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Chapter 8: The Prague spring
Although quite willing to conceal us and help us out with food and clothing, the Sobotkas immediately set about seeking a haven safer than their own apartment. Hrstka, a family friend and an officer in the prewar Czech army, owned a shop which sold artificial flowers. With times hard, the lack of raw materials and the absence of potential customers had led Hrstka to close down the shop; he now consented to hide us in his shop.
Shortly after we exchanged the apartment for the storeroom, the Germans conducted a search of the Sobotka home, which was under constant surveillance. Fortunately, they did not demand explanations about the food prepared in the kitchen for delivery to us.
We spent about three weeks in the flower shop. Sobotka family members and friends took turns bringing food to us in our hideout.
In mid April, the Czech resistance took up arms, rising to attack and harass the Germans as they retreated from Prague. The Czechs were eager to drive the occupiers from their capital before they could reduce it to “scorched earth”. Hrstka, who had sheltered us in his artificial flower shop, was a senior officer in the underground; he took a brief break to come and tell us, with shining eyes: “My company is setting out to engage the Germans. Do you wish to join the liberation fighters?” Although still weak from the years of tribulation we had endured, we jumped at his invitation. We were issued arms and ammunition - whose weight virtually equaled ours - and given hasty training; our main duties were as guards securing the second line. On May 8, the Russians reached Prague.
Our share in the drive to free the Czech capital earned us decorations and documents attesting to our having taken part in the city’s liberation. Hrstka escorted us to the population registry, where he saw to it that we were issued provisional documents classifying us as Czech citizens until the authorities got around to approving our naturalization.