Jiří Hovorka

* 1930  †︎ 2015

  • "My name is Jiří Hovorka and I was born on the 27th of August 1930, and that into a so-called middle-class family. My father was a clerk. He worked at an insurance company called, if I remember, Prague. My mother stayed at home, as was often the case in those days. My father only worked six hours a day then, so he had plenty of time for his family. We had a great family. My mother interested herself in contemporary issues, so already in the Thirties and from my first years, I was aware of various significant affairs, like Hitler rising to power. That was a frequent topic, and its danger was constantly growing. Another thing I remember was the commotion around the British king of the time, Edward, who had an affair with a divorced woman and had to abdicate. That was also a central topic when the grannies came by for coffee. I remember that clearly."

  • "It was the 7th of March 1950, the hundred year anniversary of president T. G. Masaryk. We prepared leaflets for this anniversary, which we distributed into phone booths. People would go in, and at the time there were still a lot of phone booths. People phoned a lot, there were no mobiles yet of course, and so people did take them from the booths. That was one thing. Another thing was that we decided to take the register."

  • "For one thing I managed to smuggle a message through, in a kind movie way. I wrote it at the toilet, because there weren't only political prisoners in the cell, but also thieves, and on Sunday evening they brought in a load of football people. During some match they had been shouting, and they said something improper about some politician: 'They're asses anyway. How can those idiots up above pay you?' They took them in and brought them here. So of course it wasn't possible to talk much in front of those people. So what I needed to write, I wrote down and rolled up into a little reel. Seeing as I had a hole in one of my teeth, I put it there. And I had it thought that thus, as I had found out that the prison dentist was our old doctor from Dejvice. So I claimed illness, saying my tooth hurt. They took me to the dentist and I put it in my mouth. I opened it when I got to him and told him I needed to get it out. He realised what I meant and he took some tool or other and took it. That's how my parents found out that I had a pistol hidden in the gramophone box, and that they were to destroy it. Because I expected them to search the house, which they did. And one of my dear classmates - she later emigrated to Sweden, and died of cancer - came to visit with a handbag and told my frightened parents about it. They opened up the gramophone and she took the pistol away in her handbag and threw it into the Vltava, or something like that."

  • "I'll tell you quite honestly, that I didn't feel it as satisfaction. Of course we were happy and jolly, but I didn't have the feeling that I had suddenly stepped out from behind bars and into freedom. Because paradoxically, I never actually felt pressured into a situation, where I couldn't say what I wanted to. It's true that I had to lie some times, say when I needed to get something at work for my own people, get a bonus or something of the sort. I must say that was a lie or a distortion of truth. But I never had to sign anything or join anything. I didn't feel as if I had stepped out from behind bars and into the world of freedom. It seemed to me as if I was returning to the days of my youth, of the First Republic, when everything worked. In those days we used to go look at the changing of the castle guards, and we were very proud. Of course, those things have changed, and we've seen that it isn't and most certainly won't be simple."

  • "That time at the Castle, we didn't get far there. Emergency regiments, or whatever they were called, were organized there I think. But there were people who got further than I did. You can sometimes hear about from the witnesses' stories. Neither me nor my classmates reached the Castle or even the delegation. But we were already getting together, because we knew that things were going badly. We planned what we could do against it. And those February days effected us greatly as a family, because immediately after February, they fired my father from his job."

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    Praha, 12.05.2009

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    duration: 02:43:28
    media recorded in project Portraits of Prague citizens
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The February events effected us greatly as a family

Hovorka in 1950
Hovorka in 1950
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Jiří Hovorka was born on the 27th of September 1930 to a middle-class family in Prague. His father Oldřich Hovorka was a clerk at an insurance company. His mother Ludmila Hovorková, née Stašková, was a housewife. He had an idyllic childhood. At the age of six, his family moved to Hanspaulka (a posh residential district in Prague-Dejvice - transl.). He started elementary school in 1937, it was there he was caught up by the stormy events of the late Thirties. He ran collections with his classmates for the completion of the Republic’s defences. When the order came for full-scale mobilisation in 1938, his father, a reserve officer, left in his own car to join his unit in Slovakia. But before his leave, he sent his whole family, including his newly-born younger son, to the nearby seminary to hide from possible bombardment. Fortunately that did occur, and so the family could return home again. At that time the Hovorka’s lived in a flat near Victory Square. The occupation of Czechoslovakia had its effect on young Jiří’s education, as they began teaching German at school, and also some subjects started to be taught in German. In time, Jiří’s school was taken over. Further education was provided by a more distant school in Bubeneč, and that by a system of alternating hours - causing children to come home late. During such journeys there would be fights with German youths. An adolescent towards the end of the war, Jiří spent his time alternatively in a bunker and in the Dejvice flat. In 1945 he finished primary school in Bubeneč and looked forward to the end of the war. He writes of this time in his diary that he penned regularly, and where he noted everything important. The diary ends on the 8th of May. In the early morning of the following day he met his first two Soviet soldiers, who had come into the Dejvice cellar. After his first liberated holidays, Jiří Hovorka started studies in the Prague English grammar school. As his father was an active member of the Czech National Socialist Party, Jiří was also active within the party, he took part in the well-known march of students to Prague Castle during the critical February days of 1948. Immediately after February 1948, a group of students formed at the grammar school, critical of the people’s democratic regime and of the newly formed Czechoslovak Youth Union. Jiří Hovorka himself was greatly affected by the personality of professor Jaroslav Slavík, an admirer of Masaryk and a man who openly spoke his opinion. Jiří Hovorka’s decision to fight the totalitarian regime was also strengthened by the fact that his father was fired immediately after the Communist coup. The members of the group gradually joined the Czechoslovak Youth Union, where they also took part in social activities. The reason for this was that the union principals kept their own records with the party profile of each of the students and professors at the English grammar school. One day, Jiří Hovorka and his friends enacted their intention and stole the records. That caused an uproar, there was an investigation, but the group was not discovered. Another activity of the group was the distribution of leaflets on the anniversary of T. G. Masaryk. Through their professor of Russian, Marie Strádalová, the students contacted another illegal group, which may have even had connections with the exiled General Ingr. The contacts with this second group led to the arrest of the said professor on the 23rd of March 1950, and subsequently to the arrest of the four protagonists of the student group: Jiří Hovorka (31st of May 1950), Petr Lander (12th of May 1950) together with professor Jaroslav Slavík, Jiří Berounský (25th of July 1951) and Miloš Kočík (23rd of July 1951). Jiří Hovorka suspected that he might be arrested, and so he attempted to illegally cross the border to Germany. However that failed. He returned home and was later arrested on the 31st of May 1950 during a lesson at school, taken to Bartholomew Street (the StB HQ) in Prague, and placed in cell no. 30. That was followed by three weeks of interrogations, during which he was not tortured in any drastic way, but he was slapped around a number of times by his interrogators, causing him several bent teeth. Immediately after his arrest, Jiří Hovorka tried to send his family a leaflet to notify them of the necessity to remove the weapon he had had hidden. The trial itself took place at the State Court in Prague on the 6th and 8th of August 1951. The punishment for Jiří Hovorka was ten months of jail, no probation. Greater punishment was netted out to professor Slavík (3 years, no probation), professor Strádalová (12 years, no probation). As Jiří Hovorka had already served his sentence in the full, in fact four months extra, he was released shortly after the trial on the 11th of August 1951. He started off as a construction worker, but it was not long till he was drafted to the Auxiliary Engineering Corps (PTP, for the ideologically “impure” - transl.). In September 1951 he left for the Ostrava region, where he was assigned to work at the Hedvika Mine in Radvanice. After returning home, Jiří Hovorka worked as a warehouse clerk at one smallish co-op, later he became a lathe hand and a geological surveyor, working first at drill sites, and later in the sample room. In April 1953 he married Mariana Kloudová of the important family of lawyers, Klouda. In time, they had two children: Tomáš (1957) and Jana (1960). Their son studied at the Czech Technical University, their daughter studied the history of art. During his journeys for geological surveys, Jiří Hovorka started to translate the at the time almost completely unknown novel 1984 by George Orwell. At the end of the Eighties, the Hovorkas took part in several anti-regime demonstrations. Immediately after the 17th of November, Jiří Hovorka co-founded the Civic Forum at his work place, and he helped further contacts abroad. Nowadays, he would be glad if the ideals proclaimed by Masaryk and Havel regained their weight in society and became more important. On the 10th of December 1990, Jiří Hovorka was fully rehabilitated by the Municipal Court in Prague.