NYU Prague Students Learn from Former Political Prisoners

NYU Prague students recently visited uranium mines and labor camps in Jachymov- a small town in Western Bohemia –  where they met two Czechoslovak political prisoners who had been incarcerated there by the Communist regime in the 1950s.

NYU Prague worked closely with a nonprofit organization that is archiving the former prisoners’ stories.  One of the prisoners hadn’t been back to the camp since 1955 when he attempted to escape by digging a tunnel.  Hearing his first-hand testimonial was an eye-opening and emotional experience.

One NYU Prague student, Emily Bertha, wrote about the trip on the blog NYU Prague Now!  You can read an excerpt below.

When I signed up for the Political Prisoners trip to Jachymov, I knew it was not going to be a weekend full of lighthearted laughs and unicorns. Yet I also knew meeting with former political prisoners imprisoned during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia was going to be an experience I wanted, and needed, to have.

We began the first day by visiting an old uranium mine where prisoners were made to work which quite frankly blew my mine. We hiked up a replica of horribly steep steps afterwards to visit the nearby site of one of the political camps.  … We hiked past the lake to another political prisoner camp where a former prisoner,  Mr. Tomík, was waiting to talk to us about his time in the camp.

 Mr. Tomik had not been back to the camp since his escape in 1955. He dug a tunnel over the course of three months and escaped with nine other prisoners in November of that year. In order to keep the tunnel undiscovered by guards, they covered it with wood shavings since they dug it in a workshop in the camp. When they escaped, they sprinkled spices to hide their scent from the guards’ dogs. The escaped prisoners made it the woods, but eventually the group split. Mr. Tomik passionately told us how he was shot while trying to cross over to his next destination. He ran until he passed out; he woke up to a dog sniffing him. Mr. Tomik was taken to a prison in Slovakia where he was held until the prisoners were eventually liberated. His original crime? He was simply part of Catholic affiliated sports teams. He also was found playing with unloaded guns he discovered left behind by soldiers during World War II,and communists claimed he was attempting to protest the regime.

This is the fourth semester NYU Prague has organized this trip with an NGO called politicalprisoners.eu to educate the public about a little-known period of history whose victims are becoming fewer and fewer.  The goal of the organization is to collect oral histories of those persecuted; NYU Prague students have also been working as interns to help collect the stories.

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