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.
Maybe a year before leaving the country – so when I was 20, 21 – I got baptized at home, at my friend’s home, where we were meeting regularly, reading evangelical, but, you know, very modern guys, like Bonhoeffer and these freedom evangelists – you know, people who were rather avant-garde in terms of their theological thinking.
At night we went on duty. And there was a little hill, and down at the bottom there was a creek and a flour mill. And so I says ‘You know, you guys, I want to go down and see if there is somebody, if I can catch somebody, down by the mill.’ So I went back there, nobody followed me, nobody looked where I was going.
So this was one thing that we had to do and then eventually, towards the end of the War, he would say ‘Take this and drop it off there and there.’ And it was obviously for partisans, guerrillas, so you know, he said ‘It’s extremely dangerous and you can do it, as a little boy.’
In 1995, I began this project where I would interview former political prisoners, people who were arrested in 1948 and spent many years, ten or more years in what were Czech labor camps, equivalent to what Solzhenitsyn writes about in The Gulag Archipelago. I first started with life histories and these portraits and then, as I was progressing towards my dissertation, I started to ask questions, not so much about their individual lives, but more about their life as a community.
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.
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.
We had some political frictions, the Slovaks, but the biggest friction was between the Czechoslovaks and Slovaks. Fights erupted on a weekly basis, and the MPs marched in with big sticks and beat anybody who was outside regardless of what it was, who it was, whether they were fighting or not. Then finally the Germans took over the camp. Rocks were being thrown and even I had to sleep with a pipe in my bed, for my own protection.