Paula Moss was born in Prague in 1925. Her father, Josef Hubka, served as a senator for the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party for three terms until Parliament was dissolved before the outbreak of WWII. Her mother, Anna, was a housewife. Paula attended Jan Masaryk Elementary School in the Prague district of Vinohrady and then the Akademie obchodní Dr. Edvarda Beneše [Beneš Business School], where she specialized in languages. Paula says her father wanted her to focus on studying French, but her first choice of foreign language was English, which she learned, she says, to improve her comprehension of Walt Disney films. Paula remembers food shortages in Prague during the War and says she would travel to the countryside to buy items such as pork illegally, until she came too close to being exposed, and so abandoned such activities.
Upon liberation in 1945, Paula traveled to Plzeň to visit one of her cousins, where her English-language skills were discovered by a member of General George Patton’s American Third Army during a victory parade. She was immediately taken on as a translator for the troops and followed the Third Army to the spa town of Mariánské Lázně when they withdrew to western Bohemia shortly after the end of the War. Paula says part of her work in Mariánské Lázně was with local authorities implementing the Beneš Decrees, which displaced thousands of ethnic Germans from the Czechoslovak border regions.
Paula moved to Germany with the troops about six months later and remained in Heidelberg when they left, working for the Seventh Army (which replaced them) instead. It was then that Paula met her husband, Captain Richard Moss. The pair were married in Prague in June 1947 and moved to his native Chicago upon his discharge the following year. They first lived with Paula’s in-laws on Lakewood Avenue before moving to the Rogers Park district of the city. The couple had three children. Richard worked in a number of roles for NBC Chicago for 35 years, while Paula worked as a librarian and in real estate. She became a U.S. citizen in 1956. Now widowed, Paula lives in Highland Park, Illinois. A long-term member of the Czechoslovak National Council of America, Paula has donated several historic garments originally belonging to her grandmother to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
“I think I was mostly inconvenienced, being a teenager, by the restrictions on our lives – social lives – and curfews at night. I tried to go to ballet school and I couldn’t go because you had to be home before dark. Everything was all closed up without lights, because they worried about the Allied planes going over and bombing.”
“It sort of goes with you, I think all these people that you might talk to and who spent their childhood and young adulthood through those time, those difficult times… I can’t throw any food away and I always am looking for something to save, and how would I do if I can’t go to the store? Because we would go out in the country and buy illegally on the black market food so that we could survive. But then, when you went through the train station, we would carry, let’s say, five pounds of pork, or something somebody in the country would sell us. And the Germans had German shepherds, and I remember one instance – and I think after that I didn’t do it, I didn’t want to go anymore – they caught the people before us. They were involved with whoever it was, I don’t remember, and they just sort of descended on them and we just sneaked by, it was another friend of mine.”
“I remember being on the town square, the beautiful town square, where there was a big parade for General Eisenhower and Bradley, Omar Bradley, and I was there with my cousin. We went down to see the parade. And I was trying to peek over the tops of the people in front of us and I couldn’t quite see. And an American soldier brought me a chair from somebody’s house, and I said ‘Well, thank you very much!’ And he said ‘Oh! There is a fräulein who speaks English!’ Well, I right away got involved in that and I was working as a translator for… that was the Third Army that went through Plzeň. And then they had to leave Plzeň, pull back, and they stopped in a town which is a beautiful resort town called Mariánské Lázně, Marienbad. And they offered me a job. I was, I think, 17 years old.”
So you became a translator for the American Third Army when they were in Plzeň, and when they withdrew to Marienbad you went too?
“Right. I had a lovely apartment in a hotel and every morning a Jeep would come and pick me up, and then at noon I would have one lunch in the enlisted men’s mess hall, and then I would be asked by somebody to have a lunch with some upper officers. Pineapple, bacon or coffee, it was just fantastic. So, I was for I guess six or seven months in Marienbad and I love that town.”
“In this town Marienbad where we were – our headquarters – there were people, older Germans, who lived there for x number of years and all of a sudden they were told ‘Pack your suitcase and go.’ And some of them, when they were elderly or ill, they would commit suicide. So, I was involved in finding out what was happening and then the American Army was working with the Czech police, so, some of it was not very pleasant. And I think I was doing it for only five or six months, and then they got some men to take over.”