“The weather was nice, it was May, and if the doctor wouldn’t mind – we called him doctor, not comrade, I never called anyone comrade. So we went with him to Malacké Meadows. That’s on the border between Moravia and Slovakia. Well, you can imagine, when you see a person all broken up like that, you don’t know what to say. I couldn’t find a word to say. Čestmír didn’t go into any debates with him. Those were snippets. [Q: That was shortly after his return from prison?] Yes. It was a Sunday, the First of May, I think. [Q: What was your impression of him?] He was a graceful man. Ruined. Physically ruined. You know, I guess when someone comes back after ten years, it’s terribly complicated. His life changes drastically. I guess I can’t even imagine. I later read what they did to him. The Middle Ages were a laugh compared to what they were willing to do to him. Say, to force them to make an admission of whatever they wanted to hear, they stuck them in cold water, for twelve hours, for twenty-four hours...”
“Theatre will completely absorb you. The energy, everything. You serve and serve until you collapse, until the premiere. Whatever it is. When once the director picks you to make the costume, you have to make it work with everything, to go with the whole conception, to make it any good. That’s pretty physically strenuous. You can’t do it as entertainment, that’s it’s just a show to watch. That’s not the way you think about it. You think about how it can persuade, how it can express something. Every piece of rag the actress wears communicates something. It’s not the point for her to be beautiful. It has to have some value pertaining to the character she plays, to the context. Just as a director must be educated in all areas, then those who have no solid base can’t make anything proper. It’s always just superficial tripe, not worth anything. It’s the mentality, and not everyone can do it. It’s also pretty exhausting. [Q: And was it worth it?] Oh, it was. I can’t imagine living without theatre.”
“My brother was four years older than myself. He was born in 1923. He was a beautiful boy. Mum took it hard. I reckon it shortened her life, too. Mum died very soon after my brother did. He was a beautiful boy. He was YMCA, did sports, grammar school. He was assigned in Letňany. I think that there was some resistance group there, which he seems to have been part of. No one could stop him on that 5 May. He took a bandana, a raincoat, because it was raining. Dad didn’t want to let him go. But he said: ‘I have to go, I have to go.’ Dad held him, even gave him a slap, which regretted for a long long time. Then Dad searched for him at all the churches. You can imagine what it was like for Dad when he found him...”
“I know that children who didn’t have their own mother to raise them were always deformed. I think he was hurt as a child, and that caused a certain deformation. Why wasn’t Magda a hurt Socialist... She was a Communist only because Gustík was a Communist. But she had grown up in a normal family, her dad was taught Czech, a splendid gentleman from the First Republic. She was a world-class lady, she spoke several languages, knew how to behave. One time I asked her why she had married him. She said it was because he was the cleverest of them. He was a deranged Communist like the generation of those Gottwalds and Zápotockýs – I can’t even remember their names. My father, whenever they were mentioned in the radio, he’d start up: ‘I won’t be told things by the likes that stood by pubs waiting for someone to pay their beer.’ That’s what my dad said about Zápotocký. If he hadn’t been so clever, I guess they wouldn’t have locked him up. They mostly locked up the clever ones. An intelligent person can’t be devoted to something, it’s not possible. He always has his own head. That’s why clever people get in the way. Because you can’t manipulate them.”
Destroying the livelihoods of capable people was a Czech custom
Stanislava Vaníčková was born on 13 November 1927 in Prague into the family of the engine driver Josef Vaníček and his wife Marie. She was assigned to forced labour during WW2 - she worked as a tram conductor at the Prague Transport Company. Her four-year-older brother Josef Vaníček died on 5 May 1945, on the day the Prague Uprising broke out, during a resistance operation. Her mother died a year later. In 1948-1953 the witness studied dressmaking under Heda Vlková at the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design. Then from 1955 until her retirement she worked as a costume artist and designer at the New Stage in Bratislava. There she befriended the director Magda Husáková, née Lokvencová, the wife of Gustáv Husák, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged high treason (he later served as Czechoslovak president during the normalisation - trans.). She remembers meeting him in person after his release from prison in 1960. Stanislava Vaníčková avoided taking any political stance, she kept her anti-Communist opinions to herself, especially during her studies. She devoted her life to theatre. From the mid-1950s she lived in Slovakia with her lifelong partner, the Czech graphic artist Čestmír Pechr; the couple moved back to Prague in the 1990s.