Jarmila Laník

* 1940  

  • “Back then, everyone at Bajina Bašta told her: ‘Are you marrying a Czech? Why, he’s a German!’ My mum would say: ‘He’s not a German, he’s a Slav.’ They said: ‘Is he orthodox?’ Mum said: ‘No.’ They said: ‘A foreign faith is foreign blood.’ But they did get married eventually: my grandmother (dad’s mother) came to propose to my mum, and they married about a year later and moved to Belgrade.”

  • “There was a coach full of people, a sleeping coach. It was full of all those generals and people going to the convention (ed. note: the III. meeting of the AVNOJe held in Zagreb from 7 to 10 August 1945). When we got up – I was about five – I walked with my dad and this general asked me about this and that: ‘Are you a pioneer?’ I said: ‘Yes, I am.’ – ‘Is this your daddy?’ And my dad says: ‘Come on, you cannot call an older gentleman a ‘drug’ (comrade), he is a ‘Mr’. But he said: ‘Oh no, we are all comrades!’ I said: ‘So can you call Tito a comrade?’ The general says: ‘Does your dad know Tito?’ My dad said he had worked [restoring the White Mansion, the Belgrade residence where Tito had lived] and that Tito would come by and say hello to everyone, asked how it would look after it is finished and so on. So my dad said: ‘I know him.’ The general said: ‘Are you Czech?’ Dad said: ‘Yes, I am.’ The general looked at me and said: ‘Tell me, little girl – who does your father favour? Tito, or the King?’ Dad would later remember: ‘My knees were weak.’ You see, our mum was a monarchist and kept talking about it. But dad never talked about politics. He later said: ‘I pictured myself singing the Song of the Volga Boatmen [in a Russian prison camp].’ So I said: ‘My dad favours neither Tito nor the King – he favours Beneš!’ ‘Oh, you are Czech. Oh, okay, Beneš is our ally.’ It was all right. Dad later said: ‘I will get you whatever you want in Zagreb!’” (Ed. note: the Song of the Volga Boatmen or Ey ukhnem is an old Russian folk song (recorded in 1866) that was sung by the burlakhs – boatmen who dragged boats up the Volga stream)

  • “I know I was told that Yugoslavia surrendered in ’41 during the war; I think it was on 10 April (ed. note: it was on 17 April 1941). We had to hand in our [Czechoslovak] passports and got an ‘Ausweis’. Every week, we had to report to the ‘Reichskommandatur’. (Ed. note: Ausweis was an ID for the citizens of the Böhmen und Mähren Protectorate. It allowed for crossing borders easily. During the occupation, Belgrade was on the very border made by the big rivers of Danube and Sava). I know the only good thing was that we could go shopping in Zemun and Pančevo. (The towns, about 15 km away from Belgrade, were beyond the border during the war: Zemun is over the Sava in the pro-German Independent State of Croatia and Pančevo was over the Danube, in the occupied Banat ruled by the local Germans). There was a ‘franztag’ in Zemun and ‘our’ Germans lived there; they moved away after the war. That’s where we went shopping, over the old bridge, for flour and sugar or what. One day, I was in a pram and mum told me she had bought a melon. They put the melon in my lap in the pram. As we were crossing the border, the German soldiers said: ‘What have you got?’ Mum showed him. Being a little girl, I shouted: ‘I have nothing!’ and I stretched my skirt over the melon. He laughed and said: ‘Okay, I know you have nothing.’ This is all I remember from World War II.”

  • “I started going to Czech school [in Belgrade] in ’47. It was called the Masaryk School then. Then it was renamed the Jan Žižka School. My teacher was Augustin Streit, he was… kind of large, fat… but he was… I always feared him. We wore braids and he would pull us by the braids when something happened, and he pulled boys like this. My schoolmates were Vuk Petrović, Stanislav Krůta, later Alexandr Ilić – our former Ambassador (ed. note: the Yugoslav Ambassador to Prague). Before us… I was in first grade and Madeleine Albright was in about fourth grade. Her name was Jana Marie Korbelová at the time. She is in the school almanac.” Ed. note: Vuk Petrović (14 May 1943 Belgrade – 1 Jun 2017 Požarevac), the son of a Czech mother and a long-time (13 Nov 2003 – 19 Feb 2015) Chairman of the Cultural and Educational Association of Czechs and Slovaks in Belgrade (later the Czech Beseda Belgrade), and then its Honorary Chairman. Stanislav Krůta is a long-term member of the association.

  • “Yes, I was in Prague. I came there… I don’t know… it ended on the 24th? No, the 27th! It started on the 24th [of March 1999] and ended on the 27th and I went in a van on the 28th. (Ed. note: the witness is mistaken – the NATO bombing of Serbia ended on 10 June 1999). There were about three of us so we went… I don’t know if we went round because there was no bridge in Novi Sad… I just know I could still see the tanks that our people made out of cardboard.”

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    Bělehrad, byt pamětnice, 15.08.2017

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I still believe times will get better

Doček prve caravele na Surčinskom aerodromu 1962_p (historic)
Jarmila Laník
photo: FB pamětnice

Jarmila Laník was born on 7 April 1940 in Belgrade in the then Yugoslavia. Her ancestors ran a construction business. She started going to a Czech school in 1947. Then she graduated from a high school but did not finish the law school. Following the rift between Stalin and Tito in 1948 the contact with the original motherland was cut; the witness’ father’s mill got confiscated and he was imprisoned. The family lost its Czechoslovak nationality and did not gain a full-fledged Yugoslav citizenship until 1961. That was also when Jarmila became a flight attendant - she is one of the first generation of flight attendants in Yugoslavia. She worked with JAT and often went to Czechoslovakia on business after 1965. She remembers the life of the Czech community in Yugoslavia. She retired in 1993 and lived in the Czech Republic for a few years. She witnessed the bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 from Prague and returned to Belgrade later. Her son lives in Prague.