Jiří Degl

* 1944  

  • “We invited him over. It was in the summer, I had terrible fevers, my brother as well. The doctor said: ’Mrs. Deglová, take the boys and bring them to Pilsen. In this summer house they suffer, they should not be here.’ Mum told him that this is where we lived but he could not believe that and thought that she is making fun of him. He saw that there was water pouring from the ceiling and that the plaster was falling down the wall. My mother was very sensitive and she started crying because he did not believe her. One day in November, there was terrible rain and I was sitting under a plastic cover. My mother called him over and he came. When he saw us, he started crying: ‘Jesus Christ, I am very sorry, I did not know that you really lived here, the communist have really chased you out in here.’ My mother told him that it was the third year that we lived there. He got very angry, that it was terrible, that we could not be there. That us children, we would get sick because there was mould and it would impacts our lungs. He recommended my mum to invite over someone from the health inspection in Rokycany, which she did. The doctor confirmed everything she found in the house: mould, no access to water, smell at night, no light in the kitchen, only an opening towards the yard. She wrote us a recommendation and that helped us because then we could move back to Pilsen. She was really shocked, the doctor.”

  • “It happened on 5 June 1953. My father worked as a locksmith in Škoda. I came back from school, my brother was not even going to school yet, my mum was at home. Some man came around and brought my mother a green envelope. He said: ‘You will probably be moving out.‘ He wanted her to sign some receipt, a paper confirming the reception of the letter. My mum was afraid to sign and said her husband would sign it. The man said she should send our father to the National Committee in Pilsen. The man had incredibly evil eyes and we were afraid of him. He was looking at as and kept saying: ‘You will be moving,‘ and seemed extremely pleased with that. My mother was terribly scared. When my father came back from work, my mum gave him the letter, my father read it and, completely speechless, he sat down and said that this was not possible, that we had not done anything, after all.“

  • “How was the normalization period for you?” – “It was bad because work was no fun for me; there were always some interviews. Every year they interviewed us and graded us according to whether we were apt for the job or not. I once escaped one such interview but my boss has sent one of my colleagues and he brought me back by force. I refused to take part in the interview. Then they wanted to fire me, which they succeeded at. In the end, the workers and masters in the production line have saved me. They stood up for me so that I could work as a technical engineer and so I was not fired but stayed in the job up until I needed to stay at home with my sick father. So I worked as a technical engineer.” – “What were the interviews about?” – “They asked about our opinion on the political situation, what did we have to say about the politics of the Party and so on. I said I had nothing to say. I was not part of the Party and I did not want to speak about that, I had no connection to that. But when it came to work – we all had to speak. How did we like it, what could be improved and so on.”

  • “Were you angry at the Communists for what they have done to you?” – “Well, angry… On one hand what was good about Mokrouše was that we were a solid group. We needed to support each other against the kids from Tymákov. Because they would always beat us up somewhere. They have beaten me up right on the first day when I went to cinema because of my ‘bourgeois’ background. The Tymákov kids were children of the communists while the ones from Mokrouše were children of entrepreneurs - they were not in the coop and my father was labelled a reactionary because he was not in the Party.” – “The family name of the kids was Tymákovi?” – “No, Tymákov was the municipality nearby. It was a rather big one and we used to go to school there. Mokrouše were an addition to that, like a small village. We used to have a great group there, we played hockey, football, we really had a close connection with those friends. Those were good guys. If there had been a good apartment there, it would have been quite alright. But the housing was terrible. The discrimination continued also at school. When I used to go to school in Tymákov, my female classmates complained to my mum that Jirka knew how to do the math but he would get worse grades than the other children from the municipality. My mother went to see the teacher, Švehla, and he confirmed that. He said: ‘Yes, your son is absolutely not elegant. He does the math so un-elegantly that I cannot give him an A.’ My mother wrote to one of her brothers, who was a teacher, whether elegance is part of grading during exams. He said that this was nonsense. What is decisive is what the student writes on the blackboard and not whether he is elegant or not. He said it was the discrimination of our family which continued also here. He said the teacher was afraid to give me a better grade.”

  • “In 1967, we founded the art group Intensit. This group exists until today and we took part in many exhibitions. We exhibited in Brno; that was the triennial in Brno. It was organized by Jiří Valoch who works for the National Gallery today. In Gottwaldov – today’s Zlín – there were exhibitions. Then there were exhibitions of graphics in Louny. I took part in all those exhibitions, I received awards in some of them. For example here in Šumperk, there was an exhibition in 1973. Then around 2001, Dr. Losenický did an exhibition ‘Responses to Cubism’ in Pilsen and he invited me to exhibit as well. Some Austrians saw it and they liked my paintings. They have picked only two painters from Pilsen – Mr. Malina and me - to paint Jan Nepomucký, a Saint from Central Europe. Mr. Malina was the director of a gallery. So we painted the paintings in Plasce. We travelled all around Europe with them. We were in Passau, in Vienna in the diocesan museum, in Stephansdom. The exhibition has been in Spain, in Zagreb, Warsaw, Bratislava; in Prague it was in the Franciscan monastery. So we travelled the whole of Europe with those exhibitions. Most of the time they paid us but everywhere we needed to paint a painting. In exchange they paid, for example, for our travels.“

  • “My father, when he was working in Ejpovice, there was a former pilot who was the chief of the warehouse and he broke his ribs. He was a former soldier from England and he left the country. All the workers said: ’Vilém..’ – my father – ‘…should take the job because he is educated and he could represent us.’ There was a female comrade who said that my father could not do the job because he did not have the necessary education for that. And that she would take it because she had finished VUML [the evening university of Marxism-Leninism]. So my father was prohibited from doing the job and she took over. Then, when my father was travelling from Pilsen back home, he used to leave the bus on the route and would go on foot to Mokrouše. She forbid him to do that. She would say: ‘You will not stop for this doctor, he will be taking the evening bus from Pilsen’! I forbid you to stop!” The driver would have his own mind and he would stop for my father anyways. My father always thanked him, left the bus and would go on foot to Mokrouše. She was prohibiting him to do that as she was full of hatred. Once, my father got even thrown out of the bus because the comrades from Tymákov said that he used to be an attorney and that he was exploiting the working class. So they threw him out of the bus, nearly killing him. My father told them: ‘I used to be a judge. I was a judge paid with public money! I was not an attorney. I used to have a salary from the state like your parents!’ Judges did not use to have big salaries back then. Only attorneys could ask as much as they wanted. The farmers from Mokrouše then stood up for him, they brought him back [in the bus] and took him all the way to the main square in Mokrouše. Today, one may laugh at this but it was terrible. You lived under constant pressure. When there was water leaking in your flat, what could you ask from life…”

  • “Have you been often sick because of the terrible flat?” – “We were. I used to have fevers all the time. For example, I could not attend school for half a year. My brother’s kidneys were completely destroyed, I had my bladder impacted and I had chronic angina pectoris. Even when we move back to Pilsen, when I was in the 8th grade, I did not go to school. I was at home receiving treatment. In Plzenec, I did not go to school due to the fevers either. I used to have terrible fevers.” – “Nevertheless you managed school fairly well…” – “I did not study very well, I was not interested in that.” – “But you managed to complete secondary education, in the end…” – “I did, yes…”

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    Plzeň, 18.04.2018

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Just like that, the communists had us moved to a rotten shack

Jiří Degl 1954
Jiří Degl 1954
photo: archiv Pamětníka

Jiří Degl was born on 17 August 1944 in Pilsen in the family of Vilém Degl and his wife Aloisie. He grew up together with his older brother Petr. Before the war, his father was a judge in Varnsdorf and Litoměřice; since the beginning of the war, he was working in Pilsen. He was expected to join the Constitutional Court in Prague in 1948. However, following the Communist coup in February of the same year, this was out of the question. Since he refused to take part in the politically motivated trials, the Communist regime gradually relegated him. Eventually, he was forced to leave his profession and take the job of a blue collar worker in the car manufacturing company Škoda. In 1953, following the monetary reform and the uprising in Pilsen - which none of the family members even took part in - the family was evicted from their apartment. They were placed into one moldy room in the Mokrouše village, where they lived in terrible conditions without access to running water and other utilities for four years, until the doctors from the health inspection intervened. The children were suffering from chronic fevers and other health issues. In 1957, the family was allowed to return to better conditions to Pilsen. Jiří Degl completed vocational training to become a locksmith, after which he graduated from a technical school of mechanical engineering. Between 1967 and 1969, he undertook military service in Klatovy. He wanted to apply for an arts school in Prague but this was not possible. He diligently attended arts courses at a popular school of arts, and also received advice from his uncle, the academic painter Theodor Pchálek. He went through several professions but his main interest was in painting with which he spent all of his free time. After 1967, he was one of the founding members of the arts group Intensit with which he was exhibiting in many Czech cities up until mid-1970s when they were banned. Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, they started exhibiting again. With his works, Jiří took part in several important projects at the European level. Due to his life being heavily impacted by the terrifying experience from Mokrouše, he was neither politically active nor did he establish a family of his own.