Eleven-year-old Eva Riha shifted under the false floor of the delivery truck as, inches away, Soviet soldiers bayonetted the vegetable crates above her. She and her family were escaping across the southern border of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Eva and her family left everything behind to escape the menace of communism, eventually ending up in the United States to pursue their American Dream of freedom.
As Victims of Communism Day approaches, it is important not only to remember those whose lives and livelihoods communism has destroyed — like Eva, my grandmother — but also to fortify ourselves against the specter of communism that haunts us to this day.
Communism, in all its forms, misleads, divides, and destroys. Communism’s eternal dichotomy between oppressor and oppressed destroys freedom and divides communities. Sadly, its narrative is being rekindled in America today — and, if we let this narrative win, it will destroy us.
During my grandmother’s childhood, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) was moving to purge “dissident elements” from its society. Her schoolbooks were destroyed; math, science, history, and literature were controlled or even replaced by the now-ascendant communists. Teachers were replaced, the books were rewritten, and school was restructured to include lessons on Russian — now the most important subject. Overnight the Marxist worldview of oppressor versus oppressed was made present in every subject, even math and science.
However, for the communists, it was not enough to rewrite history — all traces of the former way of life had to be dismantled and destroyed. Old Czech heroes were torn down as oppressors and new communist heroes were risen in their place. Sound familiar? Additionally, parents who taught their children the original Czech history were penalized or imprisoned. Nothing could challenge the communist viewpoint. If a school suspected that history was being retaught at home, it would capitalize on natural teenage rebellion and encourage children to report on their parents.
My great-grandfather, Jaroslav Riha, eventually realized that the only way to save his family from blatant brainwashing was to flee. As a prominent citizen in the community, he was under increasing pressure from the KSČ to pledge his loyalty to the communist party. In January of 1950, he left his land, wealth, and degrees behind to embark on a dangerous journey to Austria, hoping to eventually make it to America.
The journey was dangerous not because of difficult terrain or dangerous weather, but rather because communist border guards worked to keep people in rather than out. They were paid a bounty based on how many escapees they brought back — dead or alive. Jaroslav had to pay off guards, secure an escape route in a vegetable delivery truck, and take his family out into a blizzard to escape detection — knowing that if caught, they would almost certainly be killed. Eventually, my family did make it to America, but only after 10 years of indentured servitude in Australia.
My family’s story is far from unique. Over the course of communism’s rule in Czechoslovakia alone, over 205,000 were arrested for dissention, 170,000 were forced into exile, nearly 5,000 died in prison or while trying to escape, and hundreds were executed. At its height, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic only had 10 million people. Combined with the estimated million, a full 10% of its population, expected to have fled voluntarily, communism’s toll on the nation was devastating.
Modern proponents of socialism claim that socialists have learned from the gross injustices of previous communist regimes and that the oppression evident in history would not happen in America. However, socialism is already dividing America into oppressor and oppressed.
Critical race theory, which the radical left wants taught in schools, divides children into “privileged,” or oppressor, and “not privileged,” or oppressed, on the arbitrary basis of race. Such basic concepts as expecting students to look for the correct answer in math class are now decried as remnants of white supremacy. And major Wall Street corporations are colluding to defund industries who dare to challenge the entrenched progressive narrative, such as energy producers and firearm manufacturers, threatening responsible, law-abiding business owners with losing their livelihoods.
Daily, the radical left calls for further racial, ethical, and economic tensions, attempting to paint all members of a certain race or socio-economic group as either oppressor or oppressed. Those who refuse to toe the line are threatened with public shaming, cancel culture, and dehumanization — and even sometimes threats to their lives.
The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic had a light time of communism — though many Czechs died, many countries fared far, far worse. We cannot let socialism take hold in our schools, in our local governments, or in our federal governments. The cost is too great.