Everything in Czechoslovakia was kind of drab, gray and brown – we went to Austria and it was like a different world. The gas stations with the colorful flags and colors everywhere and new cars. I think that left a huge impression on me. [I thought] ‘I want to live here,’ you know? And Coca-Cola and fries! Eating fries was like ‘Wow.’ It was amazing.
Once I was assigned to the kitchen to wash dishes. I washed them very quickly – they were surprised how quickly – but every one was dirty. They had to delay military lunch for the generals for one hour until somebody else washed the dishes. So they were, I guess, inclined to kick me out, but they didn’t send me home.
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.
Money in many cases didn’t even exchange hands. However, and this is the bad part of Czechs, somebody turned him into the secret police. So during one of his night shifts in the wood factory, they came. They took him inside the hall, they turned on the circular saw, and they cut his fingers.
We had several American pictures, but we had them hidden, we couldn’t play them because under the Germans, they wouldn’t let us play them. We had some Czech, we had a couple of Slovak films, but these came from Bratislava, you know, we always got a new film every week. And I don’t know what kind of film we were preparing because we never –played it – the Russians came and they wanted to…
“I played guitar. When I was about 14, I went to work for a summer in a cinderblock factory. It was hard work, but I made some money and bought my guitar. That’s also a time when I met a lot of people. You look, it’s a cinderblock factory, but everybody was an ex-professor, ex-teacher, ex-accountant, because they lost their job and the only thing they could do was doing manual labor. So that was another thought, ‘Now hold on just a minute, this is not right.”
We went to the streets, we talked to them [the soldiers], and it essentially was pretty much hopeless. There were some guys who would throw the Molotov cocktails at the tanks, but it was pretty much useless. You cannot fight the tanks and an armed army with bare hands and with stones. And if you do, they will shoot you. So then I went home.
[When it came to emigration] one thing was easier for us, because for two years I had already guessed that there will be major economic problems in Czechoslovakia. Our factory was working at something like only 16% capacity. I thought I would have to emigrate for economic reasons. But of course the Russian invasion changed this into political reasons – that’s beyond debate.
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.
Things seemed right; not entirely right, but somewhat right. Things were far worse in Poland, where a person who was a Polish politician who lived on our street in London by the name of Mikołajczyk – they settled accounts with him by machine gun. Assassinations and so on. Things in Prague seemed to be ok, but not exactly right. And the bottom dropped out of things completely in February 1948.