I was singing all songs and, because my parents were actually masters of ballroom dancing, they were teachers. Very known in the whole area where we lived. In all the villages and the towns around my parents were teaching hundreds of young people ballroom dancing. And that was my inspiration, because I listened to the music my parents listened to on the gramophone.
I saw horrible things here when the Russians came, and I was totally shocked. It was horrible, horrible how the Czechs behaved badly to the last Germans here. It was something unbelievable; it’s starting to come out now slowly. I didn’t want to live here, and I went to Vienna. I spent several years in Vienna, and from Vienna – the Gestapo were looking for me – I went to Switzerland.
For instance, in the architecture field, I was supposed to already be very good in drawing. In order to get into architecture school, I would have to be excellent in drawing to compete with hundreds of applicants at the time. In addition, very good in mathematics and things like that. So I didn’t even try that. But then I wanted to be a journalist.
Because Stalin didn’t want heritage to be important. They wanted that indoctrination was more important than genetics. So Mendel, whom we all know about, was forbidden at that time. But you know everybody was paying a little bit lip-service, and nobody really took it seriously.
There is only one time a year where I make Czech food, and it’s a fusion between Czech and American customs. On Thanksgiving, I don’t make turkey because I am not crazy about turkey – it’s dry. I do duck, and I bake the duck the Czech way because it’s one of the best dishes the Czechs are making.
A bunch of lies, which thank God my dad contradicted and gave me some literature so I could find out the truth. So I think the commies were right not letting me proceed with my education because I definitely was a liability, because there was my dad and his version of the truth and then there was this new version of the truth, which was basically a lie, historic lies and blah blah blah.
The free education, the free medical care. There were a lot of good things and if you could have political freedom and travel and exchange, then I think the system would have been very good. I didn’t understand why anybody would say no to it, because we didn’t want to declare war on Russia or some stupid thing like that.
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.
I was terrified. Now it’s coming back to me exactly; it was August of 1969 which was exactly a year after the tanks rolled in after the Prague Spring, so there was great alarm that there might be some other military activity going on, or protests, on the anniversary. I remember having nightmares that I might get caught there, I might be arrested or…
It’s already probably starting in 1964 to 1966. There was a sense of great liberalization, without us completely realizing it. We would listen to the foreign radio – Radio Free Europe, I think, and one other station – we would be completely into Beatles music and all of the contemporary music and outfits and all of these kinds of things.