Marie Cada was born in the small village of Komorovice, southeastern Bohemia, in 1919. She became an orphan at a young age and spent her early teenage years looking after the family farm with her brother Václav. Marie went to school in nearby Humpolec and then trained to become a teacher at a religious college in Kutná Hora. At the time of the Communist takeover in 1948, she was working at a three-teacher school in Petrohrad, near Prague. Her boss, the school’s principal, had strong anti-communist views. He was let go and Marie was asked whether she would take over his position. Her fiancée, Václav Cada, discouraged her from working for the communists and urged her to escape with him. The pair left Czechoslovakia in March, 1948. They were married in Dieburg refugee camp in Germany in the spring of that year.
Marie and Václav Cada spent three-and-a-half years in Sweden before arriving in Chicago in 1952. They became American citizens in 1958. Václav’s work brought the couple to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the early 1960s. The Cadas had three children. Prior to her passing in July 2012, Marie was an active member of several Czech cultural groups in Iowa, including the Cedar Rapids Czech Heritage Singers. Her granddaughter was crowned Miss Czech-Slovak Minnesota in 2009.
“You know, on a farm, you kind of take care of yourself partly and partly the family. So, there was a time – my sister also died fairly young – there was one time when my middle brother Václav and I lived on the farm alone. So we kind of tried to cook. I was only about 12, and so after father passed away [Václav] was a brick-layer, that was his trade and he made good money, but there was nobody to take care of the farm so he came home and I was just school aged. That was about two years we did things like that, and then he got married, because he wasn’t even married at that time, he was about 20 years old. Well, every family goes through some difficult times.”
“Us young teachers were drafted – women teachers were drafted – there were about twenty of us and we were moved, all of us, to a small town, and our job was to repair German uniforms. It was like an assembly line, there were seamstresses who worked on sewing machines, and those of us who didn’t have sewing machines, we just sewed, you know, whatever. And sometimes there was even blood on these uniforms still, because they had taken it off a dead soldier. But then they decided that this was not enough. They sent us women teachers back to school and young men were drafted.”
“On the way, my husband had an idea that it would be good if he loaned part of his uniform to those three civilians who wanted to escape also. So on the way to Karlovy Vary, not too far away, we stopped the car and we got out and the men, one after another, were putting part of the uniform on. When we finally all assembled back in the car it looked like four policemen and me, and I sat on the floor in the back of the car so I wouldn’t be very visible, you know. We were leaving Karlovy Vary, and at the edge of the city, two policemen stopped us – ‘Stop!’ And oh my gosh, now what? That was bad. But my husband was kind of – he was always that way – quick thinking, you know. And he said ‘We’re going to Oldřichov’, because he knew the terrain. He worked there, on the border, you know.”
Gunfire at the Border
“There was a creek, and there was the border. And so then the terrain went kind of up. And so we ran and ran through that creek and then we thought ‘Oh, now we are free, we are free!’ But then we heard ‘tat tat tat tat’. They were shooting after us. Czech people were shooting after us! And it was a German policeman, a border patrol man, who saved us. He waved to them to go back, because we were on his land. And so, it is really an irony, that three years before that, Germans were our enemies, and then a German saved us from Czechs!”
“They told my husband that he has to go to the police station, that they want to talk to him. This was Friday, towards the evening, and my husband didn’t want to do until the following day, but my brother said ‘No, you don’t make your own decision, they wanted you today so you have to go’. So he went. And he was told at the police station that he is not welcome there and that he has to leave in 24 hours. In other words, they threw him out. So, the following day, we had to be at the airport. They took him away and we had to wait. We waited and we waited and they never brought him back.
“I remember then when we walked away from the airport, somebody was watching us, they walked behind us. We went that Monday, that following Monday, to the American Embassy to tell them what happened, that they had taken my husband away and we didn’t know where he was. They asked if we had seen a plane leaving west or east. We hadn’t seen a plane even, when he left. So that last week we didn’t know where he was, we didn’t have any idea if he was at home. Because at the embassy they told us that cases happened that they took refugees like we were to Russia and nobody ever saw them again. So we were scared, you know. But luckily they just took my husband and kicked him out of the country and sent him home. So he was here when we came home. So that was kind of an experience.”