By Jáchym Topol
A few years later he will write a farewell letter from Pankrác prison. (Wedding photograph of Václav Švéda and Ludmila Švédová, née Kasparides, 1946)
The people we will speak of are here heroes. It will seem that their story had been penned by an experienced bestselling author: love and courage, the struggle between good and evil, violence, blood, and finally a cruel death, just like in an action blockbuster. The life of Václav Švéda's family is not a film at all. It all began in the Moravian village of Pivín.
During an autumn afternoon in the village in the Haná region of Moravia, a man in overalls is standing in the backyard in front of a small hall from where you can hear the pounding of hammers and the shriek of a milling cutter. This burly guy with bright eyes and longer blond hair is the sole proprietor of the Švéda Locksmith Shop. No one would guess that he is in his sixties. In addition to his sons, as well as blacksmiths and locksmiths, he also has a daughter. He has been wrestling with iron since he was sixteen when he left the family home to go for his apprenticeship. After decades in Hanácké Ironworks, he became independent.
It sounds terrible, but after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Radslav Švéda found the 100,000 Czechoslovak crowns, which he received as compensation for his executed father, to be useful to start the business. His father Václav was condemned by the Communists and his neck was brutally snapped by the executioner.
And, it sounds even more terrible, that for his mother Ludmila, who served 10 years in prison and died in 1991, Švéda and his sister got even more, a total of 280,000 Czechoslovak crowns. “You know, that some people were even envious,” says Radslav's sister Lída.
He also has no doubt that it is annoying to people in the region that the company, with the name of an executed anti-communist resistance fighter, is prosperous. It's because of the nature of the killing, Lida thinks. Václav Švéda belonged to the Mašín brothers' anti-communist resistance group. It is a notorious fact that these resistance fighters had several notches on their rifle butts for dead police and militiamen in our country and in neighboring Germany. The Mašín group really fought, and that is still an indigestible morsel for many people to consume. For the last generation of Švédas, Radslav's sons Viktor and Radek, however, it was considered normal that there were men in Bohemia that would put up an armed resistance against the Communists. He had courage like no other, says the elder Radek about his grandfather with unsurprising pride. During his thirty-year life, Václav Švéda managed to fight in the resistance against the Nazis, be imprisoned by them for three years and then wage a five-year war for freedom against the Bolsheviks. During his final departure to the West, however, he was left lying wounded on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, where he was captured. Along with another resistance fighter, Zbyněk Janata, they were both later brutally executed in Bohemia.
A story that hasn't gone away
Pivín is a village that one can walk through in ten minutes. There are about two hundred houses, a green village square with a church and a cemetery behind the village. Fields surround everything. It's quiet here. A car passes a couple of times a day. There are three pubs. Jiří Vrba, a companion and friend of Radslav Švéda since childhood, also frequents the Čvacht’s tavern. His father Karel Vrba was imprisoned as a kulak in the fifties. Neither of us had a father at home, so we often played together. Karel Vrba is the principal of the local amateur theatre association. A few dozen people organize dances, masquerade parades, and generally maintain old customs in Pivín. Now in the autumn, the best slivovitz is made here mainly, boasts the mayor Jan Vrána. When he hears the question of whether people know who Václav Švéda was and whether they know his story, he says that he is not local. And the guy sitting at the pub table in the hunting lodge looks cautiously, as if by habit, over his shoulder. Everyone here knows, he says. That fear hasn't gone away. And he's right. The revenge that the victorious regime prepared for the rebellious Švéda family cannot be erased from memory anytime soon.
The Gray House
The family home of the Švédas is no different from its neighbors, it stands nicely in a row along the state road. It is a grey, two-story modest house. The Gestapo and the communist secret police (StB) alike broke into the door of this house. Václav Švéda, his parents, two younger brothers, his wife and children lived here.
Václav's daughter Lída recalls one autumn day in the fifties, “I came home and it was quiet.” She was seven and in the 1st grade. “Our home was always lively. Visitors were coming and going, we were never alone. Now, all of a sudden, neither my mother, my grandfather, nor any of my uncles were at home. They took everyone away. My four-year-old brother was lying on the floor in the kitchen crying. My grandmother sat at the table and just stared.”
For the next ten years, both children lived alone with their grandmother Hedvika Švédová. Her arrested husband František was just sixty-six years old. The old legionnaire fought against the Bolsheviks in Russia, and when he returned to Bohemia years later, he knew everything he needed to know about them. The influence of František Švéda, as well as the memory of one of the most famous anti-Nazi fighters, General Josef Mašín, undoubtedly was the basis of the deep-rooted resistance of his sons and friends against communist totalitarianism. Unfortunately, František’s opinions were noted in court, where he received eighteen years. He did not serve the whole sentence; in the early sixties he was let out to die at home as a sick old man.
The raid in the autumn of 1953 is well remembered by their closest neighbor and friend of both children, butcher Jaromír Hložek. When the Gestapo were looking for Vašek Švéda during the war, they left the car behind the village and practically crept to the house. In 1953 the STB, on the other hand, was more theatrical! They arrived in Tatraplans*. They were brandishing submachine guns and scaring people. After that arrest, everyone was afraid to stick their noses out of their houses.
The one who knew everything about the Communists, and the others who later did. (Hedvika and František with grandchildren Lída and Radslav)
Lockups, trials and urns
A large number of Mašín group arrests took place in Pivín and its surroundings; as well as in Prague, Poděbrady, Karlovy Vary, Kolín and Lošany at the end of November 1953. About a month earlier, both Janata and Švéda were captured in East Germany and were initially interrogated. Jan Němeček, a Mašín group researcher from the Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, provides drastic details from the German archives. Švéda was arrested while wounded, still bleeding and interrogated the same day. The interrogation lasted all night. At noon, another interrogation followed, which lasted until the evening. Later, Švéda and Janata were extradited to Czechoslovakia.
In a show trial that took place in January 1955, the Supreme Court in Prague convicted a total of seventeen people, where three death sentences were handed down. The regime did not want to admit that a bunch of armed boys, of whom only two shaved regularly, had triumphed over it. Therefore, the regime singled out Ctibor Novák, the uncle of the Mašín brothers, as the spiritual leader of the group. Besides him, Zbyněk Janata and Václav Švéda, accused of sabotage, robbery, murder and arson, were sentenced to death. As a warning, the punishments were published on the radio and in the press, just as had been done during the German occupation. The urns with the ashes of the survivors were not handed over to the families, but destroyed. This is so that the graves could not become places of pilgrimage for the resistance.
It’ll be fine
Vratislav Švéda, the younger brother of the executed Václav, still visits Pivín often in order to see his remaining friends and relatives. He and his wife lived in Havířov. He's a tough guy by any standard. His life was marked by the resistance, then eleven years of imprisonment and years of hard labor in the mines. The bright septuagenarian speaks kindly and calmly about his personal history and welcomes those interested in his brother's fate. The small apartment is crammed with books and there are dozens of bonsai. Vratislav Švéda is most interested in literature and flowers, but he is also the chairman of the Karviná branch of the Confederation of Political Prisoners.
The last time he saw his brother Václav was after the death sentence was handed down in 1955. They stood together for a while in the corridor of the court. I asked: “Vašek, what’s going to happen?” and he answered “Brother, don't worry, it'll be fine!” But he was just trying to calm me down, recalls Vratislav. He was executed in May.
Vratislav was convicted of hiding rifles and pistols at his brother's request. Participating in the armed resistance against the Communists, which he did not hide in any way, earned him respect among his fellow prisoners and the guards, and apparently also gave him the inner certainty necessary for survival. Unlike many people, “I knew what they had imprisoned me for,” where Vratislav alludes to the then common practice of completely fabricated trials.
Vratislav was arrested along with the others after Janata and Švéda began their interrogation ordeal. During interrogations in the 1950s, torture or drug administration was commonplace. Historian Jan Němeček shares the opinion with other researchers that the arrests were prepared on the basis of the testimonies of Janata and Švéda. But Vratislav Švéda has his own opinion: Vašek was tough and would never denounce anyone in his family. Not even if they tortured him. According to Vratislav, the police also knew more than Václav could have revealed.
Vratislav hid the weapons just before the members of the group fled the country, and Václav did not know where. Vratislav did not participate in all the events, even though he allegedly knew about everything from his brother. My brother and I went to talk in the yard while the women cooked or something. We were both married. He probably got along with me more than with the young boys. When Vratislav was taken away, he was 24 years old. He had a three-year-old daughter and a second one was on the way. During the last year of his imprisonment, his wife divorced him and moved away. She didn't want him to associate with them. After all, the stigma of a political prisoner would spoil the girls' lives. Vratislav did not insist. As a result, he did not see his children again until forty years later.
Someone was watching
Vratislav recalls the day when he hid the weapons to be crucial. He buried the pistols and rifles in a field near Pivín. He had a persistent feeling that someone was watching him. No doubts about that, he says, but I couldn't go back. So, I finished the job and left the guns there.
On November 25, 1953, the secretary of the (local communist) National Committee in Pivín came to Vratislav and asked him to come with him to their office because of some trifle regarding the land register. Vratislav was bedridden with a fever, but in response to the polite request he nodded and went. Right at the door, undercover communist agents rushed at him and twisted his arms whereupon he soiled himself from the pain, he says. Then they told him they were going to the field to get weapons. They knew where. So we went, he adds. His father František, mother Hedvika, brother Zdeněk and others from the group were arrested an hour later.
Today, Vratislav is perhaps the only one from the anti-communist resistance who dares to criticize the activities of the legendary group for purely factual reasons. “They were not equipped for the journey at all. They didn't have food and then had to take risks to get it. They didn't dress properly and that cost them a lot of energy. No medicines, no bandages, nothing to help the injured. They did not have enough ammunition, according to him, Vratislav lists the schoolboy mistakes of the young fighters. I'm good at criticizing. I had plenty of time to think about it (in prison),” he smiles.
He has a fundamental objection to the preparations of Operation Haystacks, the last sabotage action that the group carried out in Bohemia in which his brother, Václav Švéda, had the lion's share. Vratislav remembers that when Radek Mašín arrived in quiet Pivín on a powerful Jawa 500 motorcycle, where the odd bike would pass through only a few times a day, it attracted a lot of attention. The village was turned upside down because of this rare machine, which at that time was owned only by the police. The neighbors went to inspect the Jawa and, of course, its driver. It’s clear that there were spies among them, says Vratislav. They were everywhere then. And, in the morning, after a night in which they set fire to 17 stacks of straw and Radek shot an SNB assistant, Radek left Pivín on the roaring motorbike.
I have some idea who denounced us then. But I don't have evidence, so I won't mention names. They moved out of the village a long time ago, says Vratislav. He speaks of his executed brother with respect. He was my role model, he says. According to his own words, he never doubted his initial choice to join the resistance. The class struggle was declared by the communists. If they wanted a fight, we had to fight. We knew we were taking a risk, and there were victims on both sides. All my life, I felt that what my brother was doing was right.
Who was it?
Not far from Pivín is the village of Mořice. Around it is the same Haná plain. The fields stretch to the horizon. The wind whizzes through the corn. Just behind the village by the road to Kroměříž there is a bridge in a field and a stream flows beneath it. On the September night, when the hay stacks caught fire, Radek Mašín and Václav Švéda threw away the detonation fuses that they did not manage to use. There are hardly any cars here, sometimes a cyclist passes. It is quite possible that it looked the same here fifty-two years ago.
Mrs. Marie Šrámková was twenty at the time. She has been cycling across the bridge for decades. When asked if she remembers the burning hay stacks, she immediately stops and dismounts from her bicycle. “We were standing in the village square,” she says. The night was lit by fire. It was clear that this was sabotage and that the fires would harm the JZD (communist collective farms). People prayed that they wouldn't catch who did it. I was a Sokol and our Sokol leadership was imprisoned for fifteen years. We hated the Communists. Mrs. Šrámková still lives in Dlouhá Ves, which is nearby. She does not know the name Švéda, and when asked if she remembers the atmosphere of the arrests in the fifties, she says: “And which arrests? Back then, the arrests were continuous.”
Mr. Vladimír Mašek, who turns seventy-seven this year, crossed the bridge on a bicycle just after Mrs. Šrámková. When asked about the Mašíns and Švéda from Pivín? “They were pests and adventurers! They burned the straw! They harmed people and animals, there was no bedding for cattle, there was a lack of fodder, and then the communists brought in straw from elsewhere and, on top of that, the people had to thank them for it! Mr. Mašek, like the Sokol (Mrs. Šrámková) who crossed before him, is native to the area. He was in the JZD for a while, then on the railways and then other places. He says he never loved the Communists. But to him resistance against them seemed impossible. The resistance fighters for him were boys who played with pistols and ran away, just in time. When asked whether the sabotage against the Communists was senseless, he just waves his hand disdainfully and pedals away.
The life and times of Václav Švéda
What was Václav Švéda like? Like the rest of the Mašín group, he came of age during the war, when danger, death and weapons were part of everyday life. More precisely, part of the lives of those who dared to defy the Nazi occupiers, and Václav Švéda was one of them. His brother Vratislav still remembers an important late-night conversation. Eighteen-year-old Václav confided to his six years younger brother that he had decided to flee the Protectorate to join the English army, and ordered him to take care of everything in his absence at home. At the border, however, Václav was caught and sent to the infamous Gestapo torture chamber in Brno's Kounicové student dormitories. He managed to escape from the courthouse. He opened a window on the fifth floor, climbed over a narrow ledge to a neighboring building, and escaped. This time he made it as far as Switzerland, but the Swiss neutrals handed him over to the Nazis. It was proposed that he receive the death penalty, spending three years in Marienburg prison. Vratislav remembers his brothers post-war return: he lost a lot of weight, he could barely walk, but as war booty he carried with him a pistol and boxing gloves.
In June 1946 he married his old sweetheart Ludmila Kasparidesová, a relative of the Mašín family. After the wedding, he moved to her farm in Lošany near Kolín, which was adjacent to the Mašín estate. He watched with disbelief and disgust as Communists everywhere scrambled for power and settled scores with their political opponents. He considered it a matter of course to enter into battle with them. At the turn of the 1940’s and 1950s, there were many such determined fighters, united in resistance groups in Bohemia.
According to historian Petr Blažek from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR) in Prague, it was quite extraordinary that the police did not succeed in placing an informant in the Mašín group, who would have revealed everything. Thanks to the cohesion of the group's members, their youth, nondescript appearance and their timely escape, not all of its members ended up on the gallows or in the camps. They didn't consider their movement across the border to be an escape. They wanted to come back as soon as possible, preferably as soldiers of a liberation army. They had vivid memories of Czechoslovak patriots who fought against the Nazis in the uniforms of foreign armies during the war.
According to the narration of the two brothers, Ctirad and Josef Mašín, documented by Ota Rambousek and Jan Novák, Václav Švéda was a pillar of the whole group from the beginning. Together with his brothers, he stole weapons, robbed a car with money, broke into a mine where they seized hundreds of pounds of explosives. They climbed ladders about eighty meters underground, recalls Vladimír Hradec from his small apartment on a housing estate in Mělník. “We broke down a warehouse door and brought back crates of explosives. I didn't know Švéda then, I can only say that he was strong and fast, as all of us were back then,” laughs the petite old man who wears black glasses because of cataracts. He received twenty years for his participation in the resistance. Today he is a church organist.
In 1952, Václav Švéda, like the Mašíns and thousands of others, was expelled from his house as a landowner, bourgeois and kulak. He and his family travelled three hundred kilometers back to their native Pivín, where they didn’t even have anything to sleep on, as his daughter Lída recalls the move, or rather, the stories about it. He then worked as a pig feeder and a sawmill worker, but after a while he always lost his job because of his class status. StB officers used to come to Pivín to ask about him. There was no end to the harassment and bullying. By that time, he had long been involved in illegal activities. Part of the family mythology is a night conversation that little Lida once overheard: “Leave it, Václav, you have a family,” her mother had said. My dad reportedly replied, "I can't let it go, I'm up to my ears in this.”
Paumer, their co-conspirator marvels
Another member of the Mašín group, Milan Paumer, knew Václav Švéda for about five months. The tasks in the resistance group were allocated by Ctirad Mašín, where he conspiratorially made certain that the resistance fighters did not know of each other, unless it was necessary. Švéda did not take part in the assault on the police stations in Čelákovice and Chlumec nad Cidlinou, where two police officers were killed. For those operations, the Mašíns summoned the reliable Paumer and Janata. “We were like soldiers, when the Mašíns called upon us, we went for it," says Paumer, who eventually shot his way through to West Berlin alongside the two brothers. He still remembers the evening when Švéda, almost ten years his senior, shocked him. We discussed events with Václav. “Back then we wanted to blow up a train carrying uranium, assassinate the president, shoot a busload of secret policemen. We just had a lot of plans…,” laughs the white-haired Paumer. But then he gets serious. “I took Václav home on a motorbike. It was already evening when we arrived at their house. The door was opened by a beautiful young woman, carrying little Radek and leading Lidka by the hand.”
It wasn't until Vašek kissed them, that I realized they were his children. Then we said goodbye and I told him: “Vašek, man, you have children? Are you crazy? Why are you doing this?” "You fool, I'm doing this because I have children,” he replied.
The Mother Who Couldn’t Return Home
The young lady whose beauty the resistance fighter Paumer was amazed by, Ludmila Švédová, returned to Pivín after ten years in prison in 1963. She could only work as a cleaning lady. She started working in a factory in Prostějov. She was only forty. The idea of marrying Václav's brother Zdeněk, who had also returned to Pivín from prison, was in the air. However, he died of a brain tumor. “I was a teenager at the time,” Radslav Švéda remembers the return of his imprisoned mother. “At the time, my mother was like a stranger to me, so I left home to study an apprenticeship.”
And now the man whose parents were taken away by the communist judicial machine falls silent. He doesn't like talking about his relationship with his mother. He moved long ago from the gray family house where they once lived together and where the StB spies used to visit his parents. Now, he not only has an established company in Pivín, but also owns a large house of his own.
From his childhood, he remembers the grueling travel the most. “We were able to visit my mother once every three months. But we also went to see Uncle Vráťa (Vratislav), Uncle Zdeněk and grandfather. So, we ended up going to some prison almost every month. The visits lasted an hour, and sometimes we waited for three hours to be allowed in. We didn't sleep, we were hungry, and often, we were cold. But at least they saw us grow, and we knew that they were still alive.
His sister Lída also remembers their trips to the prisons and the crowds of relatives waiting outside the prison gates. People didn't speak to each other; the secret police officers were bad-tempered. “Mom often cried when we visited, and the StB officers would say that she didn't want to go home anyway, that she didn't want to be with her children. We didn't understand that, it was terrible.” Little Lída grasped this StB game only later; her mother refused to become an informant in exchange for conditional release and so she remained in prison for ten years. She was released on amnesty.
Death in the basement
"I didn't believe that they killed my my father," Radslav says. I just refused to admit it as a child. I thought that he must be out there somewhere. After all, we kept writing him letters. Our children's wishes were expressed in letters: “My dear father, I pray that you will come back to us again, kisses and hugs from Lidunka and Radoušek (little Radek).” The letters remained unanswered. Václav Švéda was executed on May 2, 1955 in Pankrác prison in Prague.
Back then, executions were carried out in two ways, explains historian Petr Blažek. Early in the morning when other prisoners were still asleep, hanging by rope. In the afternoon, the executioner's stretching table was used. On this table in the basement of the prison, the prisoner’s head was fastened to one plate and his body to the other. The prisoner’s neck was broken by an abrupt movement of the plates apart. Václav Švéda, according to the records of the Pankrác executioner, died at 5:33 pm.
They killed dad, they imprisoned mom, the villagers took care
Everyone loved those children. They have never suffered from poverty, emphasizes the Švéda’s closest neighbor, Jaromír Hložek. Mr. Hložek, however, vaguely recalls some StB warnings that as descendants of an enemy of the people, to treat children cautiously. This was not accepted by anyone in the village.
Radek recalls that the villagers were often kinder to him than to the other boys. Every now and then he got sweets, someone would pat him on the head, or the guys in the pub bought him soda and wafers. The teachers willingly helped with everything and no one ever pushed him aside. Lída remembers that everyone who came to school immediately asked: Which one is Švéda? She realized that as the daughter of an executed enemy of the people, she would live under intense scrutiny. At that time, she said to herself that she would teach everyone that being a Švéda means being the best. Soon afterward, a boy taunted her because of her executed father. "We fought so hard that we were both oozing with blood," she recalls. They didn't laugh at her anymore after that. She won school competitions, had straight A's and was a respected athlete. “My favorite was ice hockey.” However, they did not let her pursue advanced study. It couldn’t work out anyway. “Grandmother said she was going to die soon and my mom wasn't supposed to come back from prison until ten years later. I had to take care of Radek and myself.” When she was sixteen, Lída went to the factory as a laborer and she stayed at the weaving mill in Moravská Třebová for over forty years. She is married and has two daughters. She tries not to recall her childhood that was spent without her mom and dad. People were nice, she says. Her class teacher made her a beautiful dress and someone paid for her school trip. The money that they needed for her continual travel to all of the prisons always came together somehow, and grandmother Hedvika, in the kitchen, always had enough of everything.
The one who took a gun
The Pivín cemetery is, like many others, on the hill behind the village. It is an ordinary cemetery near an ordinary Moravian village with birches and dwarf thickets all around the field. It's a weekday and children on the hillside fly plastic kites. A group of young boys nearby are revving up their motorcycles. However, a visitor who would complain about the disturbance of this rural idyll would be asking the wrong question. Motorcycle races are Pivín's pride. Because of these young riders, the whole neighborhood sometimes gathers here. Thus, the tour of the cemetery takes place amidst the crackling blasts of engines. The role of the cemetery guide is taken over by Jaromír Hložek, a keen witness of the communist times. At that time, there were many more children in the region who had imprisoned parents, explains the butcher. Hložek, according to the testimony of the locals, gave Hedvika Švéda at least several hundred pounds of meat over the years.
The neighbors took in all of the orphans, so no one was sent to a children's home. After all, they locked up a lot of people in this area. We don't know the Mašíns here, but look here, he points to one grave. A farmer František Janík, he was locked up with his brother. Here lies the priest Father Šoupal, who sat in prison for many years. Also, Kája Vysloužil, he had been sentenced to the uranium mines for twelve years. They locked up Vojta Galíček for distributing leaflets, Mr. Hložek counts on his fingers and names his other acquaintances and friends. There were a lot of large landowners in the area, whom the regime wanted to destroy, he remembers the times when the communists took the farmers’ property and forced them into the cooperative farms. In every village, two farmers were broken, one was imprisoned, and so people joined the cooperative, sayz a burly octogenarian. Only Vašek Švéda took up a gun and went after them. So, they killed him.
There is a glass display case in the Pivín cemetery wall containing urns. There is also one with the inscription Václav Švéda and a photograph of an elegant young gentleman in a suit. Next to the date of death is the inscription: Executed. Son Radslav explains: “Dad is not in the urn. Lída and I collected some dirt from the mass grave in Ďáblice. Apparently, they dumped ashes of the many executed there.
Lída Zounarová, born Švédová, learned about the last days her father spent in freedom, only after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In 1990, Josef Mašín** invited her to Vienna with her mother Ludmila and brother Radslav. He waited for them at the station and took them to a hotel. They sat down in the lobby and Josef told them about the groups’ escape. He described how five young men in 1953 fought their way through East Germany, how they came under fire and were surrounded at Waldow. It was there that Václav Švéda was seriously injured. The bullet crushed a bone in his forearm and he was bleeding profusely. They had nothing to treat him and he couldn't go on. He urged his comrades to run. “I listened with my mouth open,” says Lída. She recalls that Josef's narration lasted for hours. Then, as if in a trance, everyone went to eat. Then they sat down again and listened. Josef described to the family the last moments when they were together with their husband and father. The two brothers and Paumer decided to break out of the encirclement. It occurred to them that they would shoot Václav because he was in pain. Maybe they should have done it, says Lída. But they couldn't do it; they liked him too much. They could not kill him, so they said goodbye to him. Finally, they kissed Václav on the forehead and they left. Paumer took Václav's pistol because he lost his own.
When Josef finished, we walked through evening Vienna. We were in the West for the first time, Lida recalls.
Václav's wife Ludmila died a few months after returning from Vienna. Of course, I think about my mother all the time and Mašín’s mother***, as well. And I also think about grandfather František being led blindfolded up and down the prison stairs until he could not breathe. I think of everyone who has been imprisoned. They were heroes. I think about these boys who took up arms and crossed the border, lived through an extremely difficult month, and when they were caught, they died like soldiers. Even my dad. But what about all the others? Those who spent years in prisons and when they returned home sick, no one cared? Nobody knows about them. No one even knows their names anymore.
The author Jáchym Topol was born in Prague in 1962 in the family of the playwright and Shakespeare translator Josef Topol. Since the late 1970s, Topol has been a member of the underground literary and musical movements in Prague. He was not allowed to study for political reasons. His living he earned as a warehouse worker, stoker, coal carrier. He wrote lyrics for the dissent rock band Psí vojáci, in which his brother Filip Topol (1965-2013) was a member, and has been involved in samizdat editions since 1980. In 1985 he founded the underground magazine Revolver Revue. Since 1989 he has worked as a journalist for various magazines, including the political weekly, Hoffnung, which he founded. From 2009-11 he was editor of the traditional daily newspaper Lidové noviny. He then took over the position of dramaturge at the Václav Havel Library. He lives in Prague with his wife and two daughters. Several of his works have been translated into English and published by the Catbird Press and Portobello Books.
Thanks are due to Jáchym Topol for permission to present his work at the homepage of cardandcube. We thank also Anthony Bartos for the english translation. Last but not least, thanks are due to Ms. Lída Zounarová and Mr. Radslav Švéda for permission to publish photos from their private archives.
*Tatraplans were the largest limousines produced by the Czechoslovak company Tatra since 1946. These cars were associated with the STB and of course the government. Hardly any private customer could afford it.
**Josef Mašín, Jr. never returned to Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic for reasons of politics, history and ethics.
***Zdena Mašínová (1907-1956) was imprisoned by Nazis during WW2 and became an icon of the anti-Communist resistance after she was tortured and died in a communist prison. She was the wife of Josef Mašín (1896-1942). Her husband was a member of the Czechoslovak Legions fighting in Russia (1916–1921) and later an officer in the Czechoslovak Army, and a hero of the underground anti-Nazi resistance. Zdena and Josef Mašín were parents of Ctirad, Josef and Zdenka Mašín. Ctibor Novák (1902-1955), mentioned in this article was the brother of Zdena Mašín. He joined her husband in rather spectacular sabotage acts against the Nazis by depositing and exploding bombs in front of two ministeries in Berlin. The Nazis did not find out, but imprisoned him for unrelated reasons. The Communists executed him in revenge for the defection of his nephews Ctirad and Joseph Mašín to West Berlin.