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The Czechoslovak Talks is a project that embraces the life stories of Czechoslovaks around the world – the stories of the personal ups and downs, the opportunities and obstacles, and especially the life experiences that we would like to preserve for future generations.


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Josef Valenta

I was born in Podoliby, a small village near Nový Bydžov. My parents, Karel and Františka, lived on a farm in Chmelovice. They had five children together. I was trained as a carpenter in Nový Bydžov. About a week before the end of the war, in May 1945, I became a partisan. We ambushed a Sokol gymnasium in Nový Bydžov, where the Germans kept their weapons. Former soldiers showed us how to handle guns. Germans soldiers put up no resistance at this point.

When they told me the only job I would get would be in a coal mine, I decided to leave the Republic. That was in March, 1950. I spent some time in German refugee camps Valka, Babenhausen and Wegscheide, before finally leaving for New Zealand.

There were about 800 immigrants on the Goya ship, a third of them Czech or Slovak. During the long six weeks of the journey, food kept spoiling and people often fell ill. Bread could seem fresh, for example, but when you broke it in half, the insides looked like spider-webs.

One time, we got a fish for lunch. I liked it a lot and even got a second helping. Then I fell sick, I got a stomach infection and a blood poisoning. I spent several days in the ship sick bay before I was even able to walk again. I was lucky there were doctors and nurses on that ship. The nurses later told me they kept a watch by my bed. It was so serious they thought I would die. They said I was as tough as they came, otherwise they would already be throwing be overboard.

When we came to New Zealand, the harbour crew was on a strike so we had to wait for about three days in the Wellington harbour before we could go ashore. Finally we went through the immigration control and then they sent us to a train heading to Pahiatua. They put us in a former polish war refugee camp. As soon as we got there, they started to teach us English. After school, we could go for a walk in town. There were a few times some farmers stopped us, asking us who we were, where we were from. They didn’t learn much, we couldn’t say a word.

About three weeks later they started putting us in groups and deciding where we’d work. About ten boys, me included, were sent to work in Kaingaroa Forest. There were a lot of different nationalities. We all got our own cabin and we worked in the forest. After some time I moved to Wellington. I was supposed to start working in a rail yard in Woburn as a carpenter and repair train wagons. I ended up only sweeping since I couldn’t reach and agreement with the trade union, which had power over every employee back then.

My friends and I slowly got used to New Zealand. People were very nice to us and helped us however they could. We started to hang out with young locals and with girls as well. We used to go dancing every Saturday at a catholic club in Wellington. There were a lot of us refugees that came to New Zealand and we stuck together. We often went from one pub to another.

I met a Czech man, Mr. Stainer, who owned a furniture factory called Woodcraft. I quit my first job and started working for him. I earned six shillings an hour, which was about eight pounds a week, I think.

I met a Czech man, Mr. Stainer, who owned a furniture factory called Woodcraft. I quit my first job and started working for him. I earned six shillings an hour, which was about eight pounds a week, I think. We had a workbook and we wrote down what we were making and how much time we spent on each piece. Every week I brought that workbook to the office and I got an extra bonus with every salary. Once I gained some experience, my bonuses were about the same amount as my salary. My bosses were happy with me and they even helped me with my personal life. I spent the next thirteen years working in that factory. In that time I got married, started a family, and built the house I live in to this day.

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