Eliska Haskova-Coolidge: diamonds are not always a girl's best friend

19-11-2003

Eliska Haskova-Coolidge has had an impressive career. During nearly two decades working in the White House, she came to know no less than five American presidents. But for the last fourteen years she has been back in her native Prague. She was born into a wealthy Czech banking family early in the Second World War. It was at that time that the family's difficulties started. Eliska's grandfather was shot by the Nazis, and after the war, with the communist take-over in 1948, the family once again became enemies of the state, despised as bourgeois capitalists. They saved themselves from jail and possibly a still worse fate by smuggling themselves across the border a year later. Here Eliska Haskova-Coolidge remembers the day that they were forced to leave their apartment in the smart residential district of Bubenec.

"Shortly after the communist take-over in 1948, there were seven men from the Ministry of Interior who came to our house and asked us to move out within twenty minutes, allowing us to take one small suitcase for the three of us, my mother, my brother and me. And of course they followed my mother everywhere in the house to make sure she took nothing of any value. They made her empty the contents of her safety deposit box, which they emptied out on a round table in her bedroom which I vividly remember as though it were yesterday - the cloth on the table and everything.

And so, as I passed the table and the man wasn't looking, who was assigned to that room, I noticed that there was a little silver hairbrush that my grandfather had given me, which had my initials on it, and also a little diamond cross, which I had from him, just before he was executed by a Nazi firing squad. While the man wasn't looking I grabbed these two items and put them in my purse or in my pocket. When my mother, in the apartment that we were allotted, discovered that I had taken them, she was absolutely furious, because I had left all the glittering diamonds and rubies behind and taken things of sentimental value. But I never regretted that I did that, and my daughter to this day has both items."

19-11-2003