Tony Jandacek was born in Prague in 1934 and grew up in the city’s Smíchov district. His father, Antonín Jandáček, was a journalist who worked for the Ministry of Information during WWII, while his mother, Marie, worked as a secretary at a glass cutting company during the War. In 1945, Tony’s father was found not guilty on charges of Nazi collaboration and continued to work for the government until the Communist coup. When the Communists took over in February 1948, Tony was away on a ski trip in northeastern Bohemia. By the time he returned from the mountains one week later, his father had fled the country; Tony did not see his father for another three years. The family received no news of Antonín Jandáček until May 1948, when they received a postcard sent from Chicago, bearing no name but clearly in his handwriting. In September 1948, the remaining Jandáčeks crossed the border illegally at Železná Ruda into Germany. They pretended they were hunting for mushrooms, says Tony, who led the expedition.
Tony spent 27 months with his mother, sister and brother in various refugee camps in Germany (including Regensburg, Ludwigsburg and Pforzheim), before the family was allowed to travel to the United States and reunite with Tony’s father. Tony became an American citizen in 1954. He served in the United States Air Force between 1953 and 1957 and later became a Czech teacher at Morton High School, where he was formerly a student. Tony lives in La Grange Park with his Czech-American wife, Carmella, and works as a court interpreter with Czechs in Chicago.
“My father was a journalist, but he had to be very careful about what he said. He worked at the Ministry of Information, and of course everything was very strictly audited and basically controlled by the Germans. He got into some trouble with the Gestapo one time by using a sort of pun. He was forced, because he had a good speaking voice, he was compelled to read the news once a week and, on this one particular occasion, they were talking about the collision of the German troops and the allied troops. And the term used in Czech is srazka, which means collision, and there is also a vulgar word very similar to that which means diarrhea. And, of course, his colleagues – when he was rehearsing – his colleagues were teasing him and said ‘What if you said this?’ When my dad sat before the microphone, he blurted that out, and of course, before he was finished, a couple of Gestapo officers were waiting for him and took him into this infamous Petschkuv Palac. My father wasn’t tortured, but he was interrogated for 24 hours. And then, oddly enough, a high ranking official intervened on his behalf and he was released.”
“It was a difficult job for him, you know. On one to pretend, you know, that he was not against the German occupation and on the other hand still knowing and feeling that the Nazi occupation will not last very long. And during those days of the uprising in Prague, he was also actively involved in broadcasting and running messages from various centers of resistance in Prague.”
“There was a sort of a black market, whereby city dwellers would trade various items. Like my dad traded books and, I think, a bicycle for a goose or a turkey with a farmer that he knew. And of course, you had to be very careful bringing it to Prague during the, usually on weekends, because they would have special civilian officials who would control what was being brought to Prague and quite often it would be confiscated. So yes, for us [children] it was sort of funny, but there was an element of danger, certainly, for the adults.”
“I got a new pair of skis, and this was a two-week stay in the mountains, near where my father was born. And I was very anxious of course to be there, to try my new skis and so forth. My father knew that the crisis was developing in Czechoslovakia so he was very reluctant to let me go, but my mother was on my side. She begged him to allow me to go. And of course, by the time I returned to Prague, a week or so later – two weeks later actually – my father was gone already. He had crossed the border to West Germany successfully. While I was still away from Prague, and my father was gone at this time, the Communist police would come and look for some incriminating documents against my father, trying to punish my mother for the anti-communist work that my dad did. And of course my mother said that she did not share my father’s views and so on and so forth. She said ‘Well, I’m willing to divorce him because he abandoned the family.’ But they didn’t believe her, of course. And we were not directly persecuted, but obviously, there was no pension, there was no money during this time for my mother to have, but we had relatives and friends who supported us financially for a few months until our escape from Czechoslovakia in September 1948.”
Escape into Germany
“They registered everything. My mother had some valuables, some dollars and some gold rings, I think, that she had sewn into her bra of all places. But they threatened to punish us if we did not turn everything over to them. But be it to the credit of German precision, they recorded everything and it traveled with us from one refugee camp to another and, 27 months later, when we were leaving Germany, all this stuff was returned to my mother!”
“For children, it was not the worst of times. I think a lot of adults suffered from various forms of depression, when it seemed almost hopeless, that they would never get out of these refugee camps. We had to go before an American consul in the occupied zone of Germany – the American zone – and he told us, and various other immigration authorities told us ‘Well, why don’t you go to Australia? You can meet your father there, and, after all, this is not going to last forever! The Iron Curtain is not going to last forever! In a few weeks you will be able to go back to Czechoslovakia.’ Everybody was ignorant of how long the Cold War would last, you know, in those days. Fortunately, we did not give in to that suggestion, but, we had to stay for 27 months, or two years and a quarter, in those refugee camps.
“Children, I think, adjust far better than adults, you know. Even though I had thoughts of perhaps never leaving Germany, I didn’t take it as hard as my mother. But we sort of leaned on one another and, you know, became very close.”
“I’m happy to be an American citizen, but my heart is still in the old country, in many, many ways. You know, I just cannot forget – I have very vivid memories, as you’ll notice, of my childhood and my recent visits to the Czech Republic have always been very pleasant. So, I like to go back, but I wouldn’t want to go there and live permanently. I just became too much of an American over the years.”