My mother told me the story that a good friend of his that he went to school with was on the police force in Pardubice – he turned into a communist – and the Communist Party, I believe it was on Good Friday of ’48, and they had a meeting and they were going to take over the country that Easter weekend.
At first I was frightened; I was overwhelmed because it was just too much. The skyscrapers, the people, the noise. At the same time, it was wonderful, but I was scared. I remember I was staying at some Czech’s apartment in the Upper West Side and I decided I had to go to the Metropolitan Museum [of Art]. I went to through the park [Central Park] and I got to the museum and I thought ‘I wasn’t killed, thank God.’
Money in many cases didn’t even exchange hands. However, and this is the bad part of Czechs, somebody turned him into the secret police. So during one of his night shifts in the wood factory, they came. They took him inside the hall, they turned on the circular saw, and they cut his fingers.
Yes, yes. The American planes were coming through that area, going most often to bomb Austria, mainly Wiener Neustadt, where there were some factories which they considered important, and we many times had an alarm and we were so pleased because they had to chase us out of the buildings.
They had to stay with us, in our home, and never move out, never even open the window when mother and I were gone to the office in the morning. They knew they cannot move because you can hear on the lower floor that somebody is walking up there. My first thing here in America, anywhere I went, I would always listen – can I hear the people from above?
So I, at the age of ten or eleven, had to give up my skis, my ice skates, my sled and my most prized possession of all, which was my red bicycle. I loved the red bicycle and I had to give that up. My mother told the story that I once came home crying because I saw a boy riding my bicycle.
I love my mom and I have no complaints about my upbringing, but I think we were just, like, running wild. I remember running around the city when I was really young. Getting on the tram unattended. Going downtown, running around. It’s not like here where you’re worried about what’s going to happen to your children.
I was so hungry at supper, because I didn’t have no money or nothing, that I went to a local orchard where there were cherry trees. And I stuffed myself with cherries one day. And I went the second night… and until the owner caught me. The owner was threatening me that he would go to the police. So I was kind of crying to him and said ‘I’m a refugee, I’m hungry, I have nothing, please don’t take me to the police, I will pay you for what I ate from my first pay check,’ which I did.
We were taught quite well. What it was is – I understand it now, I didn’t understand it then – the communist system said basically this: ‘We are paying for it; therefore, you will take the classes we tell you to take. You are not going to take any Mickey Mouse classes. There will be no Mickey Mouse classes.