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Dalibor Svoboda

Communist Satelite Countries

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Dalibor Svoboda, child, 8 years old. The fifties in Czechoslovakia.

I was walking with my father and grandfather down the street at my hometown, Brno. They were quietly discussing news from Budapest. Mostly it was grandfather who was talking. My father posed questions here and there or made short comments. I wanted to show them both that I was clever enough to follow their debate. Suddenly when they made a pause I said: “Yesterday six Russian armoured cars were hit and destroyed. And one Russian tank, too.” This was something one of comrades from my school class told me. Few of us friends discussed news from Hungary not actually understanding what was going on. One day our headmaster sent by schools radio circuit a speech about counterrevolution, which will not succeed. “The steel fist of the working class will crush the enemies of socialism”, he said. But we didn’t keep our fingers crossed for Red Army. My grandfather looked down at me: “You talked about this in school? You must be careful not to debate these things with strangers.” I was eight years old when the Hungarian uprising took place.

My grandfather listened regularly in the evenings to Radio Vienna. At six o’clock they send news and comments, which he afterwards described, for us at dinner table. The Vienna news was always different from the news sent by Prague radio. My grandmother wasn’t happy about grandfather's comments: “I do not think that you should talk about this in front of the child”, she had stern expression on her face when saying that. Grandfather usually stopped immediately despite me trying to persuade him to continue.

We lived together, my mum and dad, grandfather and grandmother in a three room flat near the downtown. My father worked as cartographer, which meant that he was often away from home measuring some new pieces of landscape. My mother worked too. It was often my grandmother who took care of me when my parents were working. I went quite often with her to visit her married sister, Marie. At her flat two of my older cousins, Vladimir and Jiri often waited for me with old scout books, forbidden in the same way as the scouts movement were forbidden. We were supposed to be red pioneers instead. I liked scouts more. I liked to read about all the adventurous things they did. The red pioneers wasn’t bad but I wasn’t allowed to become one because I was a churchgoer. These two things were incompatible. Later I succeeded in becoming a red pioneer when I refused to go to church anymore. My grandmother was very unhappy with my decision.

Around that time cousin Vladimir, twelve years older than me began his two years military service. He was placed with border troops guarding the West German - Czech frontier. Several times I heard his mother talking about how unhappy he was. “He is often bursting into the tears now days, he wrote us in his letter.” Vladimir was a sensitive soul. Rest of his life he played violin in different symphony orchestras in Czechoslovakia. One of the most unpleasant chores during his military service was to take care of the human bodies blown to pieces in the minefields. And they were quite a few! These unfortunates trying to escape from the communist regime seldom succeeded.

My mother’s family came from Prague. I was always keen to visit them together with her. It took five hours by fast train though the distance was only 200 kilometres. The relatives consisted of old aunts and uncles who were quite successful before communist party came to power in 1948. One of them was proprietor of coffee shop and patisserie, which was so well known that it delivered regularly their delicious cakes to Prague castle for the president.

Another of my uncles had a printing shop with four employees. When nationalization of industry by the Communist party took place they lost everything. They received no compensation. My uncle with printing shop was with his entire family forced to leave Prague for a small village far away. They weren’t allowed to take much with them, just few personal things and some clothes. Their car, some furniture and other valuables were confiscated. When they was allowed to returned back to Prague some years later they discovered that the whole ground floor of their villa was taken over by a police officer with his family. Luckily their villa did have two separate entrances. They moved to the upper floor, made bathroom to combined bathroom and kitchen and tried to repair their lives. Uncle, though he was quite old, was forced to work in Prague sewage system. He died after a few years as a broken man. Their daughter, Fanny was not allowed to study at the High School because of her “capitalist background”. She too was to be re-educated by harsh labour. It was many years later she got permission to take exam at vocational distance High School in Brno. It was at that time when she stayed with us for a few days taking her exams I learned more about her and her family’s plight in the fifties.

There have been shortages of consumer goods now and then but life wasn’t bad for a kid, who yet didn’t discover that the life could be lived differently.

Edited by Dalibor Svoboda

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Throughout the first part of sixties. Dalibor Svoboda, 12 to 14 years old.

I loved my grandfather. He was the nicest person around at the time I was on my way to discover the mysteries of life. He was carefully educating and lovingly caring for me like no one in my surrounding. This went on probably because I was his first grandson.

But there were moments when he suddenly left me alone brooding and quietly asking myself what he was after.

Once we met at the corner of the street near our house a tall and strangely opulent man with distant air on his face. His eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. My grandfather engaged in conversation with this never before seen stranger letting my hand he kept in his go. Who was this man? They talked in whispers and I in the meantime once again admired the text written in the Cyrillic alphabet at the wall of the building: “Mines NJET. The building searched through 24th of April 1945”

The man was a former RAF flyer just returned home back from Czech prison: “They beat him awfully there. He lost most of his sight in Jachymov.” said grandfather unhappily. “Why did they put him there?“, did I inquire eagerly.

Most of the RAF pilots together with other political prisoners ended in the concentration camps around Czech Republic. The one situated near the small village of Jachymov was the most horrible one; dangerous uranium ore was mined there by forced labour, after the communists came to power.

Well, we all learned about all kinds of heroes who bravely fought Hitler’s Germany in school but we were never told that there were heroes that ended in prison instead after the war. Why were their lives interrupted in this way? My grandfather tried to explain but I wasn’t prepared to accept his explanations. Indeed, I do remember that I was inpatient and rather angry with him that day.

Only later did I discover that there were cherished Czech heroes who fought together with Red Army on the east front and forgotten and silenced and strangely enough often punished (for what?) heroes who fought on the west front during the Second World War.

Or, the moment he surprised me in our dark bathroom showing me like contraband a book he called “the turning point of history”. The book had the name “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” and was written by never heard of writer with the name Solzhenitsyn. He urged me to read it but it was a boring book. The plot of the narrative was boring. Actually nothing special happened during the day of this hero. Ivan Denisovitch woke up, went to work as a bricklayer, ate fast his meals worrying that criminal gangs could steal it from him and went back to his barrack happy that he made through yet another day. That was it. Quite impossible to get through this story compared to others adventurous books we were given at my school to read at that time. Like the books about Zoja Kosmodemjanskaja or Pavel Morozov, the cherished heroes of communism. Or book about our own Julius Fucik, a communist caught and executed during the war by fascist. Why was grandfather so keen to introduce the rather boring Denisovitch´s life to me?

But yes, there was a slowly fading enthusiasm and growing feelings of despair everywhere around us. Kids like me weren’t so sophisticated in their understanding of the life in the country where “tomorrow was already yesterday”.

But the inconvenient reality came nearer and nearer. On one hand we were waiving red flags and portraits of Marx, Lenin and our own domestic leaders on communist holidays, on the other hand there have been growing shortages of common goods, fear of secrete police and unwillingness to talk about matters which debaters thought could harm them if listened to by informers.

We were always whispering when sitting around the kitchen table at Fanny’s family “flat” in Prague. When anyone of us raise the voice during our talks there was always someone else pointing his index finger at the floor thus reminding us that bellow with his family now lived an officer of “Statni bezpecnost” (“State Security police”). Did he or did he not install a listening device there in orders to spy at us? Nobody knew for sure, but it was a threatening thought to think.

And the tiny swimming pool in the garden outside was not filled with water for many years. Just think about the possibility to be reported as one who indulges in the bourgeois pleasures not accessible to ordinary workers building socialisms.

In this way many of us ordinary citizens adapted to lifestyle which helped us to navigate trough everyday life in order to avoid problems and confrontations with the “comrades” who demanded that they were for the first time of history in position to “command the wind and the rain” as they so nicely put it in their propaganda.

Edited by Dalibor Svoboda

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The project E-Help tries to produce educational modules in the subject History. These modules will be accessible when stored at Forums at internet when finnished.

Right now members of E-Help are producing national women’s history from the past 200 years.

So far I contributed with four biographies of Czech women. One of the women I wrote about, Milada Horakova went through unprecedented injustice in the hands of communist regime in my country, Czechoslovakia. Therefore I decided to published “her story” not only inside “The Other Half” section of E-Help but also in this section when I previously described my life as a kid and then as a teenager.

Maybe some of you reading what I wrote will publish a response ………

A documentary of Milada Horakova trial have been made and shown in Czechoslovakia. When this documentary reach you by your national television network, maybe some of you viewing it will publish here at this Forum a response, a commentary.

I think I would appreciate it a lot.

Milada Horáková (born 25.12.1901 – died 27.6. 1950)

Milada Kralova (her maiden name), was born on Christmas Eve 1901. She was the second child of a middle-class Prague family. Her father was a middle manager in a pencil factory and an ardent Czech patriot. Her mother devoted her life to her family which consisted of Milada’s older sister Marta and a younger brother, Jiri. At the beginning of the First World War, her sister and brother died almost simultaneously thus leaving the family in deep grief.

When Milada started her studies at Upper Secondary school, her mother gave birth to yet another child, Vera. When her mother died, the role of bringing up little Vera fell to Milada. Nevertheless, this did not altogether stop young Milada taking part in the turbulent events that occurred at the end of the war.

Because of her active participation in demonstrations against the war, where she threw roses over the wall into a soldiers’ camp, she was expelled from school. She restarted her studies at another school where she took her exams after Czechoslovakia was created in October 1918.

The new republic gave women equal opportunities to study any subject and to take any degree at university, something that was not possible during the Habsburgs’ reign, a period when women could only visit lectures in medicine and philosophy. Milada subsequently choose to study law at Charles University in Prague, though her first choice, which was not at all approved of by her father, was medicine. The years of studies were also the years in which she took part in cultural and political events in the newly created republic. One of her first engagements was with the Women´s National Council. She also met her first love at this time, Bohuslav, who was studying agricultural management. She took her Ph.D. in 1926. In the same year she also applied for membership of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party.

She married Bohuslav Horak and started her own carrier as a lawyer with the Prague City Council. There, her main task was to deal with social issues such as public housing and unemployment but she was also concerned with the welfare of unmarried and divorced mothers. At the same time, she was in close cooperation with the founder and chairman of the Woman’s National Council, Frantiska Plaminkova. This gave her the opportunity to travel outside the republic and to gain knowledge about how gender questions were deal with in other countries. These activities led to further engagements when new Czech legislation concerning gender issues was discussed and put forward. She was also able to promote her ideas through public speaking and participation at conferences in various parts of the republic.

At the end of 1933 she gave birth of a daughter, Jana.

After the signing of the Munich Pact in 1938, Milada Horakova, with the help of the Woman’s National Council together with Marie Provaznikova, the Chairwoman of gymnastic movement called Sokol, organised humanitarian help for the tens of thousands of Czech and German refugee families from the Sudetenland through the Committee for the Assistance of Refugees.

When Nazi Germany, through the creation of the Böhmen und Mähren protectorate, annexed the rest of Czech territory in March 1939, Milada Horakova joined the Resistance movement. Through the network of the Woman’s National Council, she gathered valuable information and secured safe houses for the members of the underground Resistance. She was also a co-writer of the Charter of Czech Resistance, a document which outlined the goals for free Czechoslovakia and the aim of the Resistance movement.

Together with her husband, Milada Horakova was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1940. Despite two long years of torture and interrogation inside Gestapos prisons in Prague Milada Horakova did not give in. From 1942, Milada Horakova was imprisoned at Little Fortress inside the concentration camp in Theresienstadt awaiting the verdict.

In 1944, the Gestapo passed the death sentence on Milada, but the court in Dresden changed the sentence to 8 years detention. Her husband was sentenced by the same court to 5 years. It was in Aichach, near Munich that she served her prison sentence, and here she was liberated by American troops at the end of the war.

On returning to the liberated republic of Czechoslovakia, Milada Horakova reentered public life, becoming a leading politician within in the Czechoslovak National Socialist party. She was a member of the temporary Czech Parliament, chairman of the Women’s National Council and co-founder of the Union of Political Prisoners and Survivors of Victims of Nazism. In the parliamentary election of 1946, she defended her seat, thus becoming one of the 55 MP’s of the Czechoslovak National Socialist party. This same year she was awarded two medals by President Benes, in commemoration of her anti-Nazi activities during the war.

Many of her political stand-offs led her into clashes and confrontations with the Czech Communist party. These started immediately after the war as a result of her public critique of the Communist-dominated People's Courts, which in some cases deliberately sentenced citizens accused of collaboration with Nazis. There were also the Communist party’s indefatigable attempts to infiltrate all other political parties and organizations. As an upright democrat, Milada Horakova tried to prevent these undermining activities at the Women’s National Council and inside the Czechoslovak National Socialist party.

Then, in the month of February 1948, after the resignation of the coalition government, the Communist party, together with pro-communist members from other political parties, formed a new Communist government. On the streets of Prague the armed People’s Militia marched in support of communists. The communist created a “people’s democracy” regime and started nationalizing all private property. The non-communist politicians, as well as intellectuals and other opponents to Communism were in many cases forced out of their jobs and positions in society. Many of them tried to leave the republic.

Milada Horakova was removed from all her public assignments, but despite advice to emigrate, she would not leave the republic. “My place is at home” was the answer she gave to those who urge her to leave. As a faithful democrat, she felt oblige to fight the upcoming dictatorship. Somehow, naively, she thought that the communists would, in due time, be forced from power by the same forces that defeated the Nazis. On the 10th of March 1948, the popular foreign minister, Jan Masaryk mysteriously died on the pavement bellow the bathroom window of his flat. Milada Horakova left her parliamentary seat on the same day with the words “From now on I will wander a straight path.”

A small group of dedicated people began to organize themselves into a movement of resistance against the communist regime. An informal group, centred on the former Czechoslovak National Socialist party MP´s Milada Horakova and Josef Nestaval, was formed. The group tried to keep contact with former ministers from the Czechoslovak National Socialist party. And there were the same tasks to be done as under the Nazi occupation: safe houses and escape routes out of Czechoslovakia for the persecuted.

In 1949 the round-ups by the secret police, the StB, of those opposed to the communist regime began and the first harsh prison sentences were passed and executions began.

Milada Horakova was arrested on the 27th of September 1949. Even her husband Bohumil was placed under house arrest for a short while, together with their daughter, but he was lucky enough to escape through a window and backyard trying in vain to warn his wife.

It was not yet clear what she should or could be tried for. The thirteen people arrested together with Milada Horakova were politically active in three different parties. The scenario of the trial was rewritten several times under the supervision of two Soviet political-trial experts, Lichacov and Makarov, who worked closely with the StB. Finally, the trial was presented as the case against “Milada Horakova and company”.

The interrogations of detainees were inhuman. Needless to say, all those accused agreed entirely to confess to the fabricated crimes. As witnessed years later by one of the survivor of the trial, Frantisek Preucil, it was not possible to withstand the interrogation methods: “After seven months in Ruzyne prison I was willing to put my signature to any document, even one stating that I murder my own grandmother.” Preucil also described his confrontation at the trial with Milada Horakova: “Her eyes! Her look wasn’t any more her look. It wasn’t her anymore standing in front of me.”

The trial of “Milada Horakova and company” started at 31st of May 1950. During the last months of their detention, all the accused had to memorize and follow carefully the written script of the StB. This included both the questions they would be asked by the prosecutors as well as the answers they were ordered to give.

The media, dominated by the Communist Party, described the accused: … “as the traitors of the republic… as the criminals who joined against the people of the republic in order to thrust a dagger in their back …..as the rats plotting from sewers against the working class …. as professional agents of the American, English or French imperialists ….. as the gauleiters and little Hitlers”.

People of Czechoslovakia, from factories, shops, offices, universities and military service bases responded with more than 6,000 resolutions, which were delivered to the court during the final days of the trial, demanding the highest possible sentence: the death sentence for all the accused.

The verdicts came on the 8th of June 1950. The accused were convicted on charges of high treason and espionage. The verdicts were four death sentences, four life imprisonments and five sentences ranging from 15 to 28 years. One of the four death sentences was passed on Milada Horakova.

There were protests from abroad against this harsh injustice by prominent persons like Albert Einstein. Although Milada Horakova’s ageing father, together with her daughter, Jana begged the president, Klement Gottwald for clemency all efforts were in vain.

Three days before her execution, Milada Horakova started to write her last letters to her family and friends - eleven letters, in total eighteen pages. They are the writings of an unbroken woman; a woman full of spirit, a woman trying to give those nearest to her some love and hope for the future even though she herself would be absent.

The evening before her execution she was allowed a fifteen-minute long visit from her daughter together with Milada´s younger sister Vera and her husband.

Milada Horakova was hanged on the morning of the 27th of June 1950.

P.S.

Between 1948 and 1960, 234 politically motivated executions were carried out in communist Czechoslovakia. 233 men and 1 woman, Milada Horakova.

The letters Milada Horakova wrote during her last three days in life were never delivered to the addressees. They were eventually published in a small booklet in Prague in 1990.

Milada Horakova expressed a wish to be buried at the family grave alongside her mother. Her ashes were, however, put into an unidentified, common-grave in the Prague-Strasnice graveyard some years after the execution.

Bohumil Horak escaped from Czechoslovakia in December 1949. He followed the trial against his wife from the Valka refuge camp situated near Nuremburg in West Germany. In 1951, Bohumil Horak moved to the United States of America. Bohumil Horak died on the 13th October 1976.

Jana Horakova, Milada Horakova’s daughter, stayed with the family of Milada’s sister Vera and her husband until 1968. She was allowed to leave Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring when she moved to the United States of America to be with her father.

Milada Horakova was finally rehabilitated in 1968 and fully acquitted in 1990. Today, monuments have been raised to her memory and many streets and avenues bear the name of Milada Horakova in cities and towns throughout the Czech Republic.

The Czechoslovak National Socialist Party was established 1897. The ranks of the party included industrial and farm workers as well as shopkeepers and small entrepreneurs. A large proportion of railway workers and state employees were also members. It also had a good following among teachers and the intelligentsia. The Czechoslovak National Socialist Party was the only party seriously competing with Social Democrats for workers’ votes. The policy of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party was to promote the interest of the lower-income groups. After 1918, the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party became the main supporter of Edward Benes, first as Foreign Minister and later when he became President 1935.

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