“When the armies invaded, I wrote the Polish ambassador a letter that I can’t work at an institute that represents an aggressive state. That I had a certain historical legacy, and so not to embarrass my ancestors, I was handing in my resignation. That got me into even greater troubles, because suddenly I was a traitor from the Polish side and also a traitor from the Czech side. So I was in a kind of a double pincer. But I had to look into the mirror to see my face, which is the face of a decent person.”
“I had one incident at the time. It was the second or third day of the occupation. I was living in Spořilov. I was walking down the street, and a Russian GAZ drove by. And older type jumped out [of the vehicle] and shouted at me: ‘Padazhdite, vy znayete...’ He wanted me to give him directions. But the sign posts had been switched round back then. So I retorted in Russian: ‘I do. Moscow is to the east.’ I was so angry that if I had had a weapon, I would have started shooting. I carried on my way and heard a click behind me. I thought to myself: Shoot, you Russian trash. Well, but I guess he changed his mind and decided to let me go. I was this close to getting shot in the back.”
“They dropped bombs all over the place. It changes your outlook and what you value in life. When you see a whole city dying, ruined. For instance, we had beautiful pictures, a piano - in short, it was a house of people who had done well for themselves. My father was an officer, and in Poland an officer was Someone. Especially the higher ranks. When you see all that go to ashes, you reckon, what’s the point in having things, owning thins... [Q: So your house burnt down as well?] Yes, they raised our house. When everything calmed down, we went to have a look, and there was nothing to be found there. It was all in ashes. The family silver, it was all lost. I thought, we had it, it was nice, but there’s nothing of it now. So if you own something, you shouldn’t brag about it too much because you might lose all of it. One way or another.”
“Martial law did pose a certain limitation because, say, when we wanted to go from Wrocław to my parents, to Nemodlin, we had to report to the police and obtain a travel permit to go there. Movement was limited among the population, and they checked who went where and when.”
“Czechoslovak Communism was harsher, I’d say. It persecuted people on a larger scale than in Poland. There were problems in Poland as well, of course, especially in the armed forces, but the things that went on in Czechoslovakia, that was unparalleled in the Communist bloc. Say, I know that the Czechoslovak pilots who came home as victors together with the Poles from Great Britain, they had to sit in prison with German murderers or slave away in the mines; they were targeted for disposal. That’s how it was said, MAFDO: man for disposal [an approximation of the Czech ‘mukl’, an acronym meaning ‘man designated for disposal’ - trans.]. So a lot of them died there.”
I was really bothered by Poland’s participation in the invasion of Czechoslovakia
Krzysztof Jaxa-Rożen was born on 4 August 1936 in Warsaw, into the family of an officer of the Polish army and a concert pianist. He has three siblings. In 1940 his grandfathers were killed in the infamous Katyně massacre, where the NKVD murdered about 22,000 people of the Polish intelligentsia. During the war his father served in the Polish people’s army and thus avoided the brutal repressions aimed at the members of the Regional Army, who took part in the unsuccessful Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. During the revolt, the Nazis burned down the family’s house, and while his mother was stuck in the centre of Warsaw, the Nazis took the children and their grandmother to a transit camp. The survived the rest of the war in a village near Częstochowa; the whole family was reunited after the war ended. His aristocratic ancestry caused Krzysztof difficulties during his studies at university. He finally graduated from the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport in 1963. During his studies he started a relationship with a Czech lady, and the two started living together in Prague in 1963. He worked at the publishing house Mladá fronta and at the Polish Culture Centre, besides which he also did translations and interpreting. He was active in the Prague Spring, and in August 1968 he quit his job at the Polish Culture Centre in protest against Poland’s participation in the Warsaw Pact invasion. In 1985 he was fired from his job in the sales department of a Polish bookshop because of his actions in 1968. He then worked as a night-time tunnel worker at the Prague metro for 10 years, until his retirement. He continued to translate, interpret, and do sports. He married twice and has two children.