Jiří Stránský

* 1931  †︎ 2019

  • “We knew we would be working with civilians, and that apart from a few rare exceptions they were only there for the money. A thirty-five-centimetre crate of pure pitchblende weighed about a hundred and thirty kilos, and for each kilo of pitchblende they brought up above ground, they got thirty-five crowns. Some mafdos [man for disposal, an approximation of the Czech slang term “mukl” describing prisoners undesirable to the state - transl.] sold it for a bottle, some for a chunk of butter or medicine. There were some citizens who became couriers providing illegal communication. That was very brave of them because if they were found out, they’d get themselves fifteen years for espionage. The mafdos broke world records in mine shafts that belonged to the Russians.”

  • “Granddad [Jan Malypetr - ed.] supported the resistance, but the Communists arrested him already in 1945, and they wanted to condemn him through one big [retributive] decree based on complete falsifications. So we what kind of people they were, but we didn’t know their overall character, and thus had no idea of the extent of their vengeance. In 1947 they were forced to issue a public apology to my grandfather for lying about him. He died because of it, the apology was in the newspapers for just a glimpse, but Communists don’t forgive that, because they don’t know what it means [to forgive]. I recently published a book called A Pilot’s Ballad, which is the story of my wife’s dad, whose plane was caused to crash by the NKVD, killing him and his passengers. My family was aware of Jan Masaryk’s conjecture that Stalin would not permit Marshall’s Plan.”

  • “They locked Dad up shortly thereafter [after the February 1948 coup - ed.], but even the verdict itself was cautionary. Unfortunately, State Security confiscated the document during my second arrest. It stated that they were not able to prove anything to the lawyer Doctor Karel Stránský because he had been careful, and he is thus sentenced to two years in a forced labour camp. That was all proof of what was to come. We believed that we had survived the war and that democracy would struggle through it all. That didn’t happen, mainly because Beneš was ill, but even he didn’t want the Agrarian Party after the war because they were the only one to stand a candidate in opposition to him, and so he gave the Communists their opportunity. They recently published a big book about Beran, and in it you can read that his conviction was fabricated, and on the contrary he should have been awarded a medal for his support of the resistance.”

  • “I talk abou all this because physical health and good morals was essential for us to survive the things which were to roll over us, and it came soon, the war, the occupation."

  • “Actually I started writing around 1950´s when I got kicked off school. Then I got jailed and met Zahradníček and Křelina. When I told them I wanted to be a writer, then even just the way they were trying to put me off that, only confirmed my decision. They laughed at me terribly. ´Look at us, man, we got almost hanged for being writers. And you want to shout publically that you wanna be a writer? Forget about it, quickly.” But when they saw I was determined, they started to teach me the craft. They gave me such principles. So when I was later persuaded to teach screenplay writing, it helped me a lot. And maybe because I wasn´t educated in pedagogy, there are legends told about my teaching. Because I taught those kids in a completely different way than it´s common, of course.”

  • "My wife kept visiting me all those years.We weren´t married at that time, but she was waiting for me. When they released me we got married. We had nothing at all, but it was normal. I didn´t even have socks. The only thing where I could work was construction work. My parents had very special address: Hradčanské náměstí. My father used to be a barrister of always faithful canonry of St. Wietus, so he turned to them when he was seeking a place to rent. He couldn´t have a permanent residential status there, but as a temporary resident he could use it permanently. My parents stayed there for the rest of their life. Then I started to work in Troja, where they were about to start building a big sewage plant. It wasn´t far to walk it took me just a couple of minutes. But my wife lived in Podolí at that time, and about 150 meters from her flat they started to build a stadium later, which belonged under the same concern as the sewage plant, so I asked them to send me there. All the “muklové” prisoners who survived life taught to be very skilful. I quickly became trained to reach the most prestigious position you can ever do in construction work, I became an ironworker. So I made all the armatures at the Podolí stadium. As you can see I did it well, it still holds together today.”

  • “I was the president of Czech PEN club nearly for fourteen years and it meant terrible effort for me not to be one. I was successful finally last year (2006). It´s similar here as in neighbouring Austria, it used to be Austro-Hungarian empire. When somebody is important or is a boss of something important then he has to be a doctor of something. Especially when it´s a kind of an intellectual organization. They called me a doctor everywhere, even in letters. From time to time I made a statement on radio, TV or in newspapers that I´m not a doctor of anything that I don´t even have my secondary education completed. But to no avail, it´s still Dr. Jiří Stránský all the time…. I became a member for the Czech Republic of an international literature jury of the Franz Kafka award. The society of Franz Kafka initiated it. At a party they were awards given and the vice-president of Kafka´s society announced it, it was Vladimír Železný, the one from Nova TV. He enumerated all the big names from abroad and the member of the jury for the Czech Republic is Dr. Jiří Stránský. And he said it with such delight. So I sprang up and said:´ I protest! Unfortunately, I have to repeat one more time again: the party and the government didn´t even let me finish my secondary education, so I´m not a doctor. There´s only one possibility, that I am a doctor of prison sciences. And this expression has caught on, a lot of people use it. It was actually just a fun, but it´s remains true that Honza Zahradníček used to tell me in prison: when we have to be here try to get as much of it as possible. Now there is the intellectual elite of the nations here in these camps and prisons. ´And, really this university lasted for over seven years. I listened to countless lectures on philosophy, aesthetics and other subjects. I really feel I have the right to use the title of “doctor of prison sciences”.”

  • “I didn´t believe in the Prague spring, I warned everybody saying: ´It´s not possible, they can´t let us just go like this. If they let us go they would have to, let the Poles let go, and the Hungarians….they can´t maintain it whole anymore. And I annoyed everybody even more, because I am optimistic about life. We used to gather, me and some friends, and I was the only content there, because I said I had inner freedom. And thought I was an idiot. Then I irritated them again terribly when around 1984 I came to our session and said: ´Lads, I have bad news for you, we are in deep shit.´ And they said: ´So you accept it finally that you won´t live to see freedom, don´t you? It took you really a long time but you got it.´ and I replied: ´no. but we are going to be liberated by the USSR again.´ I meant Gorbatchow by this. It took five more years but I was right, anyway.”

  • “After people arrived to penal camps they wanted to show who they were. So they started gathering into parties. And the British pilots had club of their own where you could speak only English. That was amazing.”

  • “At that time there was martial law. They came for my father in an inconspicuous car, they took him away without anyone having noticed. But because we had had some experience, my mom immediately went to “Petschkarna” (Gestapo headquarters) and there she waited for four hours before a man from Sicherheitsdienst came. He told my mother to follow him and in a small office he showed her a piece of cyclostyled paper A5 size. It was a cyclostyled death sentence. It still horrifies today. In that situation of martial law and all persecution this was way they did it. And there was the name of my father filled in and one signature already added bellow. He showed it to my mother, then he took it back from her again, tore the paper into pieces and said: ´Tell your husband that now we are even with each other, because he saved my life in Halic during the WWI.”

  • “In 1952, before I was recruited to PTP, they announced us one beautiful day that they dispossess our villa. It was the action “Five thousand families out of Prague.” My dad had to work at podbořansko region in a forest. My mom called him, and he came immediately, fortunately he was a lawyer and an experinced man who had gone through prison. We got a decree that we had to go to Broumov. My father sent a telegram there and asked about the number of the house we were supposed to live in. But they wrote back that there is only one wall, that this number doesn´t exist anymore. And my father found out somehow that there was an internal order for the communists to get people from Prague and they can settle down at least thirty kilometres away from Prague. My dad remembered he had a sister who,lived exactly thirty and a half kilometers from Prague. So we had to move the whole big villa into one little room. Of course we left a lot of thinks stored somewhere. Dad commuted to Prague for following five years and I was imprisoned, so we were moved out like this.”

  • “In prison I served seven years and a quarter out of eight-year sentence. It was such a mass release on parole, not a real amnesty. People who were sentenced for twenty years gained from it. Release on parole was conditioned for ten years. For ten years I had a parole for seven months, it paid off to those who were sentenced to ten years.

  • “I was already working for Semafor, the theatre studio didn´t give me work and later I found out that not criminal police but the State secret police told them not to employ me. We are going to put him in jail but we don´t know how yet. So criminal police arrested me, but two State secret policemen were standing there and said: ´So we got you, and as a thief. They really got me then.”

  • “On 22. May 1945, my dad was send to Sudets, because he was raised in a German way, having an Austrian woman for mother. As a boy he used to spent to his holiday by numerous relatives in Krušné hory, Egerland, which is the Cheb county, so he could speak Egerlander dialect, a strange dialect that even Germans can´t understand. At that time there was going on the worst and wildest displacement on our western border. I talked him into taking me with him. There I could see what I later described in my book ´Zdivočelá země´. In summer I went there as a Sokol member, in autumn I went there as a scout.”

  • “It was perhaps in 1941, before my father was arrested. Gestapo raided our villa. I had a little boy- room where I used to screw things and drill things and cut things. I was sitting there when suddenly my father came and told me: ´Sit on this, and if anybody came, don´t raise up from it and play. They searched the house from the ground to the roof and left. Then I could stand up and my pants rolled off heavy with the thing I had in my pocket. It was a revolver."

  • “Work was first, of course. When you had a day shift they woke you up after three o´clock and you came back at three. Except for a few disobedient prisoners (including me) they allowed so called walks, it just meant people were let to meet. Four people met and started talking. That was what I looked for, I rarely said anything, I was glad that they let me there, they were all so much wiser than me. There was an excellent art historian there – Bonifalerský and he gave a course in the history of art. We arranged it with one of the civilian workers there and he had to buy all postcards with reproduced paintings from the National Gallery collection. He taught us aesthetics on that. Velasquez, impressionists and later art, Braque etc. We had to hide that under the ground because the guard would be able to destroy it all during they check-ups. He had twenty postcards and could explain three epochs of the world art history. Al the data all necessary information included. But I definitely doesn´t mean that I am being nostalgic about those days….”

  • “There were a couple of us, students, whom the communists, communistic students too, didn´t like. To keep us under control they gave us the big posters with statesmen on them, to walk at front, and only after us there marched the professors, which was about sixty people and then, behind them there went about eighteen hundred students. These, when they got to Můstek, in front of “strana a vláda” – the party and government, stated chanting: ´Vivat president Beneš!´ and the secret StB policemen started catching them right there on Příkopy. These whom they should catch were gone already, because we had, of course, thrown the statesmen away. But, naturally, the communist never forgave such things. My older brother voluntarily left the school and took his leaving exam elsewhere. They let him finish his studies, but they didn´t already let me later. They gave a choice: either I will ask to be released from the lyceum because of my health or I will be expelled because of political reasons. They told I will certainly go, no matter how. So I said: O.K. do it as you want to, but I won´t sign anything. So they expelled me, officially because of my health condition. But they informed my family that I wasn´t allowed to take my leaving exams because I refused to accept the changes that have happened in the republic. But that wasn´t enough for them, so I had to leave Prague immediately. I was supposed to get a job in a mine or in agriculture. Some acquaintances, though, helped me to find a job by a Land-survey institute."

  • “It had such a nice funny ending, which I put in “Zdivočelá země”, when a investigating judge came to me in 1958, it was a former military prosecutor Metlička who executed a great number of people. He came to tell me that I was he unlawfully and that I could go home. Now just sign this little piece of paper and you are free. There it went: I apply for presidential pardon. “But you told me I was innocent. How can I apply for a pardon when I am not guilty at all?” he could see that I understood this trick and not only was imprisoned for two more years but I was put into “correction cell” for being cheeky.”

  • “My way of con-storytelling”, prisoner-storytelling differs diametrically from that of others, because I was younger than them. I came to jail as a fledgling. I spent five years with general Tomášek in a camp and we played basketball, he was a god for me. He taught me that. We had a ball, that´s how they proved activity. Something else was at Bytíz, where ice-hockey players were jailed. The lads made an ice ring and hockey sticks and skates were being smuggled there. But they always confiscated them. There were such matches held as Roziňák alone against six others and he still managed to win. The rules were we could do it in our free time. They of course were given bonuses and good points for that, but we could see our reluctance to cooperate and communicate with them, but we would have been stupid to refuse even this. So we made our baskets but they allowed us to do it. They bought a ball and put that in their accountancy. There were fierce matches. There used to be three national league played: Czechs, Moravians, Slovaks or Prague, Brno, Bratislava. And there were excellent players, from national team. For example Karel Pecka, an excellent basketball player, he was in my team. Recently Milan Dvořák has died, he was another national team member. We also played football despite the fact that it was slant there."

  • “I really feel disgusted to see Filip (the leader of contemporary communist party) who is still proud of having been in counterespionage. And he pretends that he has never done anything wrong, he says he only did it to acquire specialization. And we still receive anonymous letters about that “Zdivočelá země”. And Dejdar keeps receiving anonymous letters instead of me. He is there for all pilots, for himself and for me, so he is a three dimensional character there. Once he read such a letter to me, it was unbelievable. It said they should have cut our heads off. That´s incredible what +hate is hidden in people. I don´t get so many anonymous letters. They know that when I get such a thing I publish it. That I publically laugh at it. That´s what these anonymous writers don´t like. They want me to be afraid but I react in this way.”

  • “My name is Jiří Stránský. If I was to say my full name it would be perhaps a little longer, because I have a kind of aristocratic title. It´s rather funny, you can´t take it too seriously. I´m saying this because there was a connection between my supposed “blue blood” and an attitude that the party and the government had towards my family, because this origin was really a problem for them. I belong to generation born before the war in 1931. I was born in a family which was later labelled by the communists as a “bourgeois” family, even “grand-bourgeois”! My grandfather Malypter was a member of government for long years, later he became a prime minister. My father came from the generation of self-made men. He had, of course, the advantage that in his days there still existed a kind of aristocratic solidarity. So he, despite being a poor boy, could study and make some extra money by teaching children of more wealthy aristocratic families. Naturally, he experienced the WWI, and shortly after he started to study law. Considering common practice in those days, he started his own office relatively soon. When I just realize it that in 1927, when he married my mother he had had to be a respected lawyer with a renowned office. Otherwise he could hardly marry a daughter of one of the political leaders of Agrarian party and a minister.”

  • “In prison I met Jan Zahradníček, Křelina, Knap, Karel Pecka, Zdeněk Rotrekl, Vladimír Valenta a a lot of others. There I confirmed for myself my decision to write. I wanted to write alrready before that, but I could see it was useless. When I was seventeen I wrote a novel “Všema dvěma” which had six hundred pages, but only to prove myself that I was capable to do it, that I had the “sitzfleisch”. I have to say I use a number of things from that novel even today, because it also is a kind of a generation matter. I wanted to record my memories about what was happening to my family and to similar families as ours. That was what I wanted to record.”

  • “There used to be a petrol station in Opletalova street. It was such an “intellectual” petrol station, maybe it was because of me, and people told one another… so, firstly, all diplomats started going there because they knew it was the only place I Prague where they can make themselves understood even when they were without chauffeurs. Secondly it was a petrol station, where for the first time I started to sell Shell oil for “tuzex bony” (artificial currency for luxury socialistic shop). The director manager of shell came there and I exchanged a couple of sentences with him and he knew immediately. He always contacted me and always brought some presents for my kids. Them after I refused, of course, to sign that I approve the Soviet occupation, they jailed me again. They accused me of stealing petrol, which of course wasn´t true, but they threatened everybody else that if they don´t testify against me that they will pin old penalties on them. So I spent another two years in jail for stealing “socialistic property” which wasn´t true at all. But I was used to being sentenced not knowing what for."

  • “I was brought up that we wouldn´t please our oppressors. It was our motto. Translated into normal language: we won´t let anyone who is humiliating feel that we are being humiliated. Others say poetically: I won´t bend, I won´t kneel down, but it was enough for us to say: we won´t make them feel happy that way, we won´t please them that way. That what my father wrote to me to jail: “I hope you know what it means: we won´t please them that way.” A number of such experiences has formed us.”

  • “He made up some stories about their thirteen co-workers, and the worst was about me. It said that I was sent by the organization to the west Germany to a course and was trained not only to operate a radio but also in silent killing and things like that. He said I had been supposed to return with the radio and hide in a secret place, which he knows nothing about. They came for me in about a year´s time. I was by the PTP by that time, I was recruited in summer. In January 1953 they came for me and they nearly beat me to death, because they wanted me to confess bur I didn´t know what about should I confess. When you don´t know what it´s all about, that´s the worst thing. I concentrated on finding out what I should confess to them. I said I knew about it. It was such a parole: Knew but didn´t tell. It was also great luck for me, that all this happened before I turned 21, because u still was underage. So I got only half of the sentence, which was sixteen, but I was sentenced to eight years.

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We won´t please them

stransky orez.jpg (historic)
Jiří Stránský

Jiří Stránský was born on 12.August 1931 in Prague. His father, JUDr. Karel Stránský, was a renowned Prague lawyer of aristocratic origin. His mother Božena, born Malypetrová, was a daughter of a first republic politician Jan Malypetr. Jiří Stránský was a middle of three brothers. His father was arrested by gestapo and taken to Auschwitz during the WWII. After the war he was sentenced again in 1948 to two years imprisonment. Jiří Stránský was exluded from school short before the leaving exam, therefore he didn´t finish his secondary education, and had to leave Prague and started to work as a geodesist. Then he was recruited to the army and   worked by the PTP (supportive technical batallions). In January he was arrested, accused of a high treason and in a fabricated trial sentenced to eight years in prison. He met important exponents of intellectual life then, e.g. writers Zahradníček, Rotrekl, Knap, Křelina. He was released on parol in 1960. then he worked by „Vodní stavby“ (Hydro-constructions), but between the years 1974 - 1976 he was imprisoned again this time for supposed „stealing of socialistic property“. After he returned from prison he worked at a petrol station and also as an external worker in Barrandov studios. After 1990 he dedicated himself to writing and in the years 1992 - 2006 he was a chairman of the Czech PEN Club. Several of his books were made into films.