In high school, I think it was quite quality and, again, a combination of the ideology and then the real subjects. We were lucky because our last year of high school was ’68, so it was very liberal and many changes took place, even in our education and the information provided. Like reading Literární noviny was mandatory, and it was quite exciting. Then we graduated and enjoyed this happy time for a few more days and it was over.
Initially, when I came to Australia – I think partially under my mother’s influence; she literally was disgusted with Europe, with the Nazis and the communists, and I, reflecting that, my attitude was ‘I want to learn English, I want to assimilate and to hell with the background.’ Yes, my father was a famous guy, so what? And so in Australia, I had virtually no connection with anything Czech.
Things seemed right; not entirely right, but somewhat right. Things were far worse in Poland, where a person who was a Polish politician who lived on our street in London by the name of Mikołajczyk – they settled accounts with him by machine gun. Assassinations and so on. Things in Prague seemed to be ok, but not exactly right. And the bottom dropped out of things completely in February 1948.
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.’
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.
I would like to mention that life in Czechoslovakia in the early ‘70s, for a child, you couldn’t have anything better. It was very sweet. You could go anywhere as a child, especially in a small city like Strážnice: 6,000 people, two elementary schools, two churches, a high school. On one side you have vineyards and little hills; on the other side you have the Morava River with some sandy beaches and twists and turns in the river.
I have a diploma in Marxism-Leninism. I was vice-chairman of the head and neck surgery department so, as one of the top positioned physicians, I had to be well educated in politics. So Marxism – the philosophy and economy and whatever else comes… I had to go and take a state exam at the state board, and I have a diploma in political sciences now.
They were teaching us how to make a puppet; we had to design a puppet and make it. And everyone was oohing and aahing how similar style I had, that it was almost Jim Henson-like. All that I needed was to look at that Muppet inside out and I could figure out how to do it. That’s all I needed.