We remember the Nazi occupation for sure. Even as kids, we know how the situation is, we understand it. Even if we were young kids, it didn’t bother us much, but we knew it was a really serious thing, especially after the Heydrich assassination and so on. ‘Keep your mouth shut and be careful.’
You know, yes of course, you have those memories and associations, but is it some kind of an idealized, background-music, lots of violins [experience] standing looking at your house, and immediate flashbacks? No, it’s not. It’s in a way awkward, because you really realize that time goes by and your life is someplace else – that’s only part of you, that’s only what you lived through, that’s only where you went to school or whatever. But whatever you took from there, you have. Going back is not going to change it.
Maybe a year before leaving the country – so when I was 20, 21 – I got baptized at home, at my friend’s home, where we were meeting regularly, reading evangelical, but, you know, very modern guys, like Bonhoeffer and these freedom evangelists – you know, people who were rather avant-garde in terms of their theological thinking.
We were washing dishes and the soldiers showed up and told my mother and my father that we need to pack up something that we can carry on our backs and we are going to leave. So we were taken to the camp in – the concentration camp – in Žilina. You know the difference, there is a concentration camp and there is an extermination camp, so we were just taken to the first place.
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.
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…
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.
My son was in kindergarten, no actually, he was in nursery school and we went along the street for a walk and there was a big poster of Lenin and my [son] said ‘Look mommy, Comrade Lenin!’ And she said ‘This is enough. I don’t want this anymore. I had enough. They put it into the children. We have to go. We have to leave.’
His colleagues were teasing him and said ‘What if you said this?’ When my dad sat before the microphone, he blurted that out, and of course, before he was finished, a couple of Gestapo officers were waiting for him and took him into this infamous Petschkuv Palac. My father wasn’t tortured, but he was interrogated for 24 hours