Alice Vedral was born near Prague in 1928. Her father, who was Ukrainian, had moved to Czechoslovakia when Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. Wen she was two, Alice’s father died, and she and her mother went to live with her grandparents and uncle in Nehvizdy, central Bohemia. In the summer of 1940, Alice’s mother and uncle were arrested by the Gestapo. Her mother spent thirteen months in prison in Leipzig, while her uncle was sentenced to two years in Austria. Alice recalls spending much of her free time assisting her elderly grandparents on their farm during this period. When WWII ended, Alice enrolled in the Akademie obchodní Dr. Edvarda Beneše [Benes Business School] to study accounting; she says that her love of mathematics led her to choose this field of study. While attending school, Alice lived with her mother (who had since remarried) in the Břevnov district of Prague and worked in the shop her mother ran.
Following the Communist coup, Alice says that several of her friends were in contact with the CIA regarding uranium mining in Czechoslovakia; when a few of them were caught taking background files from the university, the authorities began arresting members of her group. In the spring of 1949, Alice received word that she too was in danger of being arrested and decided to leave the country. She crossed the border into Germany with three other people in April 1949. In her attempt to cross the border, Alice says she was assisted by a priest and spent part of the journey in a false-bottomed cart.
Alice arrived in Ludwidsburg refugee camp and, six months later, was reunited with her companion from Prague, Eda Vedral, whom she married shortly thereafter. While in Ludwigsburg, Alice found a job as a receptionist in the camp’s X-ray office. She gave birth to her first child, also named Alice, in 1950, and moved with her husband to Munich in 1951, when he took a job at Radio Free Europe. Alice describes the family’s journey to the United States as eventful, as she was seven months pregnant, they had to make several stops to repair the plane, and the Vedrals’ baby fell ill. In June 1952, one week after leaving Germany, the family arrived in New York and subsequently settled in Chicago. Alice found a job in a factory making coils for radios, but stopped working when their family expanded. Alice and Eda eventually had eight children. Many of their children, and some grandchildren, speak Czech fluently. Alice became involved in the Chicago Czech community and participated in groups such as Czechoslovak Exiles in Chicago and Orel in Exile. She returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1969, and witnessed the Velvet Revolution while on a trip to Prague in 1989. Today, Alice lives in Cicero, Illinois, with her husband, Eda.
“When my father died, we moved back to my grandmother and grandfather’s and my uncle was over there, and they had a farm. But in Czech Republic, it’s not like here. There’s a village, and the fields are someplace else. Over here you have a house and everything is around it, but over there, you have the village and everything was outside.”
Detained by Gestapo
“Two weeks later, the Gestapo came and picked up my mother. I was 11, 11 and a half, and I was with my grandfather and grandmother [who were] around 70. My grandfather was 70, my grandmother was 69. I was with them and I was going to school four kilometers away, everyday to school. When it was too much for my grandfather, I had to help. I was doing work that was a man’s doing, because my grandfather wasn’t able.”
So why did the Gestapo claim to come for your uncle and for your mother?
“Because they were listening to the radio from England. Then they sent them to Prague to Pankrác and my mother got thirteen months for that and my uncle got two years. And then they sent my mother to Leipzig in Germany and they sent my uncle to [Austria]. My mother came home and she was so hungry that my grandmother cooked two pounds of beef and she ate everything. She was so hungry; and before they let my uncle out, we had to pay for his food and everything. To the Germans we had to pay for it before they let him out.”
Germany to U.S.
“When we left Germany, we went on an old airplane – Flying Tiger Lines. It wasn’t alright; they had to repair it. I was seven months pregnant, and Alice was one and a half years old. We were waiting the whole day; the whole airplane was people with children, small children. And then we came to Shannon [Ireland]. They put us in some hotel, a small one, and they said that they have to repair the airplane again. They were repairing the airplane and we stayed overnight there. The next day, they said we will go. We went on the plane and the pilot came back and he said that the plane is still not alright, so they repaired it again.
“And then we went to Newfoundland. She [Alice] got strep throat and they had to call the doctor, and he brought somebody who started speaking French to me. I said ‘If you can speak English, or if you can speak Russian, or German, that’s ok, but I don’t know any French,’ and the doctor said ‘Oh my gosh, I speak English, but I thought that you don’t speak English.’ Then he gave her some medicine, and we had to stay over there for two days because it was Saturday, and in America Saturday and Sunday are holidays, so we came on Monday. It took us one week to fly to America.”