the camp in operation. But if his family has lived here for a generation
or two, they probably had some complicity in the life of the gulag. They
may have been aware of slave labor from the camp that helped to rebuild
part of Pribram. At the least, they would likely have been considered
politically trustworthy by the Communist regime. The untrustworthy
But I don’t have the Czech for such a conversation.
He leaves me at a pair of high wood-and-wire gates that remind me of
a fort in a TV Western. I walk through the gate, through the double fence
of barbed wire, past the wooden guard tower, past a large gray chunk of
uranium. I pass the miniature train tracks and carts that transported
the uranium aboveground. Though the prison was intended for punishment, it was also an extremely important source of labor, in particular,
extraction of the uranium that lay in the underground mines. Uranium
was needed to make atomic bombs for the coming world war with the
It’s a lovely, peaceful location, set among wooded hillsides, today covered with a skiff of snow. The name Vojna, in fact, comes from the name
of a nearby hill. I’m a little ashamed at how pleasant it is to be here, how
nice to be out in the crisp country air after a couple of weeks in the beautiful but crowded streets of Prague. Here, there are no crowds; in fact, I
am all alone. There are no other visitors. There is a man at a desk who
gives me a brochure showing a rough map of the camp. He says something that might be “self-guided tour.” Then he disappears.
All the buildings are open, so I self-guide myself into one of the squat
cell blocks. I walk down a corridor, looking through the bars and into
the cells. All is tidy and clean: ten double bunks, one stove, one bucket. I
stop at one of the cells where a small square window faces the afternoon
sun. If I had to be imprisoned here, I would pray for this cell with its
glimpse of light.
Then I try to remember the reality of the place. Probably I would not
have the chance to gaze at the setting sun. Probably before the sun rose
and after it set, I would be underground. And suddenly I remember a
scene from a banned Czech movie I once saw: a young man, newly in
love and filled with the rapture of life, greets a fatherly party official
who arrives to inspect his worksite. The young man, sensing a kindred
spirit in the smiling official who speaks of music and flowers, chimes in,
speaking of love and mutual respect. The official seems to nod approval.
But when he has gone, trench-coated men whisk the youngster into a