Every Sunday afternoon in the winter and spring of 2019 was spent with Vladimir recounting the story of his childhood in Pardubice, Czech Republic. He told of his deportation to Terezin concentration camp with his parents, the fateful trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau with his father, of being sent to Gleiwitz to work as slave labor and of the Death March to Blechhammer, where he was liberated in January of 1945. All told, Vladimir Munk had survived four concentration, slave labor and extermination camps. After retiring from public speaking soon after Kitty’s death, he was telling his story again with astounding detail and I was writing down every word.
Each afternoon interview session began with a shot of Slivovitz, a plum brandy produced in Moravia, an Eastern region of Vladimir’s homeland Czech Republic, and symbolically, at least for this expat, it’s national drink. The shots were always healthy pours, by a steady chemist’s hand, into beautiful little glass cups wrapped in decorative leather cozys. After that, the stories would flow easily.
Vladimir would tell of his childhood growing up on the property of a distillery that his father managed in the industrial town of Pardubice. His memory was so vivid, I could see him climbing the mountains of coal as a boy. He loved the boy scouts, and there were pictures of him proudly sporting his scout uniform, with the family dog, Cigy, keeping him company in the photo. Other photos showed an idyllic childhood, with winter and summer vacations, skiing, skating and tennis with his mother while his father worked, and then would join his family later in the mountains or by the lake.
Many afternoons drifted into dinner, with Vladimir making one of his many specialties. In the winter, it was sauerkraut soup with sausage, and in the spring, it was duck. If we were eating light, the shot was later followed by wine, cheese and crackers and grapes. Sometimes there was wine left over from his wine tasting classes, which he held monthly in the library of the residence. I would get to sample what he had offered the full house of participants at the latest tasting. He would give me the wine scorecard and instruct me in the five “S“ rule: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savor.
The articles rolled out in The Sun, online and in the print version, one every two weeks beginning in May of 2019. By the time the last one ran in September of 2019, we were the best of friends.