John Bok

* 1945

  • "I was even arrested once with Kristýna when I took her to school, so the children experienced it too. I said I couldn't send the girl alone to the first year because she was followed by a strange gentleman here recently. 'You're not able to secure it. So now I will accompany my daughter to school and then arrest me, I will not go with you now.' Those two idiots accompanied me to that school, we went up the stairs, her teacher stared at the State Security officers and said, 'Mr. Boku, what is it?' I said, 'Don't worry, teacher, take my daughter to class and be so kind, then call my wife that the comrades arrested me and that I will come today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, I do not know when, we will see."

  • "[I experienced Jan Palach's self-immolation] very dramatically and I don't like to talk about it. My experience is - I was in Prague for something when things were happening, and when I was returning to Ústí by night train, I learned about Palach. When I got off the train in Ústí nad Labem, dark night, frost, I went on a night bus, I lived in Trmice at that time, it was then a town next to Ústí, where I lived at Vlastička´s place. There was his letter the first torch posted everywhere in Ústí. I felt that there would be no more torches, that he would be alone in it, and I thought deeply about following him, I was 23, 24, I loved Vlastička, and I came home devastated and at the same time with understanding that it happened because I experienced people betraying themselves in the theater. It was visible that something was happening to me, so I told her and she started persuading me. I may have had a broken instinct for self-preservation since childhood, the animal one. Therefore, I always defended the weaker ones from since being a child, even though I was skinny myself. As if I had a reduced instinct for self-preservation. It also turned out in my life that this is so when I was saving a train car which I missed. Nakonec tedy mě argumentačně přesvědčila, nevydírala mě kvůli sobě, říkala, že když tohle udělám, nebudu moci udělat jiné věci, které bych jinak mohl ještě udělat. Ale stavěla se k Palachovi stejně jako já, že to byl ohromný počin člověka, který věřil, že tento počin by mohl probudit svědomí národa."

  • "I experienced, for example, the fact that one boy, a Slovak - because bullying was not just against the newcomers, but when one defied the stupid collective understanding that all for one, that if you behave badly, the others will be punished by the officers because of that. It is called “deka” (a thrashing). And it sometimes ended up in serious injuries. I once stood up for a newcomer; it turned out to be a conflict, I was already an old hand, so I betrayed, I refused the bullying of newcomers. As a result, they agreed to give me thrashing. I was washing in the bathroom, a boy came, he was from Orava, a tractor driver from a believing family, he said, 'John, they're preparing to give you a thrashing. I told him, 'Don't get involved, you don't have a conflict with anyone, I do, but I'm grateful for the information.' He said, 'Go.' I walked down the hall, the wooden war quarters, originally built during the Nazi era, full of rats. I went back and heard the hum like in an apiary, I opened the door, I turned on the light, I closed the door, I leaned on the door and I said, 'Well, guys, you want to give me a thrashing. Then give it to me. But I recommend that you give it to me so I can't move. Because otherwise I'll cut your throats like pigs by morning.' I turned the light off. I went to bed. And they didn't give me the thrashing. But they didn't like me."

  • "Suddenly… Yeah, and the bell! I was about to go open, I thought someone else was going. Grandma says, 'That's OK, I'll open.' She didn't speak Czech at all, she didn't learn it. Only a few words - dumplings, butter, good morning, sausages, cigarettes, beer, she managed it, and also gin, but that was the same like in English. She was going to the City Court to play the piano and sing the Beatles, they always gave her a shot of alcohol there. She was from a middle-class family, but she got used to it. Then she had a pension of 450 Kčs. She was robbed of all her property in currency. Suddenly she knocked and said, 'Come!' She pulled out a large five-pound paper bag as flour was put into it and said, “Write here Fuck You.’ So, I wrote Fuck you’ I was asking why, she said — that´s none of your business. I was going back to the room. Suddenly, there was an incredible Huron laughter, and we all crammed into the hallway across the kitchen. My English grandmother stood ostentatiously in the open doorway of the apartment with the sign, holding the paper. She was telling the two StB officers to fuck off because they came to ask about my mother. They rolled down the railing, they were completely done. She never showed fear. It was a role model, too."

  • “When the list was being made, who was invited to the Castle, who would go to the Castle for OF, the National Assembly, the Czech National Council, SS men like Mohorita and a similar rabble. At that moment, I came there, the lists were being compared. Out of curiosity, I looked to see if John Bok would be there, and he wasn't! And at the same time, I kept doing his [Václav Havel] protection, I created protection from students, from Jakl or Jedlička men; they were boys who knew judo and karate. Those boys listened to me as a natural authority. I forced them to treat people politely, so when we make our way, we have to say 'excuse me', 'would you be so kind'. And that we protect Vašek [Havel] from a physical attack, because we have no other choice. So, I was going through it and… I found out that Křižan and Kantor and these boys didn't include me there. I felt offended, I went to see Vašek [Havel] and I said: 'Can you tell me why I'm not on the list?' Vašek started stuttering. And I say, 'Do you know about it or not? Oh, I know, they told you I'd do some trouble there, right? It's possible, no, but it would work at this time. Realize that you would make a promise as a communist president to the Bolshevik constitution.' He says, 'Calm down.' I say: 'I won't calm down, Vašek. You know what, fuck the revolution. ' I went home, I was really sad."

  • “Because I was handy in crafts, I had universal steel pliers with me, which I bought in England, from steel; and there is everything possible - not only a knife, but also splitters, a screwdriver, I always carried that with me. I disassembled… When they had dogs and everything. At night, while driving through France, through Germany, I lurked there, and at night I went to the toilet with a bag and I unscrewed the entire ceiling. Then I threw it in and screwed it again. I went on. Then I learned that next to the seats, there were also boards attached. And then I had another trick, in a compartment where no one was, I put it in, there were pockets between the seats, I looked it up, that's how I laid out the materials and smuggled it there. Because I was a railway man, I knew where the wagons were parked. I went there for the materials. Not when we passed to Czechoslovak territory, I would not take it out right away. That would be too complicated. But once I was caught because I thought I was already a professional, I stopped being careful and underestimated it. When we arrived in Prague, I arrived home, with luggage, I got dressed into work trousers and went to Spořilov, behind the Michelská gas station, there was a marshalling railway station. I knew where it was, I found it out in advance. I had a bag, working trousers; they cleaned the trains at night, washed them, changed the toilet paper. I had a bag and I said, 'I have to change the light bulbs somewhere here.' I knew which wagon it was, by the numbering. I went, picked it up, stuffed it in the bag and took it home.”

  • “I don’t know how I managed it, maybe it was because I had relatives in England, my mother wrote Štrougal open letters. But I wrote those as well, I wrote to Husák to tell him he was a criminal because of VONS, and they didn’t arrest me at all that time! It was a monstrous regime, and even though we now speak about it as of a rational monstrous system, in fact the system was monstrous precisely because it was irrational.”

  • “I was really lucky that I never ended up in a proper prison, when others ended up in the cell for much smaller transgressions. I had written (President) Husák a letter saying that he was a criminal. Because of how they had imprisoned the people from the Committee for the Defence of Unjustly Persecuted People [known under the Czech acronym VONS - transl.]. I was really sick of it all. I was an engine driver, I was employed, I built the metro - not that I was trained for that, no, I just attended a course because no one wanted to do it, it was a risky work. After that two-month course I met my wife, then I worked for nine years, I was well paid, which was absurd. The totalitarian regime was absurd in that. I was actually an enemy of the state, which didn’t like me - so I wasn’t allowed to study, but at the same time I had a better wage than the Communists because I was working in a dangerous environment.”

  • “I have letters in which people thank Father for having saved them. Then I have a nice story, we were living in Tanvald and the State Security (StB) officers wanted - because they knew that my father had two children, an English wife and an English mother-in-law, we lived on the top of a hill at the time - and the StB officers from Jablonec nad Nisou told Dad to consider the matter, but that simply he would cooperate with them. He was supposed to create a provocation for three or four doctor’s families from Jablonec, who had had enough of it all and were planning to leg it out of the country. There was an airport in Jablonec, and Dad was supposed to pretend that he would take them by plane across the border. That was a dilemma. - That is the horror of it, that these people survived the war, they flew for so many hours, they were incredibly strong and insanely brave, and then this horror (this regime), the fear for one’s wife and children starts breaking people. - At first Dad said he would collaborate with them, but the idea then made him nauseous, and so he confided in Mum. Well, and Mum’s work at the time, because everyone was afraid of doing such a job with the risk of contracting tuberculosis, so she attended a course and she worked in a tuberculosis treatment center. There was an excellent doctor, his name was Ivanov, he was the descendent of Russian White Army emigrants. And Mum came up with a clever trick - so when the time came for the provocation to be carried out, Mum said: ‘No, no, no!’ And she went to Ivanov and told him that she needed to have Dad placed in tuberculosis quarantine. That Ivanov was a brave chap, and he really did take Dad in with a (fictitious) case of advanced tuberculosis. So, he placed him into the infection ward, and since that time the StB left him alone.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Dětenice, 07.07.2014

    duration: 02:24:27
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 29.06.2017

    duration: 02:55:05
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 3

    Praha, 17.05.2018

    duration: 01:59:19
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 4

    Praha, 01.08.2018

    duration: 01:53:53
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 5

    Praha, 17.09.2018

    duration: 02:03:52
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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I say what I think, and that’s where the trouble comes from

Photo from 1992
Photo from 1992
photo: Internet

John Karel Bok was born on October 24, 1945. His parents were Czechoslovak RAF pilot Bedřich Bok and Englishwoman Florence Mary Spence, who left her homeland for Czechoslovakia with her father after the war. The family was persecuted and moved from place to place in the 1950s. The father joined the Communist Party and was repeatedly expelled, and the State Security forced him to cooperate in provoking those planning to emigrate. His parents divorced in 1956, and John Bok trained as an electrician and worked in various manual occupations. In 1966, his mother and sister decided to return to their homeland. During the totalitarian era, John Bok was mostly employed manually, working for nine years as a train driver on the construction of the Prague underground. He signed Charter 77, was involved in the production and distribution of banned publications, and smuggled foreign literature and magazines from his travels to the West in the 1980s. At the time of the Velvet Revolution, he organised Václav Havel’s security detail. After the Velvet Revolution, he worked for three years in the state administration. In 1994 he founded the Solomon Association with the writer Lenka Procházková, which aims to defend the rights of the unjustly prosecuted, to improve prison conditions and to seek presidential pardons for people affected by miscarriages of justice. John Bok is an activist who is known for holding hunger strikes, most recently for the resignation of Stanislav Gross. He is the father of five children and lives with his wife, artist Jitka Boková.