Charlotta Kotíková

* 1940  

  • “That was interesting as it was a beautiful morning, it was such a warm and bright day. The light in New York by the sea is so bright and sharp. Beautiful sunny day, I was standing in the kitchen as I wanted to go to work, and suddenly there was this terrible blast and our little house begun to shake. They were building a house across the street so I thought that they just dropped some bricks again and that was the reason why everything was shaking. So I went out to the car that was parked by the water and I was approaching Manhattan, that´s just across the East River from Brooklyn. And all of a sudden, I saw a plane heading for the towers. I thought that was just impossible, like a dream, utterly absurd! What was happening? But the plane did really fly into the towers and it all went off, I couldn´t believe it. I just froze on the road, what would happen next? Smoke, papers, everything started to fly. It was all so weird. Everything was silver, as sun reflected on the debris of the buildings and pieces of paper that flew all around, looking like some weird silver pigeons. Still I didn´t understand what was happening. There were these small houses, for one or two families, and people would begin to rush outside, stating that we are being attacked. And I was saying, 'Attacked by whom? What´s happening?' And they all said that there would be war, they were all shaking all-over. I told myself, 'Keep calm, let´s go to work'. I went to work and there were people who came before me, some of them driving from far distant places. And in that shock, I witnessed how the first tower was hit and then I saw the second one being hit. Of course, no one have been working at the museum, we were listening to the radio, we even heard about the plane in Pennsylvania, we were watching from the sixth storey, we saw how everything collapsed, that great deluge, the mushroom, not an atomic one, but there was also plenty of smoke and that strange cloud rising from these great buildings.”

  • “They came upstairs, you could hear their boots stamping, thinking: 'Here comes the trouble.' Then they would find us there laying on the ground in the hundred-year old dust, and with a gun pointed at our backs they would lead us down the stairs which were quite steep. And you would think that I you would make a sudden move, the poor Russian soldier would be even more scared than I was, so you had to maintain discipline as he could shoot indeed. What I had found interesting was how clear was one´s thinking in such a situation, how well it it all worked suddenly. They would drag us to a tank and I didn´t want to get in under any circumstances. So we would stand there arguing. And with me, there was Luděk Hlaváček. And someone would see us, Czechs weren´t allowed there, the Národní Avenue had been occupied, there were tanks everywhere. But someone saw us and sent some Czech general there, he had these epaulettes and a big hat. And the Russians were telling him that we had been shooting at them, which was nonsense as we didn´t have weapons. The officer would state that as we were Czech citizens, it was up to him to arrest and interrogate us. In the end, he managed to convince the Russian soldier, that they would investigate us and lock us up by themselves. So they would let us go and the Czech soldier would lead us away. As we were walking through the Národní Avenue, he told us that to arrest us in a proper manner, he would take us to the Institute of Endocrinology, where he would do all the paperwork. And as we would come there, he would scold us, telling us that we shouldn´t be doing such a stupid thing, pushing ourselves at the most dangerous place. He would hand us over to some people who would borrow us white coats so they couldn´t recognise us as they were expecting that the Russians would come to investigate. After that, there was an incident as some of the people who had been working there refused to do it, telling that they should hand us over to the Russians or they would lock them all up. And I was so angry, as I was asking myself how was it possible that Czechs could be so scared that they would be willing to hand over other Czechs to the enemy. I was less afraid than I was angry, at the people who were willing to betray someone just because they were scared. I was so angry! So we had been wandering around for a while and then the unit, that wanted to hide us, they succeeded and they would send us away through cellars and some underground passages so we could get lost. The most important thing for them was that they could say that we had escaped.”

  • “There was a comet! But it happened later. And it hadn´t been my grandmother, but my mother and Anča. As we went to Rybná during the days of February, as it had been evident that there would be riots in Praha, we left for Rybná nad Zdoubnicí. And there was this comet passing, even I could remember that, as my mother was so scared. She said: 'Well, this is the end!' Of course, I didn´t understand it. Few days later, Mr Dohnálek came, a drive at the Černín Palace. And he said that the Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk jumped out of a window that night. And my grandmother would react and she would give him such a roasting, telling him that that wasn´t a truth at all – and no one didn´t know anything back then – that they just killed him. And that it was nonsense that he would commit suicide. They all went to Praha and I stayed in the country with Mr Dr Pexa. Then I also went to Praha and there was the funeral.”

  • “They were remembering him, but only in a general manner. And maybe they were even having a laugh a bit. They were telling me that going to Lány... as they spent their weekends there at some occasions. Well, quite often, I would say. And it hadn´t been exactly an event organised for the kids, it had been that Mr President wanted to discuss interesting issues. So they had to get acquainted with the books that had been published during the week, with the current political issues, they had to speak exactly about important issues. It hadn´t been like that he had been just fooling around there with them. It had been quite strict, I would say. There had been order. If someone would be hungry or just wanted to run around the park, that couldn´t be. It had been like: such and such, that´s how it´s going to be. Now we would do this, now we would do that. It had been quite organised. As his life had been like totally organised. And he took pride in it and expected that everyone would be organised to such a degree.”

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 19.12.2018

    (audio)
    duration: 01:19:23
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 2

    Praha, 19.12.2018

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    duration: 01:02:41
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 13.05.2019

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    duration: 01:50:03
    media recorded in project Memory of the Nation: stories from Praha 2
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I have been trying not to betray my family´s ideals

Charlotta Pocheová in 1962 in Nové Město nad Metují
Charlotta Pocheová in 1962 in Nové Město nad Metují
photo: archiv pamětnice

Czecho-American curator Charlotta Kotíková née Pocheová was born on December 13th of 1940 in Praha. She is a great-granddaughter of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, her mother being the daughter of his eldest son Herbert. She is also related to the family of painter Antonín Slavíček (as he was her grandmother Bohumila´s first husband). Charlotta Kotíková father is an art historian Emaunel Poche. She grew up in an inspiring milieu, with her grandmother Bohumila, her mother and her aunt Anna Masaryková. The household had been frequented by artists, especially by Charlotta´s cousin, painter Mikuláš Medek, and Josef Sudek, a photographer. After graduating from gymnasium, Charlotta had been working at the Jewish museum archives, at the National Art Gallery and the National Heritage Conservation centre. While working, she graduated from Charles university with a degree in art history. In 1966, she married Petr Kotík, a musician, and in January 1970, she left for the United States of America. She had been living in Buffalo with her husband, working at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, raising from an intern to curator and later the director of the collection. She supported artist of the Hallwalls Centre (Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo). In 1983, they both moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she had been working as a local museum´s curator, co-authoring many exhibitions, mostly by young artists. Since the 70s, she tried to promote Czech artists in the United States, organising the travelling exhibition of the works of Jiří Kolář for example. After 1989, she had been the Jindřich Chalupecký Award´s jury member, currently, she has been working with its foundation. Her sons, Tomáš and Jan Kotík, had graduated from Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague.