Son Chris remarkable adventure in the Czech Republic just gets better and better, this time with the discovery of relatives in a hamlet of 600 two and half hours from Prague. He tells it better than I ever could so here’s the report he filed upon his return to Charles University where he is spending the semester.
I’ll send a more detailed account of events to you all sometime this weekend, but I wanted to let you know that I met living relatives of ours in Bozejov, a town of about 600 in southern Bohemia, today. Without really knowing how to get there, I took a bus to a neighboring town, Humpolec, and then found a connection to Bozejov. I showed up with absolutely no idea where to go, went into a supermarket and asked in Czech where the town hall was. They pointed to a building and foolishly thinking the entire building was the townhall, I walked up to the top floor, opened a door, and accidentally walked into someone’s apartment. They directed me to the actual town office (a floor beneath).
I asked the town officers if they had any documents, which they didn’t, but when I told them that Vaclav Hejda was my great, great, great grandfather, they called every Hejda in town and arranged for me to meet with them. They also gave me lots of documents on the history of Bozejov (mostly in Czech unfortunately) and a very lovely postcard. I first met with a family of 3. They were in their mid-50s and had a son who was about to turn 20, nearly the same age as Katie. I’m almost positive these people were our relatives and that Wayne visited them some years ago. I believe this because the man (and his son) were both carpenters or woodworkers of some sort, as Wayne had reported to me in an earlier email. The son was the 4th generation of woodworker. The man and the son (the actual Hejdas) spoke nothing but Czech. The wife spoke very little English, but was fluent in German, so we mostly talked in that (my German was shockingly sufficient).
They lived in a modest, but nice, apartment nearby the town square, as Wayne also reported in his previous email. They seemed to be of decent means, but in conversation the wife told me the region, Vysočina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vyso%C4%8Dina_Region), was traditionally relatively poor with little industry or factories.
They are all strong Catholics and seemed a tad disappointed that my mother had left the flock. I made it up to them by telling them her sister and her family were still Catholic and also that I go to the oldest Catholic university in the US and live in one of the most Catholic states.
They served me coffee and some chocolate and showed up photo albums, an incomplete family tree, and tried to piece together how we were related. They then took me the cemetery to see a couple Hejda graves.
After this I went to the apartment of an 86 year old lady, who wasn’t a blood Hejda but was married to one. I don’t think we’re related to this Hejda, but she was very fun to talk to. She insisted on serving me vodka and red wine and kept pushing it on me everytime I finished a glass, so I was a bit tipsy by the end. She had unbelieve stories about living under the First Czech Republic under President Masaryk (who is adored here) and Edward Benes. She talked about how her studies were interrupted by the nazis and how the Communist era felt like 40 wasted years of life. She was married twice (the second one was the Hejda) and had kids living in Poland, London, and Prague. She was half Siberian and talked about how much she loved Russian literature. When I showed her the Dostoevsky novel I’d brought with me for the bus (Demons), she was ecstatic and we spent a while talking about Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. She also recommended a few other Russian novelists to me.
After this the first family picked me up and drove me to a neighboring town Pelhřimov, the major town in the area with a population of about 16k. They were extremely friendly and packed a dinner for me for the bus ride home with a sandwhich, some fruit and some chocolates.
They want me to come visit again and I’m certainly going to try. I’m going to be so busy traveling over the next few weeks (Stockholm, Vienna and Munich all in a row), that I won’t be able to get out there until late March or early April at the earliest. They also would like to meet my parents when they come to visit in May, which we might be able to arrange.
I’ll send out a more detailed account in a couple days when I send out one of my update emails (Becky and Megan, I can add you to the list of people who get this and also send you the last 2, if you’d like), but this was a truly amazing experience. I’ve travelled all over this continent and seen plenty of amazing things, but its interesting how an unremarkable village in the middle of nowhere can prove just as fascinating. I’ll send some pictures along with the email in a couple days.