My son was in kindergarten, no actually, he was in nursery school and we went along the street for a walk and there was a big poster of Lenin and my [son] said ‘Look mommy, Comrade Lenin!’ And she said ‘This is enough. I don’t want this anymore. I had enough. They put it into the children. We have to go. We have to leave.’
I no longer fit in. It’s a very strange feeling, which cannot be unique among emigrants, that when I walk in Prague I feel like a tourist. It’s the town I was born in, I spent the first 28 years of my life, and still I don’t know really how it works now, having been out of there for 45 years.
I was obsessed with history, it was clear. Everyone in my class knew that I was obsessed with history; I had the best knowledge of history in the classroom, always challenging the teacher and reading history books under the desk. I had a vast library because due to the fate which befell my relatives on my father’s side, my grandfather and uncle, when they were arrested, some of their books – if they were not confiscated – landed in our house.
He was an avid mushroom picker. He had an eye that would see every mushroom everywhere in the forest, and while he was walking around picking the mushrooms, he started a new hobby. He started picking up pieces of branches of wood and carved them into shapes of animals, like snakes, birds, etc. And that became his sort of profession in his retirement.
My father believed in communism. He thought, after the War – it was the Soviet soldiers that liberated him, it was the Soviet soldiers that liberated Auschwitz, and so, my mother wasn’t involved at all, but my father was a member of the Party. And he believed that this is the right way to go. And now, bang, his brother gets arrested and he says, ‘No, this is not possible, this is wrong.’
So, I get home. I’m asking all these questions, but I’m just a kid, ‘Shut up, be quiet.’ Well, as my mother wrote in that letter, they came in, they parked in front with the trucks, with the militia. They brought the papers in the house. ‘Sign the papers, or you’re never going to see this house again.’ And this is how we lost everything.
On August 21, when the Soviets came around, I don’t know how it even happened, but my dad said I had to come home and so one of the officers called me to his office and said ‘There is a letter from your dad, and you need to come home,’ which under normal circumstances was absolutely unheard of.
My cousin was actually telling me about the concentration camp and only much, much later I found out that I was probably the only person she told, and I suppose she told only me because she thought I didn’t understand – I was little. I knew the word ‘camp’ for summer camps, because bigger children spoke about summer camps, so I thought she went to one of these. And when she was telling me about things that happened, I thought they were games.