lunch for the generals for one hour until somebody else washed the dishes. So they were, I guess, inclined to kick me out, but they didn’t send me home.
There were two reasons. One was they wouldn’t let me continue at school, and of course I knew that it was somewhere some farming cooperative that I would have to go to; and/or that I wouldn’t have a chance to grow intellectually and understand what was happening to my whole nation. To the literature, to the music, to the film. To the people, to their relationships.
I remember at one point in time, he wanted to import some Jewish cookies and things that were used for Sabbath and so on from Slovakia, and he did, and he got into trouble selling it, because it was not something on the government list. It was a constant struggle – him trying to improve the business and the government saying ‘These are the regulations and you can’t do that.’