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Jindřiška Havrlantová
The main prisons and forced labour camps in communist Czechoslovakia
 
 
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Jindřiška Havrlantová

Jindřiška Havrlantová was from a farming family. She was arrested with her father on March 8, 1954 and sentenced to 18 years of prison. She was released on February 20, 1963.

 

 

Interview with Mrs. Jindřiška Havrlantová

 

"We didn't want freedom for ourselves, but for everyone." ~Mrs. Jindriška Havrlantová

 
Interviewer: Klára Pinerová

This interview's English translation has been gratefully edited by Ms.Olivia Webb.

 

At the beginning I would like to ask about your childhood and where you were born.

 

I was born in the Hostýnské Mountains[1] on 28 October 1929. I wasn't even six years old when I started school. I also had a sister who was four years older and I really liked her books. I was even able to count up to ten by twos by age six. However, there was a lot of work around and as a five-year-old I had two cows - but in retrospect, I am grateful. I was really interested in school and I would wake up at four in the morning so that I would not be late for school. It was an hour-long trip. The school was further down the lower end of Rajnochovice[2].

 

You had school in the village?

 

Yes, it was in Rajnochovice and on the building it was written: "To our kids." There were eight grades in our school, but we had only four classes. I left with honors, but it didn't help me because I didn't go anywhere else. When I was nine years old Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk[3] died. It was raining at that time and we took our shoes off because there was a lot of water running on the road. We came to school and there was a black flag. Then the principal came and said: "Kids. When you come to school tomorrow, I want each of you to bring a flower." We had the rest of the day off, and there were no classes for about three days. Each kid brought a flower. Because of all the candles, the black board caught fire and burned down. I remember my mom saying, "What will happen now?" They liked Masaryk a lot. Grandma answered: "There will be a war." And there was.

 

How big was your farm?

 

We were living on Bílová[4], on the meadows. There were just a few people, seven cottages, perhaps. Each had a part of the field and that's how we would make a living. We had cows, three or four for plowing the field. We were raising pigs and poultry. During the war we were ordered to contribute supplies. We had to hand over pork, beef, butter, and eggs. But we were not given punishments or charged fees for failing to fulfill the requirements. At that time we couldn't get money anywhere. We were just happy to survive and grateful to have the bare necessities. They required 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of butter per year. We were handing in butter each Monday, once a week then. Many times we didn't even have one egg left for us, but at least we were getting money for them. We always had to bring the supplies to town hall. German controls never came to us. Once, when we failed to fulfill the requirements, my dad told them, "I have nothing to pay you with. I'd rather go sit in prison," but they didn't arrest him. We usually bought salt and yeast from the store. As kids we always had to help during the harvest.

 

Were there any German patrols accommodated in Rajnochovice?

 

In Rajnochovice there was a big depot of Czechoslovak ammunitions. In 1939, Germans took everything away. As I said, Germans were not walking around the countryside, but they were in the village. They were checking on municipal authorities and even businessmen. Once they came to us. I was home alone at the time. They just wanted to know the way from Bílová to Rajnochovice. They were very polite and thanked me for my advice, but I was still afraid of them.

 

Do you recall the beginning of the Protectorate (Bohemia and Moravia)?

 

Well, the bad times started then. I was going through it with my dad because my dad was really interested in politics. We didn't have a radio because we didn't even have electricity, which wasn't installed until 1948. At least the forester had a battery-powered radio. When we were occupied by Hitler, Dad went to the forester's to listen. Then he came and said, "It's sad, our people are determined to fight, but it would be a worthless waste of blood." I was paying attention because it concerned me as well. Then it started. On Bílová there were seven cottages, and in one of them they didn't have any kids. Dad was friends with the neighbors who were living over the hill and once they came to us and said that they would move paratroopers to us. Their surname was Měsícovi. They said that they wouldn't bother us for long. They wanted to stay in our stalls, which were empty at that time. Dad agreed to it, but was afraid because we had a childless neighbor who would walk around eavesdropping at night. It was agreed that they would come to our stalls. Finally, we didn't hide paratroopers there. It didn't take long and my schoolmate came and asked what homework did we have for school and I asked him, "Well Franta, how is it possible that you don't go to school?" He answered me, "You don't know that our whole family was picked by the Gestapo?" They were all arrested during one evening. There were five sons and they spared only their mom and dad, but finally they were later arrested as well. Their mom died in Dachau. Three of the sons were finally executed in 1942. One returned, but their dad died a month later. Those were very honest people. While they were going to the execution they were singing a popular national song called Green Groves.

 

Were Měsícovi executed for hiding paratroopers?

 

They were hiding paratroopers who were later caught at the border. One of them confessed about their hiding place which made me worry that he would betray us since these were the same paratroopers that were supposed to hide in our stalls. Luckily, nothing happened. From 1942 partisans started to walk around. The first who came were Nikolai and Ivan. They were prisoners of war that had escaped from their camp. We didn't know them. They wanted alcohol and cigarettes from my dad, but he was completely abstinent and a nonsmoker. They didn't know this and didn't believe it at all; and they pointed at him with a gun. They were really belligerent. I was so scared that I started yelling: "See, we really don't have any! He doesn't smoke - come and look. We don't have any!" Then they calmed down. From 1942 we didn't have one calm night. Often there were as many as forty or fifty partisans barging in throughout the night. We never got a good night sleep. As soon as we turned the lights off, the dogs started barking, and the partisans would start knocking on the door.

 

You lived in the meadows and partisans came to visit you every evening. What memories do you have on them?

 

The commander of the partisans was Stěpanov Ivan. He was a fair guy. Štěpanov always gave his own opinion. He was a smaller man, blond, and a peace-loving person. He was strict with partisans, but wanted to oblige people. He didn't let anyone get hurt. I really liked him. In 1944 Murzin[5], a new commander, was supposed to arrive and so partisans wanted to welcome him[6]. A day before, they were waiting for a plane, standing on guard. They wanted a pig from us, but we didn't have one. We owned just a sow with small piglets and we didn't want to give that up. Dad offered a sheep, but they were not interested. Finally they got a pig from our neighbor, my uncle. They came to our house to cook it and get it ready for the celebrations. The uncle, who had owned the pig, came to us the next morning and told my dad, "If you have the partisans over here, tell them to leave because they stole my pig and I'm going to report it. The Germans will come here to check it." Dad didn't even have time to give him an answer as to whether we had partisans over or not. When our uncle was on his way home, the partisans beat him up. My cousin went to report it, unfortunately. He didn´t have to do it, however, because he was afraid that it would be found out and his family would get into more trouble. He could have easily gone to report it the following week. At the police station there were only two people, to whom he made the report to them and went back home. Then, the next morning, they would take Murzin across the fields and meadows down to the neighbors. There they shaved him and he ate as well. When he found out about the report, he gave a command, "So this is how the "meadowers" behave? We will be fighting and still they betray us?" At that time, many partisans emerged from the forest, in two lines. It was terrible. My cousin was already back home from the police station and the partisans stabbed him to death. They lit his house on fire and accidentally shot my aunt dead too. Uncle was the only survivor. At that time, when someone said the name Murzin, I didn't understand how one could give out such a command.

 

How did you live through the end of the war?

 

Once a doctor went to take care of a wounded person, but his wife was frightened when suspicious people came to pick him up. He didn't come back for a long time, so she went to report it to the police. When he later came home to find out that she had reported it, he was terrified. Nothing could be done and he said that he would hide in an abandoned cottage. The abandoned cottage was a gamekeeper's house in Bílova which was near our house. It was morning, February 8, 1945 and the end of the war was close. I got up in the morning, looked out the window, and saw many German SS soldiers standing side by side. Dad was mixing feed for the animals so he couldn't see anything but just heard: "Achtung!" Partisans ran out and blocked all the doors and told them they couldn't get in. We had to listen follow the partisans' orders because we had empty hands. Shooting started and a bullet flew right by my temple. Everything at that moment was in God's hands. We hid down in the cellar. Then the shooting stopped, we got out, and saw that our cottage was on fire. We had tar on the roof that was popping because of the fire. The Germans insisted that there were munitions, but it was just tar. The partisans made a mistake, they didn't stay alert and in the morning they were sleeping like the dead. I was the first one who saw the Germans. One partisan died in the fire; another guy named Boris was shot. Three neighbors were shot and another gave up.[7]

 

What were you able to salvage?

 

Dad ran away because he wanted to save some machines, but everything was burnt down anyways. That really shook him up. Mom let all the cattle loose, while I was taking some clothes from the closets so that I would have something left. I didn't have a clue what would happen because I was just fifteen years old. It was terribly cold, and the snow was up to the knees. They dragged all the cattle to Loučka where there was a Gestapo base and they slaughtered them. We were taken to Bystřice pod Hostýnem prison where we were interrogated.

 

What did the interrogation look like?

 

There was one Austrian guy who could speak Czech. Once they beat me with small chains because I didn't want to say out the names. It lasted for about a month. They arrested my mom, dad, and me - and also my sister who was living at a rectory, but they released her after a week. My sister didn't live with us. She was supposed to go to Germany for work, but a priest in Rajnochovice took her as a cook. We were taken to Brno to the prison called Cejl. I was there as a youth and I was getting double portions, but I wasn't hungry so I would share it with the others. I was dead tired and I didn't have a taste for food. At Cejl there were twenty-four of us and many bedbugs. Each evening we had to put a scarf around our necks so they wouldn't eat us. There were terrible conditions. Every time there was an air raid we had to stuff a straw mattress into the window through which the guard gave us food. Right before the War the Germans let Mom and I go...but to where could we go? We had just a little shed by the house, which is where we finally went. But we didn't have spoons, cups, nothing. The clothes that I had saved were also burnt, so I didn't have anything to wear. People helped us out a lot and we tried to get reparations since we wanted to build a new cottage. The communists offered to relocate us to the border area[8], but Dad didn't want that. Dad made many trips to the reparation office after he returned from Brno. After asking for reparations for the eight times, he took off his coat and said: "I'm not going there again. They want me to join the party, and claim that I would receive reparations afterwards. Without joining, I could still get them...but I cannot build on our land." Already it was forbidden to build new houses in the mountains. Only little chalets could be built. Mom and I were even willing to go to the border area, but Dad said: "I'm not going to a foreign place. It would tear my heart. I had my own place, which was all that I wanted, and I will not go to a foreign place." Of course we didn't go anywhere in the end.

 

Do you remember what happened to the commanders of the partisans after the war?

 

I don't know whether it is true or not, but I heard that after the war Murzin and Stěpanov met face to face on Černava Hill and Murzin won. We were at Stěpanov's funeral[9].

 

What did life in the village look like after the war?

 

In the meadows there were seven cottages left. We stayed there, The Pánkov family went to the border area, the childless Kubičkov family had died. In 1946 there were elections. I still wasn't old enough to vote though. The damage was appraised at 700,000 crowns, but we got only 40,000. We had to buy everything for that, including cattle. We were still living in the little shed and it was very small and uncomfortable and we were trying to enlarge it. The year 1948 was very cruel. We already had a radio and electricity, but in winter there were problems; sometimes we didn't have electricity. At that time we found out from the radio what was going on. Then we were getting information about other stuff, from everywhere around. In 1949 a group, Hostýnské Hory[10] started and many of our friends were put in prison. In total it was more than 700 people. My cousin's husband, who was named Doležal, was one example. My cousin was ill; her mother was ill; and they had two kids, a horse, and a shed full of cattle. I went to help them with Daddy. The authorities kept arresting someone all the time.

 

Did you know the reason why they were arrested?

 

Dissatisfaction, of course. The Hostýnské Hory group started in 1949. Some people were arrested and then released again for a lack of evidence. Finally they were all arrested again, and in 1952 there was a hearing where six people were executed as a warning. That was the same year that we became involved with an anti-state group[11]. I wasn't very sympathetic to the Communist party because of how they treated us after the war. You could either join the Communist party or move to the border area. I couldn't imagine myself sitting and waiting with my arms crossed.

 

How did your anti-state activities start?

 

Through Mrs. Románková we were introduced to Josef Mach. In our group we agreed that Mach would be hidden by the Kovář and Žídek family. Both of these families had seen family members get arrested because they were members of the Hostýnské Hory anti-communist group in 1949. However, their sons also decided to stand up against Communists. Mach wanted to leave for abroad, saying he would leave a radio to communicate with. My boyfriend Karel, who escaped from the army with a sub-machine gun, also went into hiding. Also, Alena Svobodová was hiding with them as well. That lasted for quite a long time; and later, they didn't really continue to hide. People in Rajnochovice would meet them and wonder who they were. They all wanted to escape abroad, but they were all waiting for the most opportune moment. Mach wanted to make the group bigger and take other people from the surrounding villages. So he kept hiding in Rajnochovice, but the secret police started to follow him. I also had a feeling that something was amiss and that I was being spied on. Once I was walking to the dentist when a car stopped and wanted to give me a ride. I knew I was being followed by it, so I refused. I needed to give some messages to people in hiding and I didn't want to give them away.

 

How long were you hiding them?

 

It started in 1952, which was when we began with our activities, until March 8, 1954. That means two years then.

 

What did your anti-state activity involve? Were you arrested for just hiding people or did you try to expand your involvement into other areas?

 

Aside from hiding these three people we were also smuggling guns and transmitting messages through the radio. Once we even heard these messages from Radio Free Europe. We were working this way so that the Communists would be a little afraid and people would be aware of what they were doing. I finally got eighteen years of prison and others sentences were twenty and twenty-five years. We were sentenced with people we really didn't know, because Josef Mach organized another group. Those were also farmers named Gába, Hruška... The army court sentenced Karel to death, but that was a year after our sentencing. Alena and I were in the process together.

 

How did they find out about you and your group?

 

The first person arrested was Josef Zajíček, to whom Mach gave a letter.  Zajíček then went by bus to southern Moravia, where he was supposed to send the letter. There they arrested him, examined him, and took the letter. That was a week before our arrest. First, Zajíček didn't come back and we didn't know why. Then Mr. Žídek didn't return home from work. Right after that the arresting started.

 

What was your arrest like?

 

When I was young I used to go out to village parties and let men walk me home. One young man was taking me home this way and when we were going through the forest when all of a sudden we heard, "Put your hands up." I wasn't surprised, but the guy walking me home was frightened because he didn't have a clue what was happening. They probably thought I was meeting Karel, the one who escaped from the army, in the evenings, but I never went out to meet him. When Karel appeared after his escape, I bluntly asked: "Why did you leave? What do you want here?" He was offended by what I said and we rarely ever met after that. But on that night, they just frightened us. Two weeks after this, on March 8, 1954 they came to arrest Dad and me. They knocked on the window and daddy went to get the door. I don't know how many of them came. They just said: "Ms. Růčková, get up - the time of settlement has come." I got so angry: "You want to settle with me, but I didn't do anything!" At that moment I was really sorry I didn't have a gun for myself although I was offered one by Josef Mach. Today I don't regret that anymore. Who knows what would have happened if I had had one. I didn't feel guilty at all: all we wanted was a good life for ourselves and for others. Dad and I had to get dressed; mom was crying. Then they took us to Bystřice.

 

Do you know how Alena Svobodová, Josef Mach, and Karel were finally arrested?

 

When dad and I were taken to prison, in Rajnochovice we could see that something was happening, but we didn't have a clue what. Josef, Karel, and Alena were in Rajnochovice with the Kovář family when we were arrested. In the morning hours the secret police got to them and had a shootout. They shot one boy there and they took his body with them. Even today, no one knows where he ended up. Another nine-year old kid lost his nerves and never got well again. But it's interesting that the Žítkova family, the other family where we were hiding people at, wasn't arrested. Only the Kovář family had to pay the price. Those three - Josef, Karel, and Alena - were lucky to escape; Karel was shot in his heel, but he took the bullet out himself. Alena Svobodová, from Brno, went with him and took care of him. They got home to Bílová where they were hiding for another month; by that time, Karel's leg had really began to heal. Once a forester came and offered to take them to safety. Instead, he took them to where the secret police were waiting to arrest them. Josef Mach also escaped and he was hiding in Loučka by Kunovice. There, he established another group. Mach trusted the sister of Mr. Žídek. She worked as a nurse in a hospital in Kroměříž. He confided everything to her, and even told her where the code key was for breaking messages. She was bringing him medicines, pretending she was working for us. But she wasn't arrested with us and she faced no confrontation. His escape looked like this: one farmer, who was in another group also organized by Josef Mach, took him to a designated spot. There was an ambulance car standing there that Žítková was supposed to get. She was supposed to give a signal that the air was clear, but when they came to the certain place and she gave him the signal, Mach already saw that the ambulance was filled with secret police. So he shot himself.

 

Did you ever meet Alena in prison?

 

Yes, we were together in Pardubice, but we weren't in the same cell. But Pardubice was alright' the worst was Uherské Hradiště[12] - that was a famine. From Hostýnské Hory we knew that Grebeníček[13] was in power there. In the morning we got a little piece of bread and were told that our morning bread was also for supper. For supper they gave us a little piece of Olomoucký Cheese. I always ate everything before evening. Conditions in the prison were horrible. While sleeping we had to have our hands on the blanket, but when you fall asleep they slide underneath. You can easily fall asleep on a dirty straw mattress, under dirty blankets, and on a dirty pillow. When one comes exhausted from questioning, one falls asleep very quickly.

 

Where did they take you after your arrest?

 

They took me to Bystřice, but that wasn't a real prison anymore. That was some kind of storage facility. After a couple of hours I could hear when they brought someone else in next door. So I knocked the morse code on the wall and it was Ilonka Romanová from our group. Her mom was arrested three days later. We only stayed in Bystřice until evening, and then they took us to Uherské Hradiště, where examinations went on until the morning. The interrogations lasted about a month.

 

What did the interrogations look like? How did the investigators treat you?

 

They no longer beat us. I was really surprised about that, because in 1952 they were beating the men from the group, Hostýnské Hory, very badly. Yet, the behavior of the guards was very mean - and we were always blindfolded with a handkerchief, so I didn't see anything. I would walk slowly because there were steps, but the guards didn't really care and they dragged us from one side of the corridor to the other. We promised each other we wouldn't say anything and I would tell myself that I could not break that. Then I realized that there was a lot already out. They got my accomplices to speak and they had a great deal of information on me and noted that I had never admitted to anything. Finally I got eighteen years. From March 8 to August 14 I was confined to. I had a little spider there and I was looking after it. It was there with me for the whole time. There was just a small bench, bed, and two steps so that one could do their business. There was a horribly dirty blanket that stunk. They never let me sleep. They starved me and then interrogated me long into the evening and at night.

 

What did you go through in your solitary cell?

 

I divided my day this way. First I prayed; then I sang; and then I recited some poetry. Sometimes I put a letter together for my mom, which I would then say aloud while walking around in my cell. In the interrogation cell I didn't get one letter. On August 14 I had a hearing. It was strung out over several days, but I didn't have a hearing with my dad because he was sentenced in another court. In 1960 there was amnesty, but I wasn't released because our case involved guns. They let me out on February 20, 1963.

 

When did you have the hearing?

 

The court hearing, which lasted for three days, took place at Uherské Hradiště. It was secret so my mom wasn't present. For a brief period after the hearing I stayed in Hradiště where I worked in the laundry and then my hands started to be sore. So then they put me in the kitchen to peel potatoes, which was nice because we actually got something to eat. I had festers all over my body because of the bad food. I was used to everything that was homemade and there all kinds of unnatural preservatives and additives. We stayed in Uherské Hradiště for about a month, and then they took me to Pankrác[14]. I only stayed there for a couple of nights, but I have some really ugly memories from that. I slept upstairs in a double-room and dogs kept howling all night. I was looking out the window while girls were saying that there would be executions again. There on the square where the executions were held, mothers rested with the babies they had borne in prison. We stayed at Pankrác for three nights, and then we went to Chrudim for a short while. Finally they took us back to Pardubice. I arrived in 1954 and stayed there until 1963 when I was released. They put me into a sewing workshop right away even though I didn't understand it at all. Anyways, I quickly got into it and the sewing machine quickly became my friend, but the main thing was that in Pardubice we were living so freely. After one of us had a visit, she would share it with everyone. I must tell you that we all got along really well there since we were all of the same opinion and frame of mind. We knew about those who were snitching and we ignored them; I, for one, didn't talk to them at all. I was surrounded by a very nice circle of friends.

 

What was your arrival to Pardubice like?

 

After our arrival we went to get check-up from Doctor-Prisoner Blanka Picková. I went to section A and there were about 16 others girls, but no one paid attention to me. My accomplice was put into section B, so I was completely alone and didn't know anyone. It was a three story building that had to be made lower after the detonation in Semtín.[15] There were twenty-four girls in the same room with bunk-beds. I came with my bag like some kind of bag-lady. They just pointed to the bed where I should sleep. On the bunk-beds I was always sleeping up on top because I was younger. None of the Czech girls paid attention to me there, as they were all lying on the bunks and resting. Then it was 2 o'clock and I was still sitting there like a bag-lady. My bundle was still next to me because I still didn't know how to fold my blankets or anything since no one had shown me how. All of a sudden, Elfy Tandler came up, started asking me questions, and realized how hungry I really was. She brought me bread, grease, cheese, and jam. There we were already allowed to take bread without limits. She was really nice to me and even made my bed. She was really treating me well. She was a German, but spoke Czech very well. I will never forget about that. She wasn't a retribution prisoner[16], but a political one. Then, after the other Germans came, she would sometimes talk them rather than me, but I didn't obstruct her. Afterwards she always came back. After her release, she married a Czech and moved to Frankfurt. Even my daughter would later visited her in Germany.

 

Were you sharing the room with criminal prisoners as well?

 

At the beginning we were all political prisoners, but then they started mixing us with prostitutes, gypsies, and angel women who worked with abortions. It was ok until 1960, but after the amnesty political prisoners were separated into different rooms and they were usually the only one together with criminal prisoners. The guards feared the gypsies because they were always fighting among themselves. Some guards were such heroes that they were afraid to step in between them, so they told us: "Help yourselves somehow." The gypsies were nice to us and didn't attack or harm us. After 1960 it was horrible. I was sorry for the older ladies, like Růženka Vacková and Nina Svobodová. They were precious women. Růženka Vacková was a really tough woman who was always staunchly opposed to the commands. There were various elements in the prison, and not only would they fight with each other, but in the process, accidentally end up hurting themselves. Yet, we didn't really pay attention to such prisoners. We, the political prisoners, stood by each other and took care of one another.

 

Do you remember the University in prison, for example Růženka Vacková?

 

Růženka had her own girls there who were high school or college age. I didn't fall into this category, but I was interested. I had a friend, Edulka, who was meeting her. Růženka was really special. I would later bring her letters from Ilka Ondrášová, who was a professor of math and physics and was released earlier than I. She used to write to me like my sister did. I would bring that to Růženka, who would then read it to other girls who knew this professor. She had her girls who she would prepare. Of course, it wasn't really possible that so many people could be together in one building, so I couldn't really take part in her lectures.

 

On which blocks were you living on?

 

After arriving I lived in A, but later they put me in the Stable. That place really used to be a stable and there were rats living with us. We would always have to put bread under our heads so they wouldn't eat it; but they could smell it; and so they kept jumping over our heads. Then the C, D, and E wooden barracks were built, and I moved to E later on. There was hot water running there. I would tell myself: "Why did they put me here? I didn't deserve this." So I would at least bring that warm water in buckets to the grandmothers in "B." A guard once yelled at me that I'd be reported if it ever happened again. Anyways, I kept doing it, but there always had to be a lookout.

 

What did the correction look like in Pardubice? How often did you get something to eat there?

 

Once every two days there was food. Every morning there was black coffee. There was a hard bed that was just concrete and a blanket. For example, Růženka came there during Christmas because she refused to work on Sundays. She spent fourteen days over the most beautiful holidays. She was then released at a certain hour and we were all waiting for her. When she saw us, she would open her arms wide as she could to give all of us a hug saying: "Girls, I spent there such a beautiful holiday." The guard would just shake her head, thinking that she had gone nuts. She hadn't gone crazy - Růženka was from a devout family so she prayed the whole time while spending the whole Christmas in peace.

 

Since you mentioned Christmas, please, what was Christmas like in prison? How did you live through it?

 

We always got together in a group, prayed a midnight mass and sang carols. It always depended on which guard was on duty. Those who were solid let us sing but those who were bad would come right over and make us line up. Sometimes those line-ups were just horrible. They couldn't count us all and there was always someone missing. We had to line up and stay there for an hour all chilled. Then in the morning we still had to get up for our work shift. The guards were really able to make one's life sour. In the evening we had potato salad and a little piece of Christmas bread. It was acceptable in Pardubice, and even the cooks were trying. We also got a little piece of fish.

 

Did you ever meet any nuns there?

 

There were denominations called Hrad and Vatican, but with them we were not allowed to meet with them. When the nuns were divided between us I even brought a prayer book to one of them. One of my friends... told me before she was released, "You know, in my things I have a missal, I would like to give it to you." I responded that, "There will be a čůzák[17] who certainly will not allow it." She just said, "Don't worry, we will smuggle it somehow." So I went with her and all though there was a čůzák, he was talking to someone, and in the meantime she gave me the missal. Then we said goodbye to each other. Then I had to go to the other building at Wenceslas Square where a commander was standing. He just unlocked the door and let me go to my building. I was nicely surprised that he let me by without problems because he was the one known to always be yelling at us, and so we called him Škrhola.

 

What did the prison clothes look like?

 

Brown pants with white and black fur sticking out. It scratched. The jackets were the same kind. Quite frankly, they were clothes for prisoners. If someone was released, we switched blankets and whichever was worse we gave back. In 1958 before Christmas we were told to write home and ask for warm underwear. So we were all sent long underpants for men and long-sleeved undershirts. We slept in these for about two or three times before we were told that a boiler broke down. That was an extremely cold Christmas season. Then they took these warm clothes from us to let us freeze. Almost all of us were ill and got the flu. The whole prison was ill and a few of us kept going to work. So finally it wasn't worth it to them to take our clothes.

 

How often did they change your clothes?

 

Maybe every two weeks, but washing was worse. In Pardubice we had only bathrooms and a manger where there was only cold water. At most went once a month or once every two months to the bathroom that was close to the kitchen. Showering had to be done very quickly because everyone wanted to get in. I went there rarely. I remember only one good washing. Water always stopped running and they didn't let us in any more. So we would wash with only cold water in both summer and winter.

 

Did you get anything for hygiene, like a toothbrush, soap, or toothpaste?

 

We could buy soap from a prison canteen. We also got toilet paper and sanitary towels. The terrible thing was that this stuff came in such small amounts. Toiletries were absolutely deficient. One always had to keep track of their money. So let's say you got 12 Crowns per month: one half had to be saved for hygienic items, and the rest of the money could be spent any way you wished. The wage was always pegged according to the amount of completed work. In the beginning it was less because it took a while before one was trained.

 

What things you could get in the canteen shop?

 

Of course there was a limited selection. You could get artificial fat, marmalade or plum jam, some cheese and toiletries. There wasn't any fruit. I remember we got fruit only once. Our teeth were already loose, but I lost my front teeth there. Once we could order fruit so I ordered ten kilos (22 pounds).

 

What did the daily routine in prison look like?

 

Every morning a guard yelled, "Wake-up time!" So we all finally woke up - even those who had the afternoon shift and were allowed to sleep longer. Those who had a morning shift had to get up. They went to wash their faces and made their beds. Sheets and blankets had to be put in a certain order. If they weren't, a guard messed them again, sometimes on purpose. Then there was a role call before the morning shift. Girls started to line up in front of the gate. Then we sat down by the machines, each of us already knowing what to do. Two girls would distribute tasks and then machines started off. When the weather was extremely hot, we moistened some big sheets and hung them in window frames. We never had anything like a break or a snack. We worked until 2 p.m. Then there was lunch. I didn't smoke so I only got up to go to the bathroom, which was always brimming with smokers. At the end of the first shift, the machines had to be cleaned because the second shift was coming. Afterwards we ate in the canteen and then we were allowed to go to our cells. What we didn't eat, we could take with us. We already had our lunch pails with us when we left for work. Then we could have a rest. Whoever wanted to read, could read; whoever wanted to rest, could rest. In the late afternoon there was a gathering for a walk, and then the blocks closed down. The second shift worked late until 10 p.m. Then they were counted and if they were all there, we went to bed.

 

Do you remember why a hunger strike started in 1955 in Pardubice?

 

We were not treated well. The guards were arrogant, made us nervous, and were always concocting something while we worked. To solve this and put some order in things, we started a hunger strike. They promised that guards who were treating us badly and making us nervous during work would be sent away. Even a commission from Prague came. We were all put in line facing a wall and promised that reparations would be done. Some girls didn't believe it and continued their hunger strike. Some of them went nine days without eating and had to be treated by a doctor. I didn't take part in that because I didn't want to ruin my health just because of some some arrogant "čúza". I followed the hunger strike for three days myself. What is interesting is that the male commanders were much nicer to us than the "čůzas". The reparations really finally came. The worst guard, who we called Elsa Koch, had to leave.

 

In Pardubice there was also another event, when 12 women wrote a letter to the Secretary General.

 

They were called "Hamršildky,"[18] but they didn't send the letter anywhere. Yet at least it was a protest where we showed they could not do everything to us. We didn't want to be treated like a lower caste of people. We were not people to them. We had to say our numbers instead of our names, so to them we were only numbers. We found things out from one another, and we all knew the content of the letter. We all protested against the way they treated us - especially when they disturbed us at work. As a result we were delayed with everything and were sanctioned. Plus there were injuries. Edulka, for example, cut her finger because she was so nervous.

 

Can you, please, explain to me how you spent your free time?

 

We got together and chatted. We boiled water for coffee on radiator pipes, and then we talked about various subjects. Those were the dearest things to me. We didn't have many books. Remember how I was telling you about the missal? Well, before I was supposed to give it back to the nun Marta, I wanted to read it. I got deep into it and didn't notice when a guard came in. We called him "Headtwister." He asked in a second: "What are you reading? Give it to me!" I was swearing at myself for being so careless. I gave it to him. He looked into it, gave it back and said, "Leave this to the old ones here. You are too young for this stuff." I didn't expect this. Finally I gave it back to the nun Marta.

 

Did you stay in touch with your family? How often could you send letters?

 

I would always write to my mom and sister, but everything was censored. The letter couldn't be closed. More or less I was mainly writing that I was alive. More likely I was writing about nothing. I wanted to know more from them - what was new at home. When I was in Pardubice, Mom couldn't come visit me since she was home alone and had to take care of the cattle. She used to visit Dad in Ilava prison so I didn't want her to travel so far to see me. My sister and brother-in-law visited instead.

 

You were released in 1963. Did conditions changed any way after the amnesty[19]?

 

They put us in different cells, together with murderers and thieves, so that we could moderate their behavior. They respected us. Some gypsies would fight together right away but they would never do any harm to us, since we were so good to them. They sort of liked us. It wasn't the worst thing for us, but we could no longer be together to chat at night.

 

In prison you met many people that you would never spend time with or even meet in your normal life. What were your feelings like when you shared a cell with murderers or thieves?

 

I minded it. Once I even jumped. There was one murderer living with me. She was a beautiful girl, eyes like stars. She portioned out her kid and let her husband eat it. She wanted to scare me and once even knocked me down from my forehead. At that moment I was terrified because I knew that it was a murderer, capable of anything, who was standing over me. She got only 12 or 13 years, which I thought wasn't enough for what she did. Although there were guns in my situation, I never held one. In fact, I was always against it.

 

What was your release like?

 

They called me to the front. I didn't go there often - only when my sister came to see me. I didn't want them coming too often since Pardubice was far from where we lived. I didn't have a clue what they wanted from me. Sometime before that there was a political officer[20] who offered to drive me to any town. He wanted to show me how well people were doing in the socialistic state - how they loved each other, how well dressed they were: quite frankly, that there was joy and peace everywhere around. I just said: "I don't want to go anywhere. You put me in here and this is my daily bread." Then he started telling me that there were some sabotages in the workshop and that I had to have noticed. I told him that we were always given tasks; I had to fulfill them since I knew that if I didn't, I could be the one who was harmed. So I would only take care of meeting the norms. I then told him, "You don't want me to snitch around do you? The only thing I know is that each person is taking care of her own responsibility." He then replied, "That's what you think, that everyone takes care of their own work? That no one does any sabotage on the side? Well we know that isn't true," while chasing me out. I simply told myself that there was no rescue for me and that I would have to fulfill my sentence until the end. Four months later they called me again, and that was already for my release. There was a boss from the workshop, a political officer, the head commander and others. They told me that the President of the Republic, Novotný, pardoned me and that I was free to go. I didn't expect that at all. There were others girls with me, standing there, who were not released. So I asked the people who worked there: "Shall I be released alone? Let everyone go home." They said: "There were others pardoned as well and no one ever cared about you." Yet, you know, they did care, because the girls who had left cried for us, the ones who were staying. Then they offered me a job in a clothing factory in Prostějov. I was experienced and they said that they would arrange it. I refused, because I had to go and help my parents. They also told me: "If something happens to you and people in your village want to criticize you because you were in prison, then you must report it to the police." Yet, I said to myself that they could jump on my back with that.

 

In retrospect, how do you feel or what do you remember about prison?

 

Memories about the prison are the most beautiful things we have left. We had a wish: that they would make us a town or village where they could concentrate us after our release. We understood each other better than our own relatives. Even though we all were from different places, we were all of the same opinion and ways of thought.

 

Did you ever get together after your release?

 

Yes, of course. I received the largest amount of mail in our village. They warned me to reduce it, but I ignored that. When I came back in February there wasn't any work in the fields yet, so I would write almost everywhere every day. When I was first told in prison that I was going home, I laid down on my mattress and cried. The commander who was quite good and who always treated us like humans, came up to me. His wife was ill and he did every piece of work he could, so that she could go to the spas[21]. Well he came to me and asked me what was I doing. I just answered: "I'm supposed to go home, but I will not go alone, let everyone else go with me." He couldn't understand or just couldn't get it.

 

Did your parents know that you were released?

 

They didn't know. At night I knocked on the window of my sister's and they thought I was a ghost. I stayed with her while her son played and sang. Then I went home where I registered at the town hall in Rajnochovice. My parents killed a calf right away. Right after returning I had to find a job. I found one at the forestry department, and they were very helpful. I could start whenever I wanted,  so I stayed home for another month to relax after my release from prison. The girls over there accepted me and didn't look at me through their fingers. Life simply went on without any problems. We were planting trees in the spring and the quota was a hundred trees a day.

 

So people didn't look at you through their fingers or you didn't lose old friends because you were in prison?

 

To tell you the truth, I didn't really consider these girls to be my friends. I treated them as my coworkers. The important friends were the girls with whom I spent time in prison. Then I found out that my manager in the forestry department had been assigned to spy on me.

 

Did you feel in 1968 that it was getting a little easier[22]?

 

In 1968 Věrka Kadlecová came to say goodbye because she was leaving to emigrate. At that time I was helping at home in Bílová, where I didn't really pay attention and knew just a little about things. My dad didn't take care either of the changes. He was really ill at that time and was out of sorts.

 

What comes to mind when I say the year 1989[23]?

 

My main concern was informing Milan and Věrka. I was extremely happy. I had a little daydream that I would fly away because I was so happy. I was really glad that everything was over, but I would have different ideas about how things would turn out. I thought the president, who would be elected, would radically break from Communists. Yet, president Havel did something else. He gave them the chance to freely live and breath, even though they never gave us that chance.

 

What was your rehabilitation like?

 

Before Havlíns left to emigrate in the sixties, Milan came up and asked me whether I was rehabilitated yet. I didn't really think about that because Communists would never rehabilitate me. In the nineties the whole case was reviewed. I didn't have to take care of it much. In 1991 I got a letter that said I was fully rehabilitated, but I had to wait a long time before I got any restitution or compensation. From the office in Brno I got a note that they were working on it and to be patient. Naďa Kavalírová, the head of the KPV[24], helped a lot, and they gave me the retribution very quickly thanks to her help. Step by step, we finally got it. My sister got compensation for my dad.

 

What do you think about the political situation now?

 

I would be happy if the Communists were quarantined behind the second railway. They should never come to power again because Communism was a criminal organization. They killed so many good people. Everything was really hard for my family - but from my point of view it all made sense and had meaning. The pupils at school should really find out how everything was and how they treated people. We didn't want freedom for ourselves, but for everyone. When I recall everything, I don't think I did anything bad. All I did was hold my convictions.

 

What helped you live through the years in prison?

 

Mainly it was the friendships I had. I must tell you, up until now they are still my best lady friends. People who were not there would not be able to understand this. You would have to live through it. The friendships kept us alive. When one of us lost a relative, we all cried with her. When one laughed, we all laughed. Many times the guards were going nuts, but they couldn't do anything to us because the whole cell acted together.

 

Thank you for the interview.

 

 


[1] Hostýnské mountains- mountain range located in northeast region of the Czech Republic.

[2] Rajnochovice- small village in the northeast region of the Czech Republic.

[3] Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk- the first president of Czechoslovakia (1918-1935), popular and well respected statesman; died in 1937 in the age of 87.

[4] Bílová- a small settlement where Mrs. Havrlantová once lived with her family.

[5] Guerilla Brigade Commander Dayan Bajanovič Murzin- Soviet officer who took command after the death of partisan Ján Ušiak.He organized a new group and moved to the area near Vsetín, where they participated in partisan activities throughout Vsetín, Vizovice and Zlín (Moravia).

[6] D. B. Murzin landed at night and stayed from 30th to 31st of August 1944.

[7] Compare to source: POSPÍŠIL, Jaroslav. Hyeny, Vizovice: Lípa, 1996, s. 133-115.

[8] The Czechoslovakian border area was depopulated after the Germans were displaced after WW2.

[9] Štěpanov died April 10th on Černava Hill. Partisans themselves did not talk about this. Although some presented the whole thing as a matter of bad luck, others had another opinion.

[10] Hostýnké Hory- A dissident group named after the Hostýnské mountains that was established at night from June 26th to 27th 1948. The first commander of the group was the most experienced man, Josef Čurba. This group existed until the end of 1949, in the area of Bystřice and Vsetín (East of the Czech Republic). Many of its members were active in partisan anti-nazi groups.In Rajnochovice, 15 people were imprisioned.

[11] Anti-state in the sense of „anti-regime" or „anti-communist".

[12] Uherské Hradiště - a town in southern Moravia.

[13] Alois Grebeníček (-2003)- one of the most-feared 40's-50's interrogators who worked for the Czechoslovak secret police in the prison of Uherské Hradiště. Circumventing justice, he died of natural causes without any punishment in 2003.

[14] Pankrác- one of the largest and most infamous prisons in Prague.

[15] Semtín - a factory town near the prison.

[16] Retribution prisoners – prisoners sentenced on the basis of „retribution decrees" for cooperation and collaboration with Nazi Germany. "Political" prisoners were classified as identical to "state" prisoners, although there was a separate category for criminals

[17] read [chou:sack]; a slang word from prison for a guard, in Czech language it comes from the word „bitch".

[18] Hamršildky- on June 28th-29th, 1956, a group of 12 women who sent a letter to the Secretary General of OSN Dag Hammarskjöld to complain about the bad conditions in Czechoslovakian prisons.

[19] President Antonín Novotný Pardons - Announced on May 9, 1960, the 15th anniversary of the end of WW2, this decree pardoned the sentences for seditious crimes. It was the biggest amnesty from 1946 until the fall of communism in 1989.

[20] Political officer - a privileged prison position, in which the individual would organize various ideological lectures for prisoners, offer an opinion upon a prisoner's release, check that a prisoner's sentence was being fulfilled, and that inmates spoke positively about communism. In short, he took care of "political issues."

[21] Spas in the Czecho(oslovak) context serve mostly as a place of recovery or cure.

[22] 1968 - a year of political relaxation in Czechoslovakia known as "Prague Spring". During this phase, the regime attempted to encompass a gradual process of democratization - until the nights of August 20th-21st, 1968, when the Soviet Army and accompanying armies of the Warsaw agreement invaded Prague For the next twenty years, political dissent was immediately suppressed.

[23] 1989 - the year wherein communist dictatorships across Europe fell. From November 17th  and December 29th, 1989, demonstrations and riots took place across Czechoslovakia. 1989's non-violent transition gained the name "Velvet Revolution." 

[24] The Czech Confederation of Political Prisoners (KPV) - established January 3, 1990, the KPV represents the confederation of the Czech Republic's political prisoners and  association of all political prisoners from former Czechoslovakia.

Last update: 10/15/2012 21:51:26

 
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