Jaroslav Cuhra

* 1936  

  • “Well, I was born in 1936, so in the last century in the year 36. And I'm a citizen of Prague, of the Lesser Town, which I keep saying with pride and I still tend to incline to the Lesser Town. Although I'm a citizen of Plzeň now, I've been living here for forty years already. So I was born in such a strange era, I would say, looking back over my shoulder. The First Republic that was fading away was really saying nothing to me, of course, and is saying to me very little even today. And then the period of the Second World War came. And then when the WWII was over and I gave my date of birth, it was just when I was nine years old. So I could understand quite a lot already. First of all, my father was involved in the anti-Nazi resistance movement. So there were various meetings at our place – in Vlašská Street in the Lesser Town. And today when I reflect on the past, I met a lot of interesting people who came to my father. Well, just for example – there came people such as Josef Smrkovský who was a famous person for the next ten years. Well, and my father, we were four children by the way, and our father was involved in the resistance movement. It was a great miracle that the family survived that because he was involved in the Heydrichiáda and here in Plzeň resistance movement. It was, it was called ÚVOD here in Plzeň. And it was a great group of anti-German and anti-Nazi resistance movement. And then, he was a religious man. He was very religious, he came from Šumava, so he was really as stubborn as a mule. So after the war he got engaged in the political scene in quite high functions. And I, if I should talk also about myself here, that is the reason for which you came here, so I started perceiving that – I mean his political engagement in the post-war life. He helped very much. He was the chief of the Presidium of the Minister of Technology, now the function is called a deputy. And he attempted to re-awaken both the economic situation and the Republic. However, it didn't last long. Well, he was imprisoned in 1948 – this time the Communists for change. And then he spent over 17 years in prison.”

  • “May I still ask about the year 1968? I've read somewhere that you were quite engaged in restoring activities of the People's Party.” “Oh yeah, in 1968 yes, we somehow did here... It was also such a direction of my father. It was not that he would support that People's Party at that time so much. He was a Populist, he was a member of the People's Party, he was very active after the war. However, he was engaged in the progressive wing of that People's Party already at that time. There were also Ms Koželuhová, Mr Tigrid and simply those guys were there. Well, and in 1968 he said: 'Look, in order to get to know how the politics is done, you will get involved. Well, join the People's Party for instance and try to do show something there. So we founded the Young Populists who started acting in a brilliant way, really very well. And whoever was there at that time, it was the year 1968, so when we count it back it has been forty years, forty-one years. That's incredible. So it was lovely that we met there, we with the same opinions and ideas, young people with the same opinions and ideas. And we became a worry for the original Populists who had been there. Because all of a sudden they had no idea what to do with us. It got opened and we took our chances and possibilities. And we had our own plans to reform the People's Party. But it lasted for a very short time. It lasted for about three quarters of a year and then we tried to chicken out of it somehow. The Party returned to what it used to be. So it was totally unacceptable to us. Unfortunately, later on it somehow reflected backwards. The ruling Communist power understood it as a gauge, that all of a sudden we somehow didn't like the National Front because the People's Party was a part of the National Front. So then during all those investigations they pressed us to, well, me, I don't know how about the others, to return back to the People's Party. I would show my opinion by this act when I was a Christian and when I was involved, so I simply had a scope and I should show it. And again it was rather negative that we crawled into it, into that People's Party. Oh, that we joined the Party I meant to say, excuse me, we didn't crawl in but we joined the Party to be exact. So the year 1968 meant hope, a great hope but in fact the hope was naive. Because those who started that, we were too young to do it. Well, we were not that young after all but we were, it has been thirty-six, well, we were thirty years old. And being thirty we simply didn't realize that the people who were involved in the bad power would completely change literally just like that and start being very nice.”

  • “If people today speak about it – at places where you would not expect it, the Charter is now somewhere else – please remember the people, how many people paid for it. What it meant, what the response of the communists was, what the response of the secret police was. This in itself speaks about the value of the Charter. In factories, people were gathered to refuse it. I had a friend – he died, unfortunately – and he worked in underground construction. He raised his hand and asked: ‘Please, read it to us. I don’t know what is in it.’ And that was it. He was fired immediately. Allegedly for subversion of something. The response was unbelievable. What it meant. And they realised… the bolsheviks realised what the Charter meant. And it was true. Today, looking back, I can evaluate the people. I can like them or dislike them. I don’t like many of them and I’m sure they don’t like me. But the value of Charter 77 remains. And it did cause the disintegration of the bolshevik society. Not absolutely but it played a role.”

  • “May I ask you how you lived out the year 1989? What did you think of the events that are going to be commemorated now?” “Well, I welcomed them simply with a great enthusiasm. Some people retrospectively say how they knew what it was going to end up like and so on. But it was not like that, only a few people knew that. And I have to proudly admit that I was one of them. Because I dared to say during the investigations that they were coming to an end, the investigators, and why they were doing that. But I expected, as many others somehow in a naïve way that the change that was going to come would be a change. And that we simply, how to put it so that it didn't sound so ostentatious, that the moral thing, the disintegration of the forty years that was here during the Communist totality, so I, if I should simply talk for myself, but also many others failed to estimate how much they managed to dissolve the society in both a moral and a spiritual way. So I have to say that it really took me by surprise. But then I realized that it was my naivety to think that it was not like that because the people were simply living relatively well at the end of the totality and had no worries nor burdens. Well, unless they experienced what we did. I mean for example that my father was imprisoned, affected families, all the brothers and sisters were somehow affected. So when there was someone who didn't experience that, those could hardly realize how deeply the regime influenced that in the moral and spiritual way. So this took me by surprise a little. But I think when looking at it now that it has been twenty years already and that is an awfully long time. So then the estimate really was that, hopefully, it would all be solved by some two generations who would live in an normal way. And they would have to decide what is good and assess what is wrong. And everybody has to learn that first and then when they have mastered that, I believe they would, wouldn't they, then they could understand. Well, then, those twenty years took me by surprise in many crucial aspects. I have to say that I was really taken by surprise. But I realize that it couldn't have been different. That the vision of the rapid change was a certain naivety, which was nonsense in fact. But the change is for the better, for the excellent. The young have great chances and they are taking them, which is perfect. They can travel, study abroad, they simply have the chance of self- education if they want to. They have all this and I can say I know plenty of them who are doing this. So it is a kind of hope that for us – for the old – means that it doesn't refer to us directly. But it refers to us in the way that it can make us happy and we can wish it on them. And it is, I dare say, it is what you can find good in it.”

  • “When I was in the third year at the Secondary School of Engineering I was 18 or 19. It was in 1955. So they called me at the former Gestapo (a building at the Radbuza river). I had no idea why. And it was for the first time when they were persuading me to cooperate with them. Because somebody stole my purse from me and there were some poems about my father in there. They were secretly transported from Jáchymov, he wrote some poems there and then they were secretly transported somewhere, we got them home in some secret messages. So I carried them with me. And someone stole my purse from me and took some money. Well, as a student I didn't have much in there, anyway. There were some luncheon vouchers and my travel card. But the thief threw those poems with the address away. So I didn't know that yet. So they took me, they were beside themselves with rage. They wanted to know who the author was and how I got the poems. And this was their attitude: 'You see, there is one more year before your school leaving exam so sign your cooperation here. You will inform us of what is going on at this school.' So I refused that at that time but I think the One above must have helped more. I simply said to them: 'All right then. I will sign it if you add there that I will inform you of things that are contrary to law. I mean things such as when someone steals something or something like that. I will of course inform you.' So they didn't want that and it was the end of it.”

  • “Well, they keep talking about Uherské Hradište, about that suffering and about that torture and about that all. And it is enough that they wish it to be written somewhere. And I think that repeating it over and over again, simply I'm fed up with it sometimes. I think that it is better to think about brighter future and about what would happen when it actually has happened. And this is written somewhere, people know about it, there have been some films shot about it. And I don't understand why it should be repeated over and over again. I think that the more hopeful, optimistic and those happy ideas are better than coming back to it. It happened. It happened and people know about it. And who can be happy to repeat it all the time. I think they didn't want it. My father, for example, he didn't want it at all and he used to say: ' It happened, it's all over. It simply was and that's it and I,' he used to say with some others whom he met there, they simply looked at it from the principled point of view. And he really said that 'from the principled point of view it was evening the good and bad weigh scales. And then it is up to you, boy, what you want. If you want to sit on the bad or the good scale. And if you sit on the good one then you must not whimper and you have to go for it,' he always used to say, 'you have to put a little bit of the human fat that you are getting rid of only grudgingly and you are loosing weight only by the fact that you are doing something like that. So each has to decide for himself or herself. I decided this way and I do not regret it.'”

  • “So I say something that someone may dislike. But I felt it in this way. I felt it when I was at the radio building. When we walked there. I will never forget. It was a deep, almost spiritual experience. The people at that moment were really unforgettable. The atmosphere among people, the courage. I remember how we stood here on the stairs and faced the Russian soldiers with guns. They had their armoured vehicle here. They stopped in the dead end street and they walked up the stairs against us with their guns pointing at us… and we said to ourselves: ‘This is not good, is it? And the people… some guys took out their pencils and put them into the barrels of the guns. These were young people, even younger than us. I am saying this because for some time it was really in the people and it is difficult to forget. And it showed what we could have been had we stuck to it.”

  • “I'd like to ask you if you could mention your father's activities during the war a bit. It could be even what you have written in your book (Conscience of Memory), just a little bit about that. What was he engaged in, for example, some actions and such.” “During the war I was obviously a little boy so I missed it all, of course. Lives of young people or not young, I mean very young people, are different a bit. But he simply wasn't. He was a patriot, which doesn't sound very wise these days. Because today if you say you're a patriot it is somehow a bit ridiculous. But at that time patriotism still meant something because my father qualified it himself. To do something for your country is more than to do something for your family. He said that it was one of the most fundamental religious principles. Because if I protect my country I protect my family at the same time. But protecting the country is regarded a superstructure because if it doesn't exist then the family is bad off as well. And he acted accordingly. And when I was older to understand and considering my age when I started remembering the first things, so I, when he was saying it to me, I remembered that what he actually was doing, that he was engaged in the times of Heydrichiáda. He was a close friend of father Petřek who lived there in Resslova Street in the Orthodox church. And they together, he with him, tried somehow to save those who attempted on Heydrich's life. In the end it was arranged that way that they were simply supposed to transport them here to Plzeň. It was just at that time when they started building the St Antonín Paduánský church in Křimická Street. And there was a large material store of the builder Albl. And their first shelter was supposed to be there. Then they were supposed to be transported to Kralovice at Her Virgin Mary church. And they were supposed to be there. So he simply somehow did it like that. But it failed. And it was a real miracle that his family, the family of my father's I mean, was not executed and that it didn't go down in subconscious minds or was not revealed to the Germans. So this basically characterized him most. If I should forget one activity, to me just a childish one, that I couldn't believe at the beginning. I didn't believe it for a long time till when I was writing the book Svědomí paměti (Conscience of Memory). I came across some documents that it really was true at that time. It means that he was working on blowing up the railway bridge as a major military link between the East and the West across Prague. Well, this is described in the book so I do not want to say that now. But it was completely a unique matter. The only reason for its failure was just Heydrichiáda. Shooting Heydrich dead. Then the bridge was not guarded by our police but by the SS men. So it was not possible to realize that plan. So it was his way of engagement in the anti-Nazi resistance movement during the war. I also remember, which was terribly annoying me as a boy, when some seven refugees moved at our flat in Vlašská Street. Well, they were Communist refugees from a concentration camp. So I had to sleep on the floor while they slept on the sofa, for instance. It really made me furious a bit – literally. I remember that and I kept saying why exactly me... So, it was like this. What was crucial to him was the resistance against those bad times, it was like that at that time already. And in the end during the revolution he took part in it, he was asked to take part in it. So the resistance during the war was absolutely obvious to him. And then again, there you can see that he followed the belief that patriotism is more than just the relationship to the family. Because the four children, if you had four children and if you realize that he could have been released somehow, it meant that the whole family would be dead. I simply cannot understand it even today what kind of inner courageousness it must have been – not only his but also of my mother's.”

  • “I witnessed there the April 13 - the famous April 13 – when all monasteries were closed down and priests arrested. And we were dissolved. A memory stuck in my head. In the third year – we were small boys and had those big dormitories – we slept and after midnight soldiers and police took our dormitory by raid. With a dog. They ordered us to get up and to go to the dining hall. In our pyjamas. They caught the priests, all of them. Then they told us to get back to sleep, that we would go in the morning. So we went to sleep and in the morning we got dressed. They took us to Děčín. Then to some… After three days, some of us were collected by their parents. In other cases they had an agreement with our parents that they would wait for us at the station. So they put us on a train and our parents collected us from the station. And that was it. This is my personal memory. It didn’t have the best impact on the boys, the experience.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Plzeň, 02.10.2009

    (audio)
    duration: 01:10:07
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Byt Jaroslava Cuhry v Plzni, 06.05.2014

    (audio)
    duration: 42:52
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 3

    Plzeň, 28.02.2017

    (audio)
    duration: 02:00:08
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I got involved in the political resistance movement before 1989. The other way was hardly possible, what you were going through in your family

Portrait photo II. - 2017
Portrait photo II. - 2017

  Ing. Jaroslav Cuhra younger was born in Prague in 1936. His father, Ing. arch. Jaroslav Cuhra, (1904-1974) was a Czech famous person. He was an architect, he took part in the anti-Nazi resistance movement in a resistance organization ÚVOD. He became a member of the Czechoslovak People’s Party during the era of the Third Republic, he was a representative of the Provincial People’s Committee and the Chief of the Presidium in the Ministry of Technology. In 1948 he was arrested and imprisoned by the Communist regime in 1948-1960. Having been granted amnesty and being released in 1960 he was re-arrested in 1961. He was sentenced for an alleged founding of an illegal Christian Democratic Party. He was not released till 1966. He got involved in the organization K 231 in the period of the Prague Spring. Ing. Jaroslav Chura younger got trained as a bricklayer. Later on he graduated from the Secondary School of Civil Engineering in Plzeň and ČVUT (Czech Technical University in Prauge). His profession are calculations of engineering structures. In 1968 he co-founded the so called ‘young populists’, which was an attempt to reform the Czechoslovak People’s Party. He was a dissenter, he signed the Charter 77 and some other petitions such as ‘Několik vět’ petition. He was being investigated by the State Security on regular basis. After 1989 he became politically engaged in KDU-ČSL (Christian and Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People’s Party). He became a representative of the Federal Assembly of ČSFR (the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic). He worked as the Chief of the Presidium in the Ministry of Defence for about three years. At present he is the chairman of the branch of Political Prisoners Confederacy in Plzeň. He wrote a book on his father called Svědomí paměti (Conscience of Memory).