117. Last Summers at Marienbad

By Peter Fraenkel

We took our summer holiday at Marienbad – across the border in Czechoslovakia – several years running. My mother enjoyed the mud baths and the health-giving spa waters. She was always trying to lose weight and had faith that these waters had miraculous properties. My father subscribed to local lending libraries, two of them, I think, and read vastly. I enjoyed the Kinderheim where I attended as a day boarder. Our carers were very pretty girls and after lunch they would read to us, from books that I found more interesting that those I read back home.

This border region of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, in many ways seemed much like home. In others it was very different. It was German-speaking so we had no communication problems. The food was familiar, but in one important matter Marienbad was very different.   One saw no Nazis! Of course, they must have been there, but their brown uniforms had been banned by the Czechs. Henlein, the Sudeten Nazi leader, found himself forced to adopt white socks as the ‘uniform’ for his followers.

The lending libraries, and there were several in the main street of Marienbad, stocked books banned in Nazi Germany so visitors ‘from over there’, like my father, could read what they were denied at home. Considerate librarians wrapped such books in brown paper to protect the borrowers from Nazi snoopers.

There were many political exiles from Germany in this part of Czechoslovakia – my father even pointed out a former provincial first minister of Prussia to me. No doubt there were tensions between Czechs and some Sudeten Germans, but we only saw evidence of this as we were trying to leave.  At the railway station my father requested tickets for Breslau.  He was given tickets to Bratislava. Fortunately he knew that Bratislava was the capital of Slovakia and in the opposite direction. The counter clerk, however, spoke no German, or appeared not to speak the language. My father, however, thought he was only pretending.  We had, until then, not come across anyone in Sudetenland who did not speak fluent German. Fortunately he could point to a map on the wall.  We did get home.