Interview with Bohumila Jiráková
Mrs Jiráková was born in house no.51 in Srbská. A house which today is in ruins. She lives some fifteen kilometres away in Frýdlant  but has not returned to her family house for many years - a deliberate act to keep what she refers to as ‘happier memories’. Her father was a senior figure in the local Communist government whilst she was growing up and Mrs Jiráková talks about her childhood and her family’s involvement in the state run farm. She speculates as to why the village has declined over the years and discusses the sense of community she experienced as a child. On the subject of former occupants, Mrs Jiráková recalls a visit from the previous owners, a family called Scholz and touches upon the issue of ownership and belonging.
srbská, wünschendorf, Poland, Frydlant, horni rasnice, dolni rasnice, krasny les, agriculture, home, memory, communism, JZD, commemoration, revolution, childhood, birth, deportation, ethnicity, grandparents, parents, siblings, children, germans, czechs, romany gypsies, trains, buses, memorial, transport, holidays, ownership, property, cooperative societies, community, government
Interview conducted by Sophie Dixon in Frýdlant, Czech Republic in November 2016. Interpreted by Marcela Šomjaková.
Sophie Dixon [SD]: Could you describe your relationship to Srbská?
Bohumila Jiráková [BJ]: Well, now it is less but in the beginning it was lovely. I had a wonderful childhood, a strong relationship to the place. It was beautiful, everything there was beautiful but my parents died and I found my mother there, and that was the turning point, when I started to feel the ties breaking.
[SD]: So you have roots there?
[BJ]: Yes, it’s where I was born, as I said, it’s where I grew up. I have roots there, until everything fell apart. Fell apart, well I mean, started to… my parents died and so there wasn’t anything there anymore. Until then, it was beautiful.
[SD]: How did your parents come to live in Srbská?
[BJ]: My grandmother arrived there in nineteen forty-six and died there in nineteen eighty-six. My father moved there with her from another part of the country, also in nineteen forty-six. My mother moved there later.
[SD]: And then they had you there. Can I ask when you were born?
[BJ]: Yes, I was born on the eighth of August nineteen fifty-nine. My brother was also born in Srbská but only he has Srbská written on his birth certificate. I have Frýdlant written on mine but I was also born at home in Srbská.
[SD]: Could you describe how your house was to us? Today it is very different. Imagine you’re standing at the front door and walk us through.
[BJ]: Yes, it is basically non-existent now. Non-existent. It was a huge agricultural building made from stone. Nicely cool in summer, terribly cold in winter, walls three feet wide. When you entered the building there were rooms on the right and on the left, when you entered, on the left there was a homestead. There were barns for grain. Through the first door when you entered there was the kitchen, living room, an enormous bedroom and upstairs, there were, there had been some Germans, a certain family named Scholz, so we called it the Scholz’s boudoir. It was a huge room and we played there all the time as kids.
[SD]: Did your parents choose the house or was it given to them?
[BJ]: I think it was probably assigned, because it was given to my grandmother, my father’s mother. They were the ones to live there originally.
[SD]: What did you parents do for a living?
[BJ]: In the beginning my father and grandmother were private farmers, then the JZD , the co-operative farm movement started, and their farm became state owned. By then my grandmother was already retired so my father took a job in the local national committee in nineteen seventy-one, seventy-two. He worked there until the Revolution. All the villages were merged. First it was Srbská and Horní Řasnice , then they added Dolní Řasnice , then Krásny les . So as the villages merged he became either a chairman or a vice-chairman. He worked like that until he retired, and during that time my mother was working on the State farm.
[SD]: Did your parents ever tell you about the times before you were born? What it looked like in Srbská when they moved in?
[BJ]: Well, I know it was much more alive. There were two factories and public houses. There was more of it, but that’s about it. My grandfather told me, who was there, he had said that during the war there was a lot of fighting there, on the border. My aunt had lived there for a long time, so he learnt it from her. I don’t know anything more.
[SD]: Can you tell me more about the fighting on the border?
[BJ]: Yes, I think it was there that some men were killed in nineteen thirty-eight, or thirty-nine. I don’t know if there is still a memorial there but there was one for the twenty third of September nineteen thirty-eight. There were some Czech financial officers who were ambushed there. I don’t know anything more.
[SD]: And what was your childhood in Srbská like?
[BJ]: Beautiful! Although there were a lot of gypsies. Romany, they were gypsies. But nothing was ever lost and we never did harm to each other. As children when we made a mess, we all got a beating, even in school, otherwise it was really nice. There was no culture. Or no culture... there was culture! People from the State farm, or beekeepers, they could go on package holidays. I don’t think we ever suffered any hardship. We had fun, we could organise ourselves, we went sledging, rode on motorbikes. Ran down the hill in our gym shoes. Those were really nice times.
[SD]: Were there many children of your age in Srbská?
[BJ]: The Kristen family had two children, Mrs Herdová had three. In my age group there were about five or six of us, including some gypsy children. But it didn’t matter whether they were gypsies or not, we were all together. There might have been ten or fifeteen of us in school. But there were older children too.
[SD]: Did you go to school in Srbská?
[BJ]: From the first until the fifth grade, then I began to go to Frýdlant. In Srbská, there was just a first grade, in Frýdlant there were five.
[SD]: And when did you leave Srbská?
[BJ]: In nineteen seventy… well If I stayed with my husband it would be thirty seven or so years. We got married on the 5th of November nineteen seventy-seven so I suppose it was then, When we got married.
[SD]: After you left Srbská, did you go back often?
[BJ]: I went back when my parents were still alive. There was not a Saturday or Sunday when we didn’t go there, or even during the week. Especially when the boys were young, we used to go there a lot. I can tell you, it is very beautiful there. But as I say, since nineteen ninety-five when my parents died, my father in ninety-four, mother in nineteen ninety-five I must admit I was there maybe ten times, no more. Honestly, It’s just these memories, I just keep the nice ones. I found my mother in that house, dead, so I just try to push away the sad memories and only keep the beautiful ones.
[SD]: That’s understandable. Can we still go on?
[BJ]: We can.
[SD]: And do you still meet with the people who lived in Srbská?
[BJ]: Recently I met one woman who lives in Nové město , but we met by pure chance. I work in a bus station, and she came by. Other than that not many of us from there are still alive.
[SD]: And have you ever met the previous inhabitants from the village, from Wünschendorf?
[BJ]: No, well, I have one memory when we met the Germans. I must have been ten or twelve, when they came, the Scholz family. But, there weren’t any problems, but otherwise, no. Otherwise not at all. Actually I have one photograph. It’s of my grandmother with grandmother Scholz. I know, she was Mrs Scholz, but -- we never met again.
[SD]: So they came to the house once?
[BJ]: Well, maybe they came before, but it was beyond me, I was too young back then. The time I remember was when I was ten or twelve. So this is what I remember, that they came, that my parents said “The Scholz family came, the ones who used to live there”.
[SD]: In your own words, how would you describe the change that the village has undergone over the past years?
[BJ]: Well, it has been changing. At first there were no street lights, then they installed lighting. The bus was there all the time. Then they started repairing the houses. Many people moved out, and as they moved out they sold their houses, so the holidaymakers moved in and they started to reconstruct the houses in a slightly different fashion. But really nothing changes that much (laughs) The flowers bloom, the snow falls.
[SD]: When you still lived in Srbská, was there a sense of community?
[BJ]: I guess so, because, what I remember, when my grandmother used to pluck the geese, other women came to help her with it, so I would say yes, they held together, at least whilst the older people were there. Actually, it must have been so, because, I remember, once when my father was still working at the state owned farm, he lost his wallet, inside which was an advance payment of his wages, it was a lot of money. They found it in no time, the gypsies, and they brought it to us. People didn’t not lock their houses, they never locked up. You hung the laundry on a clothes line, and there was never ever was anything missing. You could leave your house unlocked, whatever. Everyone knew everything about everyone.
[SD]: Srbská is fairly uninhabited nowadays, why do you think that is?
[BJ]: Because there are no jobs. Back then, everybody either went to the factory in Horní Řasnice or about ninety percent of people worked on the State owned farm. There is none of this nowadays, so they were forced to leave. There’s also the issue of commuting, I know it well, when I missed a bus I had to walk from HornÍ Řasnice to Srbská, it’s six kilometres. So commuting from Srbská by public transport is a problem, a big one.
[SD]: When you lived in Srbská was there any connection with the people living over the border in Poland?
[BJ]: Each year around the twenty-third of September, there was a celebration at the memorial on the border. People went there because there were barracks, just across a little bridge. I visited it a few times. Also, when we were girls we went there and we chatted casually with Polish girls and swam in the creek down there.
[SD]: In Srbská, many houses were torn down in the fifties and the sixties. Do you know why?
[BJ]: I don’t know. It continued to happen because it the nineteen seventies factories were still being demolished, but why, I don’t know
[SD]: Do you know much about the what happened over the border during the Second World War, did you know there was a German satellite camp?
[BJ]: The only thing we knew, that the Germans used to come from there. Today, over the border is Poland, and there are some barracks up there on the right side. But that there was a camp or something, no, not at all.
[SD]: Do you know much about the history of the Srbská, about the deportation of the previous inhabitants? Or perhaps the time when the new inhabitants moved in?
[BJ]: Many people were incomers. Because there was this Kudla family, they were Volhynian Czechs , yes. Other than that, there was every possible ethnicity. Not many of the those old residents, stayed there.
[SD]: Do you know something about the situation during the war?
[BJ]: I don’t know, they didn’t tell us about it. Just that, in nineteen thirty-eight, on the twenty-third of September, those Czech financial officers on the border. It was celebrated, well ‘celebrated’, there was a commemoration and the like, otherwise nothing else.
[SD]: And the communist era, did it affect life in Srbská?
[BJ]: I don’t think so. The State farm was there all the time. At first there was JZD, then they changed it to the State farm, but really I’m too young for this, you could say. Because this must have been in the fifties. And I was born in 1959, so it wasn’t until about 1970 that I started to understand things, right. And then there was the State farm already.
[SD]: You mentioned earlier the lack of connection between the village and other places, for example with public transport. Can you tell me more about that?
[BJ]: Well, there was a bus three times a day to Srbská. In the morning, at noon, and in the evening. So when we missed the bus, we went by train. There is a railway station in the next village but to get there we had to walk six kilometres on foot. When we needed to go earlier in the morning, at five or five-thirty there was a milkman, so he regularly gave us a lift, or my father gave us a lift on his motorbike, that was a luxury, him giving us a lift.
[SD]: A little more personal question, your family house in Srbská has now fallen to ruins, can I ask why that happened, why you didn’t sell it sooner?
[BJ]: You know, you keep having this inner fight. Yes, no, yes, no, because the boys, like, my eldest son, he actually remembers when my parents were alive. They had all sorts of animals, everything except a camel and an elephant (laughs). He liked that. So, just all the time I had this inner fight whether to sell or not. Eventually I simply said, I cannot go there anymore and and we agreed, that we’ll just somehow, cut the cord, so to speak. And draw a big fat line under it. I’m trying, like I said before, simply to keep the nice memories and all. It was, you know, it was simply horrible, for me it was also a horrible decision.
[SD]: How would you describe Srbská nowadays?
[BJ]: I don’t know, I wasn’t there for five years. Five years at least. I drove through it, when we went to look at the castle, across the border in Poland. But really, I don’t know.
[SD]: And even though you haven’t been there for a while could you perhaps compare the Srbská today with the Srbská of your childhood?
[BJ]: From what I keep hearing, I don’t know, everyone says the Poles steal from there or something. To me, it’s… it’s foreign, unfamiliar. Strange to me. Actually yes, I do drive through Srbská, but only when I go to pick mushrooms. It now looks like some of the houses are being repaired. From what I’ve heard, I would say that people there don’t have a sense of community, and that is sad, really sad.
[SD]: On the subject of community, each year, a bus full of Germans, who used to live in the village before nineteen forty-six make a visit to Srbská. As someone who has also lived in the village do you know why that might be?
[BJ]: They might be drawn by memories? Probably a very few of the people who lived there are still alive, so maybe memories, or from the younger generations, maybe curiosity. To see where their parents had their roots, you know. Other than that, probably nothing.
[End of interview]
Frydlant  formerly Friedland, Czech Republic [ 50.921881, 15.078789 ]
Jednotné zemědělské družstvo (JZD)  (In English, the Unified Agricultural Cooperative or Farmer’s Collective) was the basic farming entity in mid-1980’s socialist Czechoslovakia.
Horní Řasnice  The neighbouring village to Srbska on the Czech side. Today Srbska is integrated into Horni Rasnice.
Dolní Řasnice  7.5 km from Srbska [ 50.5645, 15.1008 ]
Krásny les . 10km from Srbska [ 50.5625, 15.0739 ]
Nové město  11km from Srbska [5055, 1514]
Volhynian Czechs  (In Czech, Volyňští Češi) are ethnic Czechs or their descendants settled mostly in the Volhynia region of Ukraine