I was born on the 18 May 1928 in Boskovštějn, a small village not far from Znojmo in southern Moravia. My father worked as a gamekeeper for the local Earl of Trauttsmandorff. Our house was a gamekeeper’s lodge in the middle of nowhere, about thirty minutes from the village where we went to school.
I had two sisters and a brother. My brother and I would put our cattle out to graze. But my brother liked to go and see the boys in the village. So he used to tell me, ‘Watch the cows now’ and I always answered ‘Okay, but give me something to read,’ because I was an avid reader back then. Sometimes I would forget the cows and they would run away.
During the war, the Earl’s property was seized by the German administration. One Czech man appealed to the Germans to open a grammar school on the castle land. We were already at senior school when Father asked us, ‘Would you like to go to the German grammar school?’ We were being educated according to President Masaryk’spatriotic philosophy, so we said we didn’t want to go and our father refused the offer.
My father’s workers were lumberjacks who felled trees and women who planted trees or picked strawberries and raspberries for the castle. Eventually they said that if Hruška’s children weren’t going to go to the German grammar school, their children wouldn’t go there either. The man who made the initial proposal for the school took a dislike to my father, of course.
The end of the war saw our family move to Černín u Jevišovic, where the Russians were on a rampage. Malinovsky’s army marched through and raped women all over southern Moravia. That’s why our parents locked me and my sister in the cellar, where we stayed until the end of the war. A doctor told me later that sixty women were raped in the Jevišovice area and seven of them died from the health problems that ensued. One man was shot by the Russians while trying to protect his daughters, and another man had to watch his wife being raped. It was horrific, and that’s why we hated the Russians.
I finished senior school during the war and later moved to Brno where I worked at a lawyer’s office. I also attended a painting course and wanted to study at an art college for a year. Once, the professor who ran the painting course approached me and asked me to fill in some application forms for a merit-based scholarship. He asked me, ‘Are you a member of the Communist Party? Are you a member of the Youth Organisation? Oh, you’re not. Well, only members are eligible for the scholarship.’ Later on, I even had to stop working for the lawyer because it was forbidden to have servants. I found a job in a factory called Matador, where I made anoraks.
I met an American soldier.
One boy who worked in the factory had been in prison in 1948. He was arrested again in 1949, along with another guy who never said what he had done. They were questioned for two weeks but subsequently released, because the authorities wanted to catch more people. They both decided it was time to disappear. Since they knew my political leanings, they asked whether I would help them cross the border. I didn’t like the communist regime, so I agreed, but asked them to take me too. I thought there’d be an army abroad, like there was during World War II, and that I could take part in the fighting.
One of the boys, Ruda, had a girlfriend who was in hospital undergoing some treatment, so he had to leave without her. It was February. I didn’t say anything to my parents and waited until they were out before heading to the woods. At around three o’clock in the afternoon, we crossed the border. We were stopped by an Austrian border agent who knew me through my father. I didn’t know whether he was a good guy or a bad guy, so we decided to run away from him. As it turned out, he was a good guy.
We kept walking towards the railway for about twelve miles, and in one village we persuaded a rail worker to put us up for the night at the station. He took me to his office, offered me his bed and went to sleep on the table. He gave us tickets for the Vienna train and some shillingsfor the tram. We were still in the Russian zonethen and had to be very careful. We caught the train at five in the morning and arrived in Vienna at eight. We went to the office of the American Counter-Intelligence Corps to report our arrival, much to their surprise. ‘How come you’re here so early? How did you get here so quickly?’ They thought we’d walked all the way there.
They had received word from the border agent that the daughter of the gamekeeper Hruška had crossed the border with three young men. They questioned us and put us in a dormitory block. The boys met a Hungarian there who told us that he would take us to the Western Zone, as long as we paid for his travel. We went to Linz with him, where we stumbled upon a refugee camp. Soon after arriving, I went to a dance with another exile to discover what life in a free country was like.
Shortly after, I met an American soldier. His name was Frank Farnetti, and he soon proposed to me. I was twenty years old, and twenty-one was the age one became an adult then, so the wedding had to wait. At least the American managed to get me out of the camp and arranged private accommodation for me with an Austrian family.
I sent a letter to my parents from Linz, telling them that I had emigrated and not to worry about me. My mother sent me a secret reply via the border agent that read, ‘Please don’t come home. They’ve issued a warrant for your arrest. If you happen to be in Czechoslovakia, don’t come anywhere near the lodge because we’re being monitored.’
In Linz, I was alone among foreigners, so I used to go back to the camp to visit and talk with the Czechs living there. Once, while Frank was away on a military exercise in Germany, I found out that I could get involved in espionage. They were looking for somebody to go back to Czechoslovakia undercover. I told myself I’d be back from Czechoslovakia well before Frank returned from Germany. So, together with two other boys, I set out for my home country. My mission was to establish an espionage unit in the Republic and bring people in danger of imprisonment safely across the border.
They were looking for me.
I wanted to help my people. We stayed in Czechoslovakia for two weeks, each of us tasked with a mission. In two weeks’ time we were to meet up again. We were supposed to take several people across, but in the end they decided not to emigrate due to personal circumstances. That’s why we ended up going back as a group of four.
Ruda was taking his fiancée with him this time. There was another man returning with us, Franta, who had been involved in espionage since 1948. I was taking care of his briefcase with maps of all the border areas from Aš to Šumava, as well as lists of phone numbers for all the Czech and Slovak factories. We crossed the border in Šumava and went to Linz by bus. I didn’t know that I was being followed by an agent who worked for the State Secret Police in Brno. His name was Josef Eichler and he had learnt about our trip. So there were policemen waiting for us. They surrounded the bus with their machine guns. Both the boys from our group escaped because the police weren’t looking for them. They were looking for me.
They found the suitcase I was carrying and accused me of espionage. They arrested Ruda’s fiancée as well, because she had no identification on her. She knew nothing about what I was doing, so I wasn’t afraid that she would give me up. But they handed us both over to the Russians. At that time, Austria was divided into zones, and I was arrested in the Soviet Zone.
The Russians offered to cooperate with me, as long as I brought them floor plans of an American airport. They knew I was seeing an American soldier and had access to his military quarters. But they wanted to keep Ruda’s fiancée as a hostage. I refused because I would never have forgiven myself if I’d left her there.
They handed us over to the State Secret Police in České Budějovice in May 1949. I was starving and ate about two litres of tasty soup and the same amount of spinach with dumplings, which was brought to me by a Moravian prison guard when I arrived. Later, when they called us for questioning at the State Secret Police office in Budějovice, they began screaming at us, but I told them, ‘You have a reputation in Linz for treating people badly here.’ The officer in charge ordered them to record everything I said and forbade them from touching me. So the questioning was non-violent and not too bad.
I kept telling them the same thing – that I’d gone home to get a goodbye blessing from my parents – and my case was closed for two weeks. I was told I’d get about eighteen months. Then, to my surprise, the police in Brno asked for me.
They wanted to convict us of espionage and gather more names. I had to kneel barefoot on a chair. When Horák, one of the State Secret Police senior investigators, arrived, one of the guards hit my feet several time with a truncheon. When my feet were swollen, I wrapped a piece of cloth around them and the pain wore off by morning. All the same, I felt like fainting. The guy who was recording everything let me sit down when he saw I was about to faint. Then Horák came and asked, ‘Is she talking? Giving evidence? Naming people? No? On your knees, then!’
In the early hours of the morning I realised I was bleeding.
I wasn’t so much afraid of the beating as I was of them giving me an injection to make me talk. That’s why I didn’t drink the water they brought. I refused food and went hungry for several days. Sometimes the girls in the cell gave me some of their lunch. There were six to eight of us there. They started to call me ‘Mosquito’: in the cell there was a window above the table and I would cling onto it to look at the new people they brought in. The guards started using the nickname too and it has stuck with me ever since.
I experienced one really rough interrogation where they banged my head against a table, dragged me across the room and hammered me against a closet, using anything they could find. I tried not to fall over. A phone call saved me in the end. They had to leave immediately to make new arrests. A guard took me to Orlí, another prison in Brno, where I was put in solitary confinement. In the early hours of the morning I realised I was bleeding.
I was sent to a doctor, but the State Secret Police officers had no time to take me to the hospital on the doctor’s orders. I was three months pregnant with the child of my American soldier and I miscarried. They left me bleeding there for three days until I was totally drained. Eventually the whole prison ward revolted and demanded I get medical help. There was an old prison guard who eventually helped me and took responsibility for transporting me to Brno maternity hospital. They saved my life there, but they couldn’t save the baby.
Afterwards, they handed me over to court custody. The trial was a farce because the verdicts were pre-arranged by the State Secret Police officers. My lawyer didn’t help at all because he was a court-appointed attorney. I received a sentence of fifteen years for espionage. It was 1952 when they took me to Pardubice, a town in eastern Bohemia with a prison for female prisoners. I stayed there until my release.
The guards made us gather in the prison yard and gave us numbers. I was number 176. We were put into one cell, a big hall divided into double rooms. About eighty women lived on the first floor because there were offices on the ground floor. They brought straw for us to stuff our own mattresses. We were given covers and mess tins and had to give up our civilian clothes in exchange for prison uniforms. At the beginning we had no workplace, because part of the prison was still being built, so our job was to help the men carry bricks. We also scrubbed floors, which were black with dirt. There was a crazy captain, who used to come in wearing boots covered in mud and screech, ‘Now, scrub it all again!’ We used glass, straw and cold water to scrub the floors. During our free time, we used to go and lie down and chat behind the main courtyardwhere there was grass and apple trees and a vegetable patch.
One day in 1955, when I was working in the sewing room, a hunger strike started in the knitting room next door. We didn’t know who had started it or why. We only learnt later that the knitting room supervisor was a total sadist, but we never had to deal with her. They rushed us to the yard, and we were surrounded by State Secret Police officers with machine guns and a ministerial commission came for inspection. The girls who started the whole thing were taken to a State Secret Police office in Pardubice. We were put in a run-down building. We hunger strikers were divided into groups of about three and put into cells. Most of the women ended their hunger strike, but I decided to go on.
Seven days passed before they decided to force feed us. Božka Tomášková went first, but when she learnt that the others had ended their hunger strike, she stopped too. Then Vendula Švecová went and tried to resist, but they fed her in the end. I was the last. When they started holding me down, I told them, ‘Look, it’s beneath my dignity to fight with you. You have the order to feed me, so feed me.’ So they put the feeding tube in and poured down the broth. When they were pulling it out, I threw up all over Ruzyňák, a prison guard who was very meticulous about his uniform.
They took me to the cell next to Vendula’s. All in all, we were on hunger strike for two weeks. We used Morse code to communicate and Vendula messaged me that she was sick. I remember they told us they’d take us to the hospital in Pardubice the next day to feed us through the nose, not through our mouths. I was looking forward to it because I thought I could shout out what was going on in front of the doctors. Vendula kept messaging that she was feeling sick. So I messaged her back, telling her to start eating and that I would go to hospital on my own. But she collapsed that evening and wouldn’t start eating again without me. So I had to end my hunger strike.
People said that the Commander of the prison really regretted not having seen our performance.
During my time in the prison, I got to know Nina Svobodová, a writer who wrote poems which I used to know by heart. She had the idea of putting on plays in the prison. After we finished work, we would perform short plays. I painted the masks and the faces of the girls who acted and did everything else that needed to be done. We also used to entertain ourselves by listening to the news on the prison radio every day at seven o’clock in the evening. I would write down the most important news, make notes and comments, and when the afternoon shift came back from work at ten o’clock, I would read it for those women too. Sometimes we could even listen to classical music on the prison radio.
I remember once we organised a ball. We used to play music in the bathroom. One girl would whistle on a comb, another would sing, I would play the drums, and the rest of the girls would dance. Nina Svobodová saw it and liked it. In fact, she liked it so much that she wrote a programme, and the girls dressed up in masks and played historical characters from fairy tales. There were seven dwarves, Admiral Nelson, a princess with a star on her brow, a Hawaiian dancer, the Roman emperor Hadrian, and others. The musicians were supposed to be beetles. We made antennae, but mine kept falling off of my head because I had shaved my hair off the previous autumn. I couldn’t be bothered with it and took the antennae off. In the end the people in masks were put in solitary confinement but, since I had no mask, I wasn’t sent to solitary. People said that the Commander of the prison really regretted not having seen our performance. His Deputy, though, who we called Pepánek, came. After that, the girls spent about two weeks in solitary confinement.
In every prison I used to send secret messages, mostly to men. My mother used to send me secret messages too. She put them into scones because they didn’t check them. They only cut big marble cakes. I used to tell people I trusted to eat carefully because there might be a secret message inside. I always had to wait until the message was found, and only then would I hand out the scones. I also used to carry secret messages during my visits to Pardubice. I would glue one to my palm and when I stretched out my hand to give a handshake, I would squeeze the person’s hand. My mother knew that I had something in there, so she took the message and pretended to cry and wipe her tears, and that’s how she slipped the message into her pocket.
Suddenly, in 1960, the amnesty came. They read out the decree to us. We didn’t laugh. We weren’t happy at all. We even needed permission to return to our hometown or village.
They took us to the train station in small groups. One group at a time, probably because they were afraid we’d start a revolt. We travelled in our prison uniforms. When I got home, I rang the doorbell, and my mother came to answer the door and asked me, ‘Are you just visiting, or is this permanent?’ ‘It looks like I’ve been released, but I’m on probation for ten years,’ I said. Then my mother told me that we’d go and visit all our relatives to see where we’d get a warm welcome. In the end, everybody was glad that I was back, so the story has a happy ending.
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What kept me so strong? Faith. I was friends with a girl who was imprisoned for her Catholic activities. We used to go for walks together, and she taught me the whole mass by heart, that way we were able to hold masses in the prison yard. My friend was even able to sneak in some communion wafers. We were constantly being persecuted because of these masses. The prison guards found out, and we were sent to isolation cells. Yet all through my prison years I kept my faith, and I still keep it today. I always say that the mills of God have a nuclear power engine. I grew up in a religious family, and I saw my ordeal as a punishment. My mother warned me not to come back to the Republic, but I wouldn’t listen. I also promised the American I wouldn’t go back to Czechoslovakia and I betrayed him. I wrote him a letter from prison, but they didn’t send it to him in America. It was God’s punishment for my imprudence and disobedience. Still, I managed to come to terms with it. I kept my faith.
When I was in prison I always had strong support from my parents. All the same, I had to come to terms with the fact that I had lost my child. I always say that it was meant to be, and life just went on. I have managed to make peace with everything. I don’t feel any hatred or bitterness. When I came back from prison at the age of thirty-two, I wanted to have a baby, but I couldn’t any more. It just wasn’t possible after eleven years in prison. So I stayed alone, forever faithful to my American.