EVENTS CALENDAR

ACSCC POSTS

Event Calendar

This is our event calendar! From here, you can find out exactly when the clubhouse will be open and when all our upcoming events will take place. Interested in using the club for your party? Call (305) 891-9130 to reserve your date at the club.

ACSCC Photos – Before 1970

Update 3-2-2015 : A third page has been added to “Way Back When.” Recently another postcard of the kind shown on page 2 of this article was discovered. Like the others it, too, is one of those that was printed by the club a very a long time ago, however with this one there is a difference. This card was used and mailed, and there is a postmark. The postmark shows that this new card was mailed on November 6, 1954, which means that these cards are much older than originally estimated. 1954 is just five years after the formation of the club. So, even though this card is not part of the Berounsky collection, as are the others, it has been added to this article as another bit of club history. You can see both sides of this postcard on page 3 of this article.

Way Back When at the “American Czechoslovak Social Club”

These four photos were donated by ACSCC members, Richard and Dayle Jacob. Richard’s grandparents, Edward and Marie Berounsky, were charter members of the club, which was called the American Czechoslovak Social Club before 1999. The pictures appear to have been taken before 1970. All of these photos are from the Berounsky family collection. If anyone can add more information about these pictures please contact us at acscc.northmiami@gmail.com.

Members of the newly formed American Czechoslovak Social Club pose for a group photo at an unknown location in 1949. This was before the club had purchased the property on Arch Creek.

Charter members of the American Czechoslovak Social Club, Marie and Edward Berounsky dressed in Kroj in the late 1950’s.


The ACSCC Clubhouse without the current covered entryway to the dining room, and no stairway to the second floor apartment. Note the puzzling reference to “East Dixie Highway” in the address, instead of Arch Creek Roa. Before 1970 est.


A very neat ACSCC dining room, with tables set in the main hall and the porch. Note that the 2nd floor library has not yet been enclosed. Before 1970 est.


This “American Czechoslovak Social Club” postcard was discovered in February 2015. It shows the main dining room set up for a large group. The people shown are likely club members preparing to help serve dinner.


The reverse side of the card shown above clearly shows the postmark as Nov. 6, 1954. This means that this card and the two above were printed on or before this date. The text is written in Czech and is about the writer’s visit to Miami.

ACSCC: Exterior Art


The two pieces of original artwork on permanent display on the outside of our clubhouse above the main entryway were created and donated to ACSCC by Czech artist Drahomir (Mira) Hrdbovic, of Lake Worth, in 2006. These paintings, especially designed for outdoor use, depict Prague Castle, in the Czech Republic and Bratislava Castle, in Slovakia. The paintings are beautifully done and display great detail and strong colors. Thank you, Mira for this beautiful gift.

The Interactive On-Screen Czech Keyboard in Windows XP

Back in 1999-2000 I wrote a couple of articles about Using Windows to Create Documents in the Czech Language. These articles were aimed primarily at the Windows 95 and Windows 98 operating systems and described how to set up Multi-language Support, and use the keyboard layouts. While all of the information in those two articles is still true using Czech diacritical marks on your computer is much easier now if you are using the latest Windows operating system-Windows XP.

Multilanguage Support is now essentially built into Windows XP, however, you still need to set up the Czech keyboard. In XP this is done by going into the Control Panel, via the Start Button in the lower left of the screen, and selecting Regional and Language Options. In that window select the Language tab and follow the instructions to add a language to your keyboard. In this case you would select Czech (or Slovak or both). Once this is done you will be able to switch back and forth between the keyboards. Usually entering Control/Shift in sequence will switch from one to the other.

At this point we are back to the old information because once you switch your keyboard to Czech you still have to use the keyboard layouts and the key combinations shown in the original articles to input characters with diacritical marks. I did that for a long time and it works fine however, in Windows XP there is a wonderful feature that makes all of this much easier.

This somewhat obscure feature is called the On-Screen Keyboard. If you have already found it then you are way ahead. When you select the On-Screen Keyboard a keyboard in graphical form appears on your screen. It will always be on top no matter what you are doing, and it can be moved around the screen if it gets in the way. Better yet when you switch to Czech the On-Screen Keyboard will show you the Czech keyboard layout and where the diacritical characters are located. Even better, you can use your mouse to enter the character that you want, including capital letters.

To select the On-Screen Keyboard in Windows XP click the Start button (lower left of the screen), then All Programs, then Accessories, then Accessibility and finally the On-Screen Keyboard.

The On-Screen Keyboard can be used with Czech, Slovak and many other languages. If you use it often you can create a short cut that will allow you to select the “keyboard” from your desktop.

Personally, I find that the On-Screen Keyboard is a really helpful tool. Unfortunately, it is one of those Windows XP functions that is not very well known, and is a little hard to find the first time.

There are two other papers regarding the subject of “Creating Czech Documents Using Windows” in this section. They are:

Using Windows to Create Documents in the Czech Language

UPDATE to Using Windows to Create Documents in the Czech Language.

Czech-Slovak Club serves Sunday supper with suds

An article by Linda Bladholm, of the Miami Herald. Published, Janurary 5 , 2006.
Chef Miroslav Dusek holds his breaded pork schnitzel. Linda Bladholm/For The Miami Herald

The American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club is hidden in a three-acre compound along the Arch Creek River in North Miami. Every Sunday the members-only club is open to the public for supper serving up sumptuous Old World feasts with many types of Czech beer, shipped in giant kegs.

Now that the weather is cooler, this is the perfect time to go for Chef Miroslav Dusek’s roasted duck, schnitzel the size of a plate, and roast pork encrusted in horseradish, served up with sides of sweet-sour red cabbage, sauerkraut and dill-flecked potato salad.
The clubhouse resembles an enlarged two-story cabin, with a quaintness that comes from a structure that was built in the 1920s and added on to over the years. It was originally known as the Sorenson farm, owned by a Norwegian. In 1949 the area had many Czech immigrants, and several started meeting in a restaurant with the idea of forming an entertainment and social club.

Within three months, 77 members had joined. They pooled their bonds to buy the property, and the club soon became the hub of the growing community. Today there are about 160 members from all over the United States and Europe. The core members reside in South Florida and keep the traditions alive, even if it’s just a quick parky-pause (sausage and beer break) in the bar.

Czech people quaff more beer than anyone in the world — possibly because they make Pilsner, considered by beer connoisseurs to be the best lager in the world. The light-bodied, blond brew has a unique bitter bite to the finish with a slight buttery flavor and strong hops aroma. It was first made in Plzen in what is now the western half of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia). Back in 1295, when the country was known as the Kingdom of Bohemia, King Wenceslas II granted the citizens of Plzen the right to brew and sell beer, and the boom began.

Until the 1800s, most beer was dark and murky. That changed when a monk smuggled some bottom-fermenting lager yeast out of Bavaria and it ended up in the hands of a Bohemian brewer. The combined yeast, soft water, native Saaz hops and home-malted barley gave birth to Pilsner Urquell (meaning “original source”), also called the golden brew. You can try this on tap in the club as well as Radegast, named after a Moravian king, and Staropramen, an old Prague lager.

All go well washed down with the huge servings the kitchen dishes out. The menu is limited, scrawled on a board by the entrance. The prices are very fair considering you can bring half home to make another meal. The food reflects the diversity of the Czech-Slovak region with influences from Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungry and Ukraine. Half chickens and ducks are roasted until bronzed, then served with boats of gravy and beds of huskove — large, cloud-light dumplings, made from yeasted dough, boiled and cut with a string into bread-like slices. Rizek, as schnitzel is called in Czech, is breaded pounded pork tenderloin fried up greaseless and crisp, served as an entree or in a smaller portion as part of the sampler platter. This also includes the daily special — hope for chicken paprikash in a sour-cream sauce; roast pork; hulusky, a type of spaetzle; plus a helping of communally served tossed salad, soup of the day (possibly cream of carrot or mushroom potato), dessert and coffee. Don’t forget the beer. Dobrou Chut! (Bon Appetit!)

American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club Restaurant, 13325 Arch Creek Rd.
Dinner on Sundays noon-5:00 p.m. 305-891-9130.
Food: Unapologetically fattening, but good.
Atmosphere: Old World, in more ways than one.
Price: $10-20 for dinner: soup and salads, entree and dessert.

SVU Extravaganza in Florida

Mila Rechcigl, SVU President
North Miami, Florida
March 2005

“Here comes the sun… always behind rain Rain brings tears, the sun warms away pain Gone now the doubts that seemed to loom ahead Now bright sunshine to fill my life instead!”

The Czechs, and so do the Slovaks, have the saying “Po desti vzdy slunce sviti”, which is comparable to American gardeners’ popular quote “The sun always shines after the rain”. The Floridians have, of course, modified it to their own favorite sayings, such as “Sun shines on Florida, as the rain pours0 on the rest” or “Sun shines and the fun never sets in Florida beaches”, etc. All these sayings are quite appropriate in characterizing our joint SVU Conference and the ASCC Festival held in North Miami on 17-20 March, 2005.

Just as a number of my friends did, such as the Czech Ambassador Martin Palous or Slovak Ambassador Rastislav Kacer, Eva and I decided to combine our trip to the Conference with a brief vacation on Florida beaches. Miami is about 1100 miles from Washington, DC which, we figured, would take us ca. 18 hours by car., i.e. , roughly two days, with one night stop-over in some motel on the way, if we had an early start. We left on Tuesday morning. To avoid traffic around Richmond, we left a few hours after midnight so that by the midst afternoon we made it to Brunswick, Georgia where we stayed over night. When we left Washington, the temperature was 32 degrees F. While in Georgia, it rose above 40, which was still pretty cold. After a few hours of sleep we decided to move on. The temperature, in the meantime, dropped down again and it began raining. It looked miserable and the drive was difficult, as the rain changed into a downpour. Nevertheless, we drove on and when we reached Jacksonville, Florida, the temperature began rising rapidly. Upon coming to our destination in North Miami at noon on Wednesday, it climbed to 85 degrees. The overflowing sunshine with the blue sky above was a marvelous sight and wonderful welcome.

After checking in the Windsor Inn, we drove immediately to the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club which was only a few blocks away, to see what the place looked like and also to ascertain how the Conference preparations were proceeding. The Club was located on a four-acre lot, on a grassy meadow, adjacent to a spacious yard for outdoor activities and a large picnic area covered by ancient banyan trees. These are East-Indian fig trees of the mulberry family with branches that send out shoots which grow down to the soil and root to form secondary tree trunks. With Spanish moss hanging over the branches, the trees give a majestic and somewhat mystery, if not spooky, appearance.

The extensive property was bordered by a small brook which apparently was used in the old days by the legendary Al Capone, the original owner of the place, for shipping whisky to other locations during the prohibition era. The Club building was apparently purchased by the Czechs, sometimes after the war, who refurbished it into the meeting place for their American Czechoslovak Social Club, with a restaurant, bar, library and sport and picnic facilities. They had their dances there, with Czech music bands, serving Czech cuisine with Czech beer. As I was informed, Alice Masarykova, the daughter of President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, used to come to the Club occasionally, when she lived in her retirement in the area, as did such personalities as Minister Jan Masaryk or Czechoslovak Ambassador to the UN Jan Papanek.

The main Club room reminded one of a typical Czech American Sokol Hall with pictures and paintings of prominent Czechoslovak figures, such as Tomas G. Masaryk, Edvard Benes and Rastislav Stefanik, intermingled with the paintings of typical Bohemian landscapes, picturesque panoramas of Prague and castles, the Tatra mountains, the Czech and Slovak State insignia, flags and much more. You really had a warm and melancholic feeling that you were at home, even though a few decades before our times.

When we arrived, our Florida co-organizers had obviously still plenty to do, considering that they were in the midst of paving the yard and the Club road with a fresh layer of asphalt. Only late that afternoon, they started erecting a huge tent and setting up a generator for the electricity in preparation for the Waldemar Matuska concert, scheduled for Friday night. I was a bit concerned about the timing because one of our session was scheduled to take place in the tent on Thursday afternoon. Robert Petrik, President of the Club was running around, instructing the Club employees to get the Club ready for the avalanche of people expected the next day. He did not shy away from doing much of the physical work himself. I also had a chance to pitch in by moving and arranging tables and chairs in the Club. The Czech Chef, with several helpers, were engaged in preparing all sorts of typical Czech dishes, such as duck with sauerkraut and dumplings, sirloin tip with dill sauce, paprika chicken, goulash soup, kolaches, etc., everything in huge quantities, expecting some 200 people. Honestly, I don’t know how they managed to cook all these dishes in their relatively small kitchen. As I understand it, more people came than were expected, but everybody got served, nevertheless.

Cecilia Rokusek, professor at the Gulf Coast University at Ft. Myers, was responsible mainly for the logistics of the Conference, including the registration. She must have taken off a week from her University responsibilities to be able to handle all the chores. I am sure that she welcomed my wife’s help in preparing the registration material. Mrs. Callahan from Nebraska who later sat at the Registration desk for the duration of the Conference, without taking a break; was a marvelous help throughout the Conference.

Despite of all the work that had to be done, the Floridian organizers did not seem to get excited and somehow finished everything on time so that our Conference could get started on Friday morning, as scheduled. Frankly, I was amazed by their somewhat easy-going attitude, calmness, poise and humor – characteristics, which are quite different from us who live in the eastern part of the US where everything is urgent and has to be organized to the last detail beforehand. I suppose, if we lived in the Florida environment, we could get acclimatized to the Southern way of doing things with ease.

From the point of view of the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club, the SVU Conference brought them a new dimension, by acquainting their members, many of whom having descended from early settlers from the territory of former Czechoslovakia, with the outstanding contributions of Czechs and Slovaks worldwide, as well as bringing them new information in the area of history, literature and the arts, sciences technology, business and medicine. The SVU members, on the other hand, benefitted by being exposed to the ways Czech and Slovak Americans maintain the Czech and Slovak historic and family traditions, from generation to the next, especially the folklore, music, and the cuisine. It was a happy marriage with genuine cordiality and good spirit.

By combining the SVU efforts with those of the Florida-based American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club, we were able to put together an outstanding academic program, combined with highly enjoyable and entertaining cultural events. The general theme of our joint program was “Czech and Slovak Heritage on Both Sides of the Atlantic”. This was our fifth SVU Conference devoted to the subject of Czech and Slovak Americans – a subject, obviously, close to our heart, and one of SVU priorities. The conference was co-sponsored by the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and was held under the aegis of President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus and President of the Slovak Republic Ivan Gasparovic. The academic program was organized into several major topics, including Czech and Slovak Historic Tradition, Czech and Slovak Contemporary Issues,, Echoes from the Old Country, Czechs and Slovaks in the New World, and Presidential Symposium on Preserving Czech and Slovak Heritage. The latter session featured the Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the U.S., H.E. Rastislav Kacer, the Czech Ambassador to the U.S., H.E. Martin Palous, and the Director of the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) of the University of Minnesota, Prof. Rudolf Vecoli. I used the occasion, in my capacity as SVU President, to announce the establishment of the new Czech and Slovak Archival Fund which is reported in more detail elsewhere.

Apart from the various sessions bearing on the general theme of the Conference, there was a special symposium and a discussion panel relating to Czech and Slovak Universities and their Cooperation with the Institutions of Higher Learning , with the participation of University Rectors and other high-level university officials from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice, Technical University in Ostrava and the Catholic University in Ruzomberok. The US institutions were represented by the University of Florida and the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, both of which have active cooperative agreements with Czech and Slovak Universities.

The attendees had an opportunity to view two special exhibits, one on “Czechs in America,” organized by curator David Kraft and the second showing the paintings of Miami-based George Horak. The new SVU publications, which were exhibited in the Club’s library, included Jan Vicar’s Imprints: Musical Studies and Lectures from the 1990s, Rechcigl’s Czech American Historic Sites, Monuments and Memorabilia and a two-volume set Czechoslovak American Archivalia, all published through the courtesy of Palacky University in Olomouc. Also shown was a newly issued video cassette and DVD, featuring the highlights of the 22nd SVU World Congress in Olomouc in June 2004. Other exhibited works included SVU Biographical Directory, a collection of Selected English Papers from the SVU World Congress in Plzen and the Proceedings of the Working Conference on Czech and Slovak American Archival Materials and their Preservation, held in Washington DC in November 2003.

The cultural program featured Czech country and western singers, Slovak folk dancers from Masaryktown, FL, the Europa Band from Orlando, Czech folk singers from Key West, etc. Other heritage events included ethnic food and craft demonstrations, folk art booths, ethnic food tasting, an accordion jamboree, and last but not least, the Miss Czech and Slovak Florida Pageant.

The latter was a highly enjoyable charming event, involving young ladies, mostly college students, dressed in Czech and Slovak picturesque folk costumes (“kroje”) from different parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia who had to demonstrate their poise and particular skills and respond to questions before a group of judges. These young ladies, each of them accompanied by a court of young charming princesses, also attired in beautiful Czech/Slovak costumes, had to demonstrate their knowledge of and love for the heritage of their ancestors. In their presentations, they were all sincere and very natural. They obviously believed in what they were saying to the point that some of the older folks had a tear in their eyes. This is certainly one of the best unassuming ways to assure that the children will acquire the love for the roots of their ancestors.

The Matuska Concert on Friday night was a real hit. The tunes he and his wife Olga sang were familiar to most of the audience who frequently joined them in singing. Music seemed to be ever present during the duration of the Conference and the Festival. During dinners and lunches, two noted Slovak singers Jozef and Dodo Ivaska sang a medley of traditional Bohemian, Moravian and Slovak folk songs.

There were some 150 pre-registrants for the Conference but a number of additional attendees registered later at the registration desk. Some of the cultural events drew as many as 300-400 visitors. Even though the nearby beaches attracted a large number of our members, there was always a sizeable audience in most sessions.

We were glad to see so many people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Apart from the two Ambassadors, the roster of attendees included DCM from the Slovak Embassy Miroslav Wlachovsky, Senator Jaroslava Moserova from Prague, Senator and the former Rector of the Technical University in Ostrava Vaclav Roubicek, Rector Josef Prusa and Past Rector Zdenek Vostracky of the University of West Bohemia, Vice Rector Vladimir Palousek and Docent Michael Bauer of the University of South Bohemia, Vice Rector Dalibor Mikulas of the Catholic University of Ruzomberok, Mayor of Ruzomberok Hon. Juraj Cech and his Deputy Pavlik. Palacky University in Olomouc was represented by historian Dr. Karel Konecny and the head of the musicology department dr. Jan Vicar. The Conference was also attended by the Director of the Czech Academy’s Institute for Contemporary History Oldrich Tuma and the historian of the Slovak Academy of Sciences Slavomir Michalek. There was also an official representation from the Cs. obec legionarska (Czechoslovak Association of Legionnaires) at the Conference, led by Col.Ing. Jan Horal, who used the occasion to award medals to selected individuals. Also in attendance was Eva Strizovska, Editor-in-Chief of Cesky Dialog, and her assistant. Czech media were also there, including CTK, the Radio Prague and the Czech TV, who were very busy, recording the proceedings and interviewing the participants.

For the Conference participants were reserved relatively inexpensive accommodations in close-by motels and for those who wanted to extend their stay on the beach, rooms were reserved at an ocean resort.

Overall speaking, it was a grand event. I did not find a single person who did not enjoy it. Above all, everybody had a good time and there was plenty of opportunity to rub shoulders with pretty important people from the Czech and Slovak Republics, as well as from the US. The joint SVU Conference and the ACSCC Festival clearly demonstrated that it is possible to arrange concurrently a high level academic event with cultural and social community activities, to the benefit of both. Those of you who missed this great event will regret that you were not there!

In conclusion, I would like to again express my sincere appreciation to Bob Petrik and Cecilia Rokusek who have really outdone themselves to make the event such a memorable happening. They were also very helpful to me in the preparation of the Conference program.

Mila Rechcigl
SVU President

Czechs and Slovaks in Florida

By Robert Petrik

Delivered to the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences on June 27, 2003, at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

According to the 1990 census, there were 36,000 of Czech descent, 70,000 of Slovak descent and 15,000 described as Czechoslovak descent living in Florida.

While it is true that few Czechs and Slovaks came to Florida directly from Europe, the migration of people from the northeast and mid-west to Florida included a significant number of both nationalities as we shall see during this presentation. To illustrate this point I shall review two communities started in Florida during the early part of the twentieth century, describe an important historical event and historical site, and briefly review some of the organizations that were formed after WWII.

Slavia

In 1911 several members of the congregation of Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio incorporated themselves as the Slavia Colony Company. They purchased about 1200 acres of land northeast of Orlando. This was the beginning of the little community of Slavia.

Many of the early settlers were from rural areas in Central Europe and had found it difficult to adapt to urban life in Cleveland. Most likely they were attracted to Florida because of the state’s campaign to attract settlers due to its warm climate and good soil for farming. For the first decade of its existence, the settlers of Slavia struggled to make a living. At first some families were engaged in lumbering and turpentine collection. All had gardens from which came potatoes, beans, squash, radishes, turnips, cabbage, cucumbers and celery. By the mid-1920s, farming became the most important occupation with celery being the leading cash crop.

Religion was one of the cornerstones that held the community together. In 1912 eight men organized themselves into the congregation of St. Luke the Evangelizer. It wasn’t until 1935, however, that the congregation finally obtained a full time pastor.

Today you will not find a commercial district in Slavia. The heart of the community is the lovely St. Luke the Evangelizer Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Andrew Duda

Andrew Duda was one of the first four settlers of Slavia. He had come from Europe to Cleveland in 1909 where he had friends and relatives. In the summer of 1912, Andrew’s wife, Katarina and her four children, left Velcice in Austria-Hungary (present day Slovakia) and arrived in Slavia to join Andrew.

The Duda family lived in a shack previously used by black turpentine and sawmill workers. There were cracks in the walls and cracks in the floors. When the mosquitoes were out in force, they slept under mosquito netting. Andrew worked in the swamps among the alligators cutting cypress logs and taking them out with oxen and mules. He also worked at a nearby citrus packing plant for a while.

Life for the Duda family as well as the other Slavia settlers was difficult indeed. After struggling financially for four years, the Duda family returned to Cleveland in 1916. Ten years later they returned to Slavia and harvested their first cash crop of celery from their 40-acre farm.

It is quite marvelous to think that the present day company known as A. Duda & Sons, Inc. started from such humble beginnings. This diversified, international company now has a domestic land base of 100,000 acres. Privately owned by the Duda family, management includes third- and fourth-generation family members.

With fields primarily in Florida, Texas and California, DUDA is the largest fresh vegetable grower in the United States. Major vegetable products include celery, radishes, onions, lettuce, sweet corn, carrots, cabbage and peppers. The company grows, packs and ships fresh and processed citrus fruit. It also markets sugar cane, sod and cattle. Lastly, the company has undertaken land development projects such as the establishment of Viera (which means “faith” in Slovak), a new town located in east central Florida.

Masaryktown

In 1924 Joseph Joscak, editor of the New Yorksy Denník, a daily Slovak newspaper in New York City, began writing a series of articles about the wonderful State of Florida where it was reported that it was possible to grow as many as three crops annually due to the warm climate. These articles appealed to many Slovaks laboring in the coal mines, steel mills and other industries in the North.

In September 1924, 60 Slovaks and one Czech formed the Hernando Plantation Company. Its purpose was to buy land in Florida. They bought 10,000 acres in Hernando County in Central Florida north of Tampa. Later another 14,000 acres was added in adjoining Pasco County. Three months later about 135 shareholders left Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey but mostly from New York for what they called “Joscak’s Paradise.”

Thus was the start of Masryktown, named in honor of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia. They named streets running north and south after American presidents and named east to west streets after Czechoslovak poets, writers, patriots and national heroes.

The original plan to earn money was to raise oranges. Thus many orange groves were planted. However, two consecutive winters with hard frosts occurred and wiped out all the trees. Many had to abandon their farms. Some borrowed money from relatives in the North while some husbands moved back to the North to find work and sent money back to their families left behind.

Those who stayed in Masaryktown started to grow onions, sweet potatoes and cucumbers. The problem was that a steady market could not be found and this type of farming failed. Small poultry farmers formed an egg producers’ cooperative. The eggs were successfully sold in the Tampa and St. Petersburg markets. This cooperative was at one time the largest such cooperative in the Southeast and made Masaryktown the egg capital of Florida.

Today Masryktown is a sleepy little village without much evidence of its rich Slovak heritage. However, there is still a library containing books in Czech and Slovak, and a small museum is housed in the community center.

Death of Mayor Cermák

One of the most mysterious political assassinations ever taken place occurred on February 15, 1933 when the Czech-born mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermák, was mortally wounded.

The traditional story is that Cermák was shot by anarchist Giuseppe Zangara, who opened fire on a crowd of people, trying to kill then President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Bayfront Park in Miami. FDR accompanied the mayor as he was rushed to the nearest hospital. “I’m glad it was me, instead of you” he reportedly gasped to Roosevelt.

On March 4th Roosevelt was inaugurated. He called Cermák on the telephone immediately after the ceremony. Doctors thought the mayor would recover, but he developed pneumonia and died two days later. Five hundred thousand people gathered to watch the mayor’s funeral procession in Chicago. He was buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery.

Another version of the story is that the Al Capone mob orchestrated the plot to assassinate Cermák because he was trying to kick out the Capone gang. Zangara deliberately fired wildly over FDR’s head to distract security guards while another hit man got in close and fatally wounded the mayor. The bullets that struck Cermák came from a .45-caliber weapon whereas the gun taken from Zangara was a .38-caliber pistol. Zangara was executed in Florida’s electric chair five weeks after the shooting. Zangara allowed himself to be used as a decoy in Cermák’s murder because he was dying of cancer and wanted to provide for his family after his death. The Capone gang cut a deal saying if Zangara would take the rap, the mob would take care of his family after his death. Zangara insisted to the end that he wasn’t shooting at Cermák.

Albin Polášek

Albin Polášek was born in Moravia in 1879 and came to the United States in 1901. In 1906 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and won scholarships in 1907, 1908, and 1909. He was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome from 1910-1913 after which time he started his own studio in New York City.

In 1916 he went to Chicago where he became head of the Department of Sculpture at the Art Institute, a post that he held until 1943.

During WWII he designed his retirement home and studio on the shore of Lake Osceola in Winter Park located in the Orlando area.

In 1961 the Albin Polášek Foundation was established and a gallery was built to house his works. He died in 1965 at age 86.

Today the Albin Polášek Museum and Sculpture Gardens holds more than 200 sculptures and paintings. In 2000 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

I have been to the Albin Polášek Museum and Sculpture Gardens on several occasions and can heartily recommend a visit there. It is open to the public from September through June.

Czech and Slovak Organizations

The Slovak Garden, A Home for Slovak Americans, Inc. is probably the largest of the Czech and Slovak organizations in Florida.

The seed was sown for the Slovak Garden way back in 1939 when Mr. and Mrs. John Jerga of Detroit, Michigan gave $10,000 to the Zivena Beneficial Society for the purpose of establishing a Slovak retirement community. The money was held in escrow until 1949 when a 40 acre farm with a two-bedroom house was bought near Winter Park, Florida. It wasn’t until 1952 that the Slovak Garden came into existence due primarily to the efforts of Karol Belohlavek.

Today the Slovak Garden has more than 30 apartments for rent, a large building that houses a library and museum, a smaller hall, a swimming pool and shuffleboard court. The annual Slovenský Den is held on the first Sunday of March and is attended by several hundred people. It begins with a Mass said in Slovak, followed by a traditional Slovak dinner, entertainment, and dancing.

The American Czechoslovak Social Club (now known as the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club) was founded in 1949. It has a clubhouse situated on 3.5 acres adjacent to Arch Creek in North Miami. The restaurant serves traditional ethnic meals every Sunday. The bar is open on weekends and serves a variety of Czech and Slovak beers. There are over 100 dues paying members.

Sokol Miami was organized in 1969 in North Miami. Retired Sokol members who came to South Florida mainly from New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut started the unit. Representatives went to Prague in 1990 to participate in the Sokol Slet. This group will probably disband in 2004.

The American Czech & Slovak Friends in South Florida meets once a month at a community center in the Fort Lauderdale area. It was founded in 1979. There are about 120 members.

The American Czechoslovak Club of Lake Worth was founded in 1955 by residents coming mostly from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. In the 1960s a clubhouse was purchased and it was enlarged in the 1970s when membership peaked at about 250. Due to diminishing membership, the clubhouse was sold in 1998. The club meets at local restaurants twice a week during the winter season. Currently they have 20 to 25 members.

On the west coast of Florida, the Czechoslovak Cultural Center is located in Gulfport that is in the St. Petersburg area. They own a large building containing a restaurant and bar. It is open on Sundays except July and August. It was formed in 1953 and its peak membership was more than 300 about 20 years ago.

New Immigrants During the 1990s there was a small wave of young immigrants to South Florida coming mostly from the Czech Republic. Relatively few immigrants arrived from the Slovak Republic largely due to the fact that the U.S. government issues considerably fewer visas to citizens of the Slovak Republic compared to the Czech Republic. Many of these young people come on tourist or student visas and just stay in Florida after their visas expire.

Many of these recent arrivals live in Key West, which has a total population of about 25,000. Current estimates are that there are about 2000 young Czechs and Slovaks living there. Another concentration can be found in Broward County in the Fort Lauderdale area.

I hope you now have a better understanding of the Czech and Slovak presence in Florida. While membership in some of the organizations described has diminished, the continued immigration of young Czechs and Slovaks gives hope that the culture will continue to thrive for a long time to come in Florida.

Kroj Guidelines

These guidelines were prepared in 2002 by Carmen Langel, Curator of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and Mark Vasko-Bigaouette, Czech and Slovak Heritage Tours Inc. and Founder of the CzechoSlovak Genealogical Society International ( CGSI ).

The following should be reviewed to help guide pageant contests and contestants in the selection or creation of a kroj for their competition or as an outline for the judges. Pageant officials recognize that not all contestants have access to an original authentic kroj from the Czech Republic or Slovakia. (Even if you have an opportunity to travel there and seek one for purchase, they are becoming increasingly scarce and those you do find may or may not be complete.)

These guidelines are also available as a pdf here.

General kroj information:

Czech and Slovak kroje* (traditional folk costumes) represent some of the world’s finest folk art and most exquisite dress. They reflect centuries of evolution and refinement. Kroje are also very diverse; each region and village has a distinct kroj. Each varies in fabrics, colors, embellishments, and overall form. All are traditionally handmade.

Women’s kroje are usually more elaborate than men’s kroje. The head covering may be a cap, scarf, headband, ribbons, or even a floral wreath. A married woman usually covers her hair with a cap or scarf. Blouses are often embellished with embroidery, beadwork, sequins, and/or lace. In parts of Moravia, the sleeves are very full and may be tightly pleated. A vest is worn over the blouse. Skirts may appear full, lie close to the body, and/or be tightly pleated. An apron, sometimes elaborately embellished, completes the kroj. There are also appropriate stockings and footwear for each region.

The manner in which a kroj is prepared and worn is as important as the individual elements. In Moravia, for example, the women of each village tie their headscarves in a unique style. Blouse sleeves may hang naturally, are starched, or may be pleated for fullness. Often, lace collars and aprons are starched for a
stiff and crisp effect. Heavily pleated sleeves or skirts must not appear crushed or distorted; skirt fullness is achieved with petticoat layers. Overall, the kroj must appear clean, fresh, and unwrinkled.

Occasion is a final consideration. Traditionally, there was a specific kroj for church events and one for dancing and festivals. Kroje for wedding and mourning ceremonies were especially complicated. For example, in the Chod region of western Bohemia, the relationship of the mourners to the deceased could be determined according to the composition of the kroj. At a wedding, the bride would dress differently than her bridesmaids; a godmother attending a baby’s christening ceremony would not dress the same as the baby’s mother.

Kroj is pronounced kroy. Plural is kroje, pronounced kroy-eh.

(Please note that because of the variation between kroje in each village and region, there are exceptions to nearly everything!)

What should I wear?

First, recognize that there are two schools of thought on what makes an acceptable kroj.

  1. The first abides by very strict rules that the only real/authentic kroj is a completely original kroj from the old country. These are the kroje you might find on exhibit in museums or worn by individuals participating in festivals in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
  2. In the United States, there is growing acceptance of Czech American kroje and Slovak American kroje. These are designed and worn as a reflection of an individual s pride in his/her Czech or Slovak heritage. This includes altered authentic kroje or those made completely “from scratch.”

Selection of your kroj:

  1. If you are lucky enough to have a kroj that fits definition #1 above, then you may wear it for the pageant. Be prepared to explain your kroj to the judges. You should know as much as possible about the history of the kroj and what village/region it represents. The type of information you should seek includes: Who made and/or wore it? How was it acquired? Who brought it to the U.S.? Does it represent the area that your ancestors came from? (It is ideal, but not mandatory that your kroj represents your ancestral village or area) Are there any other interesting facts about the kroj or those who wore it before you? If you are asked to explain your kroj, consider which of following answers would by more impressive to the judges:
    1. The kroj I am wearing today was brought to the US by my great-grandmother. It has been handed down to the women in her family until I inherited it this summer.
    2. The kroj I am wearing today was brought to the US in about 1908 by my grandmother, Anna Novaková. I have been doing research on our family genealogy and I think she was from Western Bohemia. The kroj substantiates this as it represents a typical kroj of Domazlice. Anna gave the kroj to my aunt (Maria Novak) who wore it to several festivals and picnics. Aunt Maria gave it to me. There have been a few size alterations to the original kroj and several repairs, but overall it is an original kroj that has been a part of my family’s history for nearly a century.

    Clearly, the judges will appreciate answer #b. as it illustrates the contestant did her research! Even if you can’t find all the answers you seek, do your best and explain how you tried to find information and what you were able to find. At the very least, you must know what village or region your kroj represents!

  2. Most contestants will likely have to make their own kroj or make significant repairs, alterations, or replacement pieces for an authentic kroj. If you are starting with elements from an authentic kroj, research how the original kroj would have appeared and do your best to duplicate the missing pieces. You want your kroj to appear as close to the original as possible. Be prepared to explain to the judges what you had to make/repair and what steps you took to make sure it was as accurate as possible. As above, be prepared to answer questions about the history of your kroj.
    If you are starting from scratch, consider the following: Do you want to make a kroj that resembles your family’s ancestral village/region? Can you find photos and/or patterns of a kroj from that area or any other areas? Will you be able to find the correct fabric, lace, and ribbons? These may all be tough questions, so do your best. Consider the list of sources at the bottom of this document and at least find images of authentic kroje. You may also be able to find books at your local library or through interlibrary loan.
    Once you find your photo or pattern, do your best. From the image you should at least be able to determine fabric color or any patterns on the fabric and the overall form of the finished kroj (full skirt? short or long skirt? full or loose sleeves? etc.).

As you go through your resource material, note that kroje are divided into three areas: Bohemia (western Czech Republic), Moravia (eastern Czech Republic), or Slovakia. Generally speaking, you will notice the following about each of the three regions:

Bohemia

(Western half of Czech Republic): ( generally richer fabrics, more muted colors )

Blouse: White with roomy sleeves (but not pleated or full like in Moravia). No embroidery on the blouse sleeves. Usually no fabric below the elbow.
Vest: Relatively simple (except those from Chod region where woman’s vests are beaded). May be laced in front as opposed to buttons or frog clasps. Some East Bohemian vests are laced in the back and front.
Skirt: Relatively simple, not full of rick-rack, just a few lines on the bottom of the skirt. Often softer colors and richer fabrics.
Apron: Often most of the handwork was done to the apron, which could be embroidery (colored or white on white) or even beadwork as in kroje from the Blata region of South Bohemia.
Head Covering: Head coverings vary greatly in Bohemia. If you don t have the correct cap, you may wear a floral wreath. Keep in mind that the head covering usually indicates marital status.
Footwear: Often red stockings/tights and black shoes. ( sometimes white stockings.)

* In the United States, there is a tradition of representing a Bohemian kroj with a red skirt, white blouse, and black vest. You may consider this as a last resort, but keep in mind that it doesn’t represent a specific village or town. Think of this as the blue jeans of its day, something to do the field work it, or slop the pigs!

Moravia

(Eastern half of Czech Republic): ( generally nice or rich fabrics, more colorful then Bohemia )

Blouse: White with full sleeves, some even heavily pleated and starched. May have handwork at the shoulder, collar, and cuffs.
Vest: Often elaborate with red or multicolored handwork.
Skirt: Wide range of colors and patterns, some floral. Range of skirt lengths.
Apron: Again, a wide variety of aprons from simple to the colorful and elaborately embroidered Kyjov aprons.
Head covering: Head coverings may be a dark red or brownish headscarf, beaded cap, or a floral wreath.
Scarf: If you opt for the scarf, remember that each village has a different method for tying them! Also, scarves usually indicate that the woman is married.
Footwear: Often dark stockings/tights and black shoes or mid-calf boots.( just below the knee )

Slovakia

( generally nice to common fabrics, a riot of color )

The variations between kroje in Slovakia are too variable to generalize. Do keep in mind that Slovakia is generally poorer than the Czech Republic, so you are less likely to find kroje made from silk and other expensive fabrics. Slovaks had much more time then money, so much more embroidery. Slovaks kept the tradition of wearing kroje until 40 or so years ago, and still do in some places for weddings, etc.

Final Recommendations/Suggestions

Try and find out what area/village your family is from. Although best to wear a kroj representing your ancestral village, it is not mandatory, but at least something from the general region. Regardless of the area your kroj represents, judges will expect you to know where your family roots are, or to demonstrate that you attempted the research.
A couple places to start include:

  1. Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International ( CGSI ) PO Box 16225 St. Paul MN 55116 web site : www.cgsi.org.
  2. Web site of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. The NCSML librarian maintains a good list of relevant genealogy links on their web site: www.ncsml.org.

Don’t blend current fashion trends with your traditional kroj. For example,

  1. Short skirts may seem cute, but don’t wear a short skirt unless the region you are representing has short skirts.
  2. Lacy/fancy tights or pantyhose are not traditional leg wear and sandals are not traditional footwear.

Where to Seek Guidance

Contact the Directors of the National Czech/Slovak Pageant, for pictures of former contestants and what they wore. *** Or some of the state pageants may have photos ???

The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML)
30 – 16th Ave. SW
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404
Phone # (319) 362-8500 Fax (319) 363 2209
Web site: www.ncsml.org
(The NCSML always has a dozen or more full kroje on exhibit. Their library also has a number of reference books and a set of full sized patterns for Czech kroje.)

Czechoslovak Heritage Museum
122 W. 22 St.
Oakbrook, IL 60521
(They also have a large number of kroje on display plus reference books.)

Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International
PO Box 16225 St. Paul, MN 55116
web site : www.cgsi.org
(They have some reference books and a large number of full sized patterns,
mostly of Czech / Bohemian, and some Moravian. )

Dvoracek Memorial Library
3rd St. Wilber, NE 68465
(They have some reference books and some full sized Czech patterns.)

You may be able to find individuals who can help you make your kroj. If you can’t find someone, ask representatives from the above institutions for suggestions.

To access these guidelines as a pdf file click here.

2002 Year in Review

AMERICAN CZECH-SLOVAK CULTURAL CLUB HOSTS CELEBRITIES IN 2000

By Robert Petrik
North Miami, Florida
January 2003

2002: The Year in Review. The year 2002 was full of cultural activities held at the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club. A review of the important highlights follows.

The Club continued showing Czech and Slovak films during the winter season. Babicka with screenplay by Božena Nemcová was shown in January. The Academy Award winning film Closely Watched Trains was presented in February. In April Murder Czech Style was shown. In November the recently released film Dark Blue World was well received. At the end of the year Pictures from the Old Country as well as In the Shadow of Memory – Legacies of Lidice were shown.

In February Joan McGuire Mohr came from the University of Pittsburgh to speak on The Czechoslovak Legion in Siberia (1917-1920).

The Club and the University of Miami School of Music sponsored the Brno Chamber Orchestra which performed at the University of Miami campus.

Martin Palouš, Czech Ambassador to the United States, attended a luncheon held at the Club in his honor. Everyone in attendance was able to meet and speak with him.

In March, Martin Butora, Slovak Ambassador to the United States and his wife Zora, came to the Club to officially open the Slovak Consulate for the State of Florida.

Dr. Joseph Patrouch from Florida International University spoke on The Habsburg Dynasty and the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Larry Morava, of the famous Czech country and western band KTO, played his guitar and sang songs of Old Prague, folksongs, nationalistic songs, and campfire songs.

A Ples (Dance Ball) was a great success one Saturday night in April.

Club members along with members of the American Czech & Slovak Friends in South Florida held a luncheon to honor and thank Bob Petrík for all his efforts over the past several years.

In May a Májový Ples (May Dance Ball) featured Slovak singer Marcella Molnárová who dazzled the audience as she has done on two other occasions.

In July Petr Kratochvil presented selected poetry works of Jan Neruda, a notable Czech poet and Sergij Jesenin of Russia.

In September a special dinner was held in honor of Yuri Dojc, a Slovak-Canadian photographic artist.

A benefit dance was held to raise money for the flood victims in the Czech Republic.

In October the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre presented a performance of Czech and Slovak Tales with Strings to a large crowd of young and old.

In November a Maškarni Ples (Costume Ball) was attended by many in very creative costumes.

In December the Slovak father and son team of Jozef and Dodo Ivaška came from Austria to sing folk and popular songs in Slovak, Czech, English and Italian.

Terezin and Auschwitz

Arno Erban, a long time member of the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club, was a prisoner at both Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps during World War II. Following are two articles, written by him, about his experiences, as a young man, at those terrible places.

Terezin by Arno Erban

Let’s talk about Terezin – where it is and what it was. Until the beginning of World War II it was a small and quite insignificant town located in the northern part of the Czech Republic. It became world-renowned, however, by playing a tragic role during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It was built in the year 1782 by the Austrian emperor Joseph II as a fortress with all the things which characterize a fortress, that is, a city with a number of barracks for the soldiers around a place for the civil population and surrounded by high walls. It was named Terezin or in German, Theresienstadt after the emperor’s mother Maria Theresa and the reason was to block the Prussian invasions to that part of Europe. It was never used as a fortress because the Prussian army just bypassed it. After that, it remained a place for soldiers and a part of it, the so called “Little Fortress,” was converted to one of the most terrible prisons in Europe. For example – the students, who killed the Austrian archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in the year 1914, the event that started the First World War, were imprisoned and finally killed in Terezin. Jews were a special group of prisoners in the Little Fortress. The Gestapo sent the Jews there for violating some of the anti-Jewish regulations. The Little Fortress was an extermination camp for them because the guards were there either to kill them in their cells, at work or in roll call.

During World War II, the Nazis expelled about 140,000 Jews, mostly from the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, but also from central and western Europe, to the ghetto in Terezin. The idea of building a ghetto within the walls of Terezin was made effective in November 1941. At that time Czechoslovakia was already in the hands of Germany, and there were no Czech soldiers in Terezin anymore. The first transports of Jews started soon after Germany’s decision to convert Terezin to a ghetto. In the first few months the Jews were installed in the barracks. Men and boys were together and the women, girls and little children were in different barracks There was no possibility of any kind of communication between the barracks. Later the Germans evacuated the civil population to make space for new transports of Jews. After that, they sealed the ghetto completely.

Following the first transport of Jews from Prague on 24 November 1941, the Council of Elders was formed. This council ran the internal affairs of the ghetto and was directly responsible to the SS Commander, who gave them the orders and established the rules. The Jewish Council had the terrible task of compiling the lists of those to be deported to the “EAST.” Nobody really knew the meaning of “EAST.” The only thing we knew was that it was something really bad. The Jewish government was also responsible for all the activities in the ghetto, like maintaining order, distribution of food, assignment of quarters, sanitation and last, but not least, the care of the children. Shortly before the end of the war all members of the Council were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.

Of all the big lies conceived by the Nazi propaganda, to say that the Terezin ghetto was a paradise, that ranks as one of the greatest. The Nazi bosses were saying textually: “While the German soldiers are dying in the battlefields, the Jews in Terezin are sitting in the coffeehouses eating cakes.” The math could not have been more different. From November 1941 until May 1945 this place was “the anteroom of hell.” About 150,000 people were deported to Terezin, 35,000 died there from starvation and almost 90,000 were shipped out to the death camps. Through Terezin passed 74,000 Czech Jews, 43,000 from Germany, 15,000 from Austria, 5,000 from Holland and some 500 from Denmark. In the last period of the war the camp received 1,500 Slovaks and 1,000 Hungarian Jews. Of the 15,000 children under the age of 15 who passed through Terezin less than 100 survived.

In a place with a garrison of about 3,500 soldiers and about the same number of civil inhabitants, the Germans established a ghetto with 50,000 people. Prisoners lived in large barracks and houses in the town including cellars and backyards. Men and women lived separately in large buildings. Children under 15 years of age were separated from their parents and lived in so called “homes.” There were about 10 to 20 children squeezed in one room, most of the time sleeping on the floor.

Prisoners at Terezin had to observe a number of various prohibitions. They could not have cigarettes, medications, money, matches or lighters and they couldn’t communicate with the outside world. Punishments for violation of the regulations, imposed by the SS commander, were very severe. For instance, early in the year 1942 the Nazis hanged 16 men, who had secretly sent letters from the camp. The objective of these executions was the intimidation of the other prisoners. After that, the other offenders were sent to the Little Fortress where they were killed.

Yet with all the hunger, cruelty and death, the inhabitants of the Ghetto preserved their essential humanity. The artists continued to paint, the singers to sing and poets to write while expecting to die or to be deported. The deportation to Auschwitz was an everyday possibility and we never knew when it would be our turn.

The International Red Cross was invited by the Nazis to inspect Terezin. After a long preparation for that event, directed by a special propaganda group, on June 23, 1944 the commission arrived. Before their arrival, just to reduce the overcrowding, some 7,500 prisoners were sent to Auschwitz. Buildings were repainted, 1200 rose bushes from Holland were planted, playgrounds for the children were constructed and even a cafe house was adorned with tablecloths. Goebbels, the propaganda boss of Nazi Germany, ordered a film called “The Fuhrer gives the Jews a Town” to be made. In that film you can see happy and healthy people, enjoying the sunshine. Good looking men and women are shown at work in factories and workshops or vegetable gardens, children were playing soccer and acting in the children’s opera Brundibar. Apparently the Red Cross delegation was fooled. After the war a Swiss newspaper explained that they didn’t believe the show, that they were afraid to say so. Who knows what was the truth???

In September 1943 there was a transport to Auschwitz, 4,000 people survived the first “selection” after their arrival. They were families and they were put into a new, so called, Family Camp, something completely new. Families lived together in one camp, surrounded by barbed wire, of course. The camp had its own kitchen, latrine and washing facilities. In December, the same year, two other transports from Terezin arrived to join the people in the family camp. It gave an impression of another ghetto and the people inside started to be optimists, hoping that the end of the war might save them. There were about 12.000 people, men, women and children. In March 1944 all people who came last September were loaded into trucks, taken to the gas chamber and killed. The rest of the people stayed in the camp. More people came in May. On June 29, six days after the Red Cross commission had been persuaded by the Germans in Terezin that the Jews in the camps were treated so well, liquidation of the last German showplace, the Family Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau was completed. The Germans didn’t need it any more. The International Red Cross was satisfied. Very few strong men and women were saved. Over 500 children were gassed. Ninety-eight boys over 16 years old were transferred to the men’s camp. About 30 of them survived the war.

Now, let’s talk about the children in Terezin. The Jewish Council was really interested in doing everything possible to get some advantages for them. There was a special department for child care and also a separate kitchen with a little better food. They couldn’t do much for the babies and little children who stayed with their mothers. The children from 10 until 15 years had their own “homes.” The girls occupied a big building in the main plaza next to the SS commando. The boys occupied the former school building, which was divided into 6 homes. I was called to become a teacher or leader of one of the homes because of my former experience with children as teacher and counselor in different vacation camps.

Our home was Home No. 9 and was well known in the ghetto. Forty-two boys, 13 and 14 years old in a room with 3 story beds and a big table in the center, became a substitute for a real home for all of them during 1942 to the end of 1944. There were several hundreds of them, because they were coming and leaving with the transports. They were separated from their families and became a group of friends who lived together and loved each other. Home No. 9 became the place of their new family. Most of them had to work in the fields and gardens, in maintenance or in different workshops. The education permitted by the Germans was only for manual skills. But against the orders, education was a major issue in our life. There were many educators in Terezin who helped us to teach the children. Many famous writers and poets visited our home and so did famous musicians and philosophers. Home No. 9 was known for its good organization. It had its own boys’ self-government. They published their own magazine and also there was a daily competition where the boys competed in different disciplines of their life and were awarded points for their behavior, for fixing their beds, for playing chess or other games, for their studies, for poetry, for drawings etc. The points were calculated daily and the results were posted on a blackboard.

We practiced the ideas of the Boy Scouts movement. It was a little strange, because the ideas of this organization are connected with nature and that was exactly what we didn’t see in Terezin but on the other hand the other things, like every day one good deed, or one day without talking (and that was important to learn in a prison) and so on, were quite acceptable in our situation. One day I met two of my boys in the plaza who were carrying a stretcher with a dead body. To my question, as to what they were doing, they told me that they were helping two old men who were carrying the stretcher and that this was their good deed for the day. After that I was not too sure of my educational methods. Normally the funeral vehicles were used to carry bread.

Just to be able to understand the bizarre situation of some of the children, I wish to describe a certain episode. One of my boys, as I have called them my whole life, was sent to Terezin after his 13th birthday. He was not of the Jewish religion and never knew a thing about Jews. But his father and mother were Jewish and after his father died, when he was still a baby, his mother married a very nice non-Jewish man. The man adopted the boy, gave him his name and later, when they had 2 more children, they all lived as one happy family. When he was sent to the ghetto, he was completely confused.

On one of my birthdays the boys gave me a great present. They gave me a book, made by them with painted emblems of 3 different scout groups, the Beavers, the Archers and the Wolves. It was signed by all who were in our home at this time. I was lucky to recover the book after the war and it has become my greatest treasure. After the first pages with the emblems it contains the best Czech and world poetry.

The boys suffered from many different diseases like encephalitis, scarlet fever, typhus, impetigo and other infections. There were very good doctors in Terezin, but very little medicine. Due to insufficient food rations their weakened bodies became easy prey to various diseases.

The children in Terezin were quite creative. They wrote poems and they produced a lot of good drawings and paintings. Some of them survived the war and are shown around the world. The Terezin motto to survive and to demonstrate that the Germans could beat us but they cannot subdue us was “I live as long as I create and I am able to absorb culture.” That was our cultural resistance. As a member of the Czech resistance movement I began practicing some paramilitary exercises with the boys for an armed revolution in the ghetto. Unfortunately the transports to Auschwitz made our plans impossible.

Now I want to recall something that was really very special for the children and the grownups in Terezin, the children’s opera, Brundibar. The music and the songs are beautiful and the words tell an allegorical tale. Two impoverished children, little Joey and little Mary, try to earn money as street entertainers to buy milk for their ailing mother. The bad organ player, Brundibar, angered by the competition, steals the money they earned. With the help of 3 guardian spirits, the dog, the cat and the bird, all the children defeated the bad guy. As the last song says: Brundibar is defeated, we finally got him, the bad people lost and the good people won. The boy, who played Brundibar was from our home and so were most of the other actors. The Germans didn’t object, they knew that we were all going to Auschwitz to be murdered. The Red Cross either didn’t understand or did not want to understand that the bad Brundibar was meant to be Hitler. Not one of the boys survived. The opera was performed 54 times in the building where our home was and once for the Red Cross Commission

From hundreds of boys, who passed through our home No. 9, in Terezin, there were only 14 alive after the war. In 1992 we met in Prague. It was a very emotional meeting. We were very happy to see each other and we were very sad for those who could not make it. The boys (all were over 70 years old) gave me a diploma that says:

OUR ARNO

Not everyone in this world can be as proud of having his own “list” as Mr. Schindler, but you – you have your own “list” – which is not as long as the other one, but it is a list that was produced with enormous physical and sentimental sufferings, the desperation for the losses of our families and best friends and the suffering of our impotence to do anything to remedy such a situation. With your patience, your optimism and your efforts to educate us, the children who were on their way to becoming young men, you did not let us become an uncontrollable group of savages. Instead you led us to believe and conserve a strong and solid moral base with the possibility and opportunity to grow and eventually, some day, join the human race again. With all of this you have formed your, unfortunately not too long, “list” from the remains of the boys of No. 9. We will never stop thanking you for everything you have done for us.

And here ends my story about Terezin – Arno Erban – January 2003

Auschwitz by Arno Erban

Peering thorough a crack in the side of the car, I noticed an unusual movement outside the train. The SS who had accompanied us until now were replaced by others. The trainmen left the train. We were at the end of our journey. The lines of cars began to move again and some 20 minutes later stopped. Through the crack I saw a desert-like terrain. Concrete pylons stretched in even rows to the horizon, with barbed wire strung between them from top to bottom. Signs warned us that the wires were electrically charged with high-tension current. Hundreds of searchlights were strung on the top of the concrete pillars. With intensive clarity I saw hundreds of barracks, inside the enormous squares, covered with green tarpaper and arranged to form a long rectangular network of streets as far as my eyes could see. Figures, dressed in the striped burlap of prisoners, moved inside the camp. The barbed wire enclosure was interrupted every 30 or 40 yards by elevated watch towers, with SS guards who stood leaning against a machine gun mounted on a tripod. Heavy footsteps crunched on the sand.

The seals on the car doors were broken. The doors slid slowly open and we could hear somebody giving us orders. We jumped to the ground, the parents helping their children, because the level of the cars was about 5 feet from the ground. The guards had us lined up along the tracks. They divided us according to sex, leaving all children under 14 with their mothers. The guards told us, that we would be taken off for a bath and to be disinfected. Afterwards we would all be reunited with our families.

We arrived in front of a young SS officer, impeccable in his uniform a gold rosette gracing his lapel. Later I learned that he was the head of the SS group, and that his name was Dr. Mengele. In addition he was the chief physician and also the head of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the moment, that followed, we experienced what was called in Auschwitz selection. Dr. Mengele was in charge of forming two groups. The left-hand group included the aged, the crippled, the feeble and the women with children under 14. Those too sick to walk, the aged and insane were loaded into “Red Cross” vans. They departed with the left-hand group. The right-hand group started to enter the concentration camp.

One object immediately caught our eyes. It was an immense square chimney, built of red bricks. It was like a two story building and looked like a strange factory chimney. We saw enormous tongues of flame coming from its square top. Somebody told us that, what we saw, was a crematorium. Later we saw the second and third one with the same flames. A faint wind brought the smoke to us. Our noses, then our throats, were filled with the nauseating odor of burning flesh and scorched hair. Later we found out that what was burning in the crematoriums were dead bodies of our families and friends, who came with us in the same train. After being selected to go to the left, they walked about 300 yards from the ramp, then they advanced along a path about 100 yards from where 10 or 12 steps led them down to an underground room, described in several languages as a “bath and disinfecting room.” There were 3 rooms. The first one was about 200 yards long and it was brightly lit. In the middle of the room were rows of columns and along the walls were benches. Above the benches were numbered coat hangers. They got instructions to leave their clothes and shoes together to avoid confusion after the bath. The next room was equipped with showers. They were ordered – in spite of the fact that there were men, women and children – to take their clothes off. The young girls, especially, were uneasy, but they had to obey. An SS man entered and opened a door to the second room. There were no benches, but every 30 yards there were columns, not to support the ceiling, but square sheet-iron pipes, with numerous perforations. After everybody was inside, the SS left the room, the lights were switched off and instead of water a gas escaped through the perforations and within few seconds filled the room. Within 5 minutes everybody was dead. The bodies were not lying here and there, instead they were piled in a mass to the ceiling. The reason for that was that the gas inundated the lower levels first and then rose slowly toward the ceiling. This forced the victims to trample one another in a frantic effort to escape. Yet a few feet higher the gas reached them anyway. What a struggle for life there must have been. They could not think, they did not know that they were trampling over their children, wives and friends. Their action was only an instinct of self-preservation.

After it was over a crew of men, called Sonder-komando, who performed all the duties in the area of crematorium, entered the gas chamber to wash and remove the bodies to the third and final place of their existence. They loaded 20 to 25 corpses into an elevator. The elevator stopped in the incineration room. After stripping the victims of their clothes and shoes, the kommando extracted or broke off all the golden teeth and fillings and stripped the bodies of all the valuables, The corpses were then taken over by the “incineration-kommando.” They always laid 3 bodies on a metallic pushcart. The heavy doors of the ovens opened automatically, and the pushcart moved into a furnace heated to incandescence. Each crematorium worked with 15 ovens and there were 4 crematoriums.

For years many thousands of people passed through the gas chambers and incineration ovens. The crematoriums were attended by a group of prisoners that got great privileges, compared with others in the camp. They had special dormitories, good food, and cigarettes and didn’t wear prison uniforms. They did their work for about 4 months. After that new people were called for crematorium work. Their first duty was to incinerate the corpses of the previous group of crematorium workers, which had been shot by the SS. The Germans didn’t want any witness’ to that, even if they were absolutely sure that they would win the war. They probably they didn’t want even the German people to find out about the bestiality of their leaders.

People whose destiny had directed them into the left-hand column were transformed by the gas chambers into corpses within an hour after their arrival. Less fortunate were those whom the adversity had singled out for the right-hand column. They were still candidates for death, but with the difference, that for 3 or 4 months or as long they could endure, they had to submit to all the horrors, the concentration camp had to offer until they dropped dead from utter exhaustion. They bled from a thousand wounds, their bellies were contorted with hunger, their eyes were haggard and they moaned like the demented. They dragged their bodies across the snow or mud until they couldn’t go any farther. They were the living death, and in prisoners language called “musulmans”. Trained dogs snapped at their wretched fleshless bodies and the only death was their liberation.

Who then was more fortunate, those who went to the left or those, who went to the right? After our “right-hand” column left the ramp, we passed in-between the different camps until we arrived at a barracks on which “Bath and Disinfecting” was written over the entrance. We entered and were objects of the same routine as in the gas chambers with the remarkable difference that in the second room there was water and not gas coming from the pipes. Outside of the barracks were the barbers who first shaved our heads and then the rest of our bodies. Then they rubbed our heads with a solution of calcium chloride, a blinding disinfectant. We were told by one of the SS that we were not human beings any more, and we had no right to live and from that moment were to forget our names. We would be numbers only and not even that for a long time. Almost immediately a man made a tattooed a number on our arms.

After that we were taken to an empty barracks, which would be our immediate home. We learned that Auschwitz was not a concentration camp, but an extermination camp. In the barracks there were about 600 people. We were unable to stretch out completely, and we slept there both lengthwise and crosswise, with one man’s feet on another’s head, neck or chest. Stripped of all human dignity, we pushed and shoved and kicked each other in an effort to get a few more inches space on which to sleep. We didn’t have much time to sleep because they woke us at 3 in the morning. Guards armed with rubber clubs had us line up immediately outside. Then began the most inhumane of all my stay in the concentration camps -“the roll call.”

The prisoners had to stand in rows of five. The SS in charge arranged us in order. The prisoner in charge of the barracks, usually a man imprisoned for murder, lined us by height, the taller ones in front and the shorter behind. He was in prison uniform, but a clean one and neatly pressed and he was very well fed. Then another SS guard, who was in charge of the section that day, arrived and shouting at us put the taller ones behind the little ones. We never knew the reason. The SS guard never accepted the word of the barracks chief that everything was in order. They counted us again and again, sometimes for several hours because they counted us from front to back and back to front or in any other possible direction. If the rows were not straight, or our hands were not raised correctly above our heads we stood there an hour more. In winter or in summer roll call began at 3 am and lasted until 7 am when the SS officers arrived. The barracks leader, an obsequious servant of the SS with his green insignia, which distinguished him from other prisoners, snapped to attention and made his report. Then the SS officers counted us again and put the numbers in their notebooks. If there were any dead in the barracks they had to be brought for inspection, naked and supported by 2 living prisoners. Sometime the kommando in charge of the dead didn’t show up and the dead had to be physically present every day.

On several occasions roll call became a “selection,” similar to the one on our arrival at Auschwitz. The SS officers headed by Dr. Mengele came, accompanied by SS soldiers and dogs, surrounded us and those chosen for the gas chamber were pushed into vans with no possibility to escape or resistance. Some of the prisoners were used for medical experiments almost always with fatal results.

Those who were in charge of Auschwitz were murdering people all day, but at night they retired to their homes outside the camp to live a comfortable life with their families. They had no remorse for their “work” during the day.

That is, how I remember Auschwitz. – Arno Erban – January 2003

ACSCC: Goose Fat and Garlic.. Yum!

An article by Damarys Ocana published in Street Miami, a Miami Herald publication, Feb 1-7, 2002.

Make a turn at the railroad tracks off 135th Street and Arch Creek Road in North Miami, and you’re in a different world — the Old World, to be precise.

A shady forest surrounds what looks-like a European country cottage out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, with painted window boxes brimming with flowers.
By the time you leave, you feel nurtured and loved, and you immediately want to take a nap.

It’s actually the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club, a lonely repository of Slavic culture for many miles, which has made heroic efforts to stay open through the years (“All the members were dying off,” notes one member), and where every Sunday people of all ages, members or not, come from as far away as Palm Beach to eat a typically Czech dinner and drink lots of beer. It may not be family owned, but once they arrive, diners are welcomed like long-lost prodigal sons and daughters.

Maybe what draws them is the lore of the place. The weathered wooden cottage — which for 60 years has .been outfitted with flags, folk paintings, dolls wearing typical Costumes and pictures of famous Czechs — is said to once have been a speakeasy owned by Al Capone during Prohibition.

According to legend, the booze would float in on little boats on Arch Creek, which flows past the back of the building, and patrons would party till dawn. People still whisper the juicy rumor that a house of ill-repute may have once occupied the second story space where the library is today.

Things are a lot tamer now, with the mostly octogenarian club members sticking to water and dancing to polka and waltz and folk songs played on accordion, piano and drums.

Or maybe what draws people every Sunday is the promise of homey comfort food.

Czech cooking doesn’t exactly aim for refinement — the national dish is roast pork and dumplings, washed down with beer. “Pork is a very big deal,” says member Marie Kosan, who eats at the club every Sunday and is, ironically, a Weight Watchers instructor.
Bob Petrik and Tony Korvas serenade diners at the American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club.
Photo by Patrick Farrel

Neither is it for the faint of heart: A Czech breakfast treat is topinky, thick slices of toast liberally topped with a spread of white Christmas goose fat and garlic, which is said to be manna from heaven.

So if French food is too prissy for you; and if you’re more of a meat-and-potatoes gourmet, ACSCC is your carb-and-protein mecca. There’s roast, lamb and dumplings, roast chicken and dumplings, breaded fried pork cutlets and dumplings, potato salad, beet salad and sauerkraut. And beer. By the time you leave, you feel nurtured and loved, and you immediately want to take a nap.

Barney Vorisek, club treasurer, says the club always tries to hire chefs from “the old country,” and did so last August, when Martina Berkova, who was trained at a culinary school in Prague, was hired.

In a cuisine that revels in predictability, Berkova has nevertheless tweaked the traditional dishes.

She recently made Pork Oriental. On the last Sunday in January, she made baked ham and lentils, instead of the traditional boiled ham and lentils. They may not seem like a culinary revolution, but when you’re talking Czech food, served to people that have been doing things a certain way for a long time it reaches Bolshevik proportions.

Another introduction was a dessert of mini sweet rolls covered in a rum-laced cream sauce, which didn’t go over too well with some club members. One member, who wished to declare her dissent anonymously, declared it to be un-Czech.

However, she said, Martina’s bublanina, a light chiffon tart regaled a generous portion of blueberries, was to die for. “Now there’s a Czech dessert,” she added.

American Czech-Slovak Cultural Club Restaurant, 13325 Arch Creek Rd.
Dinner on Sundays noon-8:30 p.m. 305-891-9130.
Food: Unapologetically fattening, but good.
Atmosphere: Old World, in more ways than one.
Price: $10-12 for dinner: soup and salads, entree and dessert.