During my second year at university, in 1967, I was approached by the secretary of the communist party to ask me to join the other students and become a member of the party. It was a shock to the system; I had no intention of becoming a member but didn’t know how to refuse without totally damaging my future. You just don’t refuse this kind of invitation!
I remember saying that “I wasn’t ready, comrade professor, but thank you for the offer”. He wanted to know when I might be ready and I thought if I say perhaps next year, that would give me enough time to think of something else.
Something else had happened and it influenced my final decision to leave in August ’68. As we lived in Pilsen we always had our fair share of visitors, mainly in the summer. I remember quite clearly that one day I was walking across the big main square in town and was approached by two tourists. They were from West Germany (as it was then), it was easy to recognise their car number plates, very different from the East German ones. All they wanted to know was, where is the large camp site by the lake. It was very near to where I lived then, so I think they took me home and I could show them the rest of the journey. I got invited for coffee the next day as a thank you and the lady gave me a sweater. I looked after it so well, it was very different from anything I had to that day, I even brought it with me to England.
My good feeling didn’t last very long though. One early morning there was a loud knock on the door and a couple of secret policemen came and took me for interrogation. The building was always known as “The Gestapo”, right by the river in the middle of the town and I think it had as many floors under the ground as it had above ground. We were underground and after endless questions about what I had talked about with the Germans, what they paid me for it etc, they realised that I didn’t know anything to tell anybody, and after fingerprinting and photographing me I was allowed to go home. (I found out that it was our neighbour who had reported me to the police). Well, after this and the two refusals to join the communist party, I wasn’t going to wait to see what was going to happen after the invasion in August ’68…
He was satisfied with the reply and I was left to my devices. However, in January and February 1968 things have began changing and I didn’t have time to think of joining the party. Advertisements started to appear in newspapers that it is possible to travel abroad – to England – to work as an au-pair girl. This was exactly what I was waiting for, my dream to improve my English, perhaps do another state exam. In the meantime, during the first year at the university I took and passed the Russian state exam, the idea being that I would have qualifications to teach languages.