Frederike Hoffmann

* 1935

  • "We were in the church, Evžen knew German, I still knew nothing. We went to church with the baby. I had him on my lap, Albert usually slept. The parish priest was preaching there, telling the parishioners: 'Now show what kind of Christians you are, you have thirty families here, people who came with small children, with suitcases. Now show your Christian convictions.' And you know what was terrible? We were alone in the church, out of the Czechs. The people who saw us in the church only knew us. So, they brought us... It was horrible! We had sheets for 20 beds. Meanwhile, my mother, father and brother had gone to another town, closer to the lake. We gave it to other people. We were coming from the church, and there was a Czech guy there, he had his car, and he said: 'These are smart, they know how to do it. They go to the church and they cash it right away.' I got so angry, I said: 'Dear sir, we used to go to church in Prague, even though it wasn't very popular. For us it's a necessity, we go to church even if it costs us our freedom. But we're not going there because we're going to get something from someone.' There was a Benedictine monastery, a modern one, where they invited all the Czech families with children. They made them some biscuits, a table full. The abbot at the head. We were there with Evžen and Albert. All those Czechs there, because there was free dinner, delicacies, toys for the children. The abbot was saying: Lets thank God for giving us a full plate.' And it was a disaster. And he said: 'And we can pray the Lord's Prayer in Czech.' And how many do you think prayed? We did what we could to make up for it. They were looking at us... That Christianity over there - now it's miserable too. But it was a Catholic community then. Those people were trying."

  • "What was the hardest part? The work. I assure you, it was hard. Considering it's plus forty in the summer and minus thirty in the winter. When there was no field work for us in the winter, we were given pickaxes... There were stables and some of the girls, even the prostitutes or the killers, who had lighter criminal records that they weren't chased so much, were usually employed in the stables in the winter. It was warm there. They didn't miss anything there. Throwing manure, maybe milking. But what did we get to do? We were given pickaxes and we had to make a kind of... a kind of channel around the outside of the stables, half a metre wide and forty centimetres deep, so that the urine would drain out of the stables. Making those channels. The ground was frozen and the guy who was guarding us had a dog, he had a fur coat, high boots. We had rubber boots, our feet wrapped with foot wraps or paper. Most of the time the rubber boots were bigger. And the decembrák, that coat was called a decembrák. It was a kind of a heavy blanket, ankle-length. But heavy! And head scarves. We had to have those. Now, we had to dig in there... I assure you... He used to walk there, smoke, he was warm. He had a dog with him. And we were in this crazy situation... There was this girl. A little girl. I can't say who she was, I just remember the scene. It was cold, half-frozen, the ground was hard. She could barely lift the pickaxe. He kept telling her we had to dig. She was completely on her nerves, and when he walked past us, he was walking back and forth, his back was turned to us, she grabbed the pickaxe and flew at him. We were horrified. If she had attacked him with the pickaxe, it would have been a freaking disaster for her. The girls who were closer to her jumped on her and cover it up that he didn't even notice. He was just turned around. That was a big stroke of luck. That girl lost her temper, let me tell you."

  • "She told my mom not to talk about the fact that she used my photos. That she had an idea of what I looked like. Some were downright ones where my face was quite strikingly visible. Mom didn't talk to anyone about it. Marie said: 'Only you and I know, nobody else.' When I came back from prison, my mom said: 'Look, I have a good friend at work, she's a sculptor, she'd like to meet you. If you'd like to come to her studio with me.’ I said: 'Why not?' We went there. That was a strange meeting. She knew I was coming. I didn't know her, of course. She immediately grabbed me and hugged me and was very touched. I was embarrassed. I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what was going on. She gave me the first crown that was stamped. I still didn't know what was going on. That it was nice of her, but... And she said she wanted to tell me that she'd tried to immortalize me based on my photographs. But no one knows it's based on my photographs. I said: "I really didn't know." And that it was very nice of her. She said that she did it because she couldn't bear the thought that the regime was locking up our children already. She was so disconcerted that she did it as revenge on the regime, that all the bolsheviks would have me in their pockets. And they won't know that there's a girl pictured who is innocently sitting in a jail cell. Their fault."

  • "Marie Uchytilová was terribly touched [by my story]. She said: 'How old is she [your daughter]?' My mother said, 'Nineteen.' – ‘So, they're locking up our kids, well that's terrible. It's inhumane.' She was very personally affected by it. They talked, and nothing came of it. About two or three months later, she came to my mother and said: 'Look, there's a competition for a new Czech crown. I'm going to take part in it too. It's anonymous. You know, if I had gone there under my own name, I probably wouldn't have had much success.' There were a hundred and seven applicants. Anyone who thought they had something to say was given a plaque, a plaster plaque, and could create [a design for a crown coin]. And it was presented under a number, not a name. To avoid someone being favoured out of familiarity. It was purely anonymous. Marie Uchytilová came to my mother and said: 'I would like to know what your daughter looks like. I want to use it and I need to know...' She was perfect in creating the face. I saw when she did busts. Růžek, for example, the actor. Looked alive! It's as if you had him in front of you. Or Cardinal Beran, with that light smile. My mother said: "OK, I don't have many photographs, though. I can give you one of the school IDs.' She was working on it, the whole event was over, everyone's work was handed in... and a committee came in, about six or eight people. They had it laid out on the shelves and they had to eliminate. One hundred and seven! They threw out the most in the first round. There were traditional themes, period, socialist, all sorts of things. In the last round, there were five left. Marie was still moving on to the next rounds. But nobody knew who the author was. The committee was divided between those who wanted a socialist theme and those who wanted a traditional one. And they couldn't agree. They argued about what would be better. The Minister of Culture, the great bolshevik, came in. Everyone was afraid of him. They said he was very strict, he did not chat with anyone. They took courage and said: 'Comrade Minister, we can't decide. Please come, because millions of crowns were already ready and waiting for the emblem to be stamped.’ The minister came in, frowning, hands behind his back, walking here, walking there, past the shelves. Then he supposedly pointed to something: 'This is going to be printed.' And he went. But one of them said: 'But that's traditional!' And he said: ‘Well, eben. Well, exactly.' And he left."

  • "And then the interrogations began. They dragged me to the interrogations, at night, at midnight, they woke me up, they kept asking me questions, they wanted names. They didn't get one single name out of me. It didn't exist. That's what I told [my Scout friends] before: 'In case they lock up, in case they lock us up, remember, you don't know any names.' And yet they caught forty of them. Do you know who was not brave? The men. They were less brave. One of them was called in for confrontation, Krbeček, poor guy, I felt so sorry for him. I smiled at him, but I wasn't allowed to say a word. They wanted to know from him that he gave me a gun. I said: 'Yes.' Because he was destroying them. His job was to drill the barrels, he was a mechanic. He gave it to me, but it was drilled, unusable. But nice. It was a little lady's gun inlaid with silver. He picked them up in this pile of pistols that they were drilling through, and they were putting the firing pin away. It was a dummy, a decoration. They said: 'He gave you the pistol.' - 'Yes, but it was a decoration, for my purse.' - 'Where do you have it?' I said - I had to make something up, because I didn't know where it was. I knew I had it in my room. Then they came to my house, I found out later, they took my riding boots, my trousers, they said I was collecting weapons. I had this knife in a silver sheath with stones, like a decoration for the wall. And I had a theatrical spear. And they wrote on the report that I was collecting weapons. They said: "Where's the gun?" And I said I threw it in the Vltava. People said that the Vltava was the deepest river below Vyšehrad. So, I said I threw it under Vyšehrad. Maybe I had it under my pillow at home, but I had no idea. It was a gamble how it would turn out. One day I was called in for night interrogation, a man in uniform, shiny boots like an SS man. I wondered what this would be like. He was so pissed off. They just pulled me out when I'd barely fallen asleep. It was impossible to sleep there, the lamp had to be on all the time, I had to keep my hands on the blanket. When I had my hands under the blanket because I was cold, they were banging on the door: 'Hands, hands!' I had to take my hands out and put them on the blanket. The light was on all night and I had a mattress just under the lamp. What a joy... So, I was sitting there half-stupid, because it was midnight, and he said: 'So you threw it into the Vltava under Vyšehrad.' I said I did. He came over to the table, took the drawer, started to pull it out slowly and said: 'Well, shall I pull it out?' - 'Of course,' I said. He slammed the drawer shut and had me taken to the cell. He thought I was going to lose my temper and start saying something. He was just trying to see what he could get out of me."

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    Praha, 24.01.2022

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    Praha, 30.05.2022

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Every bolshevik carried my likeness in his pocket

Photo from legitimation - a model for a one crown for sculptor Marie Uchytilová
Photo from legitimation - a model for a one crown for sculptor Marie Uchytilová
photo: archiv pamětnice

Frederike Hoffmann was born as Bedřiška Synková on 7 March 1935 in Prague in the family of the technical innovator and inventor Bedřich Synek and his wife Jana. She grew up with her four siblings in a family apartment in Pankrác. After the war, she entered an eight-year grammar school, but it was abolished immediately after the February 1948 coup, so she continued at the second level of primary school. Her father’s business, in which he produced filters for motor oil according to his own patent, was nationalised and her father never received war reparations from Germany, which was supposed to compensate him for the use of his patent during the war; this money was confiscated by the Czechoslovak state. Frederike (she adopted this name only later in her Swiss emigration, but prefers to use it) joined a scout troop at the Ostříž centre in 1948. After graduating from primary school, she did not get to grammar school, so she became an electrotechnician and began to study at a higher industrial school. Her troop did not stop meeting even after Scouting was banned in 1949. It was not until 1953 that Frederike, already a troop leader, sent out a circular to members informing them that the troop had been disbanded and recommending self-study of Scouting skills. In the summer of 1954, she was arrested and spent eight months in custody in Bartolomějská. In 1955, a trial was held for members of the Ostříž Scout Centre, accused, among other things, of collecting weapons. Frederike was sentenced to ten years in prison for treason; on appeal, her sentence was reduced to eight years. She was imprisoned for nearly two years in the camp in Želiezovce, Slovakia, where the inmates worked in agriculture. At the turn of 1957 and 1958, when a hepatitis epidemic broke out in Želiezovce, she was transferred to the Pardubice prison. At the request of her mother, she was released early in May 1959. At the time of her imprisonment, her mother worked as a secretary at an art school, where the sculptor Marie Uchytilová learned of the girl’s fate. As a secret defiance against the communist regime, she decided to capture her likeness from photographs in a design with which she participated in a competition for the design of a new crown coin. She won the competition and the motif of a girl planting a linden branch, inspired by the face of Bedřiška Synková - Frederike Hoffmann, adorned the Czechoslovak crown coin until 1992. Frederike refused to cooperate with the State Security and for the next five years worked in the goldsmith cooperative of Soluna. She married Evžen Hoffmann and in 1967 their son Albert was born. In September 1968, as a result of the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops, the whole family, including parents and siblings, emigrated to Switzerland, where Frederike Hoffmann lived until 2021. In 1970, their younger son Benedikt was born. Her husband worked in an insurance company and she herself found part-time jobs when the children were young. She was active in a club for former political prisoners (Klub 231) in exile, including participating in the march to the Soviet Embassy on 21 August 1988.