I came back to Prague with a paper saying I can come back to America as an expert. They’re going to take me to work. I came like a big man with a smile – I know how naïve I was; I know it today and I knew it later – I took the paper, I took vacation the next two weeks, I spent my money because I was happy, happy, happy [thinking] I’m going to America, right?
When I was younger I didn’t want to speak Slovakian. I thought it was a dumb language and I didn’t need and why would I use it. There’s not a lot of Slovakians… There’s no real use for the Slovak language in America, but there are communities that you can get along with. But now I am so thankful that I know Slovak
There were a lot of Czechs, a lot of Slovaks, a lot of Romanians. The camp wasn’t too bad. We were one of the luckier ones – we had a small cottage. They even had hot showers there. A lot of other people weren’t as lucky. They slept in a tent and had to use public showers which they had there. The food was horrible, I mean horrible.
We arrived in Vienna and spent four days in Vienna, staying with a friend. But we didn’t feel safe there to ask for political asylum because Vienna was too close to home and we heard about Communist agents roaming the city. So we proceeded; we got on the road and we hitchhiked to Italy.
I said ‘I’m not going to leave. I’m going to fight for the freedom and I’m staying here.’ I did not want to leave. When we got occupied by the Russians, I was involved in it and [when] I went back, second day, to the hospital, we put posters there and we all wore black because we did that at midnight when the Russian tanks were all around the streets. So I was involved in it and I was hoping that the Prague Spring, nobody is going to kill it because we were going to win.
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.
We experienced Chernobyl in 1985 and we didn’t know about it for I don’t know how many days after it happened; after the press was forced to admit that something happened. They were denying [it]. Of course, it was all over the world, everybody was talking about it. If you listened to Radio Free Europe or any other station from abroad, it was discussed or talked about it, and the official line was nothing happened.
And then going to school was fascinating, because there was a lot of shrapnel on the road, and it was suggested that it would be helpful to collect the shrapnel, so we had bags or buckets or whatever, putting the pieces of shells in to collect so that they could melt it and shoot it back.
If I want to be honest, I had a bad education because those three or four years when I was in high school, we were learning about the Germans, and what was actually produced in Germany and history in Germany, every city in Germany, and we were actually neglecting quite of bit of education that we should have. Except maybe mathematics, but the rest of them – it was really poor education at that time.
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.