Kamila Bendová

* 1946

  • "The verdict itself, which was not announced until late the next evening at nine o'clock, was a bit absurd. The whole of Charles Square was turned off as much as possible, with two policemen standing by every lamp that was still there. We entered the building, only a few of us were allowed in on the basis of a ticket. I remember that each of those prisoners was handcuffed to one officer and other officers walked in front of them and behind them. And when they were announcing the verdict, I had the feeling that they were afraid that if they raised their hands the whole country would rise up. It was all kind of absurd. It was the first time, and maybe the last time, that I had a hard time because I felt that the last six people who cared about this country were standing trial."

  • "We had about eleven home searches, and they were pretty nasty. I think one of the hardest things about the Charter 77 was that everything was absolutely insecure. It was not clear when he was going to be arrested, what he was going to be arrested for. The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) was formed in April 1978, seventeen people signed it, they were very clear about what they were going to do. So they started sending their memos, and they always said, 'This and that happened, but under our laws these people had a right to do it, and it's unjust to arrest them.' They could have arrested them immediately. But they waited a year, they waited over a year, and then when they were arrested, they were given different sentences. Václav Havel was actually at the beginning and was there at the formulation of the original text, but he didn't attend the VONS meetings because he was at Hrádeček, where he was being constantly watched. But he got the second highest sentence. It was not at all clear why. They just didn't like Havel. Otka Bednářová was the same case, just because she wrote some text about some woman she met in prison. The others were released. The way they acted was so indefinite that it created this constant fear. I used to clean our home every night. We had a hiding place at home that they never found out about, and so that's where the most important things, manuscripts, letters with foreigners, were put. But you really had to put those things there every night like that, because you never knew whether they would come in the morning or not."

  • “[Q: Did you ever consider escaping the country?] We had everything packed, we had our passports, we had visas. We were to go to Italy because Zdeněk was there with my mum, and I had an aunt in Geneva. So we sat down and talked: ‘And where will we emigrate to? Not outside of Europe, those are barbarians. So Europe. Where? The big nations: England, France, Spain, Italy... They’ll never really accept a person, he’ll always be a foreigner there. So Germany. Protestant Germany? I hope not. So that left Austria. [...] Vašek wanted to write poetry or do literary science, so it was obvious that he was dependent on the language, and he wasn’t good at languages, so that meant he’d have to do mathematics, there’d be no other option. But we had this one saying, that he can be an IBM expert here just as well as there. So we stayed here. It was a lengthy deliberation that [led us to conclude that] there wasn’t anywhere to go.”

  • “Foreign aid. One of the big problems there, at least Vašek always formulated it like that, and I think that he was mostly right, that the leftist structures in the West are used to working a bit outside the official structures and were able to help each other much better than the right-wing ones. The right-wingers would say: ‘So come over here, we’ll give you a scholarship, and you can study here.’ And we said: ‘And can’t you send us the scholarship here?’ - ‘We don’t have the necessary papers for that.’ It was always a kind of struggle with them... So it was more difficult, but they did help, of course. They helped a lot... There was the Charter Foundation, which tried - there were two funds, one for the people and one ‘for work’ - those were designated people who were sent larger sums of money, and they made collections for the ones in prison, they bought [typing, copying, etc. - trans.] machines for it, it was used to buy paper, and to support the activities in various ways. To the lawyers, to support the CDUP as well. Then there were smaller groups, there were various attempts at scholarships. When the CDUP or other people were imprisoned, Amnesty [International] looked after them, those were individual groups, whom they sent... So I think we did get aid. And that there were attempts to distribute it within the limits of trust. If someone came to me, they’d get something...”

  • “When in 1979, or perhaps it was 1980, the Vaněčeks left - those were also people from this group - when they went into emigration... When people emigrated, the way it was done was that they sold their flat and furniture, and then they didn’t have anywhere to host a farewell party, so they used to do it in our place. They asked us to lend them our flat for the purpose. And they invited their friends over, and those were old Bolsheviks, Šilhán was here back then, and that sort. And because they knew Věra Brázdová, the Brázdas were here as well. I can very clearly remember the scene when Jiřina Kyncolvá said that the whole situation of the seventies is much worse than it was in the fifties, because whole families are breaking up now and... Věra Brázdová started up: ‘Hold on there, but back then it was much worse, they locked up people for decades, and those families were also broken by that...’ And everyone here - from the kind of top ten thousand - were really terribly surprised. That was an incredible conversation, because they had the feeling that nothing bad had happened to them back then, and so I reckon that they didn’t even realise properly that things had happened to someone else. It was really peculiar because they started off again: ‘Oh, very well, but that only concerned some people, but now they were breaking up families and...’ It was such an unbelievable misunderstanding, everyone was talking about a completely different world. These people had been at the top, and they hadn’t paid any attention to what had been going on down below... Who of them apologised? A few did: Otka Bednářová, who really did experience it internally, the transformation. She took it as her fault, her collaboration, her membership in the Communist Party. I even have a letter from her here, when Havel was to receive some award, so she wrote that she really couldn’t attend the ceremony because how could stand next to Otík Mádr. That’s one case. And, to certain extent, also Jiří Ruml, who was very sensitive to these matters, surprisingly enough. But many of them did not, not in the slightest. I never saw Hübl, but I get the feeling that he still felt that they were the bearers, the nobility, the bearers of the future, what is right, what has gone a bit wrong now but will again come to power and everything will be corrected. It was easy with them. And they held us in utter disdain...”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 11.08.2011

    duration: 04:08:32
    media recorded in project Memory of the Nation: stories from Praha 2
  • 2

    byt Kamily Bendové - Karlovo náměstí, 06.03.2018

    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 3

    Praha, 21.06.2021

    duration: 01:56:28
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 4

    Praha, 27.09.2021

    duration: 01:50:07
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 5

    Praha, 09.12.2021

    duration: 01:52:05
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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I felt as if the last six people who cared about this country were standing trial

Kamila Bendová
Kamila Bendová
photo: Autor dobové fotografie: Ivan Kyncl, archiv Kamily Bendové

Kamila Bendová, née Neubauerová, was born on 12 October 1946 in Brno. Her parents were lawyers, her father Zdeněk Neubauer was a professor of constitutional law and the author of the national insurance system. Her brother Zdeněk Neubauer Jr was a well-known microbiologist and philosopher. The Neubauers moved to Prague in 1954, where Kamila spent most of her primary school years. She attended the Comprehensive Secondary School (CSS) in Štěpánská Street and then switched to a special mathematics class at the CSS in Křesomyslova Street for the final year. In 1963 she met Václav Benda - the two married in 1967. She graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of Charles University in Prague. In 1968 the young couple intended to emigrate, but in the end they decided that they would not find suitable employment abroad, and so they stayed. They both earned their degrees in 1969; Kamila Bendová was employed at the Mathematics Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1977 Václav Benda decided to sign Charter 77 (the Bendas had five children at the time). Their flat at No. 18 Charles Square became a centrepoint of the dissident scene in Prague and was also one of the most State Security-scrutinised object in the capital. In 1979 Václav Benda was chosen as spokesman of the Charter; he also helped found the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted (CDUP). In reaction to this, the government took the CDUP representatives to court, where Václav Benda was sentenced to four years of prison. Kamila Bendová maintained contact with the Charter community while raising her children. Upon his return from prison in 1984, Václav Benda continued his efforts against the Communist regime; he published the samizdat philosophy magazine Paraf. He co-founded the Civic Forum during the Velvet Revolution; the Bendas’ adult sons Marek and Martin were in the students’ coordination committee. Václav Benda remained publicly active until his death in 1999. Kamila Bendová taught at the Department of Logic at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University from 1991. In June 2003 the Czech Senate elected her to the post of Inspector at the Office for Personal Data Protection. In 1999-2007 she led philosophy seminars at the Faculty of Arts.