When the deportation of the Jewish population started in 1942, my parents, to protect me, put me in an orphanage that was run by Catholic nuns in Bratislava. So I was there for two years. Fortunately, my parents were not put into a concentration camp, mainly because my mother was a physician and they needed physicians even during the War.
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.’
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?’
Everything in Czechoslovakia was kind of drab, gray and brown – we went to Austria and it was like a different world. The gas stations with the colorful flags and colors everywhere and new cars. I think that left a huge impression on me. [I thought] ‘I want to live here,’ you know? And Coca-Cola and fries! Eating fries was like ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.
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.
Well, it’s different because when we had an enemy; it was someone German speaking in a gray uniform. But with the communists, it could be anybody; your neighbor, your family. You did not have the sense of ‘us’ being in the right. I mean you may have felt it… I really thought it was destructive to the soul of the people.
There were two reasons. One was they wouldn’t let me continue at school, and of course I knew that it was somewhere some farming cooperative that I would have to go to; and/or that I wouldn’t have a chance to grow intellectually and understand what was happening to my whole nation. To the literature, to the music, to the film. To the people, to their relationships.
I spent two very busy and very enjoyable years in America and then I came back. It was the Prague Spring; it was extremely interesting; however, from early March, I was 100 percent sure that I knew that it will not end well. I had exit permits for the members of my family – my oldest son and my wife and myself.