Albín Berky

* 1953

  • “I emigrated as a fifteen-year-old boy. My mom told me, ‘Your father is in Ireland, go and stay with him.’ And so, I had another experience. Februárka – the police headquarters. We had passports, but no visa. Me and my friend, who is now in Canada, came to the building of Februárka, which was surrounded by twenty or thirty tanks. I was on my motorbike and so I slalomed through the tanks to reach the building. I could have died. Today I see it this way, but I was really brave back then. We passed through the tanks, I leaned my motorbike against the staircase and ran to the visa department. There, everyone was receiving the stamp: bam, bam, bam. It was probably August 28 or 29. We got the stamps. Everyone got them. As we entered the staircase, we shouted, ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ However, instead of the stamps we could have got the bullet. Thanks God, we haven’t. The following night we went to Austria. My friend was eighteen, I was fifteen. Another friend helped us to cross the borders. I only took my little violin and a suitcase. That’s how my mom had sent me. Today, if my fifteen-year-old son went somewhere like that, I think I would die of fear.”

  • “Then I went to the SNP Square. Everyone came to the square, both the young and the elderly. There were thousands of people. And everyone asked the soldiers the same question, ‘What are you doing here?’ – ‘Ja neznaju, ja neznaju.’ The soldiers replied they didn’t know. They thought it was a military exercise as well. They didn’t know they were about to invade Czechoslovakia. That was an agreement of politicians, but no one else knew. At the square there was a man shouting, ‘Kill me, you Russian swine!’ and he had torn his shirt. People incited the soldiers so long that one of them grabbed a machine gun and began shooting all around the square. They were shooting towards the church tower near the former cinema Čas. Thousands of people on the square found themselves lying on the ground in a second. Everyone was on the ground, as they were afraid to get shot. At the nearby post office, a bullet killed a boy…”

  • “At night of August 20, 1968, the whole Bratislava was shaking. ‘My Lord, what is it going on?’ I looked out of the window at Steiner Street (today Krížna St.) and spotted a line of tanks queueing up by the former central market. Hundreds of them. ‘Is that a military exercise or what?’ Thus, we thought it was just a military exercise… Then my brother told me, ‘Give me a ride to work.’ He worked at a gas station that was on a way towards Lamač. My brother was also a cellist, but he let that go and worked at the gas station. I gave him a ride on my motorbike and on our way, we saw about twenty tanks aiming at Bratislava. It was a shock. It was such a shock for me that I shall never forget it. I was only a child back then; I was only fifteen.”

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As they were confiscating my passport they said, “You shall never travel anywhere again!”

Bratislava airport before the departure to Prague - Beograd - Sydney, May 1980
Bratislava airport before the departure to Prague - Beograd - Sydney, May 1980
zdroj: Archive of Albín Berky

Albín Berky Jr. comes from a famous musician’s family. His father, a cellist virtuoso Albín Berky Sr., was in years 1940 – 1967 a soloist of the Slovak Philharmonic and a representational character of Czechoslovak classical music. Albín Berky Jr. was 15 years old in 1968, when he experienced the Warsaw Pact troops occupation in Bratislava streets. Yet, during the August events he decided to leave and stay with his father in the West, where he worked legally back then. At Christmas of 1968 he returned to see his mother and right after the arrival, his passport was confiscated. This way Albín was unable to continue his studies in Ireland and moreover, he became a person put down on a blacklist due to his father’s decision not to return to CSSR. Because of the regime’s obstructions, Albín couldn’t find appropriate job for years at home, and so he applied for exit permit. After being refused three times, the communists finally approved his emigration request under the condition of renouncing his Czechoslovak citizenship. In 1980 Albín emigrated to live with his brother in Australia. There he started his life over and a year later, after unsuccessful attempts of legal emigration, his fiancée Júlia escaped from Czechoslovakia as well. In Australia they got married and together they founded their own musical school – The Berky Music Academy. There they still actively work today and bring up further generations of concert artists. Albín and Júlia have two children: a daughter Jacqueline, a successful flute player, and a son Richard, who is an economist.