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< Echoes of Memory

Coming to the United States


By Erika Eckstut

On April 16, 1957, my husband, Robert Kauder, passed away. He would have turned 37 on May 27, his next birthday. I lived in Prague had two children at that time—my daughter was ten and my son was five. Every day, after my husband passed away, I went for a walk and left my children with “Babinka” (grandma), who stayed with me. She was like a mother to me although she was not technically family. I did this for about a month. One day she told me that when I returned, the children would be in an orphanage. I hesitated for a moment and then left. Then I started to think about how she was not my mother, she was really a stranger to me and my children, and I could not believe that she would do this to me.

When I returned from my walk I went to my children’s room and my daughter was still awake. We hugged and cried and then my daughter said, “Maminka, you came back.” We both cried and cried. That evening I did not speak to Babinka at all.

In the morning the doctor came to the house and he gave me a long talk, asking me why I would not talk to Babinka. He said that he would put me away in a psychiatric ward because for the last month I would not speak to anybody. Babinka said that she would try her own home remedy. The doctor agreed to this as Babinka would not let me go to the psychiatric ward. But it did not work out the way she thought so she called for help.

I felt very bad when I realized what really was going on and I excused myself to Babinka for my behavior. I was in such deep mourning at that time that I gave no thought to what I was doing to my children and to Babinka. Then when Babinka and I talked we loved each other even more than before.

After that, I received a letter from my mother and sister, who were living in New York at the time, and they asked me to please come and live with them. I went and applied to come to the United States and a few weeks later I got a call to come and talk to the government official. When I got there the guy who was in charge asked me why I wanted to go to the United States and I told him that I did not have anybody in Prague and I would like to go see my family and be with them. He said, “What did you lose, just a man? You are a young woman and you can find another one.”

I got very angry and I told him that if my husband had not fought in the army, he would not be sitting here being rude to me. From there I went to the castle to see the president of Czechoslovakia and when I got there, I had my little son with me and there were two soldiers with bayonets up and they crossed them so I said I was going to leave my son with them and if one hair would be crooked on his head I was going to cut both of their heads off. I went through the bayonets and as soon as I took a step there was a man and he asked me what I was doing. I said I was coming to see the president and he asked me if I had an appointment. I told him I thought the president was for the people and I am one of the people.

He said to come with him and when he opened the door I saw the president leave and I spoke to him and he said the secretary is very capable. The secretary asked me what was the problem and I complained about the other government official. She said that there is no problem in sending me to the United States but the children of a Czech officer cannot go to a capitalistic country and be beggars on Broadway. I told her that I would like to see my mother but I would never, never leave my children behind. That was the end of my interview with the secretary and I went home and was very scared about what was going to happen to me because we were under a communist regime.

Early in 1960, I received a letter from the minister and he said that if I wanted to go to the United States I would have to give up my pension, my citizenship, and my house. I waited two weeks and went to see General Svoboda (my husband had been his adjutant) and he said he understood my fear. Then he told me I should not let my children go to school and he would come and stay with them until I got back from court. He told me that he would guarantee me that I would see the children again.

So I went to court and I was told that I would also have to go to court to give up the children’s citizenship. I listened to everything and then left. Then I got a letter for my court case and went with a lawyer friend. They took my citizenship, pension, and house away and then I had to go for the children. When it came to the children and I had to give away their citizenship, a woman got up and said that she was appointed guardian of the children by the courts. I jumped up and told her I had never seen her. I asked her if she knew that the children had been very sick, and the friend who came with me tried to tell me to keep quiet and finally told me to shut up. Then people came to my house to take inventory to tell me what I could and could not take with me and I still have the papers to show.

I came to the United States with my children on April 11, 1960, and I said “God bless America” in Czech as I did not speak English.

©2011, Erika Eckstut. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   erika eckstutechoes of memory, volume 6immigrationczechoslovakiaunited states

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