“We went to Prague to where Engineer Čížek had a villa. He had sold it to one plumber who’d come to a packet, but he had to let us the flat. The flats were made smaller at the time and no one could have a large flat any more. It was terrible impractical because it was a fancy pantsy villa, with marble, with a glass hallway, so we had to put a curtain up there; Dad had his room across the hallway, they were over that way, the kitchen was downstairs. And the rent was extremely expensive, Dad didn’t get a job for two years straight, Mum started to learn sewing, they tried, but no one wanted to employ them anywhere because we were capitalists. Dad was supposed to pay the millionaire’s tax. The way it was, they took all your property in 1948, but they wanted you to pay the 1948 millionaire’s tax for it in 1949. But we didn’t have any money left. Dad said the only way they could get money out of him was by selling him into slavery. So I remember how they came to our place and started putting stickers on all the furniture and everything, and my sister and I hid some things. Say, we stuck a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague into a cupboard so they wouldn’t take it from us. Mum cried, it must have been dreadful for her. But children see things differently. There was always something going on. The families of our friends were in the same situation.”
“When I lived here in Bechyně, we didn’t have any money, so I could only go to Prague once a month. I lived here with Uncle Křižík, and the only luxury I had was a Scottish skirt, which I had to leave in Prague so I’d have something there at all. We wore gym trousers when here, and we’d tuck the trouser legs into our trainers instead of fasteners. So everyone had terribly smelly feet. In the winter I had to take a heating unit with me upstairs to get some warmth. But of course, I was lazy, and I found an electric heater, which I used instead. Except then we received the electricity bill for 360 crowns, which was a load of money back then. That was after the currency reform. I stood there gaping, knowing it would be awful trouble. But then I discovered that the attic was full of bottles, and one bottle was worth a crown. I told Uncle Křižík about it, and he said: ‘That’s a good idea, girl.’ I brought all the bottles down in batches in a basket, and my uncle sat on a stool and washed them with a hose. He had that Volkswagen of his, so we loaded up all of the bottles [and took them] to the deposit. And there were so many of them that they paid for the whole bill and we even had enough left to buy ourselves a sausage of salami. My uncle was my tutor - I always got the better side of things from him.”
“... and Mum told him: ‘Doctor, please, couldn’t you send our Helena somewhere? They’ll lock her up here otherwise.’ And he really did send me away. I believed it, because I don’t suspect people of setting me up. He sent me, he said I should go with Helenka Prokopová - she was Vichterle’s doctor - to Vienna. There we were to procure lodging for Smrkovský, Dubček, and others from the Communist Party of Austria. In case those gentlemen would cross the borders. Helenka and I agreed to go there. That was about two weeks after we had been invaded by the Russians. So we went by train to Vienna. It wasn’t until then that I realised how worn our nerves were. A car went bang out in the street and we’d jump under the table. You don’t realise that when you’re living in the situation. So we visited the Communist Party of Austria - Helenka spoke German, I spoke English. We explained to the Communist there that we needed them to secure accommodation for Smrkovský, Dubček, and the rest. He said: ‘Well, we can’t do that. But I could do that personally. And it’s nice of you to attend to the matter, comrades.’”
A Schmaus girl won’t go to school. Send her to the factory!
Helena Schmaus-Shooner was born on 12 March 1938 in Prague as the elder of two daughters in the family of Gustav and Miroslava Schmaus. Her great-grandfather was the famous Czech inventor František Křižík. In 1939 Gustav Schmaus partnered with Ing. Čížek to buy a factory from a Jewish businessman in Pilsen, where he moved with his family. Helena’s mother preferred to keep her children in the more sheltered environment of Bechyně, in her grandmother’s villa. Helena witnessed the bad treatment of Russian POWs in Bechyně in May 1945. The Schmauses moved to Pilsen, where they were liberated by the American army. In 1948 the Communists nationalised her father’s business and confiscated the family’s property. The Schmauses moved into a rented flat in Prague. Gustav Schmaus was unable to get a job for two years for political reasons, his wife was only allowed to do manual labour. Helena was expelled from the pottery school in Bechyně because of her “bourgeois” background, and she was only allowed to complete her education in Karlovy Vary thanks to the reasonable approach of the latter school’s headmaster. She graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague and then worked at Jablonex as a jewellery designer. In 1964, when her sister Jana emigrated to the USA, Helena succeeded in leaving her employment and start a freelance artistic career. She enjoyed success with her costume jewellery both at home and abroad. She spent the year of 1968 in Paris, Italy, Prague, and Vienna. In 1970 she married the Canadian historian and paleographer Haughes Shooner in Prague, and in 1971 the couple moved to Canada. While her parents were alive, she would regularly spend several months each year in Czechoslovakia. In Canada she painted on ceramic sculptures and porcelain, inspired by the cultures of Native Americans and Inuits. In 1995 she moved back to the Czech Republic, to the family villa in Bechyně.