I was terrified. Now it’s coming back to me exactly; it was August of 1969 which was exactly a year after the tanks rolled in after the Prague Spring, so there was great alarm that there might be some other military activity going on, or protests, on the anniversary. I remember having nightmares that I might get caught there, I might be arrested or…
Community life Tag
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.
Growing up in Montreal, there was an enormous Czech community and it was extremely vibrant. Interestingly enough, it was a homogenous group in the way that they interacted with one another, but they were anything but homogenous in terms of where they came from, because there were Czechs, there were Slovaks and there were people from every part of Czechoslovakia.
In 1944, the Germans started taking away women who were, and who had been, married to Jewish men. And they had a camp, a slave labor camp, in Prague. And in that camp they manufactured windshields for German fighter airplanes. So my mother was taken to that camp. And before she left she hid me with some friends, actually farmers, that we had been living with after the Germans expelled us from our home.
I was frustrated because the whole setup of life in Czechoslovakia was, in a way, humiliating to people’s minds, because you have to repeat or you have to participate or you opened the newspaper and there were these idiotic statements about harvest and about how we are fighting [Patrice] Lumumba and all that stuff. Not Lumumba – we were friends with Lumumba – but ‘We’re fighting the imperialists’ and stuff like that. And then you were waiting in line for one banana.
I remember the Revolution itself. I remember it sort of as a feeling. I know our parents, mostly because we were little, we watched it on TV. They did not go, because they had two little kids at home, they did not go zvonit klíči [jingling keys], as they call it, in the square, but we stayed at home and I just know that we felt that something essential was changing in our life.
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.’