“We used to go to the forest next to our village to pick blueberries there. The forest was awash with them. Quite often, we’d find footsteps of the Germans. I was picking blueberries and suddenly, there’s a man right in front of me, he was clinging to the tree. He thought that I wouldn’t see him. But I almost stuck my nose into his boots. Afterwards, I thought to myself that our mother had been rather careless about this when she let us go to the forest by ourselves. I was a sixteen-year old girl by that time. He could have easily killed me there and my mom let us wandering around that forest all by ourselves. (Son Jiří: I think he was rather frightened of you. So he didn’t do anything?) No, no. I saw him walking away…”
“The Beneš spouses were not particularly demanding when it came to food. We would cook for them and for us together. They ate the same stuff we did. They didn’t demand anything special. (Son Jiří: didn’t they send for goodies abroad?) No, absolutely not. They weren’t like that. I mean they liked good food, of course, but not in huge quantities. They were rather austere in this respect. When the cook made fruit dumplings for them, she would make more of them and we had them too. They didn’t have any special preferences or restrictions on food. They ate everything. I was really surprised to see that they were on this mundane diet. Nothing extraordinary. Just the common dishes.”
“Well, this is about a humble and simple life. I think that you shouldn’t expect too much from life. People should also give back to life. If you don’t, what do you expect then? This is the most important think that children should learn already at school. To be able to make a living for yourself. To support yourself. These kids, they have no idea. Look, we, as kids, we were taught this right away. In our village, my dad was the local priest. He didn’t make that extra much money, but he showed us what you can do with that money. And we learned from him. These youngsters today should also learn how to spend their money wisely.”
“You can be sure that they summoned me, you can be sure of that. But I wasn’t afraid of them. Not at all. I said: ‘what do you want from me? He was our president. I took up that job for him as a president’. The interrogator didn’t quite know how to react. Whether he was supposed to ridicule me or make some stupid remarks. But I told him right away that I would tell him what I liked and what I didn’t like, I wouldn’t tell him. (Son Jiří: Well, you surely weren’t the most important person as well…). Of course I wasn’t. Certainly not. They asked me how I got that job. I told them: ‘How I got that job? Well, how do you get the job of a cleaning lady? It’s certainly not the most attractive job in the world. I don’t understand why you make such a fuzz about it’. I gave to them like that, talking straight to them. I wasn’t scared.”
“From above, we filled the freight cars with coal and then we proceeded to the weighting machine. With a crack, the latch of the car let go and the coal dumped the weighting machine. So we had to step in and shovel the coal back into the car. It was so many shovels. Our own hands were like shovels, so hardened from the heavy work. Well, there was nothing we could do about it. (Did you try to find another job?). It was hard to get work. It is hard to understand for those who didn’t live in those times. The work was more than we could take. You’d have to experience it yourself in order to be able to understand. It was so tough, I wouldn’t believe it myself hadn’t I lived through it.”
Being a village girl, I would never have thought that I will serve in the kitchen of the Beneš family
Františka Jeřábková was born on March 30, 1929, in Zalešany, in the district of Kolín. Together with her parents and two older sisters, she grew up in humble conditions at the manor house of prince Paar in a small village near Bechyně. After the end of the war, she completed her education - a two-year vocational school for women‘s professions at the Charles Borromeus cloister in Prague. On January 1, 1948, she began to work in the house of the Czechoslovak president, Eduard Beneš, as a cook. She cooked for the presidential spouses and the personnel of the Prague Castle. As the political tensions in the country were growing, she spent her days alternately at the Prague Castle or at the summer resort of the Beneš spouses in Sezimovo Ústí. After the abdication of president Beneš in June 1948, she moved to the villa of the presidential spouses in Sezimovo Ústí. She continued to live and work there even after Beneš‘s death, until November 1948. Afterwards, until September 1949, she alternately lived in Prague and in Sezimovo Ústí and continued to work as cook for Hana Benešová, with whom she stayed in close contact. With regard to her professional curriculum, she found it hard to find an adequate job after she had left the service at Hana Benešová. In the period 1949 - 1953, she had a few jobs, working in textile factories in Aš and Jihlava, later as an office clerk in Znojmo, an accountant and a tram conductress in Most. Since 1954, until her retirement in 1986, she and her husband - a former member of the auxiliary technical battalions (PTP), Otta Jeřábek - worked in the North-Bohemian brown-coal mines (SHD) in Záluží near Litvínov. In humble conditions - living in a small apartment in workers‘ quarters - they raised two sons. After the older one fled to Austria in 1985, she was interrogated (this was not the first time) by the secret police. Since 1972, she has been living in Jirkov.