You do because you need to survive. You need to be able to talk to people, and if you just speak Slovak all the time, they don’t speak Slovak in the store or Czech or Russian – now they speak Spanish – so you have to assimilate. You assimilate language-wise, but cultural-wise, that comes with the system. As you live there, you start doing what other people are doing.
Community life Tag
First, people were unhappy. But I think later, I think later when I was a little bit older, they had relief. Some people had really relief. Like, we can’t even work, it’s so much work, and now they have tractors and they have equipment, machinery, and many people had relief, actually.
I remember they were always teaching us about how great the Soviet system was, but it really did start changing in the mid-’60s and I remember when everybody was saying ‘Oh every guy from the Soviet Union is great,’ and then I remember one teacher – there was this picture with Stalin in it – and she said ‘Well, he is no longer on the good list because he had some of his own people shot.’
There was this reform movement and people wanted to help the reform movement. With me, I also had several of my colleagues who did the same thing. As soon as the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, in August ’68, I simply cancelled that thing, and that was also a very bad mark on my profile. This was one of the reasons why I started to do everything possible to get out of the country.
One time they were bringing through the town soldiers which they had captured – and when I remember that, this was absolute horror. They needed water and they needed bread; they were asking. I ran home and brought all the bread and all the water and I was running to them, and the Nazi [said] ‘Halt! Halt, halt!’ and he had the revolver ready to shoot.
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 remember at one point in time, he wanted to import some Jewish cookies and things that were used for Sabbath and so on from Slovakia, and he did, and he got into trouble selling it, because it was not something on the government list. It was a constant struggle – him trying to improve the business and the government saying ‘These are the regulations and you can’t do that.’
And the camp, which was a mix between a labor camp and a concentration camp, was actually liberated by the Red Army. So my father had a very favorable view of the Soviets and the Russians because he was liberated by them, and he, quite frankly, escaped with his life. He was lucky to get home in 1945 and he saw me when I was three years old.
What I remember about school is that the first day of schooling, my official first school experience, was that we had to Heil Hitler when we first started the school day. So these teachers who are all Czech patriots would always do it funny. They wouldn’t do it right.