I remember activists who came from Prague right after the revolution, right after the demonstration in Prague, with video documentation. It was both at school and I know that through any underground Christian groups, they would be very present there. So all of us would watch the footage from the demonstration and at that point I really felt like there’s no way that this could turn backwards.
They called it Action E, the Gestapo – E as in exulants [exile]– you know? They rounded up most of the families who had anybody fighting abroad, to hold us as political prisoners to prevent us from giving aid to Czechoslovak parachutists sent from Great Britain to attack and sabotage the German occupation. Somebody had to hide them and they wanted to prevent that. So they arrested us all and put us in the camp.
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.
There were a lot of Czechs, a lot of Slovaks, a lot of Romanians. The camp wasn’t too bad. We were one of the luckier ones – we had a small cottage. They even had hot showers there. A lot of other people weren’t as lucky. They slept in a tent and had to use public showers which they had there. The food was horrible, I mean horrible.
My neighbor was lent a dream book, and then his daughter gave me this dream book – I have it at home. In it was written that Pisces, which is my sign, not being close to the sea, will go to the other side of the world in search of the sea later on in life. And already then I thought: America!
Just how the country was run, it was like you don’t have any ambition, you don’t have any drive to become a better person, a wiser, more mature individual. It’s so difficult out there to be able to make something of yourself, to be able to stand out and live your life, and she thought the freedom allowed in America would be a great, great asset for he and I to be a part of.
No, there was not an invitation; there was forcing. I asked them ‘Why me?’ and they said ‘Oh, we need the people who really do a good job at work, who are responsible’ and so on and so on. But it was so strong. Every single day I was called to the big boss’s office or this contract guy – he was a chairman of the Party – so I had them all the time on my neck.
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.
You know, yes of course, you have those memories and associations, but is it some kind of an idealized, background-music, lots of violins [experience] standing looking at your house, and immediate flashbacks? No, it’s not. It’s in a way awkward, because you really realize that time goes by and your life is someplace else – that’s only part of you, that’s only what you lived through, that’s only where you went to school or whatever. But whatever you took from there, you have. Going back is not going to change it.