Věra Čáslavská

* 1934  

  • “Well, the worst trauma that I personally suffered was when I was seventeen, about a year before graduating [from grammar school] - my grandfather was arrested and interrogated. And because no one in Chrudim wanted to judge him and the interrogation was rather fishy, I think that they took him to Holice, if I’m not mistaken, where he was beaten to death by the police or someone. And I remember back then that we were at home, and that Grandma, Granddad’s wife, was visited by someone from the funeral home, and the man told her: ‘I’m taking the doctor to the morgue, but don’t go to look at him, Mrs Kudrnka, he’s beaten to death.’ That was something that really shook me up bad.”

  • “Well, it was kind of funny in that the bus that we went in was managed by another secret [agent], who told us straight away that we mustn’t take more than a minimal amount of money with us. That we mustn’t take any gold, diamonds, nothing of greater value, and that we would be inspected at the border. The bus was full, about forty people. Out of those forty, they chose three for a body search. My husband and I were among those three. In other words, you could see that there was a lot of suspicion here. My husband was given a full search, naked, including cavities. They didn’t get hold of a woman who could search me naked. So in the end I just sat there and waited with one soldier or secret policeman at the border. And because everything felt terrible tense and exaggerated, I offered the man some Christmas biscuits. And I wondered how I would explain why I had a cookery book with me. Such a silly thing. I knew my husband had gold coins with him, but I didn’t know where. I didn’t even want to know. It’s better to remain ignorant.”

  • “My husband was a great anti-Communist. He did not like the post-February 1948 regime at all. And one time it happened, when he was still a student at the secondary technical school, that must have been around the end of 1948, beginning of 1949, and my husband was in Sokol [the sports movement - trans.], and he had one of his teachers as a Sokol Brother - his name was Vlk, I think. And [this teacher] phoned him in the night: ‘Jarda, come to the school, to the dark room, I need to take some photos.’ So my husband got up and went without hesitation. He was taking pictures of some documents that proved that one of the later Communist bigwigs was a concentration camp Kapo. And when [my husband] finished copying it, Mr Vlk told him: ‘Please, go right now in the night to this one square in Liberec, there’ll be a car parked there with such and such a license plate; give it to the person sitting in the car.’ So my husband went there. And the person he gave the documents to, he recognised her, it was Doctor Milada Horáková.”

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    Praha, 06.10.2016

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We wanted to live in truth and equality. That’s why we fled.

Věra Čáslavská, 2016
Věra Čáslavská, 2016
photo: autoři natáčení

Věra Čáslavská was born on 18 January 1934 in Chrudim, into the family of the lawyer Vilém Novák. Her grandfather Eduard Kudrnka was a well-known figure in Chrudim, he was the town doctor, he helped poor people and was very popular. In the 1950s he died after being interrogated by State Security. That was one of the moments that built up a strong hostility towards the Communist regime in the witness. Her stance was reinforced by her husband Jaroslav Čáslavský, whom she married when she was eighteen. As a secondary-school student, Jaroslav was asked by a teacher to hand over some photocopied documents to a person sitting in a car at a certain place. He recognised the person as Milada Horáková. The documents contained information that a high-ranking Communist functionary had served as a warden in a concentration camp. When Milada Horáková was executed and following the massive political trials, Jaroslav Čáslavský feared for his life, as he found himself under State Security surveillance. In 1965 the Čáslavskýs received permission to go on a trip to Austria, and they took the opportunity to emigrate. They left their eight-year-old daughter, whom they had told about their plan, in the care of her grandmother in Czechoslovakia. From Austria they travelled to the United States. It was not until 1968 that they succeeded in obtaining permission through friends and officials for their daughter to come and join them. They settled down in the United States and became respected experts in their field of chemistry. After 1989 they began visiting Czechoslovakia, which Věra still considers to be her homeland.