Jaroslav Vrbenský

* 1932  

  • “It happened to us at school that some men came there, they could’ve been cops, there was a German there, probably a soldier. We had to stand up on a stool, one by one, and he checked what belt we had. And I had a Czechoslovak Scout [one with] Be Prepared [on it]. So he took a knife and clipped it off. I had to hold my trousers up on the way home from school. But the first thing I did when I came home was that I started carving it out of a piece of sheet metal, the kind of cross shape, which served as a buckle, and the wolf’s head.”

  • “So I’d been alone in the cell for quite some while. Then the door opened and they stuck some chap inside. Whenever they gave you a cellmate, there were two options, either it was a cop, or it wasn’t. He looked at me like this and said: ‘I’ll kill you.’ He’d been there for a long time, and he was going bonkers. There was a piece of cloth sticking out of my pocket - we used that as a handkerchief - and he saw it as a sign of some kind. When we went to sleep, he lay next to me, the light was on, you had to keep your hands on the blanket. Just to think that I’m lying next to a man who offered to kill me... The strange thing is that I fell asleep and slept soundly.”

  • “Then we published some theological things, despite the ban. I had a theory for it, that you have to come out at an unexpected moment with an unexpected, ideally unknown author. So, for example, I suggested we should publish a book about the work of Nicholas of Cusa - no one knew him. He was a great thinker of the Middle Ages. I negotiated for the whole text, which is very difficult, to be translated by Professor Patočka. He agreed with it completely, although it was clear to him that could not be listed in the colophon. He said it didn’t matter, and he named Jan Sokol there instead. Nicholas of Cusa was published, the print run sold out immediately, some 1,200 or 1,500 pieces. My boss phoned me and said: ‘I know why it sold so quickly.’ I said: ‘Well, because he’s a good, important figure...’ To which he retorted: ‘And what about who translated it?’ I said: ‘Well, doesn’t the colophon name Jan Sokol?’ He said: ‘It wasn’t translated by Patočka, by any chance?’ Me: ‘Well, Patočka lives next door to Sokol, they have dinner together, so what are they supposed to talk about? Well, so they talked about Nicholas of Cusa, and when Patočka came up with some term that happened to fit in just right, well, Sokol used it in the book.’”

  • "It was already evening, at about 10 or 11 p.m., so long after the so-called ´lights-out,´ when everybody should have been absolutely quiet. Suddenly, there were big shots from the yard, the dogs were barking, spotlights blinking and they started reading the names of a certain number of people. And so did they my name. It was such a scene, the dogs were chasing each other, would like to have a bite, but the guards were holding them... walking round with their guns and automatic guns... There were about eighty of us and we were moved to solitary confinement at night. But we had to come back to the same workplace as before from these solitaries. They were sure we can´t do anything silly, since we were separated from others. This was already some punishment though there was no special reason for it. I was there with a Slovak and we went to work together... And then, I got a pleurisy and went to a prison hospital, which changed the situation a bit. We got a penicilin and other things ... I stopped going to work, became a patient and started getting various injections etc. I was under close supervision of the doctor Josef Vrbík, the Mercy Brothers superior from the hospital Na Františku in Prague. This hospital used to have a very good reputation. And the Mercy Brothers had mostly graduated or half-graduated before they were arrested, so their treatment was definitely not amateur."

  • ´This activity was a bit strange. But it was necessary to make up the titles of books which would not outrage the communist party and government. It was pretty well-known that if the book was called Hebraic Thought like the one by Tresmontant, we had to call it ´The Bible and Ancient Tradition,´... But if we did it two months later, even the word Bible would be forbidden. So, the title was crucial with every book. It should have hinted the reader what the book might be about, but if it hinted it too much, the book wouldn´t have put out. They would have crossed it out! Communist censors didn´t use to modify the text but they focused on the so-called ´complementary material´ including texts on jacket flaps, a preface, if there was any, a postscript, if there was any... etc. The postscript was short, so they could read it easily. Once we had to report to some Russian author who ´dealt with the matter´. It was about the book Men in Cosmos by Teilhard de Chardin, which was originally called Le phénoméne humain,... and we had to show who reviewed it in Russia and praised the book. So, we invented a special figure called Leonid Babosov who wrote about it in such and such a way... It was published and we had a bit of fun. We said: ´Let´s put Babosov there´. But it happened just once.´

  • "Kajpr did a lot of social activities on the periphery of Prague just after the war and the second Jesuit, who looked after secondary school students then, was František Mikulášek. And I went to see him once as well. This was a one day spiritual exercise, that is a few religious exhortations, several discussions and some preparation... Since it was in 1950 or 1949, shortly before their elimination, everybody expected it´s going to stop soon, there´d be no priests here... so you had to think how to do some work anyway. From these two, we learned .... to look round our classes and friends, to be careful not to contact anyone who would tell immediatelly to the police. It was no sabotage but, for the regime, it was an activity against the state, because it concerned a larger group of people. ´A circle´ involved about five people and there could be another one or two in other classes, so it could be about 30 in total. But they might not even know each other. The main subjects involved church history, dogmatics... etc. The circles gave a picture of our programme for the whole year, ... they showed how to find the resources so we could prepare some materials even without priests. This involved the books, e.g. by Reginald Dacík and priests from religious orders. The circle members met in a flat, on a trip or, in a sacristy, if possible. We used one room on Jiří z Poděbrad Square some time, which was above the sacristy... Kajpr and Mikulášek outlined what to study in this way, e.g. Buildingsite of Europe, a book by Henri Perrin, i.e. not to leave people alone, to get them someone who they can rely on and who can help them in a particular situation."

  • "In Leopoldov prison hospital, I met a poet Václav Renč, for example. It was in the larger room for six lying patients. We were lying diagonally, Václav in one corner and me in the other. And it was then when he let me read his poem Popelka nazaretská (Cinderella of Nazareth). He had to make it up and learn it by heart first because writing was forbidden and there was nothing to write with. When you got a piece of pencil, it was a great treasure you had to protect closely... Václav tried composing several things there, for example, the poem Loretánské světlo (Loreta Light), Loretánské litanie (Litany of Loreta) or Popelka nazaretská (Cinderella of Nazareth). All these are very large poems and Renč had to remember them because he made them in custody, where he had absolutely no chance to write anything and he could write a few lines only after he was moved to Leopoldov prison. Smoking was allowed there and there was a little piece of cigarette paper from Taras Bulba, the cheapest tobacco. We found it delicious and it reminded us of Arabic tobacco though it was mixed with various roots gathered from the ground. And this tobacco paper was used to write on.

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 06.04.2014

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    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 24.11.2015

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    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 3

    Praha, 17.02.2016

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    Praha, 24.02.2016

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    duration: 02:13:38
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    Praha, 04.03.2016

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    duration: 02:06:50
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People should do their jobs properly and think of others as well

Jaroslav Vrbenský po zatčení v brněnské věznici (2 (historic)
Jaroslav Vrbenský
photo: pamětník, sběrač

Jaroslav Vrbenský was born on 4th February 1932 in Prague, in the family of a Zemská Bank official, a trumpetist and conductor of the Vyšehrad choir Jaroslav Vrbenský. He has been motivated for music since his childhood, especially for playing the piano. He went to the grammar school in Slovenská street in Prague - Vinohrady from 1943 to 1951, started serving as an altar boy at the Holy Heart of Jesus church in Vinohrady, took part in the Bible Competition and activities of his parish priest, religious education teacher and director of Legio Agelica ministrant group, Josef Gabriel. He became a member of the Československý Junák (scout group) in Pankrác, Orel tennis club in Vršovice and became an assistant organist at the Holy Heart of Jesus. In autumn 1949 he took part in a one-day spiritual exercise with Jesuit priests Adolf Kajpr and František Mikulášek and after their arrest (by communist police) in 1950 he began setting up a secret network of catholic student ´circles´in the spirit of the Flemish catholic movement Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne (JOC). He organised two catholic youth summer jobs (in Šternov/Divíšov - 1951 and Paseky nad Jizerou - 1952) and was thinking of studying for a priest. Through the catholic priest of Rohozná František Myslivec, he established a contact with alleged people smugglers, (in real) secret police agent provocateurs and tried to arrange illegal border crossing for the prosecuted priests Karel Pilík and Antonín Bradna. On 23rd August 1952, he was arrested in Paseky nad Jizerou, interrogated in Brno, Příčná street, and taken into custody in Ostrava. On 25th June 1953 he was given a 12 year sentence in the fabricated trial Antonín Bradna and Company. He served his sentence in prisons and forced labour camps in Leopoldov, Bytíz, Vojna, Karouzy and Mírov successively. He was released on 22nd December 1962, shortly worked in a boiler room, in a maintanance group and became an editor of the Vyšehrad publishing house (since 1st April 1969 - up to now). He participated actively in the Jircháře Ecumenical Seminar and helped to bring out several editions of Christian philosophical and theological literature under the Vyšehrad (Studium, Prameny, Krystal etc.). In the 1970s and 80s, he arranged publishing valuable literature despite being under constant pressure from the Book Department of communist Ministry of Culture. He is currently working as an external staffer for the Vyšehrad publishing house in Prague.