Jaroslav Vetter

* 1935  

  • “The very first thing I remember was the February strike when we went, the whole of our grammar school, from Strossmayer Square to Veletržní palác, into the theatre. Speeches were delivered. Trams stopped all over Prague. What speeches these were, I don’t know, I just didn’t listen, we were too small for it. Then I heard, while we walked past the houses, that the tram drivers swore, ‘Well one stops and we all stand here.’ When I talked about it at home, my parents explained to me, ‘Well, that was clear, wasn’t it? The communist among them stopped his tram and they could not continue. It was the strike.”

  • “With Josef Hromádka, it was a problem, I couldn’t believe that he was so engaged. In our church we had the youth, well they were not the youth any longer, they were young people. And these people took up jobs in government. Several people of our church – I don’t know how many – served in the Ministry of Interior. When the rumours started to spread that he had worked with them, and he was still the senior of our board, I asked. And they told me, there was no problem, that he can ask for the lustration certificate and they would issue it as a priority. I went to the Hromádka’s, I didn’t speak to Josef but to his wife and told her it could be arranged for him to get the certificate quickly, why he hadn’t asked already. Well, he didn’t ask for it.”

  • “We didn’t realise something was happening in Hungary. We studied at night, it was quiet. But time to time you got up and went for a short stroll. Or someone came, said a couple of words and went out. The boys took my pyjamas at night. It was with green and brown stripes and they hanged it on a pole like a flag. And there was a scandal out of it, people said students of theology were supporting the Hungarian revolution.”

  • “Then there was the ČED convention, a reunion of Czech Brethren parsons. It was Jan Šimsa, I think, who asked for those who were under pressure from the Secret Police to speak up, to sign a paper and that they would get support. No one spoke up and then I spoke, suggesting that those could speak up who… well, those who were thus approached, as a proof that it was indeed happening. The discussion was long, eventually we said we would sign it. I ran to catch my bus to Chomutov, so I signed a blank paper. The guys wrote what we said and sent it. After a while I was invited for an interrogation with the Secret Police in Chomutov. Now, I didn’t know what was on that paper, because I never saw it. And it simply didn’t occur to me to go to see one of those who signed it and ask what was there. I didn’t want to call, I didn’t want to write, because I thought the phone would be wiretapped. I heard clicking sounds in the phone, they said this was it. And that they would read the letters, I expected quite naturally. So I went for the meeting unprepared and I tried to talk my way out of it, that they treated us the way they treated the Communists in America… anti-American activities and things like that… that were were under suspicion and pressure… Nothing came out of it. They just swept out talk under carpet.”

  • “With re-emigrants from Volhynia it much depended what village or town they came from. In general, they imagined a society that was here a hundred years ago and they wanted the same. Naturally, not their children, they were just fleeing, they didn’t want to have anything in common with the church. But the elders, they wanted it to be here like it was there. And it was a kind of mood religion. They had an idea that the Bible was history. Jonah, well he was swallowed by the whale, wasn’t he? Say what you like, whale, that’s it. And they prayed like this and that. One father – his daughter came for confirmation exercise to me – complained, ‘She lies, she says you allowed her to pray lying on the bed, that you also did that.’ How come that she didn’t kneel in front of the bed so that he could measure on his watch whether she prayed sufficiently?”

  • “I, too, had my personal experience. When I was a member of the synod council, I talked to the district secretary in Prague over matters that concerned not only Prague but the whole church. And this was a former teacher and was treated nicely. But when I crossed and became a parson in Střešovice, he talked me down in such a way that I realised that it was really a feudal way and people were classified in certain categories. I dropped from the top to a parson, suddenly I found myself below his level and he wouldn’t talk to me. Whether this was managed in a way I don’t know. I would say this was his individual approach, the way they saw it and the way they were like.”

  • “When I started my first year [at junior grammar school, around the age of eleven/twelve - trans.], I was a hardline atheist. I was obliged to attend religious instructions, but they meant nothing to me. Until one time our civic education teacher told us about Masaryk and mentioned his quote: ‘A man can hang either from Christ, or from a nail.’ I respected Masaryk from my family upbringing, and so I reckoned: ‘Compared to me, a first year pupil, as a university professor Masaryk was in all likelihood cleverer. So although I won’t cross my atheism out, I’ll put it into brackets - perhaps that Christianity has something to it.”

  • “When I started serving in Chomutov, we parsons were banned from doing any activities with youth. Nothing was allowed, and also, the camp where I had enjoyed a lovely stay as a child had been confiscated from our church and given to the Pioneers. However, the Czechoslovak economy fell into a miserable state, and because the Germans had been expelled, the border regions were in the greatest need of more labourers. We Evangelicals made use of that, and already in the fifties we began organising forest work trips over the summer holidays. The pay was meagre, but they allowed the work trip and even provided us with food and lodging.”

  • “Charter 77 came, and the Communist authorities decided to fire the whole editorial staff of the monthly magazine Czech Brother, where I worked. They summoned us to the ministry. But I didn’t know what was going on in Prague because I was leading the camp in Chotěboř. When they phoned me from the Synodal Council, I told them I wasn’t going anywhere, that there wasn’t anyone to take care of the hundred people in Chotěboř instead of me. And thanks to the fact that I didn’t come to the ministry, I was the only one of the whole team who wasn’t fired.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 03.10.2016

    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 2

    Praha, 31.01.2017

    duration: 01:50:41
  • 3

    Praha, 25.03.2017

    duration: 02:11:01
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

From atheist to parson

Jaroslav Vetter (1954)
Jaroslav Vetter (1954)

Jaroslav Vetter was born on 18 November 1935 in Prague. After graduating from the Komenský Evangelical Faculty of Theology, he served as vicar of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in the congregations in Děčín (1959) and then Chomutov (1962-1967). In the late 1960s, early 70s he helped build up a camp in Chotěboř and maintain it as church property. In the first years of normalisation he also functioned as secretary for the children apostolate of the Synodal Council of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren. As the political situation worsened, he resigned from the post and became parson of the Střešovice congregation, where he remained until the year 2000. Over the years he wrote many articles for children in Czech Protestant periodicals, mainly in the monthly magazine Český bratr (Czech Brother), which he also edited.