Thank God my parents were upright
Ilja Stern was born on 24 July 1960 in Prague. His mother Jana Sternová, née Volková, came from West Bohemia and was a professional ballerina. His father, Vladimír Stern, worked for Czechoslovak intelligence service, which provided State Security (StB) system with information from abroad. The invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops opened his parents’ eyes and changed their view of the regime in Czechoslovakia. Sometime in 1969, Ilja Stern began to notice the visits that were increasingly frequent. František Kriegel and Josef Smrkovský were close friends of the family. Vladimír Stern was dismissed from the intelligence service in August 1970 for his “hostile attitude towards the socialist establishment”. He was also expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) and lost his rank and honours. The prominent family became enemies of the state. The witness had trouble being admitted to secondary school, and eventually was able to train as a toolmaker. In December 1976, his parents were among the first to sign the Charter 77 declaration. On several occasions, he was dragged into a passageway on his way home from school and beaten by unknown men. Although State Security (StB) tried to make life unpleasant for the whole family, they continued to meet, for example, with the philosopher Jan Patočka and Václav Havel. After completeing his apprenticeship, Ilja Stern began working as an orderly at the Motol hospital thanks to a reference from a friend. A month before he started his basic military service in 1978, his sister emigrated. He served near Vimperk in Šumava. He was repeatedly bullied and interrogated several times because of his sister’s emigration. During those two years he spent a lot of time in military prison. Not once was he allowed home on leave, not even a short pass. He ran away twice, once to attend the funeral of Jan Patočka. He was interrogated several more times in the 1980s. From 1984, his mother was the spokesperson of Charter 77. During the demonstration on 17 November 1989, he was among paramedics who took injured protesters away from Národní Street. In 2022, he was living in Malšice in southern Bohemia.