“And now all of a sudden we were alone in the forest in the night and he told me: ‘And now you’ll be on your own.’ I was frightened. ‘But you said that you would hand me over to someone else,’ I replied. But the guide was suddenly much less polite and he said: ‘Count yourself lucky as it is.’ He described the way which I was supposed to take. But I knew straight away that I won’t find it, I have an awful sense of orientation. Maybe if he had described it in a simpler way, but he used such complicated descriptions... In short, I asked him to at least show me which direction to go. He waved his hand like this, I turned in that direction, and he was gone. All of a sudden he was gone. I took a few steps and heard the sound of voices and dogs barking. Now what? There was a bush there, but I reckoned that it would be of no use, that they would find me and arrest me...”
“In the concentration camp, Aranka was chosen as a prostitute. Although it meant she occasionally got some food and that she wasn’t in the cold as much as the others, in that way she might have had it a bit easier, but on the other hand it was awful. After the war she married a Doctor Rosenberg. He had found out about her from some people who had been looking for her. That had surprised him and he had said: ‘When you find her, please tell me about her, I would like to meet that woman.’ And when the people found her, they informed Doctor Rosenberg of it, and he met her and asked her to marry him. They became husband and wife. Aranka Goldberger became Aranka Rosenberg. And why had those people been looking for her? Because when the prisoners had been sent on a death march, one SS man closed up a whole group of them into a barn. He had told Aranka not to go to those prisoners, that she should stay with him, and then he locked the barn. Aranka asked him what would happen to the prisoners in the barn. He told her that he wasn’t going to waste his time with them and that he would set fire to the building. So Aranka killed him, took his keys, opened the barn and told the people that she could do no more for them, that they should all go home. That was why they were searching for her after the war. Those were tragic life stories. When the  February coup came, everything was bad. Aranka’s brother was arrested (note: Zoltán Goldberger, head of the Czech intelligence services - ed.). Aranka quarrelled about him with her husband - I know that because she confided in me as we were close friends. She kept telling him: ‘I won’t emigrate while my brother remains in that tower (he was imprisoned at Charles Square in Prague).’ But a few hours later Aranka herself was arrested, because in the meantime her brother had been rescued and taken away by the American FBI. So Zoltán came to America and Aranka was sentenced to fifteen years of prison back here. She served thirteen years of the sentence, she was 42 when they released us. Out of that, she had spent a total of 19 years of her life in various prisons, because before that she had spent six years in the concentration camp.”
“The escape happened like this: in the morning we came to workplace, and we legged it during the day. Mr Hámon simply didn’t report it. I don’t know if that caused him some trouble, but what could they take from an old man like that?”
“Someone called me to say the last train was leaving. So we ordered a taxi, and I reckoned that either we would all get out, or at least Josef - but at least him, because otherwise there would be no one to earn us a living. Because I had already handed in my resignation at work, and I was without work and - as I later found out - I probably wouldn’t have gotten a different job so easily. But now we came to the borders and we missed the train, it had just left. So we stayed the night in Cheb, and in the morning someone gave us a phone number for one bloke at the travel authority. He gave us some papers, but they turned out to be completely useless. There was eighteen-year-old youngster standing at the border crossing, and he said: ‘When the ship is sinking, the rats leave.’ He meant it that we were the rats, but back then it was one car leaving after the other...”
“The Red Army actually arrived already in March 1945; their soldiers started raping, in was terrible. Two of my classmates, who weren’t even fourteen years old yet, fell from a roof because they were being chased by Russian soldiers. No one speaks about it, but there was mass raping going on there. It was terrible. The Red Army acted in a disastrously shameful manner.”
“The Pankrác hospital had very large windows. That is not common in prisons, but this was a hospital. Always in the evening before the execution they put wooden frames with wrapping paper over the windows to cover them. Except they used floodlights to illuminate the executions, so we saw it as a shadow play. That was a horrifying experience, which repeated several times. But none of us dared to inform about it. It was terrible, what else can I say.”
As long as I am here, I will always keep the back door open...
Irena Šimonová (Vlachová) was born in Ivanovice on 9 December 1929. Her parents were from rich families, but their marriage was not a happy one and they divorced in 1945. The witness grew up in Vyškov, where she experienced World War II and the liberation of the city by the Red Army. The difficult family situation caused by her parents’ divorce made her move to Prague, where she was under the guardianship of her father’s friend, the retired lawyer Dr Pekuláš. She studied at the People’s University. During this time she made the acquaintance of František Smrček, and the two formed a strong bond of friendship - though nothing more at least from Irena’s side. When Smrček emigrated to West Germany in 1948, the witness was moved by him to start illegal activities to help people who were threatened by persecution by the Communist regime. In March 1949 she herself attempted to cross the borders in the Šumava Mountains. But the guide abandoned her in the forest and the attempt failed. On her way back to Prague by train, on 21 March 1949, she was arrested. Brutal interrogations in Bartolomějská Street in Prague were followed by the non-public trial with “Irena Vlachová and co.” during Christmas 1949. She was sentenced to 25 years of prison. She was placed in the prison in Prague-Pankrác, and in 1951 she was transferred to forced labour at the brickworks in Červené Pečky. She and several fellow inmates tried unsuccessfully to escape to West Germany. After eleven days she was caught by the police, and she ended up with three extra years of prison. After her escape she served her sentence in the prison in Pardubice. Her fellow prisoners included important figures like Růžena Vacková, Dagmar Šimková, Julie Hrušková, and others. Irena Šimonová was finally released by amnesty in 1960. She moved in with her mother in Karlovy Vary, where she remained until 1968. She married and started a family. During Prague Spring she co-founded the Club of Committed Non-Party Members (Klub angažovaných nestraníků) local organisation in Karlovy Vary. In August 1968 she and her husband emigrated to the Netherlands. She established a successful textile and fashion company. Irena Šimonová passed away on July, the 27th, 2017.