Prague, Bartolomějská Street
Former secret police (StB) interrogation and detention prison · Bartolomějská 306/7, 110 00 Prague-Prague 1…
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The couple that did not cry

Available in: English | Česky

Helena Šidáková decided to deny everything at any cost. The State Security had brought her from Starý Knín where she was hiding with her husband Zdeněk, they were preparing themselves to cross the border. Helena was arrested, Zdeněk managed to escape. They brought her to the interrogation room in Bartolomějská when it was dark already, together with her friend Jindřiška Budínská, at whose place the couple had been hiding. It was Good Friday on 14th April 1949. Helena was shoved into a room which was lit by a reading lamp only. The commander, whom the comrades called “Dorek” or “Doctor”, was sitting behind a desk. Next to her in the gloom, she could see Jarka Navrátilová sitting there, with whom she had unsuccessfully tried to cross the Šumava border two weeks ago, they were arrested and imprisoned in Klatovy, Helena with her child was later released. Jarka just whispered to her, not to deny anything, because they already knew everything. At that moment, the “Doctor” hit Mrs Navrátilová hard in the face and yelled at her to shut up. To Helena’s surprise, he wrote out her arrest warrant and had her transported to the Pankrác prison. “You can’t imagine, how hard it was on the nerves. Everyone quiet, nobody was allowed to even move. Only from the neighbouring room you could hear noises, banging, shouting.” The next day she experienced the worst moments in her life. At Pankrác she underwent inhuman torture, as they were beating the soles of her feet and injured her spine. Then the interrogations in Bartolomějská continued again, which were led by the very much feared “Doctor”. He was insulting her and threatening her: “When we bring that crook of yours, you’ll see what we’ll do to him, this time he won’t escape us!” The brutal interrogations like those in Pankrác did not repeat themselves anymore. Once, they brought her to an interrogation and the “Doctor” forcefully pushed her into a cabinet and locked her in there. After a while she could hear footsteps, the door slam shut and somebody opened the cabinet and took her out of it. “For a while, I couldn’t see anything, until the ‘Doctor’ appeared next to me, saying: ‘Well, look at yourselves, see what you look like, greet yourselves nicely, surely, you must be happy.’” Zdeněk was standing in the room, as pale as death, haggard looking, and I had my eyes wide-open, none of us had moved, we were just looking at each other and didn’t let out a word,” describes Helena in her book Shattered years. The interrogator looked at them and encouraged them to hug, for it was to be the last time they would see each other: “They loathed nothing. They wanted to amuse themselves. Both of us were just standing there, we were not allowed to talk about the case, that was forbidden. He just asked about our little son, I told him that he was probably at my parents’, that I knew nothing about him. We didn’t cry, we wouldn’t do them the pleasure. We held our hands tightly,” recollects Helena Šidáková. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, her husband got a life sentence.

Helena Šidáková

Helena Šidáková

She was born on May 6, 1925 in Prague. Her father worked as a tailor in the National Theater and because the theater employees were granted summer holidays each year, the family was able to spend the summer in the countryside. Little Helena joined the Scouts for a short time. During the war, she wasn't able to study for a teaching certificate so she studied at a business school on Reslova Street. After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, she began to work for the Czechoslovak broadcast where she met the love of her life – a technician and a student of the ČVUT, Zdeněk Šidák. Zdeněk had been a slave laborer in Vienna during the war and had also been an active participant in the resistance movement. After the war, Zdeněk joined the Communist party, allegedly on the advice of his colleagues from the resistance. However, in 1947 their son Zdeněk was born and Zdeněk Šidák senior left the party. In the wake of February 1948, he was dismissed from the broadcast as well as from the faculty. He decided to leave the country and Helena stayed home with their infant boy. At the beginning of 1949, Zdeněk returned home from exile where he was recruited by the U.S. intelligence service. He was planning the escape of the whole family as well as of other people from Czechoslovakia but his plans were betrayed to the police. Helena and her little son were imprisoned in a prison in Klatovy. Even though they were soon released the secret police continued to be on Zdeněk's heels. When the secret police failed to hunt him down in his hideout in Starý Knín on Easter 1949, they arrested Helena instead of him and tortured her brutally. However, she resisted and didn't give her husband away. Zdeněk was eventually caught in one of his other hideouts in the Jizera Mountains. He was sentenced for life and Helena was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Zdeněk's parents were imprisoned as well. Their little son was cared for by Helena's parents. Helena was put into prisons in Nový Jičín and in Pardubice, before she was finally amnestied by the president A. Zápotocký in 1955 (this was a special amnesty for imprisoned mothers). She faithfully waited for her husband until he was released as well in 1963. After a long 14 years, the family was reunited again. After some time, the second son, Martin, was born. Zdeněk Šidák lived to see the fall of Communism but died soon afterwards – in 1990 – from a stroke.

Prague, Bartolomějská Street

Available in: English | Česky

The street acquired its oldest name, Benátská, after the poor local neighbourhood and the brothel called Benátky (Czech for “Venice”). The street was known as V Jeruzalémě or Jeruzalémská from the 14th to the early 18th centuries after Nový Jeruzalém – a preacher seminar and refuge for penitent women that Jan Milíč of Kroměříž founded on the parlour house lot in the latter half of the 14th century. Police buildings are in the location today. At the end of the 19th century, the Grey Sisters nuns took care of the sick and abandoned there. The convent was finally evicted in 1949. The detention prison of the StB was set up in the building known as "Kachlíkárna" (tile house) in 1947. In October 1952, it also housed the pre-trial custody prison of Prague I and after further organizational development it was finally shut down in September 1963. In 1950, it had a capacity of 120 inmates but it was grossly exceeded at times. Up to 45 inmates would at times be located in a cell intended for 12. The Kachlíkára also served as the main seat of the StB (Bartolomějská 14). Today, the building serves the Police of the Czech Republic. The administration of the StB housed in Bartolomějská Street 10. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Institute for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes was established here. The investigation methods of the StB are comparable to those of the Gestapo. Corporal and mental torture was the standard method of interrogation. Tens of thousands of Czechoslovak citizens went through the building.

Prague, Bartolomějská Street

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The couple that did not cry

The couple that did not cry

Helena Šidáková
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