Tomas Pavlicek was born in Kroměříž, southern Moravia, in 1957. His father, Oldřich, was an electrical engineer while his mother, Jindra, worked as an accountant. Due to his father’s position as the head of a hiking club, Tomas spent many weekends traveling around Czechoslovakia. He was active in sports and particularly excelled at skiing and orienteering. Tomas says he first got a taste of Western society when he competed at the orienteering world championships in Finland as part of the Czechoslovak national team. He attended a technical high school in Olomouc, and then studied technical cybernetics at Brno University of Technology. In his first job as an ultrasound technician, Tomas occasionally traveled to the Netherlands, where he worked for Toshiba Medical Systems of Europe. He says that after several of his of trips there, he was offered to join the Communist Party which he refused. Tomas decided to leave the country when a friend told him that his name had come up at a Party meeting.
In May 1987, Tomas booked tickets on a bus tour across Europe for himself and his six-year-old daughter. Upon arriving in Munich (the group’s destination), Tomas and his daughter left the tour and made their way to the house of an acquaintance. It was there that they were reunited with Tomas’s wife, who had left Czechoslovakia separately to avoid raising suspicion. The family stayed in Munich for five months before arriving in the United States in October 1987. The Pavliceks first settled in New Hampshire where Tomas took an ESL course at the University of New Hampshire while applying for jobs. He first found employment at a hospital as a biomedical engineer, but soon joined a fledgling company that provided software training to businesses. After the fall of communism, Tomas began investigating possible business opportunities in Czechoslovakia. He has since started a successful company importing and selling unique Czech glassware. Tomas is still an avid skier and, for the past several years, has ranked amongst the winners at the annual Bača Cup race held at Blue Knob Ski Resort in Pennsylvania. Tomas’s children both speak fluent Czech and he enjoys cooking traditional Czech meals. He frequently returns to the Czech Republic to visit family and friends and, when he retires, hopes to split his time between the United States, the Czech Republic, and Mexico where he owns a villa. Today, Tomas lives in Vienna, Virginia.
“He had a lot of friends still in the town who knew who he was and what he did. So they came to him from time to time and said ‘Hey Tomas’ – his name was Tomas too by coincidence – ‘Can you fix my watch?’ or ‘My ring broke, can you fix it for my wife?’ And he did. And mostly only as an exchange for favors. The other person says ‘Oh I have hens; here is a dozen eggs’ or something like that. Money in many cases didn’t even exchange hands. However, and this is the bad part of Czechs, somebody turned him into the secret police. So during one of his night shifts in the wood factory, they came. They took him inside the hall, they turned on the circular saw, and they cut his fingers. He brought those home in the bloody napkin – the ends of the fingers from his right hand – and from that time, I could never ever become a member of the Communist Party, and that’s why I have a lot of resentment against the regime and everything there. Because it was to me something so brutal, so inhuman. I don’t know a lot of circumstances around it because I was a little boy, but I never will erase from my memory for the rest of my life, the totally bloody napkin, soaked with the blood and there were the three ends of his fingers. He tried to I guess take them to the hospital if they could sew it back, but they couldn’t because I guess it was too much delay. And this piece of the memory, it is too strong to forget about.”
“My father was the leader of a tourist club [turistický klub], I believe for 50 years, consistently, and along with that, I have a lot of great memories of traveling around the country. This club had been very active. They had built a relationship with a big factory in the town which provides electrical parts for automobiles, and they had a bus which was used a lot of the time during the week to take the people to different meetings or so forth, but on the weekends quite often the bus was available and the tourists somehow made the arrangements for some kind of fee to have the bus, and traveled to different parts of the country. So that’s why I spent easily every other weekend somewhere in the mountains, a lot of hiking, climbing, this kind of stuff.”
Ways of Life
“Thankfully to my work and also to my sports – from childhood I was very heavily involved in a variety of sports, including skiing, cross-country running, and various other sports – so I had an opportunity to see a different part of the world, the lifestyle, life experiences and different ways how people lived their life. I wasn’t dependent only on the relatively small point of view living in a small town in southern Moravia.”
“I started working for a big computing center which was working with the data from a variety of different factories and organizations and returning them back. I was working as a hardware engineer so my duties were to be on standby, ready, when any part of the computer fell down. So I have to pick up there, find out what’s wrong, fix it, then the people who operate the computer continuously could process the data. But as I mentioned, this type of work didn’t really [appeal to] me very much. I am more of an action person, and those waiting periods, when I had to literally sit in the office and wait ‘til something goes bad was not, in my mind, very productive.”
“After my first trip to Holland, when I returned back, the people from the Communist Party approached me in the company, and they offered me a membership in the Communist Party, which I kindly refused. I tried to be diplomatic back then, so I said ‘It’s a big honor for me, but a big responsibility. I have to think about it,’ and so on and so forth. So I tried to procrastinate; however, it didn’t work very well. Another trip to Holland came quickly, and another, and they approached me again and I turned it down. I sort of refused. I said ‘I love to be and perform as an electrical engineer, I love the technical science, but I would prefer to stay aside from any kind of political activity.’ So for that reason I didn’t join it. So then a friend of mine who had been a member of the Communist Party – he mentioned to me that during the meeting, which they have on their own time, was mentioned that my next trip may not be west, but east. As little I knew at the time, I thought this was kind of a fair warning, and anywhere in the world I would be much better off than perhaps in the Gulag islands or anything like that. I don’t know if the situation would go that far eventually, but who knows today. It could, because there had been many people who disappeared. So I started to plan my escape or runaway from Czechoslovakia. On my very last trip to Holland, I had been able to carry with me my university diploma and a few other documentations, birth certificates and stuff, and I sent that to the friend of a friend in Germany with a note that I will pick it up sometime later.”
“I was not sure what responsibilities the tour guide had from the bus. If he perhaps will try to hold me, maybe even under gunpoint, I had no idea. So when the people got out of the bus and were picking up luggage, I used that as an opportunity when it was kind of chaos created, and it was late at night, so when I ran behind the corner during the darkness I thought perhaps I wouldn’t be followed or I wouldn’t be noticed. So I separated myself with my daughter from the group rather quickly, literally running away. Then I found that I was not followed by anyone, so the rest of the night I was just walking. But that short moment to getting from the place where we were getting out of the bus at some hotel, I literally ran away.”
“I found a home here. I am very thankful that even through some struggles I had a very warm welcome and help from Americans. So I find my home here, and I have to say sometimes I do have kind of mixed feelings because whenever I go there, of course I still have tons of friends there. It is very nice; I have to say, every time I am there for two or three weeks, I become a little bit homesick and I gladly return back here where I feel I am home.”