My recent column about the 60th anniversary of our escape from Communist Czechoslovakia apparently wetted the appetite of many of my readers for more details. Several of them urged me to describe the fate of some other members of our "gang" who gathered every weekend in the Prague apartment of our friends, Jindrich and Dasha. Emails from the daughter of our late friend, Vladimir, the noted professor of Romance languages at Charles University, revealed that Jindrich and Dasha had divorced, and both of them have remarried. Jindrich, who during the Second World War was imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis, finally succumbed to his ailments and passed away.
All this brought back memories of our gatherings at their two-room apartment. It was carved out of a large "bourgeoisie" apartment once owned by a wealthy Prague family. Another part of the apartment, overlooking the Vltava River, was occupied by a very beautiful, young woman.. She was the executive secretary of the minister of health, a Communist fellow traveler. She was also his mistress. Occasionally, she joined our gatherings, playing with us the guitar and drinking beer.
In the early 1950s, the Communist government decided to make preparations for devaluating the Koruna, the national currency. This was done in great secrecy because only a limited amount of money that was held in cash would be exchanged by the ratio of one new Koruna for 10 old ones. The rest of the money held in cash, would be worthless. The official rationale was to strip "speculators" and black marketers of their cash holdings.
Orloj clock in Prague
During one of our gathering, the minister's secretary urged us to get rid of our cash. In the course of a "pillow talk," she learned from the minister that the currency exchange is scheduled to take place the next weekend.
As soon as I have learned the news, I passed the information on to a contact at Radio Free Europe. A day latter, it was broadcast. There was such a run on all kinds of goods in the state owned stores that the currency exchange was scrapped. Subsequently, it took place, but with limited success.
Our gatherings had another unexpected result. Jindrich, as a former, political prisoner under the Nazis, was rewarded with an executive job at a government sponsored organization. It represented the interest of Czechoslovak citizens who suffered under the Nazis because of their political beliefs.
In a course of a conversation, Jindrich talked about his new assignment. He was tasked to supervise the delivery of meals to a summer camp set up to provide rest and rehabilitation to members of counterpart organizations from Western Europe. He was happy and proud to have been chosen to assure that the former political prisoners are provided with the best meals.
Shortly after the first bunch of the "campers" arrived, Jindrich, decided to check on the quality of the food delivered to the camp. To his surprise, he was bared from entering the heavily guarded facility. Talking to people living in the vicinity, he heard them complaining about the sound of loud explosions coming from the direction of the camp.
It turned out to be a secret facility to train Western European recruits in sabotage techniques. They arrived under the guise of being guest of the Czechoslovak organization representing former Nazi political prisoners. The number of meals delivered daily was an indication that the facility was heavily used.
Subsequently, this information reached the authorities at the home country of the "campers." I learned later that the returning individuals have been put under surveillance and no act of sabotage was ever committed by them.
(Editor's note: For more on the subject, read Frank Shatz's book "Reports from a Distant Place," ($12.95) available at the Books-Plus and from Amazon.com.)