Mgr. PhDr., PhD. Martin Šimsa

* 1959

  • “I had a rare experience. I ended up in a cell with Havel, Jirous, Stárek, and Uhl after one forum. Jirous had drunk some, they were driving us over Nusle Bridge, or the Klement Gottwald Bridge at the time, and he yelled: ‘They’re driving us over a mass murderer’s bridge!’ in 1988. We arrive at the station, and he starts yelling right away: ‘Where is the telephone? I must call Ivan Medek in Vienna and tell him you busted us.’ He was really provocative like this. They put us all in a cell together and it was obvious they were listening. Jirous said: ‘Right, since we’ve got nothing to do in here, let’s put the government together.’ He said Šabata should be the president since he had been a Bolshevik and the shift should be gradual – not a non-Bolshevik right away. ‘Havel is still young, let him be the Prime Minister.’ He said to me: ‘And you? You’ll be the minister for church affairs.’ I said: ‘No, I don’t want to. I’ll be in opposition, so there are some dissenters.’ What an experience! I think it was after 1988.”

  • “I can’t say I had a clear strategy back then – I was just learning. I know I had heard various opinions in the underground that criticised Jirous for being too political. Either I saw it in a documentary, or he told me… his sister’s name was Ságlová, and [her husband] Ságl criticised him for joining forces with Havel and dragging the underground into politics. The initial idea was that the underground would live independently of all those structures, the establishment, the opposition, Havel, and prohibited writers. I also know that, back then, Jirous said that since Havel, Seifert, Patočka and writers were the first to stand up for them, we should not interfere if they did something together. I also know that Jiří Němec was initially against people from the underground signing it; reportedly – I don’t know if this is true – he even destroyed signatures by people who were prosecuted, I think Charlie Soukup. I think Charlie Soukup told me he signed it twice because Němec had ripped his first signature to shreds. He felt they shouldn’t be involved in it more. Opinions varied, and I can’t say mine was clear-cut as to who should do what. I was 18 at the time and eager to do it, but I was also a bit wide-eyed and insecure. I remember that when we were leaving Hrádeček, he said it was already surrounded by cops. We walked through the forest and Jan Litomiský picked us up with his car somewhere else to avoid the police. I was a bit worried over what can happen or what they can do to us. Often, they just checked our IDs and left us alone, but I felt fear and insecurity in those situations.”

  • “That was when the Charter came out. Just a note, though maybe you know: Miloš Rejchrt brought the Charter to our home around Christmas 1976, in December, I guess. He read it, I was there and so was my sister Anna, and I asked to sign it right away. Miloš said, no way, as I wasn’t 18 yet. Then, about a week later – sometime around 10 or 12 January – we had a home search. It took seven hours, was very thorough, and they took many things away. Then they took father in for interrogation. Any home search is ugly, but the first one was a real shocker. The only thing mum said was good about it, is that someone advised her to make them take their shoes off when on a home search. They behave with their shoes off. It also lasts shorter time. With shoes on, they stomp around and take their time. Since they always had to take their shoes off, they never ventured to the cellar or attic, and that’s where mum kept her archive. The most valuable stuff was in the cellar and attic, and they never really got there because they hated the idea of walking the cellar and attic with only their socks on. So, in fact, the archive remained intact and they never got to seize the most valuable stuff. Of course, they did take many books, Charter copies, letters and so on. They took all that.”

  • “The synod actually took place on 17 November. I recall they said there’d be some demonstration, allegedly organised by or having to do with SSM. We joked that, as such, it wouldn’t mean much. You know, what could SSM really do? A few of my friends looked down on it – like, SSM are doing it, so let them do it, but it’s not our business. We met that evening, and Petr Payne and Jan Svoboda, who had been at Národní, came in at nine or half past nine. Right away, they called me and I think Martin Trusina too – he’s the cousin of Tomáš Trusina who publishes the Protestant and EMAN – and told us what had happened. We said, let’s tell the plenary meeting of the synod. A few synod members who knew about this were there, maybe even Jan Litomiský, and we told them: yes, we need to get this to the plenary. We tried to do it. Hromádka got in the way, saying he’d call [prime minister] Adamec who he said he knew well. We said: ‘Okay, call Adamec, but they must tell the plenary meeting first.’ So, around midnight, after about two hours’ discussion, a synod deputy moted it, the synod voted for them to speak, and they described how they were pressed and beaten. They said they didn’t see anyone killed, but who knows – the pressure was horrific… the riot squad had been so harsh… The synod condemned it and asked the government to investigate, start a dialogue, and stop suppressing protests violently. Hromádka went to call Adamec at about half past midnight, to tell him he’d liaise with him, and Petr Payne and I said, let’s call Ivan Medek in Vienna. He’d already called him with some news, but didn’t reach him, so we met and called him again the next morning. He said: ‘I’ve got so many messages already that I may mention it, but don’t expect me to read the full declaration. I’m definitely not reading the whole thing.’”

  • “As for the title, everyone has a different story, but my father said there was this series of sermons he wrote in 1958 for Prague youths who started coming, youths from Vinohrady where he worked for a brief stint. Jan Keller was prominent among the youths. In the sermons, he was trying to explain how the gospel should be made reality, how to pursue it in the current world and situation. He was not alone – he debated with Alfréd Kocáb, Jakub Trojan, Milan Balabán, and Prof. Komárková. So that was this series of sermons for the youths. Then, his brother-in-law Jaromír Procházka said: ‘This is what all sermons should be like!’ You know, topical. They would later meet regularly in the summer. In the 1960s, they met at a camp in Mířkov where they formulated programming principles of what they should pursue together. I think it was an attempt at practical, lived Christianity, taken consistently with social and political implications. It went against the top church officials’ efforts saying, let the people go to church but be oblivious to the world. By contrast, the preachers meant to speak about the world around, and not be silent about what was going on or what they felt was not right.”

  • “A big event for me, if more or less an accident, was me hitchhiking to meet my friend Martin Zlatohlávek while in the army. I hitched a ride with Jan Litomiský and Londýn; they were going to Hrádeček to see a Plastic People gig. I came to Hrádeček for the first time and saw Václav Havel for the first time; he looked at me but nobody introduced us, and I was not bold enough to just walk up and say, ‘My name is Martin Šimsa.’ But there were many of my friends – I knew Svatopluk Karásek, Tomáš Bísek, Jiří Němec who started explaining Heidegger to me there and then, and so on. By the way, Havel remembered me from then. Later on, I met Havel at the Hejdáneks’ after the guys in Brno had been arrested. You know, they put Cibulka, Chloupek, and Petr Pospíchal in prison. I was telling them the news, and Havel approached me right after I came and said: ‘You were at Hrádeček, weren’t you?’ I said I was. It must have been two or three months later, so he remembered it quite well.”

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    Ústí nad Labem, 28.02.2023

    duration: 02:00:22
    media recorded in project Příběhy regionu - Ústecký kraj
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Mum made the StB officers take their shoes off. They did not go to the cellar where the archive was

Martin Šimsa in 1984
Martin Šimsa in 1984
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Martin Šimsa was born on 27 July 1959 in Klášter nad Dědinou where his father Jan Šimsa was a parson. His grandfather Jaroslav Šimsa died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1945, following imprisonment due to his resistance activities. Prior to that, he was active in the ‘We Remain Faithful’ Petition Committee and lived in hiding during World War II. He was also involved in an effort to save Jewish and German children, known as Zámky (Castles) after WWII, with Přemysl Pitter. After Jaroslav Šimsa’s arrest, grandmother Marie Šimsová kept a radio station in her apartment, which resistance member Jaroslav Valenta used to encrypt his messages for illegal radio transmissions to London. Martin Šimsa’s mother Milena, née Procházková, lost her father Jaromír Procházka who was killed by the gestapo during an interrogation in 1945. Jan Šimsa was involved in founding New Orientation in 1958, a new theological direction of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and organising home seminars in Brno known as Jan Patočka’s Evening University. He was under StB investigation many times, lost the government consent to act as a parson, and was eventually sentenced to eight months in prison for assaulting a public official. Martin Šimsa was not allowed to study. His education came from home seminars by Prof. Božena Komárková and Prof. Ladislav Hejdánek. He signed Charter 77 in 1978 and organised Svatopluk Karásek’s and Charlie Soukup’s concerts in Brno. The StB would arrest him regularly – he weathered some 30 interrogations. He took part in demonstrations in Prague during the Velvet Revolution in November 1989. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague in philosophy and was a teacher at the Faculty of Education of UJEP in Ústí nad Labem at the time of the interview in 2023. He lived in Litoměřice in 2023.