BERLIN


1945


    The war had ended...

... and we, the four of us, were on our way to homeland. Together with many soldiers and their families being repatriated, we too flew to Prague on a plane, which was a Dakota bomber converted to people mover. To England my parents arrived on a boat with the dog Lenka, back home they went on a plane, with me and a cat Kai-Kai. The cat caused a lot of problems to Mother. During the flight she had her in a wicker basket with a lid that was tied up by a rope. The moment the aircraft motors had started, the cat panicked in a big way and tried to get out of the basket. She even managed to stick her head through the gap between the lid and the rim of the basket, and Mother had to push her back; after that by stroking her constantly she tried calm her down. It was a struggle all the way to Prague, but in the end she managed to pacify the poor creature. Kai-Kai was destined to live a relatively long and fruitful life ─ Mother estimated that she had brought about 120 kittens into this world. She was with us until 1953, when she died about 12 years old. As she was a relatively rare breed, Russian blue, she became a part of the collection of the National Museum, where she still was in 1969, when I went to say goodbye to her prior to leaving the country. Maybe she is still there, though I doubt it; displays change and stuffed animals don't last forever.

    The last kitten Kai-Kai had was born not so long before she died, and it was only one. We kept the tabby Tom, named Tačik, who became my faithful companion throughout my childhood. He died under a car when I was in the Army.

    After the return to homeland, we lived in Zbraslav, where Father was born and where his oldest sister, aunt Jiřina still lived, while Father was looking for a suitable accommodation. Zbraslav, a lovely old town, was a little too far from Prague, where he needed to be.
We stayed there for about two months, June and July; I was thus almost two and a half years old. From that time I have my second vivid memory. I sit on the front steps leading to the house, which were not in use, because normally the back entrance was being used. I sit and I have soiled my trousers. I feel guilty, I'm scared of going home and having to confess.


BELGRADE

I Played With a Future World Leader!

    For a time we lived in Prague, where Father worked at the Foreign Ministry. In the years 1947-48 however we were with him in Belgrade, where he was the trade attaché at the Czechoslovak embassy. We stayed there for about a year, and as a four to five-year-old I was beginning
to Marie Korbelová - the future Madelaine Albrightretain some memories. One is about playing in a group of several children, all presumably sons and daughters of the embassy workers. The undisputed leader of the group was a girl, somewhat older than the rest of us, and certainly the tallest. She could have been about ten years old, while I at five or so would have probably been the youngest in the group.
    Madelaine Albright
    Nearly half a century later, a year or two after Mother was already dead, news came out about President Bill Clinton naming the new American Secretary of the State. Only when I was able to read her biography did I realise, who the girl from the Belgrade embassy was, several years older than I, who had ruled with an iron fist over the group of us children, while we played in the embassy grounds. Of course that she was entitled to it, not only because of her age, but also the fact that her father, Josef Korbel, was the Big Boss of the place, the Czechoslovak Ambassador. From retrospective point of view, some in-born leadership and diplomatic abilities might have already been present too.

    Madelaine AlbrightThese qualities were to develop further, in the personality of Madeleine Albright, when in the 1990's she became the most powerful woman on this planet. After the change of the regime in Prague, when in 1948 the Communists took over; her father had wisely decided to take his family to the USA, where he had been offered a job by the Denver University. Nowadays there is a Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver bearing his name. His daughter Marie or Madelaine, as she was called, grew up in the USA, and eventually under her married name became known all over the world. When during her term in the office, the Yugoslav Crisis came, and she was required to come back to the place where she grew up, it must have been particularly difficult for her. She had to make some hard decisions, and the Serbians, who naturally knew her history, were not at all happy with this lady. Strange are peoples‘ destinies, sometimes...

    In my searches, I have also found out one more thing. When I was born in Pitt Street, Kensington, the same Madeleine Albright, little Marie Korbelova as she was named then (Czech language uses the gender inflection –ova), had lived only a couple of streets away. Obviously, more Czechs have found Kensington and the surrounds to their liking, and even nowadays the embassy of the Czech Republic is to be found in the same place. Still, I can catch a bat squeak of synchronicity (to parody Evelyn Waugh) here, and I wonder, if there is to be yet another chance for me to meet with this remarkable woman. I doubt that, somehow.

    Some Royalty, or Other

    I have another, rather lucid, memory from the time I had spent in Belgrade. For a time we had been accommodated in a hotel at the centre of the city. As hotels go, it must have been rather a plush one, because I remember quite well the splendour of the main dining room, with its large marble columns and sunken middle floor. But everything seems large, when we are children, doesn’t it? I also remember running about that dining room and the surrounding corridors, while playing there with a boy of about my age. However, while we were at it, we were always being followed by a couple of minders of a sort. That they were minders I have only concluded now, in the light of knowledge I gained later. At the time, to me they were simply men.

    Later I was told that the boy was supposed to be a crown prince, but I don't remember and never been able to find out of what? Apparently, soon after the war at the Balkans, with the political situation still uncertain, there were claimants around of all kinds of thrones, the Serbian, the Yugoslav, the Croatian, and probably some other thrones nobody even knows of these days. Hence the minders, in case there were to be some attempt at kidnapping or something sinister like that. As far as identity of the boy is concerned ─ it could well have been the Croatian pretendent, named prince Amedeo, later also the Duke of Savoy, who was born in the same year as I, as searches tell me. But there are other possibilities. Was it yet another rub of the shoulders for me with the famous, this time the royalty?


An Encounter with a Ghost

 
House at 55 Šárecká ulice
House at 55 Šárecká ulice


    My dad had rented a house in Šárecká no. 55. He probably got it at quite advantageous conditions, for the reasons I had found out about only fairly recently. An article of mine was published in the supplement of Lidové Noviny, the Czech daily newspaper with a history that goes back into the late 19th century, where I presently have a column. In it I mentioned the adress of our former abode in relation to the current place of operation of the now retired president Václav Klaus, which is a former hunting lodge built in the 17th century by a certain Hans Paul, after whom the suburb is now known as Hanspaulka. It's only a few houses away. A letter came to me from a reader, who was interested in the history of the house. I translate here the meaty bit:

    I am interested in the history of the house # 55/923 in Prague 6, where you have lived. I would like to get some information about the factory owner who had hanged himself in the house. If you could help me in any way... etc.

    Well, the house that I used to love as a child, where I played the innocent games, and dreamed my childhood dreams, had suddenly undergone a transformation. It has become a place of horror, where some industrialist, down on his luck, had decided to end his life, and in the most ghastly way! Suddenly it became obvious how Father could afford to rent this place, in one of the most affluent quarters of Prague. He certainly was not poor, but being able to get such a good address, so soon after arriving from London, and on his salary as a public servant at the Ministry, which couldn't have been too high at the time, sometimes made me wonder. Now I had the answer: house with such a reputation, which it could have carried for some years, was probably hard to rent out.

    I'm pretty sure now that Father knew about the house's history. Did he tell Mother? Maybe, but most likely not; he certainly wasn’t telling her everything. He probably kept her in the blind, just as he did in case of the war missions and even some of the secrets that he had held later; of which I'm now pretty much convinced had most likely cost him his life, but we'll get to that later. My guess is that Mother would have at least hinted something in the later years, after we had left the house, had she known. As it happened, I wrote back to the reader of my article a somewhat ironically toned letter, in which I basically thanked him for muddying the memories of my innocent childhood and the house where it happened, and telling him that I cannot help him in any way. I didn't expect to hear from him again, but to my surprise he wrote back:

    (...) About the factory owner I found out when I was buying the house on behalf of my employer. The unfortunate incident occurred in the light well, above the stairs to the second floor. Otherwise, the house is now full of positive energy, the energy of the unfortunate industrialist is no longer there. There were a number of tenants in the meantime, now my boss has had the house renovated and has been living there happily for several years (...)

    I wrote back to him that at the beginning of the 1950's the negative zone was still there and that it was strong. Suddenly I had the explanation for something that puzzled me for many years. Together with a neighbouring kid Vašek Vojtěch we had climbed onto the attic and stood next to the said light well. The bottom of the well was made of glass to let sufficient light through, and the cap that I was wearing suddenly flew off my head and fell into the bottom of the well, onto the glass. I’m not sure now if I had persuaded my companion to climb down to retrieve my cap, or if he offered to do it himself, in any case, he climbed down about a metre, which was the depth of the well. The glass there was not strong enough and as he also had put his foot in the wrong place, where it was the weakest, it cracked and his foot and part of his lower leg went through it. He was trapped there, screaming, with blood streaming down his leg, while I was running down the stairs to get some help. Vašek was eventually rescued by a neighbour I had found, he was taken away in an ambulance and made to stay in hospital for a few days. Inevitably, I was blamed for instigating the whole thing. The truth is that I was not keen on going down to retrieve the cap, because something told me not to. My friend was quite happy to step in, though. But, could it have been the ghost of the hanged man in the first place, which had caused my hat to fall into the well? From the perspective of what I have learnt since, it looks suspiciously like a number of poltergeist-like incidents that I have read about!

    Typically, a poltergeist resides in one place, particularly in one room, sometimes in more than one, where he causes disturbances. Often various objects are seemingly made to fly, things are being thrown about, noises are being heard, etc., fitting the image of a “noisy ghost”, which is the meaning of the German word poltergeist. There are many theories that the investigators and writers have put down, as for the origin of the poltergeist phenomenon. Presence of a ghost of some sort is one of them. Ghosts are supposed to be either “lost souls” or, according to others, a “trapped energy”, usually after some traumatic event having taken place in the locality. A suicide of a presumably materialistically orientated individual, who becomes trapped in the space, would certainly fit the scenario rather well. The cap that I was wearing on that day was my favourite; it was knitted by my mother from threads of several colours. It was quite distinct. What is important ─ it was not loose at all; it sat on my head tightly, so it would not be easy for me to lose it. I usually had it pulled down over the ears. Poltergeists are supposed to be able to move physical objects, throw them about ─ on this practically all investigators into the phenomenon seem to agree. A poltergeist that notices the presence of two boys in his territory might be sufficiently angry about what he would see as an intrusion, to do something about it. And throwing down the cap of one of us would perhaps invite itself.

    Even now I can hear Vašek's screaming, see his bloodied leg hopelessly hanging through the remaining glass, as I was running downstairs to raise the alarm. After the e-mail I received from that reader, I can now also see in my mind the body of the man who committed suicide in the same spot, slowly turning at the end of the rope, tied up to one of the rafters, and all this is sending shivers down my spine. Because this is how it would have happened; the place was a perfect one for someone wanting to have his body discovered soon after committing suicide; indeed it would have been unmissable by anyone climbing the stairs. What still puzzles me slightly is: why had this man contacted me at all, when, according to his own words, his employer had been living happily in the house? It must have also played havoc in his mind, I suppose.

    Living in the house at Hanspaulka

    All this ─ though much of it explains some of the mysteries ─ was not known to me at the time I lived in the house, up till the age of about ten. The house was a big one, there were many rooms ─ there was a kitchen, a maid's room, a garage and the boiler room in the basement, the ground floor held two large rooms with bay windows, a sizeable hall with ornamental wood casting, with the bent staircase leading up to the first floor, where another four rooms and a bathroom were, yet another staircase, the one below the infamous light well, leading to a landing and four or five smaller rooms, perhaps originally meant to be guest rooms, and above it the already mentioned attic. A big house, indeed. People who lived there with us were constantly been changing. Father grew up in a large family and presumably he was used to being surrounded by people. Strangely, hardly any who lived with or around us would have been relatives, except one from Mother’s side, who lived there while studying at the university. There were a couple of other students who stayed in the rooms in the upstairs. For a time, even the already mentioned French Consul Sorlot with his wife had stayed there ─ Father obviously was repaying favours done to him while the Consul had some business in Prague. I remember their parrot name Jacko, a large grey bird that occupied the hand railing on the top floor. It had soon learnt my name and yelled at me whenever I was near. But its beak looked too threatening to me to come really close to him... Naďa, the sister of the woman who was burned and whose son Mother had nursed, lived there for a time; she was an excellent card reader by reputation ─ I never had the chance to try her out, though she had later predicted my Mother that late in life I will gain some reputation as an artist.

    My half-sister Lada stayed for a time too, but soon she moved to the Slovak capitol Bratislava, where she was accepted by the medical school. I was to meet with her again, and get to know her at least a little bit better, only many years later. There were other people, coming and going. I remember one young man; he might have been one of the students. It must have been either 1949 or 50 ─ incidentally, do you remember how the opinions differed about when the 21. Century actually began? Was it at the end of 1999 or 2000? The same confusion must have been present even then: in which year would the following phenomenon occur? That was described to me by this young man, who with the straight face was telling me that on the New Year’s Eve he had booked a seat at the Prague main observation tower at Petřín, to see how the century was being broken in half! Though he was vividly describing to me what loud sound would accompany the event, to my credit, young as I was, I didn't believe him. Not much, anyway.

    I mustn't forget about the garden. Once it would have even held a swimming pool of sorts, which by then was partially filled in with soil and rotten leaves. I could imagine that in his times of prosperity, the unfortunate industrialist had it kept sparkling clean, and full of giggling girls drinking champagne during the wild parties being held there, though now this amenity was not of any use to me. For having a proper pool, and also the climate to match, I had to wait till I got to Australia. Nevertheless, there were other things to do. Even today one can tell from the satellite pictures that the garden is full of trees. I can still detect a little opening, we used to call it a glade; adjoining it was a small wood, as we called it, really a scrub pine, where one could hang on the branches, hide in the space underneath it. Simply fantastic! There were many trees that a kid like me could climb onto and some that I couldn't manage. Though, behold! One day, a girl from our class, I even remember her name, Lída Líkařová, came to play with us. She was a pretty blond little girl with plaits. She looked around; picked up one of those by me as yet unconquered trees, stuffed her skirt into her underpants, and climbed up the tree like a monkey! The English word "tomboy" was as yet unknown to me, but there it was. Small wonder I still remember her name, she is hard to forget!


    Between Prague and Berlin (1949-50)


    In my first year of regular schooling I had not been sitting very often at the school desk. By then, Father was named the Consul General in Berlin, where he now was spending most of his time. To make it possible having his family around, Mother made an agreement with the school that she would teach me at home. She was given some lesson outlines, but they proved to be quite easy, because I had already learnt to read by myself, some two years earlier. Maths was very basic, so it was mainly the writing we had to practice, which I was not so good at. But I had been improving rapidly even in this area. In addition to the "three r's" I was getting quite a good run with the German language, because I was spending much of the time with our maid, Frau Keller who, of course, could not understand a word of Czech. So I was forced to speak to her in German, or so it seems. I don't remember much of this, but I don't remember having any difficulties in communicating with her, therefore I must have been doing fine. Much of what I had learned in those days I had forgotten in the years to come, though.

    The Consulate was in the quarter of town known as Pankow, on its main road. Above its offices on the first couple of floors, there was the flat that belonged to us, which had taken up the whole floor of the house. Our family of three thus had at its disposal, apart from the amenities, eight or nine rooms. I remember that it was a lot of space, through which I was running, like a six year old child would. In my youthful exuberance, full of unspent energy, I would run from one end of the flat to the other, through a number of doors that I had opened. I only tended to avoid the very last room that some of Father's predecessors in the office had decorated with furniture resembling the Rococo era and with the awful looking, mostly pinkish, colours. It must have been a woman, because the overall effect was very feminine. However, I disliked that room very much. From time to time I was taken to some places where I could play with other children, but not very often. But mostly I was on my own though, or with Frau Keller, and running in the flat. Except when I was ill ─ at some stage I went through a rather heavy bout of flu, which had led to a relatively minor case of pneumonia.

    In the evening it was often Frau Keller who was putting me to bed, as Mother was busy either entertaining some guests, or making visits with Father; all this a part of the diplomatic post that he held. I remember one occasion when the Consulate itself was holding a reception to mark some Czech National Day or similar occasion. Mother later told me that we had been entertaining some three hundred guests on the evening, and it's easy to believe, because the firm impression I have in my mind is that all the rooms in that large flat, with all the doors open, were full of people, mostly standing, with only some sitting. There were waiters carrying trays with delicacies and drinks, there were tables full of exotic food, unavailable to a mere mortals in those days, less than five years after the end of war, when in our homeland as well as in Germany pretty much everything was still rationed. But we were the privileged ones!

   Wilhelm Pieck, the President of German Democratic Republic
    The place must have been full of representatives of various states. At the time Berlin was already divided into four zones, but the infamous wall was still a good decade in the future. I was the only child present, and I was left  to roam the rooms pretty much as I liked; with most guests finding it amusing having me around, I guess. Or maybe not, who knows... In any case, as I was running about, sneaking around and between the legs of so many people, when suddenly a pair of firm hands grabbed me and lifted me high in the air. From a distance a mere few centimetres I was looking at a hideously unsightly nose resembling those the circus clowns wear, only this one was for real! It was red, with a number of small repugnant little holes, as was the rest of the face. I had begun to cry. From somewhere, my Mother had suddenly appeared, quickly took me out of the arms, while apologising profusely to the black wizard, who was laughing. Later I found that the not so handsome gentleman was the president of the German Democratic Republic, Wilhelm Pieck. The clown-like nose, the result no doubt of many vodka-drinking sessions with the Russian advisors, is still quite visible, even on the black and white picture, which must have been retouched to satisfy the censure that no doubt ruled at the time, as this was the official photography.

    How well Father did as the main representative of Czechoslovakia in East Germany at the time, I can't tell. Later however, this seniority was passed onto the newly named Ambassador Otto Fischl, who a couple of years later became one of the victims of the regime, having been trialled and together with ten others sentenced to die on the gallows, in the process with the so called traitors that Stalin had ordered. The odds are that Father would have been convicted by the same or a similar trial, had he lived long enough.

    Meanwhile, he, and we with him, had been enjoying the privileges his diplomatic post offered. Often we used to drive to the Krakow Lake, about 200 km to north-east from Berlin. The diplomatic mission had a summer house or a kind of recreational facility there. I remember the caretaker's name was Böhl, and that he had a teenage daughter named Anabel. Father hired one of the smaller lakes in the area, where he went fishing for carps and pikes. Once he took me with him, but we were not too successful on the day. He was also shooting wild pigs, mostly with various guests, and apparently in one season he had killed thirteen of the unfortunate creatures. This is the side of him that I don't know much of, don’t very well understand and, as I must admit, don't like much at all. But at the same time I do understand that one had to run with the wolves, because this was the way of life in the diplomatic circles in these parts of the world. And naturally, in Russia, where the hunting of bears for instance is popular even now with the ruling classes. He must have been dealing with various Russian diplomats and more or less well concealed secret agents on a daily bases! But I was far too young to understand what might have been going on behind the official scenery, and Mother was only told the essential things, of that I'm certain.

    I have a vivid memory of one folk celebration of something or other, taking place on grassy meadow near the lake. Going on there were various competitions for kids, in running, climbing up a pole, jumping in sacks, etc. I have even now in front of my inner eye the picture of a rather dirty boy in tatty clothes, who had won one of the competitions. The winners were awarded largish round brown cakes, with a smudge of jam in the middle. To me, a spoiled child, they did not look appealing at all. But apparently it was manna to the boy, who could not let his eyes off it, and when he was finally given his price, he devoured it in a matter of seconds. He was either very hungry, or in the post-war Germany it was a particular delicacy. Perhaps both.


    Father's Sudden Death (6.12.1950)


    Sometimes we went as far as Warnemünde, a port in the North Sea. Father had bought a top model black BMW, and with it he employed a chauffeur, Herr Exner, who wore the proper uniform with the jackboots, and who generally behaved properly, exactly the way the chauffeur of a man of substance should do. One day dad took us to Warnemünde, where we were to stay with mum for a week or so, in a small hotel on the shore. Two days later however, Herr Exner arrived suddenly alone with the car, to take us back to Berlin. On the way, crying most of the time, Mother told me that Father had died. I was about seven and a half, and I did not understand much, until I saw dad lying dead on bed; he looked like he was made of wax. Frau Keller told mum that she brought him some hot drink into bed at about midnight, and that he thanked her, smiled on her, but suddenly his head fell to the side and he was dead. A stroke, perhaps? Nevertheless, later she had told another story, about a couple of late night visitors he had, who had stayed for some time. Who were these people she did not know...

    There was no official enquiry, there was no post mortem, a doctor simply declared that death was due to cardiovascular accident, or whatever the official medical expression for stroke is, and that was that. When about twenty years later I found myself in London, I had met some people who had known Father from the war times or even longer. One of them, who looked trustworthy to me, told me that he was certain that Father had been working for the British Secret Service, and that it had cost him his life. Knowing what I do now, I would agree. His chances of surviving in Berlin, of course, were minimal at the time. It must have been a melting pot of all kinds of spies from both sides of the divided world of politics; most likely he would have been what is generally called "double agent", and he might have become a liability to either side. I have no illusions about this, at this level all is grey, and there are no "goodies" or "baddies". Those amongst the diplomats or politicians on the Communist side, who were on the western front, like Father was, did not have it easy at all. They might have been war heroes, like many of the pilots, yet not many of them were lucky enough to escape prison, when the Communists took over about three years after the war. Father quite certainly would not have lasted long in the position he was in, maybe a year or two. The ordeal of his colleague Otto Fischl could serve us as an example of what might have happened to him. Had Father escaped the noose, the best he could have hoped for would have been a long prison sentence to be served in the uranium mines. Such was the fate of many others who, like himself, have fought on the Western front, and who afterwards were even less exposed than he was.

    Much later, when I could understand these things better, Mother told me that she had tried desperately to talk Father into leaving Berlin and Czechoslovakia altogether, like many others did, for instance his boss in Belgrade Josef Korbel, father of Madeleine Albright. Or Bohuslav Kratochvil, who until 1949 was the Czechoslovak Ambassador in United Kingdom, and with whom I was to get acquainted later ─ which is another story. She tried to convince him that we should all go to the West and ask for political asylum. This Father could do at any time, as the dividing line between East and West in Berlin laid only several hundred metres away from the Consulate. She told me that in a moment of weakness he once told her: "You know I can't do that, not yet!" He wouldn't tell her more, just this. Perhaps he might have had such plans, though. Amongst the documents I found after Mother’s death, was a letter Father apparently received from Ireland, in which I found some hints that in a cryptic way could point to his having some plan “B”. But he still might have had some mission to accomplish, who knows? Mother, however, was firmly convinced that the official line that Father died of a stroke was not correct.

    A small supplement: At the moment of Father’s death, as far as it could be determined time-wise, in the study of his best friend in Berlin, a doctor whose name I forgot, a picture fell off the wall.


The state funeral in Berlin of Dalibor Koreis, the Consul GeneralThe state funeral of Dalibor Korejs in Berlin, on 9th August 1950.
 The state funeral in Berlin of Dalibor Koreis, the Consul GeneralThe state funeral of Dalibor Korejs in Berlin, on 9th August 1950.

   
    The Czechoslovak Government awarded Father a State funeral. On the picture above, in a gathering of mostly men, and only a few women, all solemnly looking, in the Berlin Crematorium, in the front row I am squeezed between Frau Keller and Mother, who is behind a dark veil. After the funeral, we brought Father's ashes with us to Prague, where they were later put into the family tomb in Zbraslav. Forty-two years later, in 1992, the urn with my mother's ashes was put next to it, which I had done myself. I noticed that next to our family tomb was a fairly new grave belonging to Jaromír Vejvoda. The name won’t say much to an English reader, until I explain that he was the composer of the song Škoda lásky, which was made famous by all the western armies, and which many nations erroneously still regard as their own, and which under its English name "Roll Out the Barrels!" had followed the troops to the front during the war! Even under the communists, Vejvoda lived happily for many years from the royalties this one song had earned him.


    My Father's Book


    It must be obvious to the reader that I did not have much chance of getting to know my father really well. His profession of a diplomat meant that he was not home or about the house very often. When he died, I was only seven years old. A few direct memories remain, and a fairly large number of photographs taken in various parts of the world at various times, some documents, even one portrait ─ a largish drawing made by his friend Velen Fanderlik, who became known internationally as a propagator of the Scouts movement, and who had lived the rest of his life in Canada. Well covered is the period of my father’s life after he married my mother, about 13 years of his life, perhaps a quarter of it. Of what went on before these two had met, Mother knew something, but hardly a great deal. Much of what I know is due to the remembrances of Father's youngest sister, aunt Jaroslava. Father had five sisters, of whom I had only known personally two, aunts Jiřina and Jaroslava.

Father with five of his sisters
Father with five of his sisters. Aunt Jiřina, the oldest is second on left, the youngest aunt Jaroslava is on the far right.

    From aunt Jarka, as I knew her, I had learnt that sometime in the 1930s, Father wrote a book, of which she only knew that it was supposed to be an autobiographical novel, with much of the plot centred on the period shortly after the First World War, when he was an officer of the Czechoslovak Army stationed in the North/western Slovakia, near the border with Poland. This is an almost totally forgotten period in the European history. The German occupation had made publishing of the book impossible, and the events after the war, when both Czechoslovakia and Poland became members of the same pact, the Warsaw Agreement, wouldn’t have allowed it either. At that time it would have been unthinkable publishing a book about something, which amounted to a war between those two countries caused by territorial disputes. Nowadays, only a handful of historians know about this episode, but at the time there was real fighting going on, with casualties on both sides. To me in retrospect, it presents one of the finest examples of futility of war. What did the men who have lost their lives in this conflict that really meant nothing, actually die for?

    My aunt didn't know where the manuscript of the book might be, or if it still exists at all. She thought that Father could have even destroyed it, which seemed a reasonable assumption. To me it just became a family legend, with the mounting years moving it farther and farther into the realm of fantasy. After all, Father might have started to write something and then abandoned it, just as many writers, including myself, sometimes do. Aunt Jarka was his great admirer; after all, of all the members of her family Father had by far the greatest success in life, small wonder if she had put him onto a pedestal.

    I had already lived in Brisbane, Australia, for several years, when the long lost manuscript was suddenly found! Father's very good friend Julius Dolanský, professor of Slavic studies at the Prague University, had died. His widow was Jelena Holečková-Dolanská, the professor of operatic singing at the same university, who was also my private tutor. She had found Father's manuscript amongst her deceased husband's documents. She had contacted my mother, who had collected the manuscript from her, and eventually managed to smuggle it to me here in Australia, when she visited us in 1979.

    The book is an interesting document of the time and the place, written in good but rather dated Czech. It would not say much to the present Czech reader, and there would be little point in trying to have it published. If it had come out at the time when it was intended to, in the 1930s, that would have been a different story, however. As it is, it has told me a great deal about my father, particularly the part of his life thus far hidden in mist to me. He had met a young teacher in the Slovakian village near the post he was in charge of, a romance had blossomed, and the two had eventually married. They lived mostly in Prague, but Father had run a business, exporting various articles, such as carpets and antiques, from the Balkan countries. I still don't know much of what he was up to in that decade or so, except that he must have eked some sort of a reasonable living, had one daughter born to him and his wife and eventually saw that marriage end in a disaster. It's unlikely that I would ever learn more, but why should I, anyway?


    Back in Prague


    After Father's death we had returned to the house in Šárecká. All had suddenly been changed. Our standard of life had dropped sharply. Not so long ago, a whole villa in the top Prague suburbs was ours to live in, as well as a huge flat in Berlin. Now we were left with only two rooms on the ground floor, which the Council that had in the meantime taken over the ownership, allowing us to live in; for the rent Mother could only just afford to pay. There was hardly anything left after Father’s death, except some debts. He was able to make money fast, but he could spend it even faster. Mother hoped that she would be able to get at least something from the sale of the BMW, but Customs had set the tax for importing it so high that she was lucky in the end to get enough to pay them what she owed on it.

    There were hard times to come! Mother's widow pension was at the lowest possible category; once Father was gone she was of no use to the Government. The crab and smoked salmon meat had gone away somewhere and the same tidal wave had washed away the caviar. My staple diet was rye bread with second quality butter, topped with a few drops of Maggi sauce to add some flavour to it. I would have thrived on Vegemite, had I been living in Australia, where someone had invented this yeast extract about a hundred years ago, which tastes similar. Australian children love this black salty spread, and a child that had eaten any is instantly recognisable, having their mouth and face painted. A well contented person in this country is known as "a happy little Vegemite". Australians when going abroad, often take a supply of Vegemite with them, knowing that they would not be able to buy it. When we went to Prague in 1990, soon after the change of regime, with our five year old son Darius, we also had a jar of it. Apart from me, Darius did not have to share it with anyone ─ the Czechs who tried it didn’t like it at all!

    I was happy, even without Vegemite, of which I knew nothing then. The garden that I loved to play in was still there. So was the asphalt road in front of house, where we rode our push-bikes (Mother somehow managed to save enough to buy me one), which in those days, when traffic was near zero, was quite a safe activity, unless you happen to fall and get some abrasions. On the black surface we had painted various works of art, mostly with the chalk-like stone the source of which I had discovered in a valley nearby. This day we would surely be known as "graffiti artists".

    Mum, on the other hand, was not happy at all. The Council had given the flat above us to a large family, and she was so used to being the lady of the house! I didn't mind at all. And she didn’t know what I did, namely that the tub in the upstairs bathroom was now serving as the store of potatoes! I had enough sense not to tell her this, even though I knew, because I went there often enough while staying with my new friends. There were in the family two boys of approximately my age, and I finally had someone to play with, which used to be quite a problem.



 

CONTINUE TO FATHER'S SIDE OF FAMILY