Rudy Solfronk was born in Žinkovy in southern Bohemia in 1935. He lived with his parents and his brother, Václav, in a house on the edge of town until his father bought a farm elsewhere in the same region. Rudy attended school in Hartmanice. He has early memories of WWII, in particular, of American planes flying over the region and, towards the end of the War, interacting with American and Czech soldiers. In December 1948, officials arrived at Rudy’s house to arrest his father who, Rudy says, was reluctant to give up his farm. Rudy’s father was in the woods near the border, and after being warned by a friend not to return home, he crossed into Germany and made his way to Murnau refugee camp. The following summer, Rudy and his mother and brother also joined him there. Rudy remembers having ‘a lot of fun’ in the camp, as he joined a Boy Scout troop and made a lot of friends. Although most children at the camp were taught by Czech and Slovak teachers, Rudy’s father insisted upon him attending a German school to learn the language.
In January 1951, Rudy and his family arrived at Ellis Island. Although they had been sponsored by a Catholic convent in Pennsylvania, Rudy says his family was released from their obligation to the convent and stayed in New York City. His father began working in a sausage factory and his mother found work as a seamstress, while Rudy and his brother attended school. He remembers receiving help from a German teacher, as he did not know English very well. After about six months, Rudy’s father was offered a job in Cicero, Illinois, maintaining a building owned by the CSA (Czechoslovak Society of America). They moved into an apartment in this building, which also had a movie theater, shops, offices, and a meeting hall. Rudy finished high school in Cicero and went to community college for one year before starting a career in printing. He worked in a print shop part-time for the last two years of school and, because of this experience, was able to secure an apprenticeship. After working at several different places, he got a job at the Chicago Sun-Times, where became a foreman in the print shop; he stayed there for over 30 years. Rudy also served for eight years in the Army Reserves and received U.S. citizenship through this service.
Rudy and his wife are active in the Czech community around Chicago, regularly attending events, picnics, and dances. He has been back to the Czech Republic several times. Today, he lives in Downers Grove, Illinois.
“I remember the War. Where we lived, the Americans used to fly over and drop their bombs on Plzeň, the Škoda factories, and they were flying right over us. I remember one New Year’s Eve, my parents were somewhere and they were coming back, and I think he [a military pilot] was shot or something, so he unloaded his bombs right in the forest by us, there was a big bang. My parents came running home; they thought we got bombed and all that, but no, they dumped them in the forest there.”
“In the winter time when there wasn’t that much work on the farm, we took the horses to Železná Ruda, right on the border, to work in the woods, to pull the logs. My father was there with two pairs of horses, and they came to arrest him – the Communists took over and they were going to arrest him. But this friend of his got on his motorcycle, went to Železná Ruda, and told him ‘Don’t come home, because they’re waiting for you. Don’t come home.’ So he took a pair of horses and went to Germany. Nobody touched him or anything, everybody thought he was coming home from the fields. So he made it all the way to Munich, and then he had to sell the horses because he couldn’t feed them. And me and my brother and my mother stayed behind, and later on he sent for us.”
“There were a lot of people, a lot of friends. We had a Boy Scout troop and a Boy Scout camp. This was in the mountains, in the Alps and we used to go hiking in the Alps and we had a lot of fun. There wasn’t a whole lot of food, but there was enough to keep you going. I thought I had a good time there. I made a lot of good friends there.”
“In the late ‘50s my parents bought a farm in Michigan. My father had to have a farm because that’s what he left and he wanted to have a farm. So as soon as he had some money, he bought a farm in Michigan, and he was farming on the weekends until he retired and then they moved out there. First there was corn, which was something new. Then he decided to start an orchard, apple orchard. So he stopped doing the corn and put the apple orchard in, which was a lot less work.”
And why did he want to farm here?
“Because he was a farmer. They took his farm, the Communists took his farm and he’s going to get one again.”
Visiting Czech Republic
“People are not used to the idea that this is a free country. Americans know this is a free country, I’m going to do what I want, nobody’s going to tell me what to do. They’re not used to it yet. They have to dress the same, they’re not used to the idea that it’s a free country. I’m going down Václavské náměstí [Wenceslas Square in Prague] and two people stop me and talk German to me. And I said to my cousin, ‘How do they know I don’t belong here?’ He said, ‘Because you’re dressed differently, you’ve got a different shirt than they have.’ I said, ‘Well, this a free country, if I want to dress this way, don’t want to dress, that’s the way it is.’”