About My Father – Antonin Novacek (1896-1971)

About My Father – Antonin Novacek (1896-1971)

Charles and Antonin Novacek, 1932

This Father’s Day I honor Charles’ father Antonin Novacek. Charles adored his father and spoke of him lovingly and respectfully.  I regret that I was unable to meet him. Four months before Charles died we enrolled in a series of ten workshops, “Living in and Writing about Detroit and the Surrounding Communities.” We walked to the Wayne State University undergrad library for the workshops led by Peter Markus, Detroit Urban Writer-in-Residence.  He gave an assignment each week and Charles was able to write about his career/work in the city and his thoughts on Detroit’s “condition.”  The last assignment due May 29, 2007, was “We are the Stories We Tell.” Charles chose to write “About My Father.” An excerpt from Charles’ assignment is posted below.

I gaze at the high mountains of my country shaded by the penumbra of the early evening and the falling sunset behind the ragged stone ridge that so often called me to claim it. My father is there. It seems as if he stood on the high cliff directing our family to choose the direction we must follow. I was touching the broken rocks below where he was standing.

His words penetrated our souls as we all listened to the wisdom he shared with us. I remember how he looked at me as if placing preference, but I also knew that he loved my mother and my sister. I was fascinated by the tone of his voice, the strictness and how he delivered it and the masterly quality he had to teach us how to cope with life.

My grandfather Charles called him Antonin. As a seventeen year old he was drafted by the Austro-Hungarian government to what became to be known as the First World War, 1914-1918. Physically he was in very good shape, trained in the well-known Czech Sokol organization whose motto was “A healthy mind in a sound body.”

As all other Czecho-Slovak draftees, he deserted the Austrians and joined the Czecho-Slovak Legion in Russia which then was the ally of the Western Powers.  Father survived four years fighting the Bolsheviks, until in 1918 the whole Legion came back around the world in the ship America to the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia.

Father was well-trained in the Legion and at home again he was placed by the new government in the police academy of the new republic. There he excelled in all academy requirements. He was promoted and placed to serve in Slovakia and Hungary in a time and place after war distress.

In Ozdany, Slovakia, a medium-size village he married my mother, an eighteen year old Hungarian national. My older sister Vlasta and I were born there. By 1938 when the Second World War started Father was transferred three times in Slovakia to districts where his qualifications were needed.

When Czechoslovakia was given by our Western Allies to Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference, Father and our family was deported to Moravia. Here Hitler formed the protectorate of “Bohmen und Maren” – Bohemia and Moravia. We lived in the “city” of Namĕšt’ nad Oslavou, near the capital of Brno, close to Vienna, Austria.  There in just a few weeks Father was fired by the Nazis in charge because he was a Czech Legionnaire in Russia (for the Germans a mortal enemy) in the First World War. Then he started to work as a common laborer to support his family.

In 1942 after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich my uncle, Josef Robotka, a brigadier general and head of the Czechoslovakian Intelligence. Summoned Father to his R3 (Rada Tří)―advisors three― underground organization fighting the Nazis. Father involved his whole family in this and his daughter Vlasta became highly decorated by the President.  The Communist regime, however, sentenced Uncle Robotka and her to death. Uncle was executed and Vlasta’s sentence was reduced to eighteen years of heavy labor. Father and Mother were unharmed because of their old age and I was able to escape over the border to the American Zone and emigrate to Venezuela. In 1956 I finally came to the United States and at age twenty-eight I started a new life in the land of the free ―what my father and uncle wanted.

Father was promoted to the highest rank in the police force becoming a police commissioner. The new Communist regime,however, fired him again and he retired without rank. My sister served an eleven and one half years prison sentence.

My father after his death remained my most important leader as I employ his teaching even now.


Charles Novacek, 2007

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