„My father felt that something was coming. In 1946 and 1947, he was in Switzerland. Not to hide some money but to develop the company, to buy packaging machines for the sherbet candy and for other things. And in 1947, my mother went along and they went to Italy as well. And there, as he told me later, people talked about how the Communists would be in the cabinet. And that’s when he started to worry. He was afraid. And at the end of 1947, most likely around the Christmas or the New Year, there was a meeting with all the staff in the factory, and dad was talking about what was to be done in 1948. And back in the group, there were maybe two hundred people, I don’t know, one of the employees exclaimed loudly: ‘If we let you, Mr. Boss, if we let you’. He was a Communist.”
„I need to admit openly that my impressions were pretty bad. Mind that my parents were refugees and thus Communism was bad. On top of that, I knew from my father and from my mother who corresponded with her younger sister what was going on here. I personally remember that it reeked here, it was on Easter with all the heating still running, so it stank of the exhausts. It was all grey and dirty. For me, it was no homeland then. It was not my people Now it’s my people. I’m really happy here now. I’m in the Beseda association in Geneva, I’m the secretary of the Jan Masaryk Foundation in Geneva. Here, I teach at the Charles University. Shortly before, I had taught at the Prague University of Economy and Business and at the Faculty of Social Sciences here in Prague. Now, after the Velvet Revolution, I see it. I want to come back. Before, I was a child of refugees and the Communism was a priori bad. And it was bad not only for me. I think that by objective measures, it was not a good system.”
„My father understood and he said that the situation was sticky. That it would be better to run away. They escaped together because my mother didn’t want to leave my father on his own. They came to Prague with two small suitcases. By car, I think. They left the suitcases in the Esplanade hotel and from the Main Station, they went to Bratislava. My father was in contact with an Austrian, he had met him when he was in Austria and they had already conducted some business during the war. And this guy put him in contact with someone else who was to take them across the border. And there, on the night from the 29th of February to the 1st of March, they crossed the borders on foot in snow. My mother was 25 and my father was thirty one. My mother was dressed up, stockings and such. They walked in deep snow drifts, they went on foot across the border. And what is interesting, they arrived to some small place in Austria. They went to the railway station. The first train was due very early, at around five in the morning. And they arrived maybe at midnight, maybe at one, I don’t know. There was a ball going on, with dancing. They went there, they were nicely dressed and everyone was aware of what was going on. Nobody came to greet them. They just sat there, they got a coffee or something warm and they waited. And then they waited at the station and they took the first train to Vienna.”
„And then we reached the border. First we went through the German border control so they checked who we were and we went on. A single car. One single car. No lorries, nothing at all. Then we arrived to the Czechoslovak border control, that building in Rozvadov, the actual community of Rozvadov is located some four, five, seven kilometres further away in Czechoslovakia. And there is such a building, you know it from the border crossings in here, quite a large building, at least two stories, that’s what I remember. And there were Czechoslovak soldiers in uniform looking at the car, at everything, they open everything, they have mirrors to look under the cars to see that there’s nothing attached on the bottom, weapons, propaganda, who knows. Everything was open at the back, we were the only car at the border, no other car came. We were there for an hour, everyone came to have a look, it was indeed shocking. I had read about the Eastern German’s border but living through the experience was something entirely different. And then we rode the car, it was some hundred and fifty or two hundred kilometres to Prague where we went. Younger sister [of my mum] lived there, another one in Moravia, then, when we went to Brno, we stopped at Dvůr Králové. At first we went to Prague. Let me get back to the original question, I am trying not to wander away from the question, how did I see Czechoslovakia? It was communism, it was such, and now excuse me but I did not feel well there, it was on Easter, and it stank because heavy fuel was used for heating and that stank. That is what I remember well, how everything smelled bad. Those villages, Prague, all was grey and dirty.“
„The company is not any more. It is and then it is not in the Czech Republic. It exists in the sense that the sherbet powders are still sold. I see it in my generation and in the younger people, maybe even you, they know what sherbet powders are. People older than forty or such, they know well what sherbet powders are. It’s a candy you can lick or you can toss it in water the way I have it here. A glass of water, two of those candies and then it sizzled, there is this dicarbonate and lemonic acidity thingy. It sizzled and then you drank it. And all children, not only boys, also girls, when they opened it, there were two pieces of candy, they licked them. And then, when it was cola [flavoured], they had sort of dark beige, even darker tongues. And when it was Himbeeren, that means raspberries, then it was more red, when it was orange, it looked orange, lemon. So those sherbet candies, that’s a concept in Czech Republic, that’s what I know. When you go to the internet and write Tiki there, then you find it both in Switzerland and in Czech Republic. And the company, to get back to the original question, it would make sherbet candy even though the factory in Dvůr Králové was nationalised and a few years later, it became a textile factory. It was made in Czechoslovakia, during the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, but it was made. And in the same sense it disappeared, the company disappeared. When my father tried to get some money back in the nineties because there had been the 1948 nationalisation, he got shares of some textile factory which had quite some value but in a sense, the factory disappeared.”
My first journey to Czechoslovakia in 1967 was a shock
Pierre Allan was born on the 17th of May in 1952 in Casablanca. His parents were Czechoslovak, his father had inherited the H. B. ALLAN factory in Dvůr Králové which produced mustards, baking powders and sherbet powder. After the factory was nationalised, Pierre’s parents Vilém and Soňa Allan emigrated to Switzerland in March 1948. Pierre spent his childhood in Morocco, France and Switzerland. He attended schools in Germany, Great Britain and the USA where he graduated from high school. He studied at the Geneva university where he did his postdoc training and became a professor at the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences. He focused on theory and ethics of international relations. For the first time, he visited Czechoslovakia in 1967. After the 1989 revolution, he has become a visiting professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Charles University in Prague. He is a member of the Beseda Slovan expat organisation and of the Jan Masaryk Foundation. At the time of recording (2022), he lived in Geneva.