Olga Bojarová, rozená Hůlková

* 1925

  • “At that time I was still in the Women’s Union. It was in spring 1968. I knew very well that they would come, because half a year before, Russian and Polish tanks were riding around our country, basically the same thing that you see in Ukraine was happening in our country. Then, at the night of August 21st, the chairwoman of the Women’s Union called me: ‘Olga, they are already here.’ It was 2 a.m. I said: ‘I know, we are not sleeping either.’ She told me: ‘Come here, then.’ I went to the Women’s Union immediately. Their office was in Panská Street, which was really close to Senovážné Square where we lived. We started writing letters to all women’s organizations with which we had good relations –the French, Spanish…We wrote the letters in the morning and we did not know what to do with them next. It was not easy, because we knew that it was not possible to send them by post. We got a great idea: ‘You will take it to the Yugoslavia embassy.’ The embassy was located behind Charles Bridge in Malá Strana, and we had very good relations with them, because women from Yugoslavia were in our Union several times, and I knew the embassy’s secretary. I grabbed the bags with all the letters and I went to the embassy. The gatekeeper did not want to let me in, because the whole Prague was in turmoil and it was terrible because he did not want to let me in. I told him: ‘I need to talk to the secretary, he had just called me and I have to go to him.’ The gatekeeper thus let me in. The secretary was in his office upstairs and I begged him: ‘Please, there is something we would like you to do. I have ten letters here, and if you would be so kind and mail them, because we cannot use our post to send them. He looked at me with pity and he said: ‘You cannot ask me to do this, because we are under their surveillance, too, and what happened to your country, can happen in our country tomorrow or the next week. Please understand, but I don’t want to accept any letters from you, and I will not send anything for you.’ Well, there was nothing else to do and so I took the letters and put them into my bag again and I walked back over Charles Bridge. But meanwhile something happened there. When I had walked to Malá Strana, there had been no problems, but as I was now walking back, there was a Soviet guard with submachine guns. It was not nice at all to walk over the bridge with their submachine guns aimed at you. A little boy walked in front of me; he was about ten years old, and he was looking at the soldiers and one of them ordered him to stop and he felt his pockets and then he motioned to him with the gun’s muzzle to go. I thought, this is great, I will die here just like John of Nepomuk, they will find the letters and throw me to the Vltava River, this is awful. But the soldier thought that I was the boy’s mother, and it did not even occur to him that I could carry any anti-Soviet letters, and he kindly motioned to me with the submachine-gun, and I went home. Actually, I went back to the Women’s Union at first, and the situation was terrible and we discussed what would happen. I remember that I then went home and with my husband we went to Letná, where the Russians had a large camp. There were Russian soldiers and I began talking to them in my very good Russian and arguing with them: ‘Just look at us, you came here, and we have empty hands, we have not done anything to you, why are you occupying us, why did you come here, nobody invited you to come here?!’ People began shouting at me: ‘Madam, go away, go away, he will shoot you.’ An officer stepped out of a tent, he had two revolvers and he was aiming them at me, and my husband grabbed my hand and we disappeared in the crowd. My husband told me: ‘Are you crazy or what? He would have really shot you!’ We then somehow managed to get home and everything was terrible. It was a situation of injustice, helplessness and endless horror.”

  • “They were asking me various things and one of the questions was: ‘And what do you think about the issue of Jan Palach?’ I replied: ‘I find it horrible that boys who are the age of our sons show us how we should act.’ The ladies looked at each other and said: ‘That’s enough, you can go.’ And so it was over for me, and it was clear to me that I would never find a good job that would correspond to my skills. But I could not do otherwise. There are things when you have a certain personal barrier and you simply cannot cross it. For me, it was this, and I was actually very glad that I managed to end it with such dignity.”

  • “While I studied at the faculty of arts, an order was issued by the Party to form groups of two or three people and set up screening committees in order to scrutinize the individual students and decide whether they would be allowed to study or be expelled. The guys told me: ‘You need to be in one of the groups.’ I replied: ‘No, no no, I will never do this.’ ‘You have to, it is an assignment from the Party.’ I told them: ‘All right. It is a Party assignment, but I have a two-year-old boy and I am pregnant with another child. I quit my studies; I interrupt my studies now, and I am going home for my maternity leave.’ Of course, I left, and I did not care at all what would follow. I did not complete my studies. I have passed seven semesters at the faculty of arts and I have not graduated because I refused to sit in the committee that was expelling students. I am very glad that I have managed to do it like that. It was not easy, obviously. But my marriage was still wonderful at that time, and my husband told me: ‘Don’t worry about it, I will earn enough for all of us, you don’t need to have that doctoral degree…’ I could not play the role of an executioner, by any means!”

  • “I was a Girl Scout and I will never forget 1938 when Germans were forcing our people to flee the border regions. As Scouts we were helping at Denis Railway Station, which unfortunately no longer exists today, and we were waiting there for people who were arriving by train from the border areas and we were then taking them to other railway stations or to other places. They were totally scared and they carried their bundles with duvets and children in their arms. For me as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old girl it was a terrible and very intense experience to see this fear and hopelessness, and it was certainly terrible for those people as well. I don’t know how it was organized from then on; I only know that we served there for about four days and then it was all over. But we surely did help.”

  • “It was shortly after the entry of the Warsaw Pact armies to Czechoslovakia and a delegation of Soviet women arrived to our Czechoslovak Women’s Union. I was the head of the foreign department and I was in charge of their programme here. I knew all of them; all of them were acquaintances of many years. We walked through Prague and discussed various practicalities, and then a walk was planned for one afternoon. I thus went for a walk with the deputy chairwoman of that women’s organization, a very nice lady. She wanted to see Kampa. We then stood on the embankment of the Vltava River under the chestnut trees, and she liked it a lot, because they don’t have chestnuts there, and I told her how sorry I felt about the arrival of their army to Czechoslovakia, because we have had a shared Slavic culture for ages and their Russian literature was very important for us, but now it was all crushed by that, and the friendly relations were now over. I did not just mention it in one or two sentences, I talked about it in detail for quite a while. She was looking at the river and just nodding: ‘Da da, ehm ehm…,’ and she grew distanced. But there was no scandal or anything, and then they left. About two months later an international congress of several women’s organizations was to be held in Moscow and we also received an invitation for the Czech delegation, but it explicitly said that the invitation was valid only if comrade Bojarová was not a member of the delegation; if she was, the invitation would become invalid. The chairwoman of the Women’s Union called me and she told me: ‘See that? Do you understand?’ I said: ‘I do.’ She told me: ‘The only thing I can do is to write a good reference for you. Leave as soon as you can, because if you stay here for two or three months longer, then you will not be able to find any other job except bus cleaning.’ My stellar career was thus over.”

  • “It was in 1944, and they kicked all of us from school when we were in the seventh grade, and we were then sent to work as unskilled labourers for the railway company or for the tram company. I was lucky that I got assigned to work for the railway company, but not directly in transportation, but in the office. I thought that I was lucky, but the work was awfully difficult for me at first. I worked at the cargo train station in Žižkov in that beautiful building, and at that time the working week was six days long, and we worked until noon on Saturdays, and the other days it was ten hours a day. My only task was to sit there and add up columns of numbers on A4 size sheets and these numbers were weights of various articles that were transported in cargo train cars. For me, who dreamt of literature, and theatre and poetry and all this, sitting there the whole week and just adding up numbers was a tedious and very hard work, but later they transferred me to the office of the Railway Health Insurance Company. The building in Rumunská Street is still there. The work there was interesting; basically there was very little work to do, and I thus learnt Russian there. I had a Russian textbook in the drawer and I always studied, and when the boss came, I would lean against the desk and close the drawer and pretend I was writing something. The work there was really agreeable, as it was not demanding at all. And then on 14th February 1945, during the bombardment of Prague, the adjacent building got destroyed by a bomb. I remember it, it was horrible. At noon I could go home for lunch, because there were no cafeterias at that time, and we knew that there was an air raid on Prague, and we spent the time in the basement. And then in the afternoon, around three o’clock, as I walked back to work, suddenly there was white dust everywhere, and I could see a ruin of a destroyed building. There was a tailor’s workshop in the building, and about fourteen seamstresses died there. I already told you about it; another bomb fell on the shelter in the park on Charles Square during that air raid, and Josef Lada’s daughter Evička was there, and she got killed as well.”

  • “It was in May 1945, and we were all literally enchanted by the fact that the war was over. We knew very well that were it not for the Soviet army, the Germans would have destroyed us here during those last days or weeks. And I also had many friends, who had been imprisoned in Nazi prisons throughout the war. My husband was imprisoned as a student. I knew many of his friends, and these guys have all spent three or four years in prisons and quite logically they had sympathies for the Communist Party, because until that time there was no other political party that would be so powerful or have this kind of foresight, or at least we did not know of any other. We did not have to think twice about it; at that time it was not at all as horrible as in the 1950s and 1960s, it was nothing compared to what happened later. I remember the Party meetings in our pub in the market square. We were just discussing the cleaning of streets, or something like that, there was no expelling of people, and so on, that came a long time later. I was then thinking about it and I kept saying: I cannot stay in the Party, I will leave, I will no longer be a member. But on the other hand I was very scared that if I left, it would have repercussions for my children.”

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    Praha, Dejvice, 08.10.2014

    duration: 05:27:15
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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So that people do not forget that they are humans

Bojarová, rozená Hůlková Olga
Bojarová, rozená Hůlková Olga
photo: Ivana Myšková

  Olga Bojarová, née Hůlková, was born on May 9, 1925 in Prague. She witnessed the consequences of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in autumn 1938, when she was one of Girls Scouts who were helping at the Denis Railway station (in Těšnov, now non-existent) to find accommodation for Czech citizens who escaped from the border regions after the German takeover of the area. A year later she managed to avoid being sent to do forced labour in Germany. She worked for the railway company in Prague and later in the office of the Railway Health Insurance Company, where she was secretly studying Russian. After the war she married writer and translator Pavel Bojar (1919-1999), with whom she wrote and translated several books (especially Gogol’s Dead Souls and Tolstoy’s The Road to Calvary). At the time of post-war enthusiasm they both joined the Communist Party. However, when Olga, who was a student of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, refused to serve in the screening committee in 1948, she was forced to quit her unfinished studies of Czech language and aesthetics. She has never regretted her decision, however, because caring for her growing family as well as translating French and Russian classics provided sufficient fulfilment for her life. After her divorce with Pavel Bojar in 1965 she remained with their three children and she had to find a permanent job. In 1967 she became appointed the head of the foreign department of the Czechoslovak Women’s Union. After the Soviet occupation in August 1968 she voiced her disagreement with the arrival of the Warsaw Pact armies to Czechoslovakia and she was expelled from the Women’s Union. During political purges in 1969 she was also dismissed from the Communist Party when she expressed her admiration for the brave act of Jan Palach. She worked in the press department of the Textile and Clothing Association for two years, and then in Art Centre (Czechoslovak centre for fine arts). In 1971 she served as an interpreter during the preparation of Jaroslav Frič’s audiovisual presentation about Iran in Montreal in Canada. In the 1970s and 1980s Olga was not allowed to publish her own works nor translated works. With her second husband Evžen Zeman she visited Pavel Tigrid in Paris several times and they were illegally importing books from France. In spite of that, she has never regarded herself as a dissident. Olga Bojarová is now nearly blind and she can no longer write nor read, but she finds joy in the successes of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.