Fleeing to Freedom in Williamsburg

 

Where are you all from?

Yaroslava: Prague, Czechoslovakia, but we have been here in Williamsburg for a long time.

Is there anything that you would like to share with the Williamsburg or William & Mary community?

Yaroslava: He writes for the newspaper.

Frank: The Virginia Gazette. Do you read this sometimes? I have been a columnist for this newspaper for thirty five years. It is the oldest newspaper in America, because it was established in 1736, 260 years ago.

Frank: Now you are from where, are you from Japan?

I’m from Taiwan.

Frank: And you?

Virginia Beach, so not too far!

How long have you guys been in Williamsburg?

Frank: Well, our whole story is that we escaped from communist Czechoslovakia sixty years ago. We lived in Lake Placid, New York. The Winter Olympics were held there twice. During the Olympics, it was a big program about who would represent China – Taiwan or the mainland. Communist China at that time got the accreditation. So, we lived in Lake Placid, New York.

Yaroslava: And we still do.

Frank: But thirty five years ago, we had a business there in Lake Placid. I used to be a foreign correspondent in Prague. So after we came to America, I became an editor for the Hungarian Daily in Cleveland, Ohio because my English wasn’t so good. Half of the year, in the summers, we would spend our time in Lake Placid, and the winters here. But now we sold our house, so we are here now all year round.

Why did you come here?

Frank: We came on vacation first. We fell in love with Williamsburg. I remember the first time here. I left my wife in the hotel and went scouting. The first thing that I went to was a concert for the French National Symphony. The price was five dollars. In New York, you would have paid one hundred dollars for a ticket because at that time all of the colleges around the concert had their reproductions. So, it was the first thing that we liked. So the combination of the history of Colonial Williamsburg and the College was perfect. We also like to walk, I walk three miles a day. So it was a combination of all those things that made us decide that we would have two homes – here and there.

Do you like it here?

Frank: Yes, very much. I am working. Every week I have a column, and next Wednesday I will have a column about the internationalization of the College. Do you know who Senator [Paul Simon] of Illinois was? He was a great supporter of international education and for student exchanges. He was a very influential senator. Every year only a few universities in the United States get this honor – those who contribute the most to the internationalization of the curriculum and the whole countries. So William & Mary sends students abroad. It is now the first one of its size in the United States who is sending the most students – 700 students go abroad, so it is a very good prestige to have. And then per year, 10,000 foreign students and faculty come through this College. So you know about this, you are one of them? Will you go back to Taiwan?

Probably not, maybe for vacation. But I am planning to work here.

Frank: Are your parents still in Taiwan?

Yes.

Frank: So do you have a green card?

No, I’m just here on visa. So I’m only a Taiwanese citizen.

Frank: For how long?

For four years of college, and then I have to get a work permit to work here.

So after you came here to America, what else did you do? Were you a journalist the entire time?

Frank: First I was the editor of the Hungarian Daily. And do you know the Adirondack mountains? It’s six million acres of protected land, the largest east of the Mississippi. It has beautiful mountains and lakes. So we wanted to live there, but as a Hungarian journalist you don’t make a very good living. So we opened a leather goods store on Lake Placid. My wife had a background in fashion and design, so we opened a leather goods store and we did very well.

Yaroslava: We didn’t make the goods though, we just sold them.

Frank: So we did well, and I was writing and then we came to Williamsburg. At first we thought we would only be here for a few months, but we liked it so much that we sold our store and decided to just stay here. And since then, I am writing every week mostly about foreign affairs.

Yaroslava: Everyone knows him here!

Have you been to any other cities in America?

Frank: First when we came we lived in New York City. Then we lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and from then on we lived in Lake Placid and Williamsburg.

So what made you want to be a writer and what do you like about writing?

Frank: That’s my whole life – as long as I can remember I was a newspaper writer. I was writing even when I was in college. In Hungary and in Czech, my stories were bought and published all over Europe. But it is hard to make a living if you are not directly employed. What do you want to do when you finish?

I’m actually not sure yet, still trying to figure it out.

And I’m doing Finance and Public Policy, so something in the banking industry.

Frank: So you are an undergraduate in the Business School. Who is your professor?

Well, there are a lot of professors. One of them is Professor Stump.

Frank: Oh, I knew another professor, Professor Wallace, she used to be a professor of Accounting.

Have you guys been back to Prague?

Frank: We have not been back to Czechoslovakia because we escaped from the communists. Have you heard of Prague, have you been there?

No, but I know it’s a very beautiful place.

Yaroslava: And life was really good there. But the communists took over.

Frank: I would have really liked to visit, but my wife didn’t want to. Too many bad memories.

Frank: So will you write a paper about this interview or how will you use it?

What we’ll do is we’ll transcribe what you’ve said, and then we’ll select one quote that you’ve said and we’ll put it on our Facebook page. Then we’ll take a picture of you later at the end of the interview. If you guys have an e-mail, we can send you what you’ve said. After you look through it, we can publish it.

Frank: You can look me up. I have a book out. My name is Frank Shatz. It’s Reports from a Distant Place. It’s on Amazon. It is from when we got married.

Is this your biography?

Frank: It is a compilation of my columns that I wrote during the year about different subjects – about our first trip, life under communism. I am also a Holocaust survivor. So the second is about living under communism, and the third one is about living in America. The Swem library has a copy of the book, the library here has a copy, and the Bruton Parish has a shop here where I sell it.

Why did you want to write this book?

Frank: For forty years, I never talked about the Holocaust. I survived it, but I said “the past doesn’t interest me, I’m interested only in the present and the future.” But after I heard about the Holocaust deniers. That came out from the woodwork. They said it never happened, it is all made up. So I said it is my duty to be a witness because after we are gone, no one will be here who can say I have seen it and I went through it. So it is bad encouragement.

Frank: We are married sixty eight years. But we don’t know it!

Yaroslava: We are still courting!

Frank: We don’t have children. We could have, but we couldn’t have escaped communist Czechoslovakia if we had children so we decided not to have any. How old are you all?

I’m 20…and I’m 18.

Yaroslava: 18 years old, that’s when I got married!

Frank: You know at that time, it was after the war, and they were still giving chocolate coupons for young people under 18. It was a shortage of everything, but when you were under 18 you got coupons so that once a month you could buy a piece of chocolate. So I married her only because of the chocolate! Because she was under 18.

Yaroslava: I was already 18.

Frank: No, we had to wait until you turned 18 to get married.

Yaroslava: He couldn’t wait!

So you said you had a background in fashion?

Frank: No, she was learning about fashion design at that time, but she was never crazy about fashion design. We opened at that time a boutique. In America, they had a lot of goods imported from Italy. We bought very expensive ones because it was the time of some very rich Americans, the Rockefellers and people like that. We thought that those type of people would be our customers so we bought very expensive goods. I studied economics, so I thought I knew everything about it. It turns out that if you were not in the business for fifty years, they didn’t even look in the window. So we found out that those were not our customers. We started buying leather goods, but not too expensive ones. It took off, and we did well.

Yaroslava: This is one of them. (displaying a brown leather purse)

That’s very pretty! Is this one of the goods that your store sold?

Yaroslava: Yes, you could buy it for $19.90.

Frank: At that time? It would have been more like $29, and now it will be $59!

Is this all leather?

Yaroslava: Oh yes, we carried only leather.

Frank: We never carried any plastic. And I have to say, we had good commerce, and many of them were from China. They were excellent, they were strong, and a good price from mainland China.

What else do you do for fun, other than writing?

Frank: We have a lot of friends here. At Lake Placid, we had an active social life, always inviting people for dinner. I was the founder of the council on foreign policy. Every month, we had a well-known speaker from Washington who came, and so we always had dinner at our house. My wife was working at the store, but she came home 2 or 3 hours early to cook. So anyways, we had a very active social life, but many of those people have died out. You know, I am 91 years old. When you don’t have children, you don’t know how old you are. I am in good health, and I walk 3 miles every day.

Wow, you walk three miles a day?! Where do you walk?

Frank: Along D.O.G. street, up and down. But if it is crowded, we go somewhere else. But we used to walk 6 or 7 miles, but not anymore. So keep in mind, when you get older, all the time. Don’t take the car when you want to buy a carton of milk. It keeps you in good shape.

What is something that you’ve learned in life that you want our younger generation to know?

Frank: Education is very important. We made a commitment to the Reves Center. I will establish a diplomatic residence. It means that I invite a former diplomat for a semester so he can give lectures and interact with the students. It’s a program that they don’t have here, and it is a legacy that we want to leave. We feel that if you don’t want to repeat the Holocaust, and you want this country to be, what I call a “shining city on the hill”, then young people should be educated and know what is going on. So I think if you can help to achieve this, it is a good legacy.

…And what is your name?

Yaroslava: Yaroslava. Yaro means spring, and slava means fest. So it is Spring fest.

Oh, that’s a beautiful name!

Yaroslava: No (laughing), it is stupid!

It is a very special name.

Yaroslava: Yes but it is a common name in Russia from back then.

Frank: Oh, and take a look on Wednesday in the Williamsburg Gazette on the editorial page. On the opinion page next to the editorial, there will be my column.

Yaroslava: Everybody knows him here!

 

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