Border Crossings is an award-winning memoir by Czech author Charles Nováček. It is an excellent book which mingles the fascinating life of an incredible man with the history and turmoil of his country during the 20th century.
Charles Nováček was a member of the Czech resistance. He served in the resistance against the Nazi’s and, after the Soviet liberation of Czechoslovakia, against the Soviets.
Charles Nováček’s grandfather and father were both part of the Czechoslovakian Legion during World War I.
“Russia was then divided into czarists and bolsheviks. The Czech Legion fought with their czarist allies against the bolsheviks, who overpowered the czarists.” – Charles Nováček
In Border Crossings, Nováček writes about his childhood in Czechoslovakia. He recalls a large storm during which the river Rimava rose over nine feet, destroying the bridge which led to the rain station. Nováček writes how his father and other men from the town rebuilt the bridge.
“Men went to the forest, cut down trees, and chopped off the branches.” – Charles Nováček
Many years later he would return to that same bridge to find it rebuilt.
In 1938 the general mobilization of the Czech armed forces took place. Nováček’s father was part of the Czech armed forces and was in command of the unit at the Hungarian Border.
Nováček writes about being at school one day when he heard a loud commotion. He ran outside to see his father sitting on a truck filled with men heading toward the Hungarian border.
“Suddenly, we heard a loud commotion in the street. We ran out, and as we reached the street several trucks loaded with men from the village drove by. Our fathers were going to defend the republic. I caught sight of my father on the last truck; he waved to me, and I suddenly felt as if I would never see him again.” – Charles Nováček
The German’s did not have to fight to get Czechoslovakia. The allies surrendered the Sudetenlands to the Nazis and the Wehrmacht simply marched triumphantly into the country.
Nováček and his family were heavily involved in the Czech Resistance against the Nazis. Charles delivered messages and helped to hide parachuting soldiers behind enemy lines. He writes of how he and his father hid English spies in the hills of Znojmo one day.
“Two had parachuted in at night; we took them to the hills in the plains of Znojmo in the Sudetenland.” – Charles Nováček
When America entered the war in the winter of 1941, Nováček and his family celebrated with a rabbit stew and potatoes.
“When we heard about the United States’ declaration of war against Germany, the whole family celebrated with a drink, though we had to do so quietly.” – Charles Nováček
At the end of World War II, the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia. In the April of 1945 the Russian Armada moved in, just days after the German forces left the country. At first, the Czech people celebrated this news. Nováček and his father rushed to the main highway to welcome the victorious army. But they soon discovered that their fight for freedom had not yet come to an end.
The Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia and became the ruling power in the liberated country. The victory over Nazism was quickly replaced with the tragedy of the Cold War.
“Once again the clouds of a new war hovered directly over us.” – Charles Nováček
The Communists soon began to act alarmingly similar to the SS. Nováček realized that the only thing that had changed since the end of World War II was the enemy.
“Flags with swastikas had been exchanged for flags with red stars, sickles, and hammers.” – Charles Nováček
During the Cold War, he continued his revolutionary activity, forming a new resistance against the Soviets.
“This time, however, it was harder, for we faced our own Czech neighbors, who had now become our enemies.” – Charles Nováček
Nováček participated in several dangerous undercover attempts to join the Czech Resistance with the Polish and Hungarian movements against the Soviets. He was posing as a history student at Charles University when he was picked out and arrested at random on Wenceslas Square. He was interrogated, beaten, and tortured.
The Soviets then transferred him to a medieval ruin in Northern Bohemia where he was held prisoner along with sixteen other men. Pavel Kominek, one of the leaders of the Czech Resistance, created a plan to rescue the men.
The rescue was successful but Nováček would soon be forced to escape Czechoslovakia.
“If I had stayed, I would have been killed. It was as simple and as terrible as that.” – Charles Nováček
He was to escape to Germany over the Bavarian border. As he made his way through the wilderness toward the border accompanied by three other men, he thought about his future and what sort of uncertainties it would hold.
“The sun fell behind the cliffs and darkness cloaked us. Our future seemed as mysterious as the deepening gloom of the Eastern horizon.” – Charles Nováček
In Germany, Nováček was placed in a miserable displaced persons camp. At the camp he was plagued with hunger, lice, and disease. He began trying to build himself a new life. In 1950 he married a Russian woman named Valentina and together they emigrated to Venezuela.
They lived there until 1956 when a revolution broke out and they were once again forced to flee to another country. Nováček and his family flew to New Orleans on September 13, 1956.
“It took me eight years to reach the United States of America, but I never doubted I would make it. At last we reached the land I had hoped for since 1948.” – Charles Nováček
Border Crossings is a compelling memoir which tells the story of a young man whose life was transformed by the events taking place in Czechoslovakia during the 20th century. It records the resistance movements against the Nazis and the Communists and the part Nováček played in the Czech Resistance.
It is the story of one man’s struggle for freedom and the sacrifices he made to achieve it.
“My recollections pain me; still, they have made me who I am now.” – Charles Nováček
Border Crossings is a terrific book filled with adventure and courage. It tells the remarkable tale of Charles Nováček and his amazing will to survive and succeed despite his circumstances.
You can Purchase the book here.