There was a misunderstanding, they believed only Communists were socially progressive, I thought that was retrograding, that was never really social progress. So I brought it to this man again by the side door, he gave me the stamp and the next day I was in Austria going to Switzerland.
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.
So we joined someplace and went to this castle to support President Beneš. Oh yeah, many, many thousands. And some people from the streets also joined us and they were supporting us. Only the militia and the police stopped us there. We couldn’t talk to the president.
Over there, with kids, we go out hiking or something, we find an anti-aircraft machine gun, we find piles of ammunition and rifles. I remember we found an abandoned Tiger tank and about 15 of us started carrying ammunition and just dumping it in the open hatch – this was deep in the woods – and then we emptied out big shell casings and made a long path of gunpowder that went about half mile away, and lit it. What a bang. That was the entertainment for after the war for kids.
I no longer fit in. It’s a very strange feeling, which cannot be unique among emigrants, that when I walk in Prague I feel like a tourist. It’s the town I was born in, I spent the first 28 years of my life, and still I don’t know really how it works now, having been out of there for 45 years.
Growing up in Montreal, there was an enormous Czech community and it was extremely vibrant. Interestingly enough, it was a homogenous group in the way that they interacted with one another, but they were anything but homogenous in terms of where they came from, because there were Czechs, there were Slovaks and there were people from every part of Czechoslovakia.
In 1944, the Germans started taking away women who were, and who had been, married to Jewish men. And they had a camp, a slave labor camp, in Prague. And in that camp they manufactured windshields for German fighter airplanes. So my mother was taken to that camp. And before she left she hid me with some friends, actually farmers, that we had been living with after the Germans expelled us from our home.
There was propaganda night and day. Night and day. Communists have the same thing. Night and day propaganda. Propaganda, that’s all they can do, propaganda, because they have nothing else to give. Radio, movies, or news. Propaganda on a streetcar. They write ‘Victory.’ Stuff like that.
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.