Jarmila Hruban was born in Radešov, on the Czechoslovak border with Bavaria, in 1926. Her father was the mayor of nearby Boubská, the principal of the local school, and a regional administrator of a national cooperative bank called Kampelička. After attending elementary school in Boubská, Jarmila traveled to nearby Strakonice every day to attend gymnázium. When the Sudetenland was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, she found herself passing through Nazi Germany on her daily train ride to school. Jarmila’s schooling was disrupted by the war; in 1944, she was sent to work in a box-making factory in Bohumilice for a year, and so finished gymnázium one year late, in 1946.
She then started a degree in philosophy and English at Charles University in Prague, but was expelled following the Communist takeover in 1948 when she failed her prověrka – a test asking each student about his/her political views. She decided to leave the country and, in March 1949, a relative who worked as a border guard helped her cross into Germany near Kvilda, not far from where Jarmila grew up. Jarmila spent a year and a half in Murnau refugee camp in Bavaria before being granted a visa to Canada. She lived there for one year until some of her relatives who were already in the United States successfully petitioned for her to come to New York City. In New York, Jarmila attended Hunter College, before receiving a scholarship to study at the University of Chicago. It was there she met her husband, Zdenek Hruban. She became an American citizen in 1957. Now widowed, Jarmila lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park district and is particularly active in the local Unitarian Church.
“At home we spoke Czech, of course, if we went to Vimperk to the dentist we spoke German. But the family doctor was Czech, but you know, it depended what store you went to. And I think it was always who had the biggest selection or whatever which decided how one shopped. I spent one month, four times, during the summer, in a German family learning German, and these German kids – during that time, one of their kids was with my family. We met in Pilsen at the second class or first class restaurant and there was me and my father, this judge with his son or his daughter – we switched the children and that was it! And we did it again one month later, that’s how people trusted each other!”
“We would hear bombing from whatever was the nearest German town, and all of a sudden one Sunday ‘Americans! They’re coming!’ you know, and so we went to the road, it was a state road which went between Vimperk and Strakonice, and we waved and there were kids, you know, that’s what you see in Afghanistan, that’s what the kids did. And then they actually occupied the village where we lived, and the house which we rented was one of the nicest houses, and so the Americans took it over. For example, they occupied our bedroom. So, in the morning we would ask for a dress and they would bring something from the closet or say ‘Come on in’ or something. And this went on for about ten days, and of course, they gave us coffee, and whatever, some crackers.”
“As a child in Boubská, I went twice a week to a Sokol in Vimperk. And so this stayed with me a little bit, and so then when I was in New York City, I joined Sokol Fugner and then nothing, and then about ten years ago, I joined a Sokol group in one of the suburbs [Sokol Spirit, formerly Sokol Brookfield] but simply this later years’ business means sending the membership fee and when they have basement sales helping with that, but no gymnastics!”
“I had such luck that I left the way I did in 1949, I am sure that I would have been involved in somebody trying to get across the border and I would have been in jail – number one. Then this business of pretending I am something I’m not? See, all these people were not in the heart communists, they pretended, they pretended! And then, with my background, to teach philosophy? I would have had to have taught Marxism – it just was not for me.
“I have to say though, that coming from that poor region, these poor people were pulled up, and so that you have there now what you have here. The middle class is much, much bigger. And so in the village you see a car. My father died because the doctor didn’t want to drive to that village, right? And when the doctor would come, kids would run after that car – it was something new! What was more common when somebody was sick was that the priest came and prayed, and of course that was the end – that person died, you know. People were dying like that.”