You know, it was such a terrible thing to happen to my country. I’d always grown up with a memory of the Nazis coming in and killing part of my family and all that, and then we were so looking forward to a peaceful, democratic world after the War was going to be over and we weren’t going to have any…
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.
I don’t think our family really assimilated very well, as a whole, because all our friends were Czech and a lot of times if I wanted to do something I wasn’t permitted to do it because it wasn’t something that we did. So that kept me separated from everybody else a little bit.
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.
We remember the Nazi occupation for sure. Even as kids, we know how the situation is, we understand it. Even if we were young kids, it didn’t bother us much, but we knew it was a really serious thing, especially after the Heydrich assassination and so on. ‘Keep your mouth shut and be careful.’
When my father died, we moved back to my grandmother and grandfather’s and my uncle was over there, and they had a farm. But in Czech Republic, it’s not like here. There’s a village, and the fields are someplace else. Over here you have a house and everything is around it, but over there, you have the village and everything was outside.
I remember when we were about 12, we were with my friends and classmates and suddenly the sound was wailing, preparing for bombardment, and we had to rush out to shelter, and one of us shouted ‘Vladimír, rush!’ and this 12 year old creature said ‘By now, everything in life has bypassed me. I have missed everything. Why should I run?’
So I come to the gate and the soldier is closing the gate and I start crying – I’m 14, I look like I’m 11, and I said ‘My mother will kill me if I don’t see my father!’ He says ‘Well stay right here.’ Actually, it was the commandant of the labor camp that came out and he said ‘Okay, here is a piece of paper, and you will go to the place where your father is and show them this paper.’