Dusan Schejbal was born in Prague in 1934. He spent most of his childhood, however, in Moravia – in Brno and then the village of Vranov during WWII. His father, Josef, was an officer in the Czechoslovak Air Force who fled to Britain to become an RAF pilot following the Nazi invasion. Dusan’s mother, Dobruška, meanwhile, was sent to a Nazi internment camp in Svatobořice between 1941 and 1943. Dusan and his mother spent the final years of the War together in Vranov, hiding in the woods, says Dusan, during the last few days of the conflict. They were reunited with Dusan’s father upon liberation in Prague in May 1945.
Dusan’s father had risen to prominence in the RAF during the War, achieving the rank of group captain and receiving an honorary award for his service from King George VI. Upon his return to Czechoslovakia in 1945, he became the commander of České Budějovice airfield. In 1947, he was appointed Czechoslovak military attaché to the United States and moved to Washington, D.C. to serve alongside Ambassador Juraj Slávik. Dusan and his mother followed in 1948.
Following the Communist takeover in 1948, Josef resigned from his post and the family moved to the suburbs of Maryland. Dusan says his father took a job as a gas station attendant, while his mother went to work as a sales lady at Garfinckel’s department store. Dusan attended Northwestern High School in Hyattsville and then the University of Maryland, where he majored in history and studied Russian as a minor. In 1957, Dusan was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent two years in Zweibruecken, Germany. Upon his return, he worked for the IRS and the Navy as a civilian employee. He married in 1962 and has three children. Today, Dusan lives in University Park, Maryland, with his wife, Krista. The pair travel extensively and Dusan says he still audits Russian classes at the University of Maryland.
“When the Germans came looking for my dad, mother told them that he was on a business trip to Prague and that he was going to return shortly. So for about a week, we had two Gestapo men staying in our apartment 24 hours a day, waiting for my father’s return. We had a large apartment but we had no heat except in the kitchen there was a large belly stove, so we all basically stayed in the kitchen – the Gestapo men, my mom and I, except when we went to bed. Now they really didn’t bother me except one who I think enjoyed seeing me cry, and when I cried, he’d get angry and he threatened to make me kneel on thumb tacks. Now, it wasn’t until my mom died in ’78 that I found through my wife that one of the Gestapo men raped my mother.
“Mother actually pressed charges, and the trail went all the way to court, to the High Court in Vienna, and the man was found guilty. And I believe he was sent to the eastern front. I think it was a very brave thing of mom to do and I was very proud of her because, had she lost, the consequences would have been very dire.”
“I had a lot of bad memories during the War, but I also had some good memories. And my favorite memories were Christmas time in Brno. Before Christmas, there’s a tradition – we call it Mikuláš, anděl a čert, it’s Saint Nick, an angel and a devil [that] come calling on the children. And of course, Saint Nick would be dressed in a priestly robe with a high hat and a staff. The angel would be dressed in white, and the devil was all in black; his face was black and he carried a potato sack or something, and chains. And you could hear him coming because he rattled his chains and made a lot of noise and, of course, that would petrify me! And when they came in the apartment the devil would say ‘Well, I understand you were bad and you’ve got to be punished,’ and sometimes he would pull out a lump of coal or a carrot. And the angel always played interference and said ‘No, no, no, no!’ And Saint Nick would pull out some sweets, bonbons, and all was forgiven and it was good for another year.
“And then the Czechs, the Czechoslovaks – the Christmas Eve meals always consist of, usually consist of fish and potato salad. That was a favorite food on Christmas Eve. And my mother would, a few days before Christmas Eve, she would go and get a, buy a fish, which was a carp. And she had to go early because if you wait too late then there would be nothing left. And she would bring it alive, wrapped in a wet newspaper. Then she would place it in a tub full of water, because there was no refrigeration or anything, and there the fish would stay for several days until Christmas Eve. And that was, I think, my favorite. I watched that fish for I think hours and hours – because it was a big fish, you know, imagine it floating in the tub and I was right next to it. I just loved it!”
U.S. in 1948
“When we arrived in Washington, I remember, I think it was the very first day in Washington, D.C. My father went to work and then it was just my mother, the domestic lady and I in the house and then, all of a sudden, we heard sirens. So we all went down to the basement waiting for the all clear. We were puzzled that Americans still had air raids when the War is long over. Well, after a while, we crept up, because we didn’t get the all clear, but we went up and later we found out that they were the fire engines. I never… in Europe they don’t use [such] sirens.”
“When I arrived, the town was still split in half; there was the Saarland which was controlled by the French and then of course the other side which was controlled by the Americans. The town was like in a little valley and one side there was the Americans and the other side were the Germans, the third side there were the French and the fourth side were the Canadians. And I remember the Canadians… there was an Air Force base. And the Canadians of course had an ice rink there and played hockey, and we would go and watch the hockey games. And the Canadians tend to be quite rough and they would play mostly German teams and the Germans didn’t like that very well! They always would cry ‘Fuj! Fuj!’ when the Canadians played rough.
“When I arrived, my sergeant said ‘Well, you’re the teletype operator’ and I had never seen a teletype in my life. I was taught by I think the WAGs, the women [who] were about in another town called Pirmasens. The other teletypists taught me how to work the teletype. I became quite good at it and I became the operator for the base. That was fun duty, I must say. It was some of the best times of my life. We had quite a lot of money in those days, and after hours we didn’t have that much responsibility once we were on our own and I did a lot of traveling. I made sure… We had a, a friend of mine and I, we owned a ’49 Volkswagen, and we traveled whenever we got a chance. We went through the Alps, we… all the way to Denmark, we had to two big jerry cans in the back full of gasoline (which now that I think about it was rather stupid!) We made it all the way to Denmark never buying gas.”
Learning About the Past
“I remember dad was telling me one time that he was in the Olympics. I think it was in Amsterdam, before the War, I’m not sure when exactly. I remember he was in five events. I think it was like a military thing, it was horseback riding, pistol shooting, swimming, I imagine running and something else, I don’t know what the events were. But I never sort of paid much attention to it – so I mentioned it to my son-in-law one day and sure enough, he looked it up and gave me the website. I sent… I’m not sure where the headquarters is, but they sent me a lot of information about my dad! Where he placed, how many points he got, they even said that he fell off his horse! So it was just wonderful! I still have it, it was great!”