We would hear bombing from whatever was the nearest German town, and all of a sudden one Sunday ‘Americans! They’re coming!’ you know, and so we went to the road, it was a state road which went between Vimperk and Strakonice, and we waved and there were kids, you know, that’s what you see in Afghanistan, that’s what the kids did.
It was great. There were no cars, as I remember, in 1960. There were no cars in the streets. We played ball games; we divided the street into two halves, and there were no cars coming. There was one car parked down the street. I remember postal wagons drawn by horses and the horse had the little package of hay in front of him and he was eating, and then they brought – Polska was a pub – so the horses brought the ice to the pub and hauled it down to the cellar to keep the beer nice and cold.
I was obsessed with history, it was clear. Everyone in my class knew that I was obsessed with history; I had the best knowledge of history in the classroom, always challenging the teacher and reading history books under the desk. I had a vast library because due to the fate which befell my relatives on my father’s side, my grandfather and uncle, when they were arrested, some of their books – if they were not confiscated – landed in our house.
We couldn’t visit parks, we couldn’t go to the movies, we couldn’t travel without a permit, and we had to wear the Star of David. So you had to be marked. And that was not a very pleasant thing, and not necessarily because of the fact that you had to deliver your sporting equipment.
I would like to mention that life in Czechoslovakia in the early ‘70s, for a child, you couldn’t have anything better. It was very sweet. You could go anywhere as a child, especially in a small city like Strážnice: 6,000 people, two elementary schools, two churches, a high school. On one side you have vineyards and little hills; on the other side you have the Morava River with some sandy beaches and twists and turns in the river.
I have a diploma in Marxism-Leninism. I was vice-chairman of the head and neck surgery department so, as one of the top positioned physicians, I had to be well educated in politics. So Marxism – the philosophy and economy and whatever else comes… I had to go and take a state exam at the state board, and I have a diploma in political sciences now.
It remains always the same, and that reminds me very much of my childhood, of my happiest days. Perhaps they have internet nowadays but I doubt it, and people are still genuine and the same, and there is a road there and people probably have cars but there is still only the one shop, one pub. Nobody ever moves and the traditions remain, and I love that. There are very few places in the world that you can come and still find the same after many, many years away.
Three weeks after the victory, I went to a bookshop and the owner said ‘You were talking German. I’m calling the police.’ I said ‘Yes, I was talking German to an anti-fascist German soldier.’ ‘No, no. You were talking German. I have to tell the police.’ Fortunately, I had my identity card at that time which said ‘Prisoner in so-and-so [labor camp]’ and so I showed it and he said ‘Well, I must have made a mistake.’
There was that one unfortunate, well, peculiar incident just one year before I went to gymnázium when I was on the street with a couple of my friends and one of them was eating, I think it was plums, and was spitting the pits out into the street. And suddenly a German who had a swastika attached to the fender of his car stopped and seized us, claiming that we were desecrating the German flag.
For the rest of us like me, [the war] was the most beautiful time because we had a beautiful friendship. All the time I was going to the gymnázium and our class was going together and we had a very, very close friendship. The reason for that was, you see, there was nothing else to do