Alena Baizeau

* 1946

  • "When I was 10, my parents decided to put me in a boarding school on a mission in Bangui to learn to read and write. I argued a lot with the nuns, because in the mission, white children had to go with whites and play with whites and blacks go with blacks and play with blacks. I said to the nun, 'I don't speak French, I speak sango, so I'm going to play with black people.' And she didn't agree at all."

  • "I lived on a coffee plantation where my father worked for ten years. There was a coffee plantation, and every year we saw them bring bags of coffee and we saw trucks, which then took the coffee to Bangui. There was also an oil mill, we picked palm nuts, then we crushed them in a small oil mill that was there, and oil was made. We didn't go to school because there was no school in the village called Zomié. We were doing something all day long. We played with African children who also did not go to school, I can still speak very well [sango], the language of this region, where there were very many butterflies. So, we often went to catch butterflies and took pictures with butterflies. We used to go picking fruit in the forest and in the evening we all went swimming in the river because we lived near the Lobaye river. Sometimes we went to Mbaïki. It was necessary to cross the river on a rowboat, which was very dangerous during the rains, because it was not possible to drive the rowboat well. So, I lived until I was ten years. And when we saw Europeans coming, I and the African children ran away to hide because we didn't want to see the whites. We thought whites were not very kind. My mother always explained to me that the French had not received them very nicely, that they had prevented them from bringing things from Czechoslovakia, and that they had really ruined us. Life on the plantation was great for me. I played all day, I wanted to live like little black people. Only pants, no shoes, no dresses, nothing at all. It was strange."

  • "I started working at the age of seventeen because I no longer had any nationality. We were no longer Czechoslovak refugees, we were no longer French, we were not Central Africans. I had a stateless person's passport. I had no right to anything with such a passport. So, I started working."

  • "Before they came to Dukla, they passed through the Balkan countries. There they spent about three months planning and reorganizing. They lived in the woods, they didn't have much. And he said that in order to survive in the forest, they dug pits in the ground and laid fir branches over them, and with the snow falling on them, they had an igloo in which it was warm and in which it smelled very bad. It was very dangerous to get out of these igloos, because there were lone German shooters in the woods. One day his friend went out to pee and [my father] said, 'That idiot, instead of being careful, he took off his pants and that a white spot was visible and the German shooter shot him.' However, he did not tell me much about Dukla."

  • "After the war, my father had memories that he had a hard time dealing with. He often told me about his friends from Bir Hakeim. There were Italian, German, Russian soldiers, of course African and French soldiers. But a half of the soldiers were not French. They had an Italian friend who fought at Bir Hakeim against the German army and was captured by the Italian army in one battle. The prisoners were handcuffed. The ship sank. And my father said that his friend drowned because he was tied to the ship. So, he had such memories."

  • Full recordings
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    Brno, 29.09.2020

    duration: 02:22:34
    media recorded in project Příběhy regionu - JMK REG ED
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I wanted to live like other African children, but life decided for me

Alena Baizeau in 1990
Alena Baizeau in 1990
photo: Archive of Oto Šacher

Alena Baizeau comes from a Czech-Austrian family, both parents emigrated before the Second World War and met in London. Her father Otto Šacher (1917-1990) fought during the war in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion, the Forces of Free France and finally the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps. He experienced wars in Europe, Asia and Africa. After the war, her parents lived in Prague, where Alena Baizeau was born on June 10, 1946. Due to the growing position of the Communists in 1947, the family left Czechoslovakia and settled in the Central African Republic. Alena Baizeau grew up in the village Zomié, where her parents worked on a coffee plantation. At the age of ten, she enrolled in a mission school in the capital, Bangui. After graduating, she worked in Bangui as a secretary in a coffee export company. In 1970, she married a French citizen living in the Central African Republic. Thanks to the marriage, she acquired French citizenship, and in the same year they emigrated together to Paris, where they raised three children. At the time of the filming of the interview (2020), Alena Baizeau was still living in France, and since 1992 she has been traveling to the Czech Republic regularly to visit her relatives and friends.