Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Stories from the past


Visiting my grandparents in New England has always been a cultural experience. They are immigrants from the Czech Republic, former Czechoslovakia, and they certainly have a rich history to recount. I love hearing their stories, but also sometimes resent them for their strict ideals and harsh criticisms, in that German/Eastern European kind of way. My grandparents got married at a young age in Prague before leaving shortly after the Russians invaded and escaped communism. They left separately, my grandmother on a a scholarship to study in Paris with the promise to return but never did, and my grandfather escaped with help from a trustworthy (luckily) spy through the woods one night with only a briefcase in hand. My grandfather spent time in refugees camps in Germany before making his way to Paris to rejoin with my grandmother, and how incredible it is that they were actually able to find each other.

I’ve heard stories about the Nazis, one Czech soldier and one German soldier, going to my grandfather’s house at 6 in the morning, searching the house, taking their radio so they could not hear the news, and arresting his father, my great grandfather. He was a diplomat and was being watched when on a trip to Sweden and then arrested when he arrived back in Prague. He spent a few months in jail before being released because he knew German and the guards were worried he would overhear what they were saying. I’ve heard stories about loudspeakers throughout the city announcing who had died in the prisons that day and people in the streets crying for those they had known. I’ve heard stories about how the communists took away my family’s possessions, as well as their house because it was a nice house and forced them to live in a place that was not as nice because the communists wanted the house for themselves. I’ve heard stories about the communists not allowing my great uncle to pursue his studies because some of his family members (my grandfather) had fled the country. I’ve heard stories about the communists forcing a family member who had been a lawyer to leave his job and work in a coal mine. I’ve heard stories about a second cousin, now a publisher, writing underground pamphlets protesting the communist regime.

It is stories like these that interest me in what my family and so many others like them have gone through under the Nazis and then the Communists. It is stories like these that I associate with visiting my grandparents in New England and haunt me – not necessarily in a negative way, just in an intriguing way. I was recently in New England and these memories and stories resurfaced, as I talked to my grandfather, who is unfortunately in a declining state and not as coherent as he used to be, but I hope to hear more stories in the future still…

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