Slávka Peroutková

* 1922  †︎ 2017

  • "Us who had these decrees or whatsits, meaning that we behaved ourselves, we always got wages as if we were employees of the Directorate, and we waited to be transferred to some ministry, like that of finance or to some such place. So those were great times, because I didn't have to do anything and I got paid." (Q: "And who gave you this decree, or what was it based on, your good behaviour?") "Well, I think... I'm not so sure any more, I guess one of the ministries had to give us the decree, because many employees of the Directorate were investigated and maybe even imprisoned. And us who weren't investigated and weren't imprisoned, we were clean. And I can't explain that now either, because it's so many years back... I was there only some two, three months, and then because of my friendship with Eva Peroutková, who I met in the Directorate, in the cellar during an air raid... At the time she told me how her father was in a concentration camp and her mother a Jew with a star. She spoke about with such certainty and with such courage, I was impressed, and that's how our friendship started, thanks to the Directorate cellar. Because she came in there with her leg in a cast and no one... and everyone stayed sitting and no one got up to give her their seat, and so I jumped up and passed my seat on to her. Well and after that she accompanied me to Novotný's Footbridge, leg and all, and that's how I found out about her father and mother - although they had divorced long before our friendship began. And so when I was (later) searching for a job, she said she would work something out with her father, who was supposed to become editor-in-chief of the Lidové noviny, that is the Svobodné noviny [the same newspaper, only renamed - transl.]."

  • "(I met Ferdinand Peroutka's wife) only once, but I don't even remember any more why it was that Peroutka took me to his flat. It was just one room. And one day I remember I went a bit early and I went by myself, and suddenly I saw how the door on the landing, how the door of his room was closing. It made me twitch inside, but I carried on in. And there was Máňa Peroutková. And I reckoned that she'd start shouting, and so I rushed to the window to shut it. And she said: 'Don't worry, I won't shout. But I want to hear in your own words, that you won't try to talk Ferdy, to talk my husband into getting a divorce.' I said: 'But of course not. No, obviously not.' And other reassurances like that, then Ferdy entered and he acted like there was nothing happening. He was cool-headed like that. Máňa wanted some water. So I, carefully - there were two sofas there, one with the sheets still unmade, because I had to get up earlier, so I made the sheets on my sofa but not on the other one on which he had still been sleeping - I asked: 'Please, where are the glasses?' I remember that, I, such an actress... So it ended quite peacefully, Ferdy saw her out to her boarding house. So that was the only time I met her." (Q: "And when did she die actually?") "When? She did in 1955." (Q: "And after that you married?") "And a few months after that we married."

  • "He bore it (the cancer) with such courage, I mean he was simply courageous. But he got weaker and weaker, until he couldn't hold... he couldn't even turn the page of the newspaper I brought him every day." (Q: "And he stayed in hospital until his death?") "First off he was there for a fortnight or so, then they sent him home and he had to have two of those awful oxygen cylinders, they probably don't use them nowadays, but in those days it had to be like that. And then because it got worse, they had to take him to hospital again, knowing what the situation was I guess, though he never spoke about it. It was hard for him to express himself, and also when he went to hospital the first time and I came to visit him, then he wanted me to stay overnight. The doctors allowed it, and then he wanted to give me his bed, saying that he would sleep in the armchair. I said: 'Ferdy, but they'll throw me out, this isn't an hotel, this is an hospital and you have to stay in bed.' So then he accepted that. But that's what he was, a gentleman."

  • "Well first of all the Protectorate. At first we hoped it wouldn't last long. That was just like under the Communists, people waited and hoped. So I reckoned I'd just keep studying somewhere or other. So my parents, I mean my mum put me into a private school for secretaries. It wasn't the end of the war and the studies lasted just one year. After that she signed me up to some other place, but still nothing, and then I received a summons from the employment office and there stood this German soldier or officer and he watched us so and pointed left right left right, and thus I ended up at the Directorate for Youth Education. That place had a horrible reputation. But I was happy that I didn't have to go to Germany, because they sent people there for the labour thing. They put me in the sports department where it was really great, because it wasn't political. We worked together with sports professors, Sokol members, well, our people. So it was almost like a haven within the whole otherwise unpleasant line of work." (Q: "And what did you do there actually?") "Well, I was a secretary." (Q: "And can you remember your boss or the head of your department?") "I must say I knew doctor Theuner very well. Doctor Theuner was the one who treated my uncle for his heart - they had put him in hospital here on Charles Square and doctor Theuner was the doctor assigned to him. One time he waited for me in front of the hospital and accompanied me home. Well and what did we talk about - politics. I told him how how my auntie who owned a hotel in Dvůr Králové rented a common room to this one association and she then found out from her waiter that they were Flagists [members of Flag, Czech Nazi sympathisers - transl.]. 'And just imagine, doctor sir,' I said to doctor Theuner, 'those Flagists wear a badge under their coat flaps.' And to show him what I meant, I lifted his flap and he had a badge there. I can't describe the horror - I thought I'd go straight to jail. He blushed terribly, I remember that very well, I guess I turned white. He didn't tell on me, on the contrary he showed me home politely. Well and one day I found out that when the employment office sent me to the Directorate, my top boss was Czech. He was a - I don't remember his rank - but simply put he was the boss."

  • "It wasn't until the third time that he (Ferdinand Peroutka) said: 'Well, maybe I could get you a job in the accounting department at Svobodné noviny.' Well, I almost fainted. I told him: 'But, sir, I can't count, I can't do any accounting.' And so he went silent for a bit again and then said: 'You know what? I'll probably be editor-in-chief of Lidové noviny, I'll need a secretary, so let's give it a shot.' So we gave it a shot like that for about three years, until he had to emigrate." (Q: "And at the time you had already started to get close, or was that later?") "No, no, by no means, he was still... I had a crazy amount of respect for him. He was my friend's father and my boss, by no means, nothing like that. But I reckon he kept sizing me up in all different ways. Because at that time Eva - Bienertová by then - was pregnant and the wife of his good friend, Mrs. Jiránková, was also pregnant. Both with child and he invited those two ladies and me to Jan Masaryk's, to a banquet of Jan Masaryk. He told me to come to Svobodné noviny building and that we would go to Masaryk's from there and that he was terribly sorry that both of the ladies were feeling a bit out of the weather (and wouldn't come with us). And I took it hook, line and sinker, I believed what he said. And he was terribly apologetic for taking me there by tram, as he hadn't been able to get a taxi. You know, I'm only just remembering all this sixty years later. Yeah, he was awfully afraid, well not afraid, but it was very important to him how I was dressed. And I had, borrowed from my cousin from Dvůr Králové who was studying in Prague and living with us, I had the most beautiful dress you could imagine. And so I assured him that although they didn't belong to me, they were quite suitable. Well and so we arrived, lots of famous people I guess, but I didn't know any of them and all the interest was focused on me, because you see, Peroutka had brought his secretary to the banquet instead of his wife! Well I didn't see it like that at all, I was terribly in awe of everything and I clung to Peroutka the whole time, because I would've been completely lost in such company as was there."

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    Praha, 09.10.2009

    duration: 02:53:32
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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I would leave my mum and my sister behind and I would follow Peroutka wherever he went

Slávka Peroutková
Slávka Peroutková
photo: Pamět Národa - Archiv

Slávka Peroutková (née Jaroslava Fenclová) was born on the 9th of November 1922 into the family of a bookseller, publisher and the owner of a travel agency. Her father committed suicide in 1933. During the war she was drafted to work for the Directorate of Youth Education, where during an air raid she met Eva Peroutková, the daughter of Ferdinand Peroutka. After the war she became his secretary at Svobodné noviny (the Free News), later becoming his partner. In May 1948 she was arrested while attempting to cross the borders. She managed to finally reach England after a sham wedding with Cecil Dee, though she had troubles getting a consequent divorce. After living in Britain for two years, she moved to the United States. In 1955 she married Ferdinand Peroutka. She worked at Radio Free Europe and was supportive of her ailing husband. After November 1989 she returned to her homeland. Slavka Peroutková passed away on August, the 12th, 2017.