Doris Drost (born Dobroslava Matelová), 1920
Doris Drost was born in Olomouc, central Moravia, in 1920. Her parents had met in Poland during WWI, as her mother Jana was from there, and her father Vojtěch was a Czechoslovak legionnaire stationed in the country. Doris grew up in Rohatec where her father was the vice president of a chocolate factory; she attended elementary school there until fourth grade, and then transferred to a larger school in Hodonín. Doris moved with her family to Brno a few years later when her father found a new job, and so she finished her schooling there. She remembers spending a few summers in Poland with her grandparents and being very active in Sokol.
Doris attended a teacher’s institute and taught kindergarten for one year before marrying John Drost in 1940. Doris and John had two children, Rudy and George. After the Communist coup in 1948, John left the country and Doris and Rudy followed a few months later, leaving George with John’s mother. With help from a guide, Doris crossed the border into Austria and then made her way to Vienna where she joined her husband. The family made plans to move to the United States once they were reunited with George. While in Austria, they lived in Kranebitten, a suburb of Innsbruck, where John found a job. With the help of a family friend and John’s sister, George rejoined the family in January 1950. The Drosts arrived in New York City in July of that year and settled in Chicago, where their sponsor, Ravenswood Presbyterian Church, was located.
Doris says they were helped by many people when they first arrived and worked very hard to carve out a life in the United States. Doris cleaned houses and John worked in a factory before becoming a caretaker at a church and attending law school at night. He eventually opened his own law practice, and Doris became the lunch manager at Woolworth’s. The family was active in the Czech community, and both boys learned to speak Czech. Doris visited Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1990, an experience she describes as ‘very disappointing’ because of the condition of Brno. Doris lived in Arlington Heights, Illinois, until her death in August 2016.
Doris remembers a difference in the German and Russian soldiers during WWII
“[Forces were] bombing Brno very heavily, so we moved to a little village and it was full of German soldiers. We never had any problems with them, very disciplined. But it was the opposite with the Russians, completely opposite.”
After crossing the border into Austria, Doris and her guide arrived in a small village
“So we went to a garden restaurant. They’d been celebrating, dancing, and I sat down and I think he ordered some wine or whatever. And then he said ‘Come and dance,’ and I said ‘What are you, crazy?’ He said ‘Come and dance,’ so we’re dancing, then I looked around and the Russians came there. And they come with their machine guns and they looked at the people. He [my guide] said ‘Now be nice, smile at me.’ I said ok, I don’t know what he’s talking about. He said ‘Don’t be so stiff.’ He said they were checking people that were close to the border, so they kind of knew who doesn’t belong there or whatever. So fortunately they didn’t think, but they picked up a few people, so that’s why he said ‘Let’s dance,’ we had been sitting, and we went with the crowd. But we made it to Vienna.”
How did you learn English?
“Just what I’m listening and learning. I’m getting a little better at spelling now, after so many years. I wanted to learn, and thank god we moved on the north side [of Chicago]; if we had been on the south side – Berwyn, Cicero – maybe I would still not speak English, I don’t know. But we had a few friends and I wanted to learn. And they told me, which was kind of helpful, they told me ‘Doris, don’t worry if you put the horses behind the wagon, just so the people understand you, keep talking.’ So I’m talking.”
Doris talks about her impressions of Americans
“American people are very giving people. Sometimes I think they are very idyllic people. I think they should be a little more tough and not always helping, helping. Let the people help themselves. But that’s what I mean, they are very idealistic. You don’t see that in so many countries – wherever you go, the people are first thinking about themselves and the Americans, they always want to help somebody. That’s my experience, what I have experienced.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History