Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Mária Žideková

Freedom is inside of you

Žilina, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Mária Žideková, teacher

During WWII my mother and father were standing with us children in a line with this German soldier pointing a gun at us. We were living in a small village and the soldiers called everybody out of their houses and said that they were going to shoot every second person. Because the partisans were coming to this village and the people were supporting them. But one man saved us all. He had German origins so the soldiers trusted him. He said, “None of these people are partisans”. The soldiers believed him.  

My father told this to my oldest daughter. In high school, in 1985 or 1986, she wrote a story from it and she won a regional competition. Then she went to a state competition. They sent her a letter from this state competition saying that this is a good story but this is not true because Germans cannot save anybody. So she had to rewrite it. She did it but she wasn’t happy about it. With the new ending the partisans saved the people, not the German. And she won a prize. And after this she stopped writing and never wrote again.    

I was always watched by the secret police because my sister left the country and lived in Germany. She was a teacher. Right before the Russian soldiers came here, in 1968, she was won an award for teaching and the prize was a journey to Moscow. She was quite confused when she was in Moscow. As a teacher she was teaching young children that Moscow was a great city because that is what she had learned. But when she went there she saw something totally different. Her knowledge did not fit with what she saw there. 

When she came back here, she visited our brother in Kosiče near the Russian border. The Russian airplanes and tanks woke her up in the night when they were coming into the country. She saw the army marching inside the city. They were killing people on the main road. These people were just standing there and looking, they did not know what was going on. It is because of these things that she left the country.  

The secret police were listening to our phone conversations when my sister’s husband would call from Germany. When I realized that they were doing this I used to start each conversation by saying, “Hi boys in Prague”. These secret police they were also people and they knew that they have to do their jobs. I was laughing at them when they would come to my house. Asking them, “Don’t you have something more meaningful to do?”

We were raising three children during communism. Two of the children were studying modern stage dancing and the other studied “spoločenský” dance (dances done in pairs or groups, as social events). And in between they studied music, piano and accordion. We were swimming, hiking and skiing. We could not go abroad, but we lived a full life here in Slovakia.   

I was free before and I am free now. Freedom is inside of you.  Communism doesn’t give you freedom and democracy doesn’t give you freedom. He who doesn’t have his own personal freedom was lost during that time and he will be lost during this time too. You cannot say, that time was better, or this time is better, if you do not have personal freedom.

This interview was in Slovak with the aid of a translator
Photo by Janeil Engelstad

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