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10/19/2015

Fall 2015, Issue II

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Jáchymov: A Painful History Hidden Between Scenic Hills

by Ruth Douglas

It’s 6:40 on the first bitterly cold Saturday morning of the season, and instead of sleeping in, I am using every ounce of mental strength I have to will myself out of bed. Today, I am heading to Jáchymov, a quiet spa town just minutes from the German border. I can’t say I’m exactly excited about this trip—spas are unfortunately not on today’s itinerary. Rather than letting my worries melt away in the beautifully lush hills, I will be learning about the ills of the communist era while carefully maneuvering my way through an old, dark mine. I’m not exactly thrilled. But by the time I step on the bus to return to Prague, I am simply grateful for the life I have.

Aside from my limited knowledge about the United States’ involvement with the Soviet Union—the first and second Red Scare, the Cold War—I really had no idea how devastating communism was to so many people. It took that trip to Jáchymov to truly understand the effects communism had on people who lived under its rule.

Our tour was led by an 85-year-old former prisoner who was sentenced to work in several uranium mines in Jáchymov during his six years of imprisonment. The man, who used a cane to walk but otherwise appeared to be in good health, was apologetic about his slower pace. He explained having to walk two kilometers daily, tightly packed and arm in arm with the other prisoners, for 365 days a year to get to and from the uranium mine. “My knees are not so good because of this,” the professor on the trip translated to us. I was amazed at how humble the man was, and how willing he was to share his traumatic story with me and my peers.

Jáchymov

Hidden in the beautiful hills of Jáchymov is a painful history, one full of suffering in freezing mines or hazardous uranium sorting facilities. Though this trip was not entirely pleasant, it was certainly one of the most memorable and eye-opening experiences I’ve had in a very long time.

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