Mila Kyncl was born in Trhový Štěpánov, Bohemia, in 1935. her father was a businessman and worked the land that their family owned while her mother stayed at home to raise Mila. During WWII, Mila says German troops occupied her home, which was very large. Overall, she recalls having a happy childhood, sprinkled with trips to Prague to attend the ballet or opera with her parents. A student at the village school until the age of ten, Mila then transferred to a larger school in Čáslav. At age 14, Mila was chosen by her teachers to assist the local doctor. She attributes receiving this opportunity to her good student record and her background in math, physics, and chemistry.
Mila attended Masaryk University’s medical school in Brno which she refers to as one of the “best times of her life.” She says she graduated after her father signed his property, which included several businesses, over to the state. Her family was moved into a much smaller building on their property which her father renovated. Mila worked at a hospital in Strakonice for two years, then, in 1961, married her husband, Jaroslav Kyncl, and that same year moved to Prague. They had two children, Marketa and John. Mila found a job in a hospital in Prague, but was not allowed a specialty because of her anti-communist views. However, she says this ultimately worked in her favor as she received training in all departments.
After attempts to leave the country legally by applying for jobs abroad (in places such as Tunis), Mila and her family left Czechoslovakia on August 30, 1968, shortly after the Warsaw Pact invasion. They lived in Vienna as refugees for a few months before moving to Heidelberg when Jaroslav was offered a Humboldt scholarship. Mila also found work as a physician in Heidelberg and stayed in that position until 1972, when she and her children joined Jaroslav, who had moved to Cleveland a year earlier, in the United States. They settled in Lake Bluff, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where Mila retrained as a doctor and eventually opened her own practice. Both of Mila’s children speak Czech, and she and Jaroslav regularly visit the Czech Republic. They are active in the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), and Mila retains many Czech cultural traditions.
“Well, he [my father] was a few times threatened with the concentration camp, because he wanted to have order in the house. Thank god, he didn’t go, but it was a daily fear for my mom because practically the Germans were coming every day and checking on everything. I remember we had a big band radio, and there was a death sentence if you listened to London, [Radio] Free Europe. Through this, my dad, because it was a very good radio, he was every day listening in the same house where you have Germans, to London, risking his life. But he was able to give all the news and everything to the people they were able to trust. So this was going on during the war.”
“I lived in college housing, and I had very good company with the girl, we studied together. And no one has money, we were all in the same [boat], sharing whoever got something from home, bakery or so, and we are still friends today. And second, the pressure of the communists was not like in Prague. There was much more freedom and we were very lucky in medical school because at the time they believed body and spirit go together. So every year we had a very good exercise program. One year gymnastics, one semester swimming – we had Olympians who trained us. Running, skiing, kayaking. We went every Friday or Saturday with a rucksack on our back and we were in the mountains. It was an incredible six years. I said I wish my kids went through [this]. We were at the opera, because five bucks, five korun [crowns] was a ticket to go to anything for a student. So, you saw every week an opera, you saw every week Janáček. You just lived the life fully.”
“Then my husband was able to get some small apartment and I got a job in Krč, Thomayer Hospital. Because I was not communist, I was going from one department to the other one; wherever they needed help, I was there. No central anesthesiology, surgery. So, thanks to the communists, when I came out of the country, I knew more than my colleagues because they were sitting in one place whereas I was all over – internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, infectious diseases. So I got the best training you can wish to survive. Thanks to the regime, and my belief not to sign ever to become a communist.”
“My husband must have been so frustrated, because I really was depressed and the kids were sick. First John, then Marketa got an earache. We have to go to a hospital, they gave her streptomycin. And when he saw where we lived and what happened to us, he said ‘Go back home and you will come back when I will be more stable.’ And we went on the train and when we were on the train we didn’t have a single penny; he didn’t give me even one dollar, nothing, because we were going home. And the people we met on the train said, ‘This is the most stupid thing you are doing, when you are already here. As a doctor you will have so many opportunities. Stay here.’ And they bought us soap, they bought the children chocolate. So when we came to the line on the Austrian border, I took my luggage, and with the children, we were out. And we didn’t pay the train; we didn’t have a single penny, he had just put us in. We were sitting there and they were calling him, but he was sick too. And he didn’t know what they were saying. So were about three hours sitting outside, we have two luggages, the kids were hungry and not too good. Then finally he came and he said, ‘With God’s blessing, we are together and we will do the best.”
“It was complicated because, first of all, I still speak with an accent today, and I had still a lot of learning to do when I started to work. I didn’t know how to sell all my experience. I didn’t use anybody to help me; I just studied three or four hospitals that I was able to reach in the car, and I said ‘This is what I am, I passed the test if you are interested.’ And I got hired in a residency in one day. It was not the best one – I could go a much, much better one, but I didn’t know how people do it. But the training was very harsh the first year because you have a 36 hour [shift] when you didn’t sleep. You went home at 4:00, you slept, you were half dead, the kids were screaming and my husband didn’t know what to do because it was already two days without anybody. So then my mom came, and second year I was already supervising so it was much easier.
But you know what? I really liked it. I couldn’t complain about it because I was ten years older than the other [residents] and learned so much again, and survived. After my second year, they already gave me recognition; I didn’t need to finish three years, I was already eligible. But I went to endocrinology because I didn’t want to cheat on the training, I wanted to finish like everybody else and learn something different, which I didn’t know. So I finished and then I went to the practice in 1978.”
“Roráty [Advent mass] was 6:00 and as a child I woke up, I was there every single day, the six weeks before Christmas. And it was such a medieval atmosphere, you never saw [anything like] it. The candles, cold, darkness, and the old prayers, the old songs, they are hundreds of years old. I wish somebody could see it. Once I came back after communism was over, and I have a cousin from Vancouver. He couldn’t believe it. He still, until he died, talked about the impression, because it was like two, three hundred years back. Church full of mostly ladies, and praying. Such a strong feeling in the church. And this is until now. When I go over there, it’s unbelievable. The church is full of people, the singing – they sing ‘Svatý Václave’. And when they sing it comes from the heart. It is something you will never see here, never.”