Vladimir Mlynek was born in the small village of Hamry, in northwestern Slovakia, in 1926. His parents, although both Slovak, had met in Cleveland, where they were married and had already raised two children, Vladimir’s brother and sister, Steve and Irene. Just before the Great Depression, the whole family returned to Slovakia. They bought a mill, from which Vladimir’s father, Štefan, operated a cabinet-making business. When they were old enough, just before WWII began, Vladimir’s brother and sister returned to the United States. When the family cabinet business failed towards the end of WWII, Vladimir moved with his parents to the more industrial town of Považská Bystrica. There he trained to become an electrician and started working for the local arms factory, later known as Československá zbrojovka.
After the War, Vladimir’s parents returned to the United States and, in 1947, Vladimir himself followed. He settled in Cleveland, working first as an assistant to his father, who was making cabinets for televisions at the city’s DuMont plant. In 1952, after a number of deferments, Vladimir was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was supposed to be sent to Korea, but in fact spent most of the Korean War stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. He became a U.S. citizen in 1953. In 1955, Vladimir married his wife, Clara, an American of Polish extraction. The couple have two children, Gerald and Jeanette. A life-long radio enthusiast, Vladimir has been involved in Slovak-language broadcasting in Cleveland for over half a century. He has hosted the Slovak Radio Hour on Cleveland’s WCPN with his son Gerald every Sunday since 1985.
“After the War, you know, the Germans left, there was no more need for ammunition so the plant was kind of idled. But the electrification was very damaged, we had a lot of work to get this thing under control – to get this thing back into operation. Although we had our own generating plant, but the Germans were smart, they took the exciters. So we could not use the generators. But we had extra exciters buried in the ground. So we got those out and in about five days we had one generator running, so we could provide the power for the city and some of it for the plant. So we were not that much damaged. But the electrification from outside was totally disturbed. You know, the towers were knocked out… were blown out… the poles and stuff like that. So that took time, but we had power about three weeks after the War was over.”
“We had several American pictures, but we had them hidden, we couldn’t play them because under the Germans, they wouldn’t let us play them. We had some Czech, we had a couple of Slovak films, but these came from Bratislava, you know, we always got a new film every week. And I don’t know what kind of film we were preparing because we never –played it – the Russians came and they wanted to… First of all, we got new machines, new projectors, Zeiss, from Germany, very good machines. And how they found out, we don’t know. But they wanted to take those machines to Moscow. They wanted to dismantle them and take them. But we got smart. We knew about this thing, that they wanted to come in and take these machines. So we dismantled them and buried them in the ground. So they were looking for them. Well, when they came in there were no machines and we said ‘well, the Germans took them’. They couldn’t believe it that the Germans had the time to dismantle them but we put them away, the Germans didn’t take them. They were brand new machines. We used them about six, seven, months, that’s all we had them, because we’d just put them up. And we had these old Phillips machines and so, while the Russians were over there, we didn’t want to put these new machines, we put these old Phillips machines up and we used those.
“Well, they didn’t care too much for them, because they were not as good machines as the Zeiss ones were. So, anyway, that was the experience we had with the Russians. Well, you know, the bad problem was we had movies projected on a wide screen, you know, wide and large. So they came drunk and they shot the screen and everything, shot the audio speakers behind the screen – they did that! Oh, how many times they did that! We couldn’t do nothing about it. We just shut it down and that was it! So this is the way it was. So many times we went without a movie three, four, weeks!”
“I went to Prague by night train, you know, the express night train. I got to Masarykovo Nádraží and I got right away to the consul, and the consul told me ‘We have no time’, he says ‘You better get out of here fast, because they are checking everyone coming in and out of these offices.’ That was the American consul. So, they put me on a train from there and he says ‘Let’s get you out of the country before they close the borders.’ So, when I come to Aš, which was the border town, the officer that came to check the various paperwork, he says ‘Well’ – he says, ‘according to my instructions, you should be held up over here. But…’ he says, ‘you want to go, you go. I didn’t see you. If anybody comes to check on me, I did not see you!’ So I got out, and I went through Germany on a train, all the way to Paris. From Paris, we were going to go to Calais. We got to Calais and we could not get onto the Queen Mary – the Queen Mary was the ship that was going to take us to the United States – because there were too many wrecks in the Channel. They did not have it all cleaned up yet. So they were not going to take a chance with that big boat going through the Channel. So they put us on a small boat and took us to Dover, England.”
“Father was always a narodovec – he wanted to go back home, he wanted to go back home. Well, at that time, Masaryk came over here and he was kind of soliciting for citizens. He wanted to have them go back home, he said ‘You know, you don’t have to be in America, we can make America at home, you’ve got the opportunity to make America in Czechoslovakia.’ At that time Czechoslovakia was kind of building up, sprouting up. And so he went over there, he went back. Mother was very much against it, she didn’t want to go. But they finally went in 19… I think it was just before the Depression, I don’t know exactly what year it was. So, through the Depression, they were already there. And father brought a lot of money over there and he lost it all. He lost over a million dollars in investments, because he got into politics. And he got on the wrong side of politics. So there were, you know, we were Catholics, and we got into a village where there were a lot of Lutherans. They were wealthy Lutherans, there were a lot of farmers. So, when he got this mill, he was expecting that he was going to get a lot of business from them. Well, they made a point of not giving him the job because they were so against the Catholics at that time. There were only seven Catholics over there in that village. The rest of them were all Lutherans. So he lost everything over there. That’s the time, like I said, that he moved to Považská Bystrica.”
Vist to Czechoslovakia
“When I came to Považská Bystrica, I heard the PAs, you know, we had a PA system everywhere. And the first thing they said was ‘So-and-so and so-and-so have these working hours. They did not show up and we want to know why.’ This was on the public address system! I said ‘What will they do? What will they do? Put them in jail or what?’ ‘Ah!’ they said, ‘they’re supposed to be in work and they didn’t show up.’ They said ‘They’re looking for them’. How do you like that? This was in 1984 when I came over there. A lot of things surprised me, which were never there before. You know, the Germans were very tough on us as far as working. If you didn’t show up for work they believed that you are sabotaging their process. So you had to have the right excuse why you weren’t there. But this? I thought that things had changed. They actually got worse – because they looked for you. Because they planned on you, that you were going to be working there. How much they worked, I don’t know.”
“You know, when the communists took over, that mill never got repaired. It was just a shambles, let’s put it that way. There was still machinery that my father built for that mill. It was still there, it was never removed, but it was all cobwebbed and everything and a lot of rats were in the basement and the lower floor. And as a matter of fact there was a generator that we installed for ourselves, for our own electricity for the mill. That was still there but it was all, you know, never used. So for the whole era of the Communists taking over, this was never used. So somebody was living in the upper quarter but the mill was totally destroyed.”
“In 1984, Public Radio came to life, and they were looking for something to fill the time. Because public radio didn’t have all that many opportunities. They didn’t have any money to pay for the program, and secondly they didn’t have any volunteers either. So finally they came up and said ‘Would you want to originate any ethnic programs on this station?’ So we organized a group and we got 13 nationalities. And we started up.
“The only problem is now that everything is digital. And we have to do everything ourselves. We have to prepare the program right down to the second. If we don’t, the computer cuts us off. So we’ve got to figure out very well how to do it now. My son, he’s an expert on the computers, I’m not. Anyway, so we cut the program on a Thursday. We’re not getting paid, but we’re producing a lot of money for the station. We had the highest, I believe, this is what they told us, we had the highest turnout of donations for that one hour. Even their programs didn’t turn out that much money!”