They stood up to evil, inhumanity and repression
The Faces of Resistance
Exhibitions or collections of photographic portraits do not as a rule require written explanations. The pictures speak for themselves, their stories told by the manner in which the photographer has captured his or her “models”, the environment in which they have been placed and their facial expressions. An introduction is, however, necessary in the case of Pavel Hroch’s project The Faces of Resistances. It presents people who over a span of many decades stood up to evil, inhumanity, repression, brutality and barbarism, who in certain moments displayed courage, a will to freedom, a love of their fellow man and common sense. That is what connects them.
In the 20th century Czech society lived through two totalitarian regimes, Nazism and Soviet-style communism. Its transformation was so radical that even many Czech intellectuals do not fully understand it. Explaining such a thing to foreign observers is all the harder. Until 1938 Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Jews and people of other nationalities were still living in the then democratic
Czechoslovakia. The Nazi occupation of the Czech lands in 1939–1945 was a bombshell with multiple effects: the collapse of the state (the Slovaks declared independence), the elimination of a sizable section of the elites, mass deportations, the murder and robbery of almost the entire Jewish and Romany populations and the annihilation of the rule of law and the consciousness of law. Resistance and opposition to Nazism took numerous forms: some fought on the Western or Eastern fronts, others were active in the underground at home and still others tried to resist in appalling conditions in ghettos or death camps by maintaining their dignity and sense of values, looking after their children and demonstrating their moral superiority to their tormentors.
Following liberation and the renewal of Czechoslovakia, domestic politicians, already subordinate to the Soviet Union, decided to drive over two million long-term German inhabitants out of the country. They too lost virtually all their property, which people “took over”; the decline of law and trend of violence continued as diversity gave way to ethnic uniformity. In February 1948 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia staged a coup, which was again followed by the utter abolition of civil rights, the elimination of the remaining intellectuals and greats of the arts world, entrepreneurs, the self-employed, farmers and the church. In other words, another decline in diversity, which was replaced by terror, mass emigration and wholesale robbery. The country was surrounded by barbed wire, isolated from the West and transformed into a huge concentration camp. Standing up to communism was to a certain degree harder than fighting the Nazi occupiers: society was divided on ideological lines, while for several reasons the resistance could not count on a unified leadership. Despite this, people withstood as best they could, in the circumstances. They attempted armed resistance, worked with the secret services of democratic countries, maintained their religious lives, ferried what was needed across the border, stood up to forced collectivisation, went into exile and served their homeland. Thousands ended up in secret police torture cells, in prison and in labour camps. The power imbalance was such that victory was impossible.
Thought it went through alternate phases, sometimes turning more hard-line, sometimes festering, the Communist regime was undemocratic throughout its existence. In August 1968 those who had set it up 20 years previously made an effort to humanise it. After a brief period of reform and political liberalisation, the Soviet Army occupied Czechoslovakia, remaining in the country for two decades. A fresh wave of purges and escapes followed in the so-called normalisation period (1969– 1989), in which a collaborationist apparatus, taking its lead from the 1950s, permitted no civic freedoms until the system collapsed in November 1989. In this period also there was civic resistance, demonstrated by writers and musicians, who refused to accept the dictated requirements, signatories of Charter 77 and other anti-totalitarian initiatives, samizdat publishers, members of the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted, organisers or apartment seminars and refugees who were not deterred from the journey to freedom by either barbed wire or armed guards. It was as if the complicated nature of Czech history in the 20 h century came to a head in the normalisation-era opposition: working alongside each other were Communists from the 1950s, cured of that ideology and otherwise, and, for instance, Catholics who had spent that era in prison.
The Czech 20 th century was long and cruel and to this day society hasn’t gotten over it. Each of the people whose portrait Pavel Hroch has created in this series succeeded in the years 1938/1939–1989 in standing up to evil, in risking their lives, in placing justice and civilisation ahead of their own peace and comfort. Each belongs to a minority whose work contributed to a good tradition, to the fact that we have something to build on today.
The Faces of Resistance
Zdenko Frankenberger Daneš
Karel "Tomcat" Havelka
Karel "Fidelius" Palek
František Vincenc Přeslička
František "Piggy" Stárek
Milan Balabán (*1936)
“At that time they accepted me without a hitch. But my siblings had major problems getting in anywhere. My sister, for instance, wasn’t accepted to study theology because to the hypothetical question ‘How would you organise the birthday of J. V. Stalin in your group?’ she replied that she wouldn’t celebrate it at all.”
František Beneš (*1928)
“They started to follow me, to badger me. They later put about a rumour in Orlová that I had helped someone cross the border. People started avoiding me. So I said: It’s time to scarpe.”
Emil Boček (*1923)
“Once during a flight I saw the red light flashing. The fuel wasn’t working! I was wondering whether to turn back. I decided to return. Some fifth sense told me to climb. Then the engine really started to fail and I thought I’d have to jump… At that moment I was above the sea. Naturally I had a parachute, but entering the Channel in November isn’t that appealing…
Vratislav Brabenec (*1943)
One peculiar aspect of the existence of The Plastic People of the Universe was the fact that as a group without recordings, meaning without official permission, they played virtually no concerts. They could only appear at private events, which they managed to do roughly twice a year.
František Brož (*1939)
“They didn’t act directly, for instance. You can’t imagine what they came up with. For instance, they banned threshing during the day, saying there was an electricity shortage. So that the unified agriculture cooperative would be able to thresh at the same time. They also changed the layout of the land. By this I mean they took one field from us and gave us another. But the new field was worse, further away than the first one. Their explanation was the co-operative needed the original field. They exchanged one of our fields maybe three times a year.”
A farmer. During the Communist era František Brož was the only private agriculturalist in the entire Havlíčkův Brod district. Resistance was far from easy. In this historical photo he is with his father, working on the land.
Vlasta Černá (*1933)
Fortunately Vlasta, being a minor, didn’t face torture. But they did lock her up in solitary confinement in an underground cell for three months.
“For the entire duration of the investigation I wasn’t able to wash or change my clothes. I felt like an animal. It was humiliating. To kill the time, I sang in my soul all the songs I knew. I prayed… Otherwise I’d have gone insane.”
Vlasta had to write a fake postcard from Austria so her parents would think she was safely over the border.
Mikoláš Chadima (*1952)
“Originally I wanted to play the bass. Four strings – the fewer the better. But in ‘69 I had an incident that concluded with an insult to the head of state and an allied state. When they came for me, and my parents knew nothing as I hadn’t told them anything, my father thought they were after him and threw several of his illegally held pistols in the river."
Zdenko Frankenberger Daneš (*1920)
“We never learned why. We never received his ashes. But my aunt, his widow, received a visitor after some time. A German officer visited her and handed her a bill for uncle’s execution. Uncle’s death broke me. I was afraid. I was ashamed of my fear, but I knew that fear was stronger than my will, conscience, faith – basically I failed to cope in that instant. I began putting buttons in my shoes and walking on them all day to get used to bearing pain so as not to give anything away during the torture I expected. But it didn’t help. Death was all around me.”
Stanislav Devátý (*1952)
“When I think back, perhaps the worst thing was when I began a method of passive resistance. At that time I wrote a protest letter to President Gustáv Husák. Secret police officers were monitoring me and expected that I would go to a restaurant in Zlín, that I’d drink. But I didn’t drink. It was some time in 1983. A birthday party was taking place in the restaurant and they came for me. They arrived around midnight. It was a better restaurant – even foreigners used to go there. They came for me. They wanted me to go with them. But I lay on the ground! So they pulled me out by all four limbs, by my arms, by the hair. Then they beat me and I fainted for the first time. That was probably the worst. It was tough. Employing that method the first time just wasn’t easy. But after that I didn’t care any more.”
Bohumil Doležal (*1940)
“Jan Lopatka and I wrote that the whole of official literature post-1948 was a Potemkin village, that it was a simulation of literature and, what’s more, was ideologically trussed. (…) Though I was far from the most important person – that was Mandler, and then people who were far better educated and had better orientation than us, meaning Němec and Hejdánek – I was the direct cause of a quick kerfuffle. First I wrote that the chairman of the writer’s union, Jiří Šotola, wrote mishmashes and the same about Karel Šiktanc, who was also quite engaged, and it sparked a major scandal.”
Imrich Gablech (*1915 - †2016)
“I fainted when I landed and a British officer called me to his office. I still hadn’t mastered English properly, so my communication was just so-so. He poured me a whiskey and asked what the problem was. I said I had returned from the Gulag. He was angry that I hadn’t said so immediately. I should have brought it up. But I defended myself. I said that we were a small state and I had escaped to fight. That I wanted to fight… I didn’t escape to hide somewhere… This was why I escaped.”
Jiří Gruntorád (*1952)
“It was never possible to get all the work done and it was always cold, too… In October it started to snow and in May it was still snowing. They harnessed the prisoners to a snow plough… It’s hard to describe… The first time I entered the workshop of the Preciosa national enterprise I thought I was in hell. In the clouds of steam I saw figures running about incredibly, dressed in some kind of rags of overalls. And in a while just like them I too was running about.”
Karel "Tomcat" Havelka (*1951)
“I got a uniform with a green stripe, which meant I was regarded as a would-be escapee. So I never got outside the prison building, even to work. The first day I came to work I got a fright. They all had towels wrapped around their heads. There was terrible noise, steam and a stench from the vapours. It put me in mind of Dante’s Inferno.”
Miluška Havlůjová (*1929)
“Then one day they took me off to an interrogation centre. There they hung my clothes on a hook and an StB supervisor said: ‘Go look out the window!’ A woman with a pram was walking along the pavement and in the pram was a child the same age as my child at home. It was probably the worst moment of my life."
Vladimír Hučín (*1952)
“Ahead of time Vlastimil Švéda and I placed five-kilogramme teargas canisters with timers in two dustbins. When they started to play the Internationale, smoke began to bellow out of the first bin. Unfortunately the second canister burned out. Its heat made the bin glow red hot and no smoke emerged. Just one teargas canister was sufficient for the whole event to be cancelled… The smoke blew over a military orchestra that was playing with enormous intensity. They tried to keep going.”
Čestmír Huňát (*1950)
"The Jazz Section essentially escaped from regime control. We published books that weren’t subject to censorship. It was the same with concerts, at which new wave bands who weren’t allowed to make a living from music appeared. The membership base comprised a dense network of active people, which the State Security didn’t take too kindly to (…) Our ever-growing international cooperation also annoyed them.”
Vlasta Jakubová (*1925)
Vlasta again became a messenger but also began transcribing reports herself. She wrote them in invisible ink on love letters that she sent to a made-up address in the Netherlands.
Jan Janků (*1921)
He has never forgotten a chess game with a fellow prisoner awaiting the death penalty. The prisoner’s name was Miloslav Pospíšil and he came from Bystřice pod Hostýnem."The chess game was developing nicely,” says Janků. “We were around the middle of the game. Suddenly the door opened and they called out: Pospíšil! I wanted to shake his hand, but they wouldn’t allow it. So he just kind of touched my arm a bit. And the game remained unfinished."
Svatopluk Karásek (*1942)
“I always say that politics is essentially an aspect of faith, that we are responsible for the era in which we live. (...) After all, it’s not enough to be hidden away in some church, to say the Lord’s Prayer and to let on that I don’t have anything to do with what’s happening around me. I’m for Christians feeling responsibility and being engaged."
Ivan Kieslinger (*1928)
“A tank came up to where we were. I had been sent to Wenceslas Square – and I was supposed to shoot at it with a bazooka if it got close. I hid in the toilets and a friend gave me a signal. He was standing on the corner (…) and in his hand he had a large mirror via which he observed the machine. The Germans in the tank evidently didn’t have a sense of humour and shot the mirror out of his hands."
Josef Klečka (*1930)
“On the afternoon of 4 May a still unknown to me companion gave the order for me to not leave the cottage. Before he left he pointed to a wardrobe full of guns, so that I could defend myself if somebody attacked me. Then he left."
Ivan Klíma (*1931)
“I was a member of a criminal organisation, without having committed any crime myself. But of course due to my membership I did bear a certain responsibility. I knew that’d I’d have to make up for that until my death.”
Pavel Kohout (*1928)
"It had been a mistake of the intellect, not morality. The whole of the rest of my life has been devoted to righting that contradiction. People have the right to make a mistake – what’s important is identifying and not repeating it.”
Felix Kolmer (*1922)
“I remember the arrival well. The dawn began and on the ramp there were people in prisoners’ clothes. That was the first time I had seen such prisoners’ clothes. (…). A man approached me and said: ‘There’s no escape from here. The only way you’ll leave here is via that chimney.’ I thought he was off his rocker. I didn’t understand where I was. My brain just didn’t take it in. Later I saw that on one side, walking in rows of five, were children and old people. Those were people over 42. And I understood that they were clearly going to their deaths. But still the term gas chambers didn’t say anything to me.”
Jan Konzal (*1935)
“In the night, when I was asleep, they took away the priests. But when they woke us in the morning I was suddenly the second oldest at the monastery as a 15-year-old. They had taken those aged 16 and older with the others. My two brothers too."
František Lízna (*1941)
“He found out I’d been inside and said to me: ‘Son, on you go, get married and start a good Catholic family.’ I was adamant, so the vicar called the state commissioner or the church secretary or whatever the function was called to discuss my case with him. Of course the commissioner was an StB man. He started coming out with some nonsense to me and I told him I wasn’t interested, that he should tell me straight whether there was any way that I could study. So he told me completely openly that there was a way, if I signed on to cooperate with the secret police.”
Břetislav Loubal (*1931)
It was 13 September 1950. During a class the door opened and the caretaker was standing there. He told Loubal he was to go to the director. But the caretaker had been forced to the door by secret police officers standing behind him. On both sides of the door.
“They immediately grabbed me, so I couldn’t escape,” says Loubal. He was aware he had couldn’t have anyway. “I couldn’t jump out the window – the classroom was on the third floor,” he explains.
Václav Malý (*1950)
“I regarded the emergence of Charter 77 as a great liberation, because for me it was a kind of impetus to finding a way to clearly express my disagreement with the then system. Naturally I didn’t pull any punches even in sermons. However, I didn’t have directly political sermons – they reacted naturally to the atmosphere of the time but were always based on the Gospel. When Charter was founded it helped me express my civic responsibility.”
Rudolf Mrázek (*1934)
“Apart from school, scouting was our main daily enjoyment. There we learned friendship, generosity, kindness, love of homeland, to defend it – all of this part of scouting. And they banned it because they didn’t need love of homeland, they needed love of the Soviet Union.”
Rudolf Mrázek. A Czech flag constantly flies above his chalet at a convalescence centre in Slapy. The resort, where Prague Communists previously went for recreation, is today used by political prisoners.
Dana Němcová (*1934)
“We created a world within a world. It was like what was written on one Plastic People record – The Merry Ghetto. We enjoyed lots of good times that compensated for the pressure and kept us going when it came to resisting and insisting on this independent alternative.”
Otmar Oliva (*1952)
His attorney Josef Krupauer offered to smuggle them out. But how? They wondered whether it would be at all possible. Oliva watched out to see which of the wardens was carrying out thorough searches of prisoners. He noticed that one never touched them on the belly. “So I put it on my belly and it got out. Josef Krupauer then saved the drawings. There were a lot of them. I drew two blocks there. Sixty drawings perhaps,” Oliva says.
Otmar Oliva at his studio at Velehrad in Moravia. He is photographed with the door to his cell in the jail in Uherské Hradiště, where the Communists imprisoned him. Following the fall of communism he took the door as a souvenir.
Otmar Oliva holds what remains of the last cigarette that Václav Havel smoked at his studio prior to his death.
Karel "Fidelius" Palek (*1948)
“The editorials in Rudé pravo [until 1990 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’s main instrument of propaganda – ed.] raised the issue of Communist language as a subject for reflection of current life experience. What function does that language fulfil? (…) What does it actually speak about? Does it speak about anything at all? Do all of those – often bizarre – linguistic expressions delivered by Rudé Pravo make any sense? I soon realised that a certain order prevailed in Communist speech, that it really was speech about a certain world, albeit an ‘imaginary’ world, meaning a certain ideological depiction of the world. So then I began looking into the content of the basic expressions on which that language was built, how they related to one another, their ‘principles of construction’."
Jiří Pořízka (*1940)
The second time was when in August 1968 he and his wife fled the Soviet occupiers into exile and left behind their little daughter Pavlína, whom the Communist regime refused to let join them in their new home in Sweden. He began fighting the totalitarian regime, this time over the right to live with his daughter… “I wanted to take a firm stand against the regime,” he says. He and his wife decided to go on hunger strike to win the right to have their daughter join them in Sweden. It was a minor declaration of war.
Jiří Pořízka at his new home at Drahanská vrchovina in Moravia, to which he returned from Sweden. The former political prisoner, who fled to the West in 1968, fought for his daughter Pavlína, going on hunger strike with his wife in Stockholm in a bid to have her released from Czechoslovakia. Pictured with a Swedish newspaper that reported on his story.
Miloš Procházka (*1928)
They were equipped with a transmitter, an encryption key, invisible ink and false papers. Each also had a capsule of poison, in case the worst came to the worst. “We were to bite on the capsule if we got into an impossible situation,” says Procházka.
František Vincenc Přeslička (*1933)
“I did it all because I didn’t want the Communists to rule here. I just couldn’t agree with that. But as a Christian neither could I agree with the position that the Church began to take.”
Bohumil Robeš (*1930)
"They thought up every possible kind of harassment for me. They really put some thought into it. They were primitive. I told them they’d answer for their crimes against political prisoners. So they set on me and tied me to a stake, with my feet backwards and my hands tied constantly for 10 hours. They then untied me at 10 in the evening and gave me an aspirin. I went to my cell…"
Jiří Runkas (*1955)
Though the idea of flying across the Iron Curtain was daring, it appealed to Jiří Runkas from Moravské Budějovice. He was aware that the Slovak road cyclist Robert Hutyra had succeeded in doing so and had indeed been inspired by another balloon escape from the then East Germany to the West.
Miloslav Růžička (*1925)
“I duplicated leaflets on a typewriter and then distributed them to people I knew I could rely on. One time I ran into a neighbour. He said some declaration had appeared stating that distributing printed materials wasn’t allowed. He also said that if anybody received such a leaflet he was to report it. Then he asked if I by any chance I hadn’t written it. So I confided in him. I told him I had written it and that he wasn’t to discuss it with anybody. But by coincidence they arrested him and found the leaflet at his place. Then he was interrogated and they broke him…"
Karol Sidon (*1942)
“A few days after the Charter, an article about the writer Ludvíki Vaculík appeared in the magazine Ahoj na sobotu that showed him in an unflattering light. It was clearly the work of the State Security. I took a small pair of scissors and clipped that piece about Vaculík out of individual copies and decided that I’d only sell the magazine with the pages cut out and then just to those I knew by sight. I had a hunch they’d test me. After a while a young guy came along and I thought: ‘You’re definitely StB, I can tell.’ So I concealed the magazine from him, saying we didn’t have it. More people arrived and then a young lady, quite nice, came along so I sold it to her. And in the instant I handed it to her, I said to myself: ‘Man, now you’ve made a mistake!’ She tore it out of my hands and ran with it to a man standing a bit further away. She was waving the magazine above her head. I knew things were bad.”
Věroslav Sláma (*1930)
On 21 October 1952 a second trial took place – as revenge for the escaped spy Cyril Sláma Jr. Cyril Sr. got another six years on top of the 14 he already had. His wife, the two brothers’ mother, received 11 years. Veroslav Sláma’s wife got six. Her father even got 10 years. Other relatives of Sláma’s, 13 in total, were also convicted. In all they were sentenced to 74 years in jail.
Jana Soukupová (*1958)
“When I think about the reason I got mixed up with the dissidents the word detestation comes to mind. The pressure of normalisation was for me, first and foremost, disgusting. The design of its instruments of propaganda was gross and the faces of the vast majority of the governing elite betrayed heinous personal preferences that I just wanted to get away from – to the other side.”
František "Piggy" Stárek (*1952)
“From around sixth grade myself and a few others led a struggle over the length of our hair. Sometimes the principal would catch us, give us two crowns and say: you, you, you, to the barbers! (…) Hair started to become very important for us.”
Jiří Stránský (*1931)
“When I had the morning shift from 6 to 2 pm, they woke you at 3 in the morning and you returned in bits at 3 in the afternoon. After work people could talk in their rooms. Four of them sat and spoke. I observed. I rarely said anything. I was glad they let me stay. They were a lot smarter and better educated than me. (…). There was an excellent art historian, Bonny Falerský, and he ran an art history seminar. We made a deal with a civilian, who bought all the postcards reproductions of works at the National Gallery and Falerský used them to teach us aesthetics. (…). Everything had to be hidden as the wardens found and destroyed them during searches.”
Ladislav Suchomel (*1930)
“I experienced the greatest fear in the Cejl prison before going to court. They told me my lawyer was there and he questioned me as if he were an StB man. I asked how things looked. He said the death sentence was proposed for the first six. I was second in the text of the arraignment."
Jiřina Šiklová (*1935)
“I always just organised a garage with somebody where the consignment was to be brought. Then I met the courier (…) and told them the address where they were to arrive by car at a given time. The car with the courier then went inside or parked near the garage and then loaded or by contrast unloaded the consignment. The garages alternated. Sometimes it was a garden or cottage, a small house. Quite often it was an Evangelical rectory, where foreign cars could also arrive without being really conspicuous. Every place was used at most around three times, so the neighbours wouldn’t notice. Admittedly Kavan didn’t change the car. But every time they gave it a different number and almost every time a different driver. They knew what they were carrying.”
Vlastimil Třešňák (*1950)
“They drove me out with harsh interrogations. The waste of time, exhaustion, fear, hopelessness. (…) They arrested and beat me whenever they wished and could. It was their job description. Comrade Kafka and another StB officer I didn’t know carried it out, pissed drunk. When comrade Kafka beat me in 1981 and I collapsed Kafka ran through another office to the corridor for a doctor. In the neighbouring office they were actually interrogating my good friend Pavel Brunnhofer. Banned music and unofficial exhibitions took place in his apartment and P.B. and I were agreed that we’d never emigrate, we’d never leave. And now he sees me from the office next door lying on the ground, clearly not pretending, and when I came to he said to me: Get out of here!”
Milan Uhde (*1936)
Host was banned in 1970 and Uhde himself was officially banned in 1972. Two years later the Divadlo Husa na provázku theatre directors Peter Scherhaufer and Zdeněk Pospíšil offered him incognito work in the form of dramatisations of well-known literary works: Párala’s Professional Woman, Mrštík’s A May Fairytale and Olbracht’s Nikola Šuhaj, Bandit; under the title Ballad for a Bandit, the latter became one of the theatre’s most successful productions and in musical film form became a virtual cult – without anybody knowing who had written the libretto.
František Wiendl (*1923)
“When father was arrested, his acquaintance, who wanted to be brought to the West, came to us. Apparently father had agreed with his friend in Cologne that he would assist people in escaping in this way. But now, after father’s arrest, it was a new situation. I let him sleep over and in the morning Josef Touš, who was a train conductor, tried to guide him. But Schneider evidently didn’t keep his nerve and didn’t follow orders, so Touš refused to take responsibility. So I decided I’d take him myself.”
František Wiendl guided refugees across the border in Šumava. Pictured in front of the memorial to the victims of communism at Petřín in Prague.
Bohumil Zhof (*1928)
“They put these boots on your feet when you were in your socks or bare feet. I don’t know exactly. They shoved them on me and when they turned on the current it felt like my feet would be ripped off. This was the first day and they didn’t even know what some of our names were. But they showed what they had on us. If you haven’t undergone it, you can’t comprehend it. The electric current was the worst. They had a transformer and turned the voltage up or down. They just said, Turn it up so he remembers. It lifted you up, twisted you, and then you fell to the ground. The room was full. There were people lying on the ground.”
We would like to thank Mr. Freud Arias-King without whose support the project The Faces of Resistance could not be realized.
Author of the project and photographer: Pavel Hroch
Authors of texts: Adam Drda, Luděk Navara, Jiří Peňás, Jan Horník
Author of the online exhibition: Eva Csémyová
Proofreading: Michaela Šmejkalová
Translation:: Ian Willoughby