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.
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.’
So anyhow, finally he got sent to military prison, and we could not visit, we could do nothing, and for us, come two gentlemen. So they locked my mother in the kitchen and they locked me in the living room. So one interrogates my mother, another one hits me over my mouth. Horrible, horrible. And from then on, they watched us.
So, I get home. I’m asking all these questions, but I’m just a kid, ‘Shut up, be quiet.’ Well, as my mother wrote in that letter, they came in, they parked in front with the trucks, with the militia. They brought the papers in the house. ‘Sign the papers, or you’re never going to see this house again.’ And this is how we lost everything.
On August 21, when the Soviets came around, I don’t know how it even happened, but my dad said I had to come home and so one of the officers called me to his office and said ‘There is a letter from your dad, and you need to come home,’ which under normal circumstances was absolutely unheard of.
[They] judged and sentenced the farmer immediately for so-called ‘crime against the republic,’ meaning they were accused, for instance, of having for example just an extra goose more than they were supposed to have, or that they didn’t return the proper amount of grain which they were supposed to give to the state, to this supply office. It didn’t need to be true.
The city was so old, and the building stones, the buildings, they always sort of spoke to me and they were trying to tell me things about the city and it was so fascinating. I was just transported, in a way, and I wanted to know what it was trying to tell me. It was a great introduction to learning the history, which I proceeded to do by writing about it eventually.