My Prague Spring Memories 

 Originally Written: August 21, 2009

By  Hanna Trafford

Last Updated on August 21, 2009 by Hanna Trafford

local-police-administration-prague-26-august-1968For as long as I live I will remember that day.

It was very early dawn and at first, I thought I was dreaming, hearing peculiar rattling sound. Then I heard another sound – loud thunder. I was pretty much awake and realized that it was a sound I didn’t recognized. As I was trying to figure out what was going on, I heard that rattling again and looking in the direction it was coming from, I saw that it was my teacup from last night, jumping around in the saucer. And then the sound of thunder again – and I realized that planes were flying really low over us. And at that point, I heard more rumbling topped by my grandmother running into the room and yelling: “Wake up, get up – the Russians are here”. The only thing I could think of is that she had lost her mind and is reacting to a bad dream. Surely it is either a bad storm outside or maybe an earthquake???? Why in the world would the Russians be coming here? They are our friends, no?

Trying to turn on the radio was not much help – it was panic all over the place. The TV was already gone – off the air – and I realized that this was no fun, no joke, no bad dream. This was in fact a reality – the Warzsaw Pact armies invaded Czechoslovakia – the communist government of the Soviet Union very much disliked the event of Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek and everything that was going on, including the enthusiasm of people when they heard the word “freedom”.

My memories of that day are a blur of crazinest. Rumours, gossip, reports of Russian tanks shooting at people and everything they felt was not to their liking, historical building being severly damaged…. You have to understand, Czechs are incredibly proud nationalists, treasuring their heritage with unmatched vigor and the fact that the National Museum on Wenceslaw Square in Prague was being attacked was almost enough for people to start fighting back.

I quickly threw some clothes on – the only thing I remember for sure were white socks, because they were what I spent most of the day running around in. I met with a group of friends in the town square, wanting more information and trying to understand what was going on. Shortly after we met, the thunderous rumble of tanks reached us and the decision was to either stop them and ask them what the hell they are doing or run. We ran – and that is when I lost my shoes. We met up in our secret meeting place in our town’s park, out of breath, scarred and really, really mad. We figured the tanks were heading for Prague and the only thing we could think of is to take shortcuts to directional signs and turn them around. Whether that worked or not, I will never know – but it felt good just doing something.

After couple of hours, we reached a field with few crossroads and right in the middle of it quietly stood about dozen tanks and army trucks. As we ran out of the forest surrounding the fields, we realized that the soldiers saw us. We stopped trying to figure out what to do next. Then we saw two soldiers walking toward us – turning around and running away was not on the agenda – after all, we clearly saw that they were armed. I can tell you that in a moment like that, the time stops and so do your brain functions. The soldiers approached us with straight faces and started talking to us – in polish. The two languages are quite similar so we could actually communicate – they were asking us to tell them where they were. We couldn’t believe they didn’t know! One of my friends – Stan – totally lost his temper at that point and started yelling at them without choosing his words carefully. We told them that their army is a part of an invasion of our country – and much to our surprise, they were shocked. One of them started crying – sight I will never forget. They honestly thought they were on an army exercise.

The rest of that day and events that took place after were beyond sad. Alexander Dubcek was held in captivity and his government replaced, student Jan Palach burned himself alive in protest, all media was directed by Moscow and thousands of people were running away from the country, looking for freedom.

The one thing I remember of the aftermath is seing russian soldiers everywhere I went. Especially in the shoe stores. They were buying up shoes like crazy – regardless of style, colour or size. Weird memory? For sure  – but then – the whole thing was weird.

I am one of those people who left the country – not immediately and not exactly running. But that is another story, for another day. For now – my heart goes back to my homeland, my lost future in there and all my lost dreams – just remembering August 21st, 1968.

It’s 41 years later – you think I could watch the videos I just found on YouTube without emotions? Not a chance – this is a fresh as it was then.

Hope you enjoy watching these 2 videos – the background voices are asking to calm, trying to avoid loss of human life and the music is very appropriate. In the second video, the confirmation is given that the government has been replaced and the video ends with national anthem. Oh yes…. more tears – but just for the past, because the present is very, very good

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtDj99LFgpI&NR=1[/youtube] [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUyF4yW__Fk&feature=related[/youtube]

Hanna Trafford

Hanna is the mother of two grown sons Dan and Dusan Nedelko, and is also the Grandmother to Jax, Cohen and Mila. She is the lead editor of Mama Knows and is hoping to create an exchange of communications with other grandmothers, mothers and daughters - giving everyone the opportunity to learn and share about everything that is "Mama"

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  • Hi, I’ve just come across this fascinating article. I run an archive of stories told by people with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. There’s more about this project on http://www.trebusprojects.org

    I’ve been working with a woman for the past few months who may or may not have been a journalist in Prague in the 1960’s / 70’s. She’s British but she talks a lot about working for the state radio under the Communist authorities and being present as the tanks rolled in. She often thinks she’s still there and still braodcasting on the radio. Her story is filled with amazing, poetic images (all distorted by her dementia) as well as some harrowing details (starvation, making soap from animal fat, running an underground press) and possible flights of imagination. It’s all very jumbled and difficult to unpick.

    It strikes me that you may have some fascinating insights that could help make sense of her story. Would you be interested in reading it? Is there some way I can send it to you?

    Best, David

  • I couldn’t watch the video. I know I would cry. I’m going through a tuff time now, and not just me our whole family. When i found your site. I don’t know how but your spirit comes across here. I feel a comfort. In 1968 I was 3. I don’t really remember being 3. I’m sure it was a happy time. Isn’t it odd how in one part of the world all heck is breaking loose and singing birds and lullabies in another. I don’t really understand why we all can’t get along on this planet. I mean in some ways I understand getting angry about something you don’t like but that shouldn’t last and we should be able to find a way to resolve our issues. There is a way for everyone to get something they want if not everything, you know what I mean? I look at all these beautiful places where horrible things happen and my heart breaks. I just imagine it being soo beautiful in Czechoslovakia. I’d love to visit. If we adults can’t figure out a way to get along what kind of a future are we setting up for our children. What does that say to them. To me it says “Only me getting what I want matters. It doesn’t matter if you want to enjoy a peaceful life, and enjoy all life has to offer.” Our kids are smart, they are going to get tired of this foolishness.

    Oh I always wondered why Jewish people recall all they do on Passover. besides the fact that God told them to keep the Passover. I was reading in a children’s book this week about it. It said that so they’ll never forget what it is like to be mistreated and pray and help other who are being mistreated all over the world. It also said that they have their freedom now, anyone who has freedom has that to be thankful for. I think that is what we all can learn from hard times. I think somewhere along the way we do forget, some of us, maybe. Now I think it is good to remember what we’d rather forget. Especially if it helps someone like me or others gain courage. I’m glad and amazed you and others got away. Now you have a beautiful life. Putting this story you posted here with the garden I just saw. Thank you.

    • Wonderful comments Michele!I do believe that if each of us cares, takes time to do something good for the next person, world will be a better place. remember? “Play it forward” – there is no reason why that wouldn’t work! And I sincerely hope that you will continue to read what I have to share and please feel free to share it with all your friends – that will definitely be a good thing!

    • Hi Khatia! Yes – I am in Canada, I came here in 1969, pretty much about 2 weeks before the borders were closed completely. And how I made it out of Czechoslovakia is another one of my “memories” that I will put together soon and post it. I hope you enjoyed reading that story and will enjoy reading the future ones. You know – I think we all have stories, we all have memories that are fun to share. If you have some, it would be awesome if you would add it to my site – I would absolutely love it!

  • My father fled Hungary with Russians shooting at him and the others as they crossed the fields to escape from thier homeland. Sounds strange “escape from their homeland” but in essence it is what they had to do if they wanted to remain free.

    • That is exactly it – and even if the word “escape” sounds sad when it is right beside the “homeland” it is accurate. Were you a part of that daring escape? I would love to hear more!

    • Thank you for that! I am starting to get into that point in my life where sharing memories is becoming more and important. I hope more people will fee the same way and start sharing as well.

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