November 14, 2013The publication of “Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance” is a memoir written by the late Charles Novacek.
“It’s his story. He’s telling his story,” said Novacek’s widow, Sandra, a Grosse Pointe Public Library librarian, and Detroit resident.
He penned the story of his recruitment into resistances, first fighting the Nazis then the Communists. He helped allies carry out missions in his native country as a teenager and undertook missions to undermine the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia as a young adult, eventually being captured and imprisoned by the Communists until his escape in 1953.
“This is a love story — love of family, life, country. It’s a book of resistance and courage, a wish for a better life and freedom,” Sandra Novacek said.
She is one of two local authors discussing their World War II era books at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at the Grosse Pointe Public Library, Ewald branch, 15175 E. Jefferson, Grosse Pointe Park.
Grosse Pointe Farms resident John Kozak, author of “Through the Eyes of Rose: A Mother’s Flight to Freedom in a Memory Mosaic,” highlights how his mother, sister and he escaped Communist ruled
Czechoslovakia after World War II.
To register for the free program, call (313) 343-2074, ext. 222, or go on gp.lib.mi.us.
Novacek died before the book was published, rejected by some 100 publishers. Reliving the memories caused him panic attacks and sleepless nights but it was a story he wanted to tell, Sandra Novacek said.
His father fought in World War I and said it was the war to end all wars, yet he taught his daughter and son survivor skills, Sandra Novacek explained. They learned how to accurately shoot a bow and arrow, how to
ski, camp, make fires and live off the land. At the age of 10, in 1938, Novacek saw his country start to deteriorate at the hands of the Nazis. The life they had in Ozdany near the Hungarian border was changed.
“It was the worst year of my life. My life totally changed. The country was torn apart,” Sandra Novacek related as her husband’s words.
The family became resistance fighters, along with their uncle, Josef Robotkå, a high ranking military man and anti-Nazi, executed in the early 1950s by the Communists and plays a role in the book. As a young resistance fighter, it was Novacek’s duties to deliver messages to soldiers parachuting behind enemy lines and hiding them in caves he knew well.
A book excerpt:
“In a few seconds the steam brake stopped the locomotive. A solider stepped down with a battery box in his hands and walked toward the cables.
“He was going to blow up the bridge.
“I had just one chance. I would not have another. After the first shot the solider would be able to take cover and detonate the charges.
“The long rifle was ready. I got the soldier in my sights as he was kneeling over the box. I squeezed the trigger slowly and took my shot.”
The family was elated at the end of the war in 1945, according to the book, and the family buried their rifles in the forest because it was the “war to end all wars.” Yet, Novacek and his father were disturbed at how Eastern Europe was “offered up to the Soviets.”
Sandra Novacek recalls how she and her husband stood in a clearing with him describing the day he looked up to see an endless line of Communist tanks coming over the horizon. Back in the woods, the rifles were recovered and Novacek was taking a stand against the Cold War.
“The resistance was revived but against a different enemy,” she said. “His work became more dangerous.”
He was eventually captured, his violin-playing hand was smashed during his imprisonment and he was sentenced to death. Sixty years ago Nov. 13, Novacek escaped, made his way into Bavaria and into a refugee camp where he married a Latvian refugee. They relocated to Venezuela for five years. The couple escaped a collapsing Venezuelan government to settle in Detroit near his wife’s mother in 1956. He had been a widower for two years when he met Sandra in June 1996. They married in October. She moved from Genesee County to Detroit, after which they traveled and he began writing his memoir.
“He always said, ‘I’m going to tell what happened in Czechoslovakia.’ He realized people didn’t know about his country. How Czechoslovakia was sold out and went from one occupation to Communism.”
With the encouragement of Chinese memoir writer, Da Chen, who told her, “He gave you love. You must give him immortality,” Sanda Novacek pushed forward and published the manuscript herself.
“I’m happy with the way it came out,” she said. “The official publication date was Oct. 21, 2012. I got Madeleine Albright to endose it.”
Sandra Novacek describes the book as a suspense novel. “It’s exciting. It’s a really good read. This is authentic.”
The award-winning book is available at the Grosse Pointe Public Library. It can be purchased in Detroit at Book Beat, Emerald & Source Booksellers and at Amazon.com.