Inka Vostřezová

* 1930  

  • “Löbl was then unfortunately accused in the trial with Slánský, but luckily they didn’t hang him; he survived.”

  • “I was back here, and suddenly I get a call from Václav Havel himself, saying that he’d like me to come have a coffee with him, that he wanted to speak with me. I didn’t know him personally, although I had met with Olga when he was in America. I had accompanied her, drove around Los Angeles with her for two days, and so on. She was very taciturn. She met with Mrs Bush - that was George Bush Sr as president back then, and his wife Barbara invited her for tea - and then we also had tea with Mrs Cheney, the wife of Dick Cheney, and because I accompanied her, I also interpreted for them. Olga was very pleasant, although reserved, she wasn’t very out-going, but she was very polite. Well, and suddenly they called me from the president’s office, but Olga wasn’t alive any more, and he [Václav Havel] told me that he’d like me to come work for him at his office. To come work for Dáša. They had a joint office. He was terribly polite, he always came to shake my hand - say, in the Spanish Hall, when the German president was to come, they were preparing the decorations and I went to have a look at how they were getting on, he was on the other end, and he walked all the way across the Spanish Hall to shake my hand. He was amazingly polite. I must say that he always behaved in a very decent, very polite, and amiable way. I liked being in his office.”

  • “We watched the trials because we knew some of the people and we didn’t believe what we heard in the radio. That was nonsense, what they said about themselves there. We knew some of those people from emigration, like Eugen Löbl - he was even one of the managers of the children’s home where I stayed. He sang beautifully. He was a Slovak by origin and sang ‘Já som bača velmi starý’ [I’m a shepherd oh-so-old’ - trans.], that was his favourite song. My parents knew many of the people, and even back then they said it was nonsense. The judgements were dreadful. Of course we were shocked by it...”

  • “And then, when they warned my father like this, he took me by the hand - that was a pretty good psychological move on his side, I think - and we went to the British embassy to ask for a visa. But back then we applied for a work visa. I don’t know who advised Dad to do that. My parents still had Romanian passports, although invalid; they didn’t have Czechoslovak citizenship, and I know that Dad bribed someone at the embassy to extend them, so they’d be valid again. He took the passports to Miss Wellington, who was in charge of visas to England. The Germans were already here by then. A young man in an SS uniform suddenly appeared in our house one day. That was in the spring of thirty-nine. We went to that Miss Wellington in the summer and asked for a work permit and visa and got it. It also helped that we didn’t have Czechoslovak citizenship because they were flooded with those requests, and they had quotas, but there weren’t many Romanians here who wanted to travel to England. Well, and in that year of thirty-nine, we rode by train through Germany to England, and I remember it even as a little girl that when we switched trains from one to the other, in Frankfurt I think it was, some of the waiting rooms already had ‘Juden verbotten’ written on them. We only switched trains there, and then we continued to England by ship.”

  • “One time this one cop visited Dad and said: ‘Mr Vainstein, why are you still here? You’re a Jew, and these are Germans. Get yourself out of here!’ He was right. And my parents immediately started to worry. They already knew, because we often had refugees from Germany staying with us... Even back then. They’d sleep over for one or two nights. We had a small flat, we lived in Pankrác, and we just had one room and a kitchen. And a hallway and bathroom we shared with the neighbours. The refugees from Germany were mostly Jews, I think, or Communists or Social Democrats, I don’t know. [My parents] let them stay for the night, in which case they slept in my bed, and I slept on two armchairs pushed together. Sometime in thirty-eight a young lady came around, the sister of an acquaintance of ours who was heading to America, and she did some ironing and sang an English song. That was the first English song I heard in my life. She sang: ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.’ I later found out that it was a song from a film with Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers, which he sings in it.”

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Mum is Russian, Dad is Jewish, and I’m Czech

Inka Vostrezova around 1970
Inka Vostrezova around 1970
zdroj: archiv pamětnice

Inka Vostřezová was born on 4 Janury 1930 in Prague to Mr and Mrs Vainstein, Jewish emigrants from Bessarabia, which was then a part of Romania. Her parents, who had originally chosen Czechoslovakia as the least anti-Semitic country, were forced to abandon Prague with little Inka in 1939 due to the looming Nazi threat. They followed its horrors from the relative safety of Great Britain, where they had escaped to. Before that they had repeatedly provided shelter in their Pankrác flat to refugees from increasingly radicalised Germany . Whereas in London both parents worked in the war industry, they strove to protect their daughter from air raids by sending her to a children‘s home for immigrants, where she spent a total of two years. She then attended a Quaker boarding school for five years; their modern approach to education appealed to Inka and influenced her later interests. When the family returned to Czechoslovakia in 1947, Inka Vainsteinová enrolled to the seventh year of the girls‘ grammar school in Vodičkova Street. She did not graduate from the school, however, as she was enamoured with the folklore dances of the newly established Czechoslovak State Song and Dance Troupe, which she joined at the age of eighteen and remained with for almost her entire professional life. In 1951 her father was imprisoned for a quarter of a year after being reported; a year later Inka married her colleague from the troupe Vladimír Vostřez and gave birth to their son Michal. The marriage lasted until 1964. Three years later she completed studies of choreography at the Music Academy in Prague. Throughout her life she earned a living as a dancer, a choreographer, a professor of the special class of the dance conservatoire in Prague, a mistress of ceremonies, an interpreter for the Prague Information Service and the Czechoslovak-based International Organisation of Journalists. She interpreted the speech of a Czech minister in the United States Congress, she translated subtitles for films and also the lifelong work of Professor František Bonuš, Zlatá brána (English: The Golden Gate is Open), which was then published in the US. In the years 1990-1996 she served as the first secretary of the Czechoslovak and then the Czech representative office in Washington. In 1997 she worked for three months as the secretary of Dagmar Havlová on the behest of the latter‘s husband, Czech President Václav Havel; she then decided to retire. Even as a pensioner she continues to do translations, give English lessons, and take an interest in the culture scene.