Zdenka Necasek was born in February 1948 in Košt’álov, a village in the Semily region of northeastern Bohemia. Her parents ran a restaurant and butcher’s shop which the family lived above. The restaurant was called U Matoušů (meaning At the Matoušes) and had been owned by Zdenka’s parents until it was nationalized under communism, following which Zdenka’s family stayed on as restaurant employees. Zdenka says her father in particular was very bitter about the seizure of his business. An excellent discus and shot-put thrower, Zdenka considered studying at the sports faculty in Prague upon graduation, but was dissuaded from doing so by a friend and so went to work at a textile factory in Semily called Kolora instead. Zdenka worked in the computer center at the factory – a job she says she greatly enjoyed.
It was one of her colleagues from Kolora who introduced her to her future husband, Bretislav (Bruno) Necasek, in 1972. Bretislav was born in Semily but had emigrated to Cleveland in 1951. It was on a visit back to his hometown that he and Zdenka first met. The pair spent a couple of weeks together and decided to get married. Complications arose, however, when Zdenka was repeatedly refused a visa out of the country and Bretislav was no longer granted visas to visit Czechoslovakia. After three years of legal wrangling and red tape, Zdenka and Bretislav were married by proxy – Zdenka’s lawyer was present at her wedding ceremony in lieu of her husband. Following the wedding in 1975, it took Zdenka one more year to complete the paperwork allowing her to travel to America to live with her husband. She arrived in Cleveland on May 21, 1976.
Zdenka and Bretislav have two children, Tina and Thomas. The couple live together in Seven Hills, Ohio. Nowadays, Zdenka works as a coding and billing representative in a Cleveland hospital and is active in a number of local Czech societies, Sokol in particular. She travels back to the Czech Republic on almost a yearly basis.
“After hunting, they came hunting Sunday morning, they came by train at 5:00 in the morning, they stopped in our restaurant because my mother was cooking tripe soup with rohlíky, it was like warm stuff in their body and around 7, 8:00 – maybe 8:00 – they came to the woods. And they were coming back with all the animals and birds around 3, 4:00, it depended how far they went, and there was svíčková, srnčí guláš [venison goulash], just the best, best stuff! And I remember from… I don’t know… there was something in me for decorating – a sense of decorating – and I always made table decorations with branches, with pine branches and really decorated it very nicely for them and set the places. I remember my mom, she was saying ‘That’s your job! Do it, do it! They’re coming, they are coming!’”
“They didn’t let him in and they didn’t let me out. And it took me four years before I was able to travel out to the United States. Because he said, you know, ‘How can we meet?’ And I said ‘It’s the Czechoslovak Constitution, I can marry whoever I want.’ But the reality was different, because my mother was telling me a story; our mayor in our village – she was a member of the Communist Party, she had to be – she was at a meeting in the regional city, Semily, and it was going into the second, third year already, you know, yes, no, papers… And she was telling them ‘Let her go already, Bruno is not a killer or whatever, he just left [Czechoslovakia, in 1951]. And they are waiting and all of these papers have no end. Just let them go!’ Because there were people who were telling us… I had to be very carefully about whom I was talking to about what was going on. Because they saw me, we were calling each other, we were writing – oh, the correspondence! We have boxes of letters which we were writing and we couldn’t meet, it was ridiculous!
“I was going to Prague to the Ministerstvo vnitra [Interior Ministry] and there I said ‘Prosím vás [I beg you], can I talk to somebody about my situation?’ And they said ‘Oh, okay, that lady over there, go to that door and blah, blah, blah. I went there and I was telling her the situation and she said ‘Is he a relative?’ And I said ‘No!’ And she said ‘Oh, then you cannot know…’ The question was why is he not allowed to come to Czechoslovakia, and she said ‘If you are not a relative, you cannot get that answer!’ I said ‘No! He cannot be my relative, I want to marry him!’ And she didn’t have answers, she just threw me out like dirty laundry. And I was in a few more offices where they recommended where I should go and ask. And I didn’t get an answer anywhere, and I went to the American Embassy and they said ‘You know what?’ Just like Bruno said, ‘marriage by proxy’ – na dálku, and I said ‘Oh my god! I don’t know anybody, I don’t know these lawyers, what do I do?’ Just, we were lost.”
“When I went to the American Embassy I said ‘What are my chances,’ you know? And they said ‘You are like a seed in a strainer, stick to it – if you love him, stick to it and you will make it.’ But she said, there are many girls, they are just flocking here to get out of Czechoslovakia, just to marry foreigners and get out, and they don’t make it. They are not persistent, they don’t have it.”
New York to Cleveland
“Even from New York to Cleveland they turned us back. We had to go back to New York and I didn’t speak English. I said ‘What’s going on?’ And the lady next to me was Italian, she says ‘Motor kaput, motor kaput!’ I say ‘Oh my god! I will never make it to that city Cleveland!’ And he was waiting for me at the airport and I came out at midnight, all gates were already closed and there were a few of us coming from the airplane and we were so happy to be together, yeah it was nice.”
“There was always something missing in Czechoslovakia. One time it was garlic, the next time there were no oranges then, I don’t know, red wine. There was always something missing, and we had to learn in that system where to find the stuff. There were truckers going to Slovakia; they brought garlic and they were selling it among us like on the black market. And he made some money but we got our garlic or whatever we needed. There was no toilet paper. If we got toilet paper it was like sandpaper, and we said ‘no, oh!’ you know… And here it was such a contrast. I just couldn’t get over it. I was writing home letters after letters after letters explaining to my friends what I am experiencing. It was just unbelievable!”