Frank Lysy (born František Lysý), 1916
Frank Lysy was born in Spišské Vlachy in eastern Slovakia in 1916. His father worked as a maintenance supervisor on the Košice-Bohumín Railway, while his mother stayed at home raising Frank and his six siblings. As a child, Frank was involved in Boy Scouts, and enjoyed playing soccer and skiing. Of his childhood he remembered in particular a visit that Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk made to his school on its anniversary, and a fire that caused severe damage to his town when he was around eight years old.
Frank attended teacher training college in Spišská Kapitula, where he says he received a ‘unique’ education as graduates were trained not only to work as village teachers, but as organists in the local church as well. Frank graduated and became a teacher for a short while, but was taken away from his job in 1938 when he was drafted into the Army. He says that when he reported for duty in Košice, however, he was turned away as no new recruits were being accepted (as this was at the time that the Munich Agreement was signed). He traveled to Bratislava, where he became a student of Slavistics and philosophy at Comenius University. In 1943, Frank was accepted as an exchange student at the University of Padua in Italy. He had a friend who was then the Slovak cultural attaché in Rome and, as WWII progressed, he moved to Venice with his friend and the few remaining representatives of Slovakia in the country. In the last days of the War, Frank moved to Berne, Switzerland, under the protection of the International Labour Organization. By this time, he had already carried out a couple of diplomatic missions and says he worked with the International Red Cross to deliver donated medicines to Terezín concentration camp in Bohemia.
Following WWII, Frank took a job at the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry in Prague. He says that Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was a ‘weak man’ and that there was a fear throughout the ministry that Communist Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimír Clementis was aiming to take over the department. Frank remembers employees being ‘tested’ at that time with invites to join the Communist Party and trade unions. In 1947, he was posted to Olso, Norway, on a diplomatic assignment. When the Communist coup happened in February 1948, the Czechoslovak ambassador to Norway resigned but Frank stayed on at the Embassy. He resigned himself in February 1949 when he received an order to return back to Prague.
Frank arrived in the United States on July 10, 1950, as he said staying in Norway would have been ‘too dangerous.’ His first job was as a researcher and analyst at Radio Free Europe in New York City. He moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 1952. The following year, Frank took a job with the CIA which he held until an intelligence leak outed him in 1956. Thereafter, he went to work for Voice of America, where he became a senior editor of the Czech and Slovak service. He retired in 1991. Frank was a member of the Slovak League of America and the First Catholic Slovak Union. He returned to Slovakia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Matica Slovenska in 1988. Frank lived in Delaplane, Virginia, until his death in November 2011.
Frank remembers a fire which caused serious damage to his village when he was young
“The whole town went down in the fire. I remember that very well. I was eight years old and some kids were playing with matches and making… and there was a haystack. The firefighters from the beginning refused to – they said ‘Let it burn to the ground.’ Okay, then a strong wind came and the haystack [blew] from one place to another place. In no time the whole town was on fire, many families were unable to rebuild. Yeah, it was very much so. And our house too went down, but we rebuilt it within one month or something like that. But they had to take a loan from the bank. So it was difficult, it was.”
Frank worked as a schoolteacher until 1938
“We had some Lutheran, evangelical schools and some even Jewish schools. It is interesting that the father of my wife, he was a doctor in Bánovce in Slovakia, he went to Jewish school. I said ‘How is it possible?’ He said ‘Because [the] school was good.’ No religion or something like that. The school was good, his parents sent him over there. So it was kind of tolerance and the difference was that the school cannot finance itself by itself, the local community. So they made a compromise: the state paid the teachers and the community provided the physical needs like a classroom and furniture and stuff – many times with the help of the state. But it was very good cooperation between the state and the church in this sense.”
Frank says that people don’t realize how free Slovak university was during WWII
“Many people don’t realize how free university – Slovak university – was. It was debated in the faculty of philosophy, for instance, against Nazism. In Czech-occupied Bohemia, they abolished, completely closed, all institutes of higher learning because of student demonstration. In Slovakia, students could not only demonstrate but they could openly debate, openly speak against Nazism. I remember well, Germans were coming when Slovakia was declared independent. Okay – independent? Yes, it was in internal matters. The only thing was, you know there were strong German minorities. Even those [who] were not German, but who realized their ancestors were German. And they pushed, and they were ‘fresh’ [Germans]. And we had often conflict. In Bratislava, for instance, on the corner of the street there were collections of money for the war effort of Hitler. So, ‘bitte, eine kleine Spende. Bitte, eine kleine Spende.’ And students [would say] ‘Go and ask Hitler! Go and ask Hitler!’ And things like this. Open conflict.”
At the end of the War, Frank accompanied a Red Cross convoy to the Soviet zone of Czechoslovakia
“In Plzeň I went to a restaurant to eat. And suddenly in front of me [there’s] one young man in civilian clothes sitting without asking, you know, etiquette or morals – mores. He sat next to me like he wants to eat something so… ‘You came from Switzerland?’ ‘Yes, how do you know?’ ‘Oh, I saw your tags.’ And then he started to talk, and I asked him ‘Are you Slovak?’ ‘Oh yes, of course I am!’ He was speaking Slovak. I said, ‘You are lying, because ‘G’ in Slovak is pronounced a different way!’ G – you know – guttural. And he became bright red, you know, he was embarrassed. And then, ‘And you are a bad spy, because you are red!’ So, it was finished.
“They asked for a permit [to enter the Soviet zone], called the following day, the following day, the following day, no. He said, Prime Minister Fierlinger it was at that time, and Minister Masaryk – both of them intervened for permission [for us] to go through. The Russian general signed all the permits on his desk but yours – so there you are – this was the report of their spy.”
Frank remembers the atmosphere at the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry in the run-up to the coup
“They wanted to test employees over there. First, they wanted me to join the Communist Party. I said ‘No way!’ Absolutely. Then second was, they tried to… trade union. Zápotocký was president of the odbory – the trade union in Czechoslovakia. It was communist – an arm of the Communist Party. So, every morning I came to my office and on the desk was an application for membership in the trade union. I threw the application into the basket. The following day; the same, a third day, fourth day… I said, ‘Who will win this Cold War?’ They were bringing me every day for one week, and I didn’t react. They found it in the basket. So they stopped, which means you are an enemy of socialism.”
Frank’s says his work at the CIA was cut short by a double agent
“Eventually the group was dissolved, because the man who was the supervisor one day showed up in Moscow. A double agent. So they had to disperse everybody. Everybody was sent somewhere away, and what happened was that then I could have gone to a foreign country and I said ‘No. I want to raise my family here.’ So I started with Voice of America. In Voice of America I was for 29-30 years.”
Category: Oral History