Monday, April 30, 2007

June 2007 - Czech Women

Two admirable Czech women are relatives who visit the Zámek. I know Hanicka and Katerina better than other admirable women; each deserves to be admired.

A wedding guest should relax and enjoy herself. Before Hanicka did, she hiked up her skirts to wash the chapel floor! She'd arrived early. Another early wedding guest pointed out the streaked chapel floor, reminding us the wedding would be in an hour. Could we get the annoying streaks off? Hanicka got rags and buckets, and did it.

Hanicka was one of the original signers of Charter 77. She signed because she firmly believes she must do what is right, regardless of consequences.

Consequences were not pleasant. The first thing which happened to her was having her passport confiscated just as she and her husband were about to visit Holland. Persecution continued: instead of teaching languages at Charles University she was sent to clean stairways in panalaks. Later she taught, but was only allowed in various night schools around Prague.

She experienced great pressure to renege to free her son and daughter from the stigma of being children of a dissident. Every year until the Velvet Revolution she was called into a bureaucrat's office shortly before Christmas to discuss the problem of her children and, how, as children of a Charter 77 signer, would they receive the education which every child needs in order to succeed in life? She replied that this was her problem, and she would take care of her children.

The older child silently suffered with his mother. Not until several years after the Velvet Revolution did he became healthy. The younger child took longer to realize the importance of what her mother had done. After we lived here, I explained this to her, firmly, more than once.

Hanicka was finally successful, in the larger picture of her country, and in her personal life. She traveled, her children studied, graduated, and traveled. She taught at Charles University, and became head of a department until her retirement. Now, she continues to help people and take care of her family. A small example of her bravery: she was the only person willing to sign for our daughter a Prague place of residence.

Katerina was looking at a colored engraving of flowers here at the Zámek. "When I was little I loved finding the bugs depicted amongst the flowers." She could look at them, because it was one of the things which George's father had taken to Plzen in 1948 before the family escaped.

When we came, Kátá tried to return them. "But we're hardly moved in", we said. In June 1992 their whole family came, bringing the things: the engraving, linens in pink and in yellow, a cut-glass box, and, most endearing, a small porcelain coffee set, yellow with silver. This had been George's grandmother's who'd died in 1932. Kátá's mother even apologized to my mother-in-law, Rína, that she'd sold a diamond ring which she herself had been given by Rína's father. "We needed a bathroom," she explained.

Giving things back to those who had escaped is very, very unusual. One woman was told that there was absolutely nothing, no photos even. She'd seen them in the dining room the first time she visited after 1989! It's much more usual that relatives keep whatever was left, and expect you to give them more.

The regime expelled Kátá's husband from medical school just before he finished; he went to cut trees in the forest. [He had his retroactive graduation after '89.] Their family all turned out well: one son, an engineer, became a priest after '89 and was sent to Rome to study Aramaic. The other son, an engineer and an organist, played at our weddings here. Her daughter also with a college degree is married with three little boys.

When you visit Katerina she thanks you profoundly for visiting!! I wish both she and Hanicka could visit more often.