Ivan Landsmann

* 1949  †︎ 2017

  • “I rang the bell at Jaroslav Hutka’s door. Steep wooden stairs were leading towards the entrance. Jarek opened up, stood in the door and I asked him: ‘Are you Mr. Hutka?’ He said: ‘Yes, I am. What do you need? Come inside!’ We understood each other well and Jarek lent me his studio so that I had a place to live. I stayed there for about a year until he helped me find my own apartment in Rotterdam. Jaroslav’s place was only about 200 meters from mine, we frequently paid visits to each other and spent time together.”

  • “Hadn’t it been for the musician Jarek Hutka, I wouldn’t have become a writer. Jarek knew that I was under stress. He bought me a notebook for Christmas and told me: ‘Ivan, write down your experiences and feelings, you’ll see that it will help.’ So I started writing. Then Jarek asked me how it was going. I told him that I wrote something, he read it over and told me: ‘But these are no notes, this is a book! Carry on writing.’ So I did. When I finished the first part, I asked him: ‘Jaruš, do you think I should write about mining?’ He replied: ‘Write!’ And so I did.”

  • “Some Dutchman wanted to translate my book. He visited me about three times, he translated the opening but then he gave up, saying I used words which couldn’t be translated.”

  • “I was a blackguard as a small boy, so they had problems with me more or less, but they were good to me. I was an excellent pupil until the third class, but then my Dad got into some trouble in the mine. He worked as the chief mechanic already when they got new cutter loaders. A group of engineers was established there and they stole chromium-plated spouts. I remember that we had in our five-storey house a small chamber and there were mountains of it there. I didn´t understand it. And one day Dad didn’t come home and in a few days the secret service people arrived. As a small boy I hid under a chair, I was scared. They came, took my Dad and searched the whole flat and the cellar. Dad got, I think, two years. I was taken by it somehow and I stopped studying. I dropped it somehow. Mum had to go to work at the crossing-gate, we had no money, nothing. She had to work as the crossing-gate lady, she had no time for us. We were three boys. Dad undertook it all, such a good lad he was, here I have a picture of him. He studied in Prague once. They didn´t get anything and he got three years. Then he came home and he was somehow strange already. He left us then. I knew all the men, I blamed them then for him. They put on a strange expression.”

  • “I had no problems in the mine, I had the best group. We were such a well coordinated team that there were just a few like that. I could do it with the boys, they obeyed me, I was not bossing them around. I carpeted also often at the director – a comrade. I didn´t call him comrade, always Sir. They took it badly, but what could they do when they knew that I was a good striker, good worker. Nobody could sack me, so they had to endure it simply. They just took ten, twenty percent off my salary a few times, which was a lot. For three months for example… It was such a section. We were three groups and they kept changing. Morning shifts, afternoon shifts, night shifts. We were five in the group plus the transporters in the morning shift. In the afternoon and night we were only five. And then towards the end, when my brother sent me an invitation three, four or more times, which was of course rejected to me, I was supposed to become the main foreman. But I refused it, I even refused to become a shift foreman. I simply didn´t like it any more. I was determined to go to Yugoslavia, to which I was entitled after those fourteen years, because you were entitled to go for a health holiday to Yugoslavia, which I was supposed to get. It was the same to me, I would flee from there somehow. But the last invitation I had I attached to the application. I didn´t hope too much. It was about the fifth. There was an enemy of mine, called Závorka, in the commission, and he kept rejecting it. Absolutely. Even though he was a Valach, he was a very determined communist. A chairman, not of the communist party, but something like that. A flunky. In the end it turned out so that they gave it to me because they knew that I was there for fifteen years. What shall we have from him. I was supposed to be receiving a part invalid rent already. We shall pay him, he won´t be in the front line, so we´ll let him go. In this way one of them explained it to me afterwards. So they simply let me go to Canada.”

  • “I went straight to Toronto on the invitation. They had agreed to the invitation. I went by plane from the airport here, from Prague Ruzyně to Toronto. They were expecting me and I spent two months there and then I had to leave again. I don´t know why, from unclear reasons. Unfortunately. Simply my brother told me that it was not possible, that he had spoken to the people in the immigration office, that I had to ask for political asylum either from another country, or from Czechoslovakia. So I asked in Holland, but they held me for a spy. Why didn´t he ask there? In Canada it was beautiful. We were on holidays for about a week at the lake Lucky Lake, which is as big as about half of Czechoslovakia. We were fishing there for a week. Otherwise I worked in his workshop from the first day on. My brother fled in 1969 to Sweden, there he stayed for about ten years. And then to Canada. In Sweden he worked as a car mechanic, there he opened his own business with Volvos already. And after a few years he moved to Victoria, he has a nice house there… I didn´t flee, he tricked and sacked me. He told me, you have to go back. But I wouldn´t have gone back for anything, even though they let me sit at the door of the airport for seven days. I was scared then. I always thought that I would be deported. Then I found a ´talk´, they gave me a Polish girl, I couldn´t speak English at all. And she warned me that I was to tell lies. I was not to say I had gone to work, but from political reasons. And they gave me just such a paper – a permission for one year, but they didn´t tell me, go there, go there. They simply gave it to me at the airport, the bus is going and go to this and this address, they will look after you there. I found it, but it was closed. Nobody was there, it was a false address. So I hanged about for two months in parks until I encountered Hutka. He helped me a lot. Jarek.”

  • “We had a foreman and he was a determined communist. I was such a bad egg and he was always angry with me somehow and so on. That my hair was too long and so on, he had always something against it. So I went to a barber and had my hair cut close. I came there and he wanted to beat me up for that. So I stopped going there and started to work as a co-driver to the iron.”

  • “I as a foreman had the task to lead the group, to write such a plan what we were supposed to do that day, to write for example blasting cables for shooting, how many holes we were about to bore and so on. It was such a carousel. It was bored, or, when it was shot, dug out, fitted, again bored, dug out, fitted. It was such a carousel according to how it went. You couldn´t stop. The most important thing in the mine was how you could get on with the boys, when they are not coordinated, it is not possible. And I had the group, I didn´t have to say anything. The boys knew already what they had to do. This one went to fetch the hoses, the other for the pneumatic drill, another one brought this and I worked with them of course. Even though I didn’t have to. And the captain? Depended which one, they were mostly communists. Some of them were, excuse me, swines, I had problems with them, I was not very good to them. It was hard with me sometimes too… Nobody was in the party, they gave me boys to pick up some. At first I asked: ´Are you a communist?´ ´A candidate.´ ´So go, go.´ So they said: ´Why don´t you want him?´ ´I don´t want him.´ So I had boys, they were anti. All of them.”

  • “Jarek moved here straight after the revolution. And I started to be sorry already, I told myself that I didn´t want to die there like Jan Amos Komenský. I didn´t have anybody there. Dutch was annoying me somehow. I told myself, so what? What can they do to me there? I will go back. Vlastík Třešňák lured me, Jarek Hutka too. Come on, come back. I have bought a house, you can be my housekeeper there somewhere in Kamenice. Then a lady started to write to me to Holland that she had read my book. And she was called Lucie Váchová who had a brother in Utrecht and went there regularly. So we exchanged letters and she once went to visit her brother and she wanted to meet me, see me, so she came round. And it ended up so that I moved to her to Prague in the end, to this flat, seven years ago. So since 2000 I have been living here.”

  • “When the military service was over, I started to work as a co-driver with the gas bottles in the ČSAD company. There I worked for three months and then I told myself that I would go to a brigade-work to the mine for a year or so. I should stand it. I met my girlfriend there – my ex-wife. And shortly after that, after not only a year, I had to get married. We didn´t have any flat, so we lived in a sublease in Dárkov with a lady, before I received a flat. I told myself that I needed some money, so I wouldn´t leave the mine. At first I worked in the geological survey at the holes. There was little money there, so I wanted to go to the front line to strike. I was quite good at it and in two years I was a foreman already, which is unbelievably soon. I lasted there for fifteen years.”

  • “I go there now and then. Always twice a year to visit. To see my Mum and a few friends, but those I was in the mine with I don´t see at all. I looked for them, for instance Tonda from Bohumín. I don´t know what happened to them. But I got to know that the other friends also from Havířov who also worked there, but not in my team, there is only half of them left. They have gone under the sod. Now I have just been there and a friend told me that Vlastík died. Old like me.”

  • “I was completely taken aback by it. Freedom. You could feel the freedom there already. But for me the language was a problem. The first I was looking for were Czech pubs, because my brother told me in Canada that in Holland, if sometimes, there is a lot of Czech pubs. But there is not a single one, I looked for them in the catalogue. Nowhere anything. A few Yugoslav ones… I was sitting in a pub once and looked through the catalogue of pubs. I had a dictionary and I indicated to the waiter that I was looking for a Czech pub. I was sitting at the bar and suddenly a man sat down next to me and spoke to me in a pidgin Czech. It was as in a fairy-tale, wasn´t it? He said that he had been held captive here during the war and so… that he had stayed here for a while and worked and had spoken a little Czech. He advised me that he knew a Hutka in Rotterdam, that he knew he was a singer. And Jana Beranová – a writer. I only heard that a Hutka existed. The man helped me to get the number and I went from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. I found him, I went to him, but nobody opened me. So I looked for Jana Beranová. I rang as well, nobody opened. Then I got to know from a Dutch woman that Beranová had left for holidays somewhere to Spain and would come back in two months only. I didn´t know anything about Jaroslav Hutka. I had some money, about twelve hundred dollars, I earned it at my brother. He paid me fifty a day. Like a day labourer. So I found a hotel, I slept there, and when I ran out of money, I had no other choice but to sleep in parks, fields and so on. I kept going to ring at the Hutka. It lasted for one and half months, nearly two, until I caught him at home. I rang once and he opened the door. So we became good friends… It was him. I was so stressed, no wonder, I had lived through a lot. He told me: ´Ivan, look. The best medicament for it is to write. Write, write a diary, it will help you.´ So I started to write a diary and then I told him to read it. He said: ´It is no diary, it is a book. Go on writing.´ So I started to write The Varicoloured Levels. And then I asked Jarek whether I was to write about the mines. He said: ´Of course, write.´ In this way The Varicoloured Levels were created. Actually they were supposed to be two books, but we put them together.”

  • “I was born in Nový Jičín, it is in the Valašsko region. There were speculations that it was in the Lašsko region, but it was stated that it is in Valašsko. The Valachs are a bit proud of it to be Valachs. Like for example the actor Bolek Polívka. He said about me that I was no Valach, but a Valalach, because Nový Jičín is at the border, but it was proved that it is in Valašsko. So I am no Valalach, but a Valach. Valašsko is a hard region, there are hard characters there and very good people. My parents. My Mum was born in Příbor, it is close to Nový Jičín and my father comes from Jihlava. Both met in the Tatra factory, Dad worked as a mechanic there, Mum grinded cars. So they met and got married, didn´t they. We lived in Příbor at my grandmother, there was no other place. And then Dad somehow studied the mechanic technical school and went to work to the mine Antonín Zápotocký where I worked later too. We moved to Havířov, at that time it was called Šumbark. There I entered my education, the first class, and I lived there until the military service. I have two brothers. One, the good one, is in Canada. He is very well, because he is a capitalist, entrepreneur. And the younger one is still with Mum. He is still single and works as a bricklayer.”

  • “When the year 1968 came, I stopped working in protest. Stopped. I didn´t do anything for the whole year until my military service. I was hunted for the whole year, not only myself, but together with some friends I was in contact with. Until the military service we tramped variously. The dam, the Mácha lake, the Orava dam. We lived it through there, though without money, but there were girls. We always earned some living somehow. I got to know it so that I was in Karviná visiting a friend at that time. I slept then seldom at home, but mostly so variously at friends. As a young boy I had possibilities everywhere. And once I spent a night at a girl-friend. Namely, I was going out with one, but I slept at another one whose flat was just free. And in the morning my girlfriend came, the one I was going out with, and said: ´Get up, there is a war here.´ Tanks were driving everywhere reputedly. So we sprang outside and on the main road in Karviná we saw the tanks. We didn´t know what was going on. Then we heard from the radio that we had been occupied by the Soviet army and we heard the appeals to take down the traffic signs such as names of streets from walls. So we plunged ourselves into it. And then still, in protest, there were about twelve of us, we had all our hair cut close. We went to a photographer, I wrote such a big banner: Occupants in the Republic, our hair cut close. The photographer took the picture for free, I still have the picture somewhere. (…) In 1968 I already wanted to flee. I had the idea for a long time, but tried to persuade my friends, nobody had the courage. They were scared, so I said: ´Boys, what shall we do here? We have a chance, the borders are free. So let´s go.´ I was not very keen either. (…) I had problems with the authorities. They kept visiting me. Then I slept at home a few times. My brother returned from his military service in 1968. And the policemen were calling. I was sleeping at home for instance, my Mum was like away and he denied me. Then they hunted us, we were about five. I don´t want to name the boys, I would disadvantage the one a lot. He has a very high position today. They led us to the police station, questioned us. We were such blackguards. If you remember the cigarette automates, so we went to rob them. I always took a brick, I had long fingers, so we dragged it out and put it into our jackets and ran away. And then I went to the military service and only there I was taken to court. So I got a suspension of sentences, I think that about eight months for two years. Sponging. They didn´t find out about the robberies.”

  • “I never experienced fear there. Once we drove into a sea eye with the cutter loader. I was swept down by water. Sea eyes are such caverns. There are spaces in the ground, such a cave, and inside it there is salty, aggressive, like sea water. Nobody knows where it is. We did the geological survey to explore it. It could be detected when it started to soak. It is called ´štus´. At first it goes slowly, then it becomes bigger, bigger and suddenly it explodes. Water is worse than fire. And so it happened to me. It flooded the whole crosscut, it was in the whole mine. It depends what the sea eye is like. The eighth floor was flooded, we were working in the ninth. The whole floor… Nobody was hurt, just I escaped only just. I sent my boys away. But nothing, I was just a bit bruised. It buried us. Sometimes I had such injuries, it is not possible without them. Nearly all fingers broken… There is for example a seam. We were cutting along the seam, the coal, and we had to search for the coal, it disappears. The coal goes for example horizontally and suddenly it drops for about three metres down, so we had to go back and do an inclined plane. An incline plane is such a hill, and to drive into the seam. There are such free spaces between it, where there are for example the varicoloured levels. It is a soap stone, treacherous. It is green, red, white. It has various colours. It is such a nice stone, but treacherous and it doesn´t warn you. A normal top wall, it is slate, sandstone, pudding stone, such various stones can warn you. When it starts to scatter, then out. Away. In a while it fell. But the varicoloured levels don´t do anything. You couldn´t be up to it. Suddenly it fell. And we had to work underneath it. One or two were guarding and I had to go there first. I couldn´t let the boys go there. I was responsible for them. The worst were also hats. We called them hats. It was also in a slate ceiling. I was good at it already. They were tree trunks which had rotted. Stone became from them. The cortex – coal became from it. You only had to knock at it and a stone like this table here fell down. It fell sometimes also from its own, how many miners it killed, but I knew exactly already where it was. It is routine. You must be alert, you can´t be phlegmatic. After shooting I had to go first, I didn´t let the boys go there. When you shoot, everything is free, isn´t it. It is an open space, a room, and above you there is a ceiling with stones. I had to take such an old brace and go around it behind me. Now such rails came up, on them we put wood to hold the ceiling a bit at least. Then there were other works. When I had secured it, we climbed in already. We bored there three ropes, we called it ´klamoro´- scraper. Such a spoon was moving there and through a roller it was grubbed out. After we had grubbed it, we inbuilt it into the corf. And so on again and again… The mine had nine floors and it was eight hundred metres deep.”

  • “We sent it to Škvorecký, and it was the thing that helped me to get the political asylum. I had no documents and I had to go to the police station to report myself. He wrote a letter that I was a writer. So we did it so with Jarek that they gave me the status for that. After ten years I was entitled to the Dutch citizenship. I am still Dutch, because they didn´t give me the Czech citizenship… Škvorecký didn´t publish it, but he helped with the letter… It was also quite strange. Jarek Hutka arranged it for me here and Mr Stoilov from the Torst publishing house got to know about it. He was interested to publish it. I was coming here then too already. So he sent me the contracts to Holland that he would publish all three of my books. But I signed the contracts there. And wrong, because there was supposed to be written that I was entitled to some money from each book, from each edition. He published it gradually though, he even sent The Varicoloured Levels to Holland, but unfortunately the contracts were so bad that I had nothing from it. Ten thousand, but no other percents, nothing. He cheated me out… It was the book of the year, I didn’t take it into account. Such a ribaldry, wasn´t it. My mother has not even read it.”

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    Praha, 30.10.2007

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    v Praze, 24.03.2016

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I was such a bad egg and our foreman in the apprenticeship was always angry with me somehow. That my hair was too long and so on... So I went to a barber and had my hair cut close. I came there and he wanted to beat me up for that

Ivan Landsmann (1985)
Ivan Landsmann (1985)

Ivan Landsmann was born on 26th February 1949 in Nový Jičín. When he was nine years old, his father was arrested - and the talented pupil Ivan started to have problems at school. He studied to become a house painter, but he didn´t finish his studies, until his departure for the military service he then worked as a co-driver. When he returned from the military service, he got married and started to work in the mine Antonín Zápotocký in Havířov, he stayed there for long fifteen years. However, the atmosphere in Czechoslovakia was too tight for him and he decided to emigrate. At first to visit his brother in Canada, then back to Europe, to Holland. There Jaroslav Hutka helped him a lot in his uneasy emigrant life, except others on Hutka´s advice Landsmann started to write books, mostly with an autobiographical tune. The book Varicoloured Levels (Pestré vrstvy) received the award of the newspaper Lidové noviny (People´s Newspaper) The Book of the Year. In 2000 he returned back to the Czech Republic. Ivan Landsmann passed away on March, the 17th, 2017.