Bruno Necasek was born in Semily, northern Bohemia, in July 1932. Both of his parents, Marie and Karel, worked as laborers in textile factories in the region. His parents got divorced when Bruno was still very young, and he was assigned to his father’s care, which he says was somewhat unusual at that period. During WWII, Bruno’s father left home to work in Vrchlabí, and so his paternal grandmother took charge of raising him and ‘making ends meet.’ Growing up, Bruno says his home had no electricity, and he remembers completing his homework by carbide lamp-light and making battery-powered radios to listen to at home. In 1949, Bruno moved to Liberec to study at the town’s textile school, where he says he got into trouble for hanging pictures of former Presidents Masaryk and Beneš on his dorm room wall. Upon graduation two years later, he began working as a statistician in a cotton mill, where, among other duties, he was involved in working on the mill’s five year plan. He emigrated in October 1951 when his supervisor at work warned him that, on account of his ‘political unreliability,’ he may be sent to a mine should his employers find someone else to fill his position.
Bruno crossed into Germany with two friends near Klenčí pod Čerchovem, western Bohemia, on October 20, 1951. His group was escorted by German police to the town of Cham, where they spent several nights in prison. Bruno and his friends were subsequently sent to Straubing for five days and then on to Valka Lager refugee camp near Nuremburg. Bruno remembers the bedbugs in particular at Valka Lager camp and says of the whole experience: ‘You have no idea how bad that was.’ After almost immigrating to Brazil in 1952, Bruno decided to join the U.S. Army. He served between 1952 and 1957, completing basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, and then traveling to Austria, where he was stationed as a member of the 516th Signal Company. Upon discharge from the Army in 1957, Bruno settled in Cleveland, where he knew some people from his time in German refugee camps. He became an American citizen the following year. Bruno met his future wife Zdenka Necasek on a trip to Czechoslovakia to see his family in 1972. The pair spent a couple of weeks together before deciding they would marry and that Zdenka would come to live in Cleveland. Preparations for their wedding were complicated when Zdenka was refused an exit visa to visit Bruno in the United States, and Bruno was repeatedly refused permission to enter Czechoslovakia. In the end, the process took four years and the pair were married by proxy, with Zdenka’s lawyer standing in for Bruno at the wedding service. Today, Bruno and Zdenka have two children, who both speak Czech. Bruno is now retired from a career in telecommunications and lives with Zdenka in Seven Hills, Ohio.
“You know, I always had a knack for it because I built… we called them crystal sets, I guess they had them here too. The place where I grew up, we didn’t have electricity, so crystal doesn’t require electricity. And I built my own battery – you can take a beer bottle and wind a piece of string around it dipped in, it had to be dipped in alcohol, and you burnt it off, after you burn it off you have to pour cold water on it and snap it, and that thing would be perfect, so that’s how I made my own batteries. And from there I could power something a little more powerful than a crystal radio, but yeah, I always monkeyed around with this, it was my forte, so to say, my cup of tea.”
“I do remember bananas before the War came. And I didn’t see bananas again until I got to Germany in 1951. The first thing I bought there was bananas, honest to god! Because I remembered the taste, I remembered what they looked like, but we couldn’t buy them. They were not available during the War and after the War either. So, six years after the War I ended up in Germany and I still remembered the bananas from 1938, before the War.”
Crossing into W. Germany
“Domažlice is about three or four stops from the border, but we figured that that was what they call the border zone. And we figured we didn’t want to risk it because in order to get in the border zone you had to have a special permit, okay? This is before the border was fortified, the border zone in some places would be pretty wide. In some places it was narrower, but then when they fortified the border, meaning they put the barbed wire fence there and plowed the fields, then they didn’t care, they could let you go up to the border or pretty close. But up til that time, no they wouldn’t. So, in ’51 we were pretty lucky, they didn’t have the barbed wire fence up, they had a guard with a dog, that would be one guard and one dog, but we were lucky that the wind was coming from Germany to us, so the dog didn’t sniff us. Every once in a while they would leave the place, we were sitting there about two hours, right on the border before we crossed. Because then, I think it was about 1:00, 12 or 1:00, I’m not sure which, he left his area of patrol, so to say, where they went through the motions of changing the guard, so right behind their backs we went down, it was just downhill, you know. So we were in Germany.
“But even there, because we had heard stories that sometimes that sometimes they put the border ahead of it or that the Germans would return the escapees back to the Czechs, you know. So we were looking through the paper that was there on the road and it was German. Okay, so we’re in Germany, we knew that. But the Germans when they interviewed us – and that interview, mind you, that took a long time – I remember from, it was dark already when we left the police station. But they were nice, they offered us cigarettes and they fed us, and the guy took us to the restaurant for supper. He had a rifle, and I couldn’t speak German, not that well, but my buddy spoke almost perfect German. Anyway, the guy says ‘You’re not going to go anyplace are you? I would have to shoot.’ ‘No, we’re not.’ So, he put the rifle in the corner, you know, and just sat down with us.”
“The bedbugs, one guy could lie amongst them and they wouldn’t bother him – that was Lukeš, with the glass eye – the other one, Fišera, he would scratch himself so bad he had open sores. And I tell you, they know where to attack, like where your meat is soft over here. My ears in the morning would be like this, except I didn’t scratch myself as much as he did. And we had tepláky, which is like a sweat suit, sweats – we’d tie it here, tie this, and powder our faces and hands with DDT powder. Well yeah, that’s the only thing there was. And bedbugs, it didn’t bother them, they must have been used to it.”
“Well that was funny too, we would talk sometimes on the phone and all of a sudden you could tell the volume going down and… nothing! And letters, there was a couple of letters that got out of the country by a person who was leaving, okay, those letters you could write what you want, otherwise you had to be careful what you wrote.”