Josef Dufek

* 1948

  • “My wife’s sister and mother had officially moved to Germany the year before, and so my wife called them up to ask if there was a chance they would pick us up from the border. And so her sister’s husband came to Kranjska Gora crossing to pick us up, but he stayed on the Austrian side. We saw them arrive.” - “They came by car?” - “They were in a car, and we had left ours in the forest and walked to the border on foot with our baggage.” - “And that was a different spot?” - “No, it was the same spot. We walked with our baggage and waited… Now it’s all a little blurred, but there were Austrian buses with Austrians going on holiday to Yugoslavia and others returning from Yugoslavia to Austria and there were various stands with souvenirs where all these people were shopping. We exchanged illicit glances across the border. In the chaos of all the buses and shopping people, my wife and kids managed to walk to the other side. And I was left behind. I panicked and started shaking because I thought, if I get caught, I’m not going to see them for a good few years. I hesitated and it took me at least fifteen minutes to half-an-hour – I don’t know anymore – to zig-zag through the crowd. I was noticeably trembling, and I kept thinking, no-one must be able to tell. In the end I managed, I sat down in my sister-in-law’s husband’s car, he was called Karsten, and I broke down in tears. It was a complete meltdown. To be honest, even today when I remember it, I feel a little sick. So, they pulled out and in the first Austrian pub, we ordered Austrian sausages with mustard and bread. And that’s when I started to relax and finally realise that we had actually made it.”

  • “I saw a few killings in the streets of Prague. I remember we were reaching Letná Tunnel, and in those days, trams that you could get off while they were in motion were still running. Some young mother with her child jumped off a tram and there was this Russian APC, and it shot the mother to smithereens. We were the first ones to arrive on the scene, he must have had some fright or something… So many times, people sent us down to check something out, say, there’s a tank stuck in the underpass just off Malostranské Square. There’s one lane for cars and one for trams and he thought he would get through. One guy pointed it out to us and indicated to take a picture of it. One day I was driving from the general staff in the so-called ‘Kulaťák’ Square towards Letná and there was this small bridge and on it was stood an anti-aircraft twin-gun. A Russian officer was standing by it, complete with his flat hat, legs wide apart and hands on his hips. And my colleagues says: ,Pull over a touch, let me take a picture of him.’ So, I swerved a little, the pavement on the bridge under which trains were running was broad. He was standing there with his anti-aircraft twin-gun, hands on his hips, I swerved a little and he got a shot of him. And the next thing I saw was the officer reach for his gun and I crouched under the steering wheel – you turn left, going into Letná – and all I could hear was the ping, ping of his bullets. He didn’t think twice and shot at our car twice. So, such were some of my experiences from the military service.”

  • “When it was time for me to choose a profession… I was in my eighth or nineth grade and I was meant to choose my future job. My parents had never been members of the Party. At the time, my father was a loom-house foreman, and he told me himself that one day a Party application form turned up on his office desk. A loom-house is a dusty place, so when my father hadn’t touched it for a while and it had collected half an inch of dust, it disappeared again. And I was confronted with the repercussions when it was time for me to choose a profession. My mother usually went to parents’ evenings, and she got told that, in the light of my family’s political views, she was not to expect her son to get into any kind of school. Naturally, I was eyeing an art school, the nearest one being the applied arts school of glassmaking in Železný Brod. They didn’t even let me try my luck in the practical exam. No way, they said, apparently, I was to go into farming, mining, or other such areas. My mum said, surely, you’re not going to send him farming when he’s the best artist of his school? And so the headmaster Valenta decided I would become a window dresser.”

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    Jilemnice, 09.12.2022

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He had had enough of arranging communist shopwindows, so he and the family fled West

Josef Dufek during his military service between 1967–1969 (smoking)
Josef Dufek during his military service between 1967–1969 (smoking)
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Josef Dufek was born on January 16, 1948, in Jilemnice. His grandfather Rudolf Zuzánek was a Jilemnice-based photographer and sculptor, and Josef inherited his flair for the arts. Unfortunately, he was unable to enter his desired art school because of his parents’ anti-communist sentiments and his father’s refusal to join the Party. Eventually, he trained as a window-dresser in Všešímy. During his military service, he witnessed the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague in August 1968. He was documenting the clashes between the local inhabitants and the invaders, and himself narrowly escaped getting shot by a Soviet soldier. After his military service, he got a job as a window-dresser at the House of Fashion (Dům módy) in Wenceslas Square. Later, he returned to Jilemnice and started dressing the shop windows of all the Jednota supermarkets in the district. In 1970, he got married and had two children with his wife Ingrid. In 1987, he and his family fled Czechoslovakia via Yugoslavia. The marriage broke down soon after. Josef Dufek started working for the Neckermann department store. He returned to the Czech Republic in the year 2000 and dedicated his time to wood carving. Every year, he would build a snow sculpture of Krakonoš, the spirit of the Giant Mountains, in Jilemnice square. He was still living in Jilemnice in the year 2022 at the time of the interview. His life story was recorded thanks to the support of Liberec Region and SKODA AUTO Endowment Fund.