Mgr. Ivan Klíma

* 1931  

  • “We are a peculiar family. My parents were in Switzerland back then, my brother was teaching at a faculty in England while I was teaching in Ann Arbor, receiving an offer to become full professor with a monthly pay equivalent to that of a yearly salary of a university professor in Prague. And all of us had returned – both my parents, my brother and I. All of us were out there with our families and all of us returned. We are a unique stupid family. Though we knew what it was going to be like in here. Well, I thought they would at least let me do reviews for publishing houses. They let me do nothing at all.”

  • “Someone was running on the street below our windows, screaming wildly: ‘The Russians are here!’ I remember this shout. So we went out. By the gate there was a Red Army soldier who replaced the usual policeman. He was also supposed to guard the gate since a typhus epidemic broke out inside but he couldn’t give a damn. My cousin who was born to a mixed marriage came over to pick us up with his mother, my aunt. She never registered as a Jew so they were never persecuted. It was a remarkable, unique case that someone – my mum’s sister – who would otherwise be subjected to all the anti-Jew regulations, should not register and thus save her life.”

  • “The ownership of many things was prohibited there: tea, tobacco, money and so on. We had some money on us, though. Behind those drawers there was some empty space where my little brother who had the tiniest hands hid the cash. The so-called ladybugs – German hags – then came over and did a house search, looking for contraband. I remember one of them forcing her hand in there but she couldn’t reach as far as my brother did with his little hand. So they found nothing. We’ve had some German Marks hidden there, maybe even some Czech Crowns.”

  • “I went to study a grammar school where I immediately fell in love with a classmate – obviously, whom else – and thus began writing romantic novels. Long before I had actually kissed anyone on the lips I had written about it, concluding a whole novel on this love story. Obviously, I wouldn’t dare go further than kissing. I am not even sure that I knew back then that there was anything beyond kissing. I wrote whole novels into notebooks. I still have one left. There were plenty of them but I had saved one. So I can say with full responsibility that it was completely terrible. Sugar was dripping from all of it and what is more, there were grammatical mistakes.”

  • “To speak anywhere publicly, one had to be a member of the Party. Many people therefore joined later with the intention of using it as a platform for resistance against the Stalinist group within the Central Committee. The split up of the Party went all the way to the Central Committee. There were people who were in opposition and then there were the hardliners around Bilak. We were thinking naively that democracy would be restored while the biggest enterprises would stay nationalized. We didn’t expect banks or mines to return to private hands. But we wanted to reinstate self-employment, craft and small businesses. In fact, the opposition had a certain economic program. There was an attempt to renew – and I published an important article on that in Literární noviny – political plurality with independent parties. Because in communist times there indeed were three political parties in Czechoslovakia but they were all obviously just puppets. In reality, there was one leading party – the communist one. And we wanted really independent parties, to renew the multiparty system while retaining the essential nationalization. This was all an illusion or, better to say, simply an error.”

  • “We were selected at last minute. Until today I do not know whether it was effectively an attempt to hide us in Terezín from the Gestapo because my mother’s brothers were members of the illegal committee, members of the Communist Party and since the Gestapo was after them, they could have arrested us anytime. Terezín was a lot better than getting into Gestapo’s hands straight away. There, we shared a collective destiny while here it would have been an individual one. So one of the theories is that they had sent us there to disappear from Prague as soon as possible. In the ghetto we were out of Gestapo’s direct reach. But this is only one of the theories which I have also written down but it has never been proven. In any case, on 10 December 1941 there was the very first transport from Prague. They came to our place and gave us two hours to pack – normally it would be three days. The neighbors came to pack as did our aunt. My mom had gone into hysterics a bit from it all. The neighbors, the children, the aunt – all were packing. I just remember throwing in The Pickwick Club. I had mostly books in mind, to have some books with me. I was a passionate reader as a child and my aunt had probably thrown some of my books in there.”

  • “There were plenty of artists there so when it came into existence, it was of high quality. For a short time around the Red Cross visit they even allowed for a jazz orchestra to play there. There were many keen musicians there because they were thus protected from transports to extermination camps. The Germans tasked the Jewish leadership with choosing those who would be sent away. It was effectively a struggle for life. We had been protected from the transport because my dad was a member of the so-called AK transport, a special one, which came to Terezín as the first one with the task to prepare everything. The AK stood for Arbeits Kolone. It was a work group which was supposed to set everything up. And there was an agreement among the Gestapo or the SS who were in charge of the camp and the Jewish organization that the people from the AK transport would stay in Terezín. This agreement was upheld by the Germans – even though they were generally unreliable – until late summer of 1944. Then, this was no longer a deal.”

  • “I returned from USA where I got used to having parties and so on. So I began to host parties here once a month, with refreshments and reading. This is where the idea of samizdat came from. Initially we would only read there because there was an increased amount of prohibited authors in 1969 and 1970. Then, there was a list of prohibited authors. Thirty or forty people would meet there – mostly themselves writers but also some from the publishing houses or theatres. And we would read those forbidden books. This was going on for some two years. Not far from here, in Hodkovičky, there was a little square where whenever the reading was going on, the secret police informers would park. So after two years I ceased doing this and instead the samizdat emerged. This means that things would get rewritten and sold. Samizdat then lasted for two full decades. The idea came up there and Vaculík took it up. Ludvík Vaculík was my best friend at that time so he then organized it. The idea emerged at those readings but he grasped it and essentially gave it twenty years of his life. He organized and distributed it all.”

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Everyone should pursue their happiness but at the same time be decent and not allow for persecution of others

Twelve-year-old Ivan Klíma
Twelve-year-old Ivan Klíma

Ivan Klíma, né Ivan Kauders, is a Czech writer, playwright and journalist. He was born on 14 September 1931 in Prague and during WW II spent three and a half years in Terezín concentration camp. Since his father was responsible for all electrical management in the camp, he was spared from transport to any of the extermination camps. After the war he graduated from a grammar school and then spent a semester at the University of Political and Economic Science, later graduating in Czech language and literature from Prague‘s Faculty of Arts. He then worked among other things as an editor of the magazine Květy and from 1956 to 1963 in the publishing house Československý spisovatel. He published in Literární noviny, Mladá fronta, Host do domu, Orientace and other periodicals. Between 1963 and 1969 Ivan Klíma served as deputy editor-in-chief of Literární noviny. Already in 1953 he had joined the Communist Party from which he was expelled after an open public criticism presented at the Fourth Writers‘ Congress in 1967. He had returned to the Party at the end of the 60s before being expelled for good in 1970. In the following era until the fall of the socialist regime he was only able to publish abroad or in samizdat to which‘s emergence and existence he contributed significantly. After the revolution, he was awarded several literary prizes. At present he lives in Prague and still devotes to writing.