Petr Esterka

* 1935  †︎ 2021

  • “Mum knew it, and so did Dad. They weren’t stupid. And so I prepared myself. I was also interrogated by State Security, that was rough. [Q: Where was your rendezvous with the boys? The train station in Hodonín?] I think it was in Hodonín, yes, and then we travelled to Břeclav. By train, because we needed to get to the borders. Before we reached Mikulov, we had to go to Břeclav. And in the train, that was blood-curdling - the question was whether the police checked it. For one thing, we saw the obstacles as we rode by in the train. It went by the wires [fences], so we saw how taught the wires [fences] were. So we had to overcome that somehow. I remember we tried not to sit together. I sat by myself, and the other two say in another compartment. You tried to be inconspicuous, but they it was... but we seemed to have managed somehow because there we were approaching Mikulov, and I remember I jumped off the train as it was still moving because I didn’t want to go all the way to Mikulov because there were patrols there, of course. And then, of course, we couldn’t go straight to the borders, so we walked around the bottom side of Mikulov Hall. The train stopped, and because the people got out and went into the town, we had to go with them, we couldn’t go in the other direction, there weren’t any houses there. And so basically, we walked with them, and the question was, how far should we go. Then turned right into some street. That was on the outskirts because there were farm houses there, and we could the jangling of chains. We could just see some lights shining, there was a woman there, she was standing outside talking with some other woman who was leaning out of the window. When we set off there, they must have heard our steps because the women disappeared. So we were alone there, and what were we to do.”

  • “It was kind of, what we now call a shock. In the middle of the night. Of course, we also needed the toilet, so one of the boys went to the toilet, and he came back and said: ‘I can’t go to the toilet because there’s some chap standing there.’ It seems they came in the evening, in the night, perhaps it was towards the morning, and we didn’t see our superiors again after that - we had Jesuits there. Those were priests and then those who were preparing for priesthood, those weren’t ordained yet, but they were studying theology. We called them magisters [the Czech equivalent of the academic degree of Master - trans.]. [Q: Some men came there, you found out your superiors were missing. What did they tell you?] They didn’t tell us anything actually, they didn’t want to. They didn’t speak, we were isolated there. We couldn’t get out because they closed everything. And then it seems they took the superiors away. We didn’t see how they locked them up or took them away. But then there were the so-called carers there, those were Communist busybodies of course. So of course, if we could, we had to be a few more days. Now, all the Jesuits were locked up, taken away, we didn’t know where to; for a long time, no one knew where they took them. It was some concentration camp. We stayed there like orphans, so we just tried to survive. And then some boys came from Velehrad and said that they [the Communists] had been there as well and had locked up the Jesuits. So then the question was, what to do?”

  • “And I knew from how I played football which way to go to get to Austria. So I knew that, so we crawled through the corn and reached the forbidden zone. There was even a sign there, we read it: ‘Warning, you are entering the forbidden zone.’ It was getting dark. It was getting dark when we jumped out of the train. We were protected to an extent, in that we couldn’t quite be spotted from a distance. And then we passed the houses, and you could see that there were some towers there and the forbidden zone. I even wrote that somewhere, that there were three fences, so I had to cut through them. One of them probably had high voltage in it, so it was also dangerous in that sense. We had the combination pliers. The fences were about one metre apart, but three in a row. One of them had electricity in it because it had these kind of cups on it. We had to cut through, so I know we cut two of the wires to get through. How did they guard those wires [fences]? People talked about it, it was a kind of public secret. We knew about it, but we also knew that we didn’t know much and that not much information got out. So we went into the unknown, we said with God’s help: ‘Virgin Mary, the time has come, Mother of Sorrows, hear our voices. In danger and hardship, thy intercession shall save us. Do not turn down the pleas of your children so fervently mourning.’ And then we attacked the wires, and then there was one more wire that couldn’t be seen. And thank God, because it was getting towards morning, we saw it. I still don’t know what it was, but I guess it was the signalling wire.”

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    Dolní Bojanovice, 10.06.2016

    duration: 03:01:56
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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They’d have locked him up and killed him there

1963 - profile photo
1963 - profile photo
photo: archiv pamětníka

Petr Esterka was born on 14 November 1935 in Dolní Bojanovice near Hodonín. He attended the Episcopal Grammar School in Brno, where he experienced Operation K in April 1950 - the violent destruction of male monastic orders. He managed to complete his secondary education after several attempts, at an eleven-year school in Hodonín in 1956. He worked as a carer at Lignum; he was interrogated by State Security for his opinions and convictions. On Saturday 15 June 1957 he emigrated to Austria. He began studies at Nepomucenum House in Rome, which led to his ordainment into priesthood in 1963. He was sent to minister to his fellow expatriates in Texas, USA. He returned to Rome in 1966 to undertake doctoral studies. He continued to visit the northern part of the USA, Minnesota, where he took up an academic post in 1967. In 1974-1995 he served as a military chaplain in reserve in the US Air Force. In 1978 he began working with Czech Catholics in the USA and Canada. He was reunited with his parents and his sister for the first time in Vienna in 1968. In 1987 he received the title of Monsignor, in July 1999 he was appointed Titular Bishop of Cefala and Auxiliary Bishop of Brno charged with pastoral care for Czech Catholics abroad. He moved to California in 1992. Petr Esterka was witness to numerous events throughout his life - Cardinal Beran’s pastoral trip to the USA, the canonisation of Agnes of Bohemia in Rome, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, Archbishop František Vaňák’s pastoral trip to the USA, the relocation of the statue of Our Lady of Exile (built by Czechoslovaks exiled by the Communist regime - trans.), the Václav and Dagmar Havel’s presidential visit to the USA, etc. In 2013 the witness obtained the Gratias agit Award for his help in spreading the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. In 2013 Petr Esterka was also made a bishop emeritus. He lives in California.