The Souhrada Family Website
Emigration from the Village of Bernartice and vicinity.
By Jiří Souhrada and František Mikolášek
Illustration: arch. Vladimír Jestřáb
1997 – 2000
I am sorry that I did not write down from memory the experiences of my father, who lived in America both before and during the First World War. He was alive when I was a child, but no child could write down all that his parents told him!
I have these memories of those thirty years. At the beginning in 1930, my father and one other man stopped in the village of Bernartice during their travel from Bechyne. There was nothing special, just a countryman coming back from America to visit his native country. This guest of my father was known by all good people as the "Vsesokolsky Slet". He was older than my father, small and he wore a dark suit. I ran to get coffee for them which cost five krone. They drank coffee from a yellow cup that I think was porcelain, and decorated with pictures of a shepherd and a goose herd. Between talking and drinking coffee, I still remember that one would ask a question and one would reply. "You, Vojta, I ask you. Why was your voice shaky when you spoke?" The man smiled. "It is so, Frank, I had to find a lot of money for the revolution, and for the Czech president Masaryk and this voice helped me." Our guest was Vojta Benes, a school inspector, a deputy and the brother of a Foreign Minister.
The Second memory I have is from the end of the 30 years. This was the second war that my parents lived through. A Mr. Parson visited my father, perhaps because my father wrote one story about emigrations to America, and he wanted some information. Or perhaps because my father was very ill, and he knew that my father would live for only a few more days. Mr. Parson said that he asked my father what was your first memory at the beginning in America, and what do you often remember? "It was one big drudgery", spoke father. “We still have those coffee cups, as they are full of memories, and we use them now only for exceptional times. I remember that every freedom is expensive. It cost a lot of money, and the Czechs who emigrated had a very hard life. They lived in a hard time but they still managed to present a lot of dollars that they earned from work, to our Czech president T.G.Masaryk. About these Czech countrymen, I have prepared this information.
- A FEVER
After the memorable year of 1848, life changed for the Czech people. There was the beginning of more freedom and slowly life was better. This was true also for the people in Bernartice. Emigration fever hit about halfway through the 19th century in the Czech country. It also did not pass South Bohemia. At this time County Milevsko was a nice county with small hills, but it did not have good ground for farming, so the county was filled with poor farmers and craftsmen. This county became a county of emigration. People left to look for food in Prague, in Vienna or in Germany, and by even traveling over the ocean. The best emigration was that which went to America. The emigrations from county Milevsko – Bernartice – Bechyne shared some characteristics, which included definite social and economic reasons. The emigration took place over all the second half of the19th century. The first emigrants traveled to America with a dream for what their next life would be like. They did not know what was waiting for them, but they were prepared for hard work and prepared to make a better living for their families. It was very brave decision of these people, as before their travel over the ocean, they had only traveled to Church, to school, to a fair in the village of Sepekov, to the market, to Milevsko and only rarely, a long way from home to perhaps service in the army. Later in time, these people applied in large numbers for passports to use for emigration to America. It was an extraordinary number people with a lot of babies, who emigrated and the most were coming from Bohemia.
The pattern of the emigration curve in Milevsko’s district followed approximately this course:
Up to the year 1855 - a growth
1856 - 1860 - a decline
After 1861 - a growth
1869 -1872 - intense growth
1873 -1879 - a decline
1880 - 1882 - a growth
After 1883 - a decline
It is estimated that in the years from 1855 and until the beginning of the first World War, in the region of Milevsko - Bernartice - Bechyne, there were given 3000 applications for passports, and apparently the most were from South Bohemia. The applications were for anywhere from 2 - 8 persons listed on any one particular application, and so this would mean that there were approximately 8,000 emigrants. A detailed search on the number of applications from Bernartice and surrounding areas leads to the conclusion that for every one application for a passport, there were listed an average of three persons. That means that before the First World War almost every family in the area had some members of the family, or close friends and neighbors who left for America.
The applications for emigration passports addressed to the C.K. District Administration in Milevsko in the years 1876 -1886 are recorded in a full number set in the Pisek district archives, and are found in a smaller number for the next years of emigration. This number of applications enables us to attempt a probe into what life was like in South Bohemia at the time they were submitted, and offers an answer to two basic questions: who left, and why they left this country and sought a new life over the ocean.
We find a marked amount of émigrés in the little towns, and the first was Borovany, and then later Sepekov and Oparany. In Bernartice alone, one emigration wave directly affected 40 families. An interesting fact for the extent of emigration is witnessed by the fact that while in Bohemia for the years 1880 -1910 the population density for a square kilometer increased from 113-130 people. In that same period of time from South Bohemia, there emigrated more people than were born, and the population density around Milevsko, Bernartice and Bechyne fell from 65 to 62 people per square kilometer.
DREAM OF A BETTER LIFE
The emigration of people from Bernatice to America, was similar to that of other regions in the South Bohemia area, and was greatly influenced by several elements. There was the poverty of the people; invitations to move made by former earlier emigrants already settled in America; the oppressive treatment of the ruling authorities in the home country. Other causes, to a lesser degree, which affected the act of emigration were, the recruitment effort of agents of the sailing ship companies; an aversion to mandatory service in the army; fear of punishment at home for some actions and for immoral behavior, and lastly, the hope for a better way of life.
Many fathers of families realized their inability to sustain their often very numerous families in this non-industrial region. The home cottages were not very big and they were lived in by many people which lead to family pressures. In the first half of the 19th century the amount of people living in a one room structure was very high. In the village of Podoli the average was ten in a cottage; in the village of Borovany the average home housed 9 persons, and in the village of Bernatice there were 31 cottages with at least seven occupants.
In that time Jan Pisecky a teacher from Srlin complained, "Children cannot attend the Lords Church because of the poor clothing they have, and it would be good for their education, but because of poverty and lack they must stay behind." Josef Knizek in the late 1860's established a factory that manufactured pipe stems. This brought employment for tens of people in the area, but this was almost too late, occurring in the last quarter of the century. The lives of people were influenced by two very frequent calamities: a poor to bad harvest, and building fires. In 1853 there was a very bad harvest season for both corn and potatoes. Four years later, the harvest was destroyed by hail shortly before it was gathered. The year 1893 was also marked by a poor harvest, and in the latter years there were only 27 houses that brought in whole harvests. The building fires did not avoid even the surrounding towns.
Imagine the dream, that those emigrants who were thrifty, could save to get a piece of land which they would be able to cultivate and which would give them a good living, or that craftsmen would be better paid for their work, all over the ocean, in America. This dream eventually prevailed over those who found it hard to decide. Many people, especially the young, were able to say goodbye to their homes, relatives, friends and the graves of their ancestors. These émigrés overcame the fear of a long and dangerous journey and they left for a great hope.
Occasionally the wave of emigration hit more strongly one or more neighboring villages. During those times more families set out on the journey together. For example, in the spring of 1877 there was the five member family of Vaclav Jedlicka and the six member family of Frantisek Machovsky, both were families from the village of Skrychov. In the year 1882 we find in the village of Bernatice the emigrant family of Frantisek Kambersky numbering six members and one of them a daughter just nine months old and then there was the family of Jiri Pechota, which had five members and the youngest son was but one year old, who made the journey. Very often whole families from Oparany went to America together: in the year 1881 there was a six member family of Jan Bartunek and a six member family of Josef Petrik, and with them was the 63 year old mother of Mr. Petrik. In 1883 a seven member family of a former town gamekeeper, Vaclav Bartunek, with a baby son; a six member family of Josef Kodada, with a baby daughter, and an eight member family of Tus who also emigrated with a baby daughter. In 1886 it was the family of Josef Kubka.
The number of applications for passports is a witness for the hard situation that faced many South Bohemian families. The 45 year old laborer Vaclav Blazek from the village of Bernartice writes in the March 1886 application for a passport for he, his wife and their two daughters, "I have no property here and so I don't lose anything here if I move and if it is not better there. I don't think it can be worse than here." There is another such sentence in one other passport application, "I am quite a poor father of five children and in my poverty I am not able to nourish them any more." Frantisek Kotrba from Lisnice justified his application in 1871 saying, "In all respect, below signed has the intention to emigrate to North America with his family and hopes that for his future he will have a better livelihood and can better provide for my under age children. I have eight small children, and as a laborer I am not able to nourish them. And so I think that as my friends write to me, that there I will have more easily earned and better wages than I have here." Frantisek Strejcek from Branice writes in his application for himself, his wife and three sons that his earnings as a laborer, "is only 20-25 krejcars for a day". In that time of 1888 it was about the price of a half kilogram of sugar. For two illiterate sisters named Josefa and Marie Dusek, who were simple laborers or servant girls from the village of Preborov, somebody wrote in their application, "We, sisters signing here, have wanted to emigrate for some time to North America and to try if we can to better our life there because we know several examples of emigrants in America, who by their first year, reached a splendid post." The sixty year old cottager, Michael Mika from Sepekov, justified this in his 1871 application, "Because I can see that my farming (effort) is going down and it is not possible anymore to have any prosperity dependent on this livelihood, I bought an estate in America and when I will be able to take care of it properly, it can then provide a future for me, my daughter and her husband."
The most number of emigrations seem to come from those people who received invitations from their relatives. We have the story of 52 year old Tomas Slivka from Vusi who decided to emigrate in the spring of 1871. "I decided to emigrate with my family to the United States of America because I already have a son who has settled there and who is able to provide for me a carefree future, as he should." This is found in the application, that was written for Vaclav Svanda, and that he signed with three crosses. We find that even brothers and sisters of émigrés were being invited to America. "My son, Frantisek Turek, born in 1862, decided to emigrate to America because his sister, my daughter, lives there and has for some years and she prospers well." On the 14th of September, Jan Turek from Jestrebice writes in the passport application for his 35 year old son, the cottager Josef Novotny, that he is the father of four children and has been invited by his brothers. "My brothers, who have lived in America for more than a year, have written to me to bring my family and there have a better future than we have here, and that is why I decided to immigrate to North America, in fact to Chicago, state of Illinois, because of the following reasons. The below signed has a true friend, namely his brother-in-law Jan Valse, who has promised in many letters that if he would show love by coming to visit him, that he would pay all of the travel expenses plus present him with a rich amount of money. That is why the below signed decided, together with his wife, to visit the friend and to go on this journey as soon as possible." Frantisek Buchtelik from Veselicko wrote in his application on March 28, 1871 that the authorities did not give much care to his family name. One time they wrote it as Buchtelik, and the next time Buchtele or Buchtela. Josef Rybak decided to send his 19 year old son to America and he stated, "My close relatives who are settled in America, have written to me to send them my son Josef Rybak, who has a birth certificate to show that was born in 1852. He can stay there for some time and gain experience. In such a journey he can gain also in knowledge about the world, he will know the value of land, without which no peasant can become a success. He also will learn personally how hard it is to provide a livelihood and in the future he can avoid weakness which in Europe has destroyed the wealth of individuals and whole classes of people as well. Because I agree with this all, and believe that it will be very useful for my son, I am not against his emigration, but I approve it…Okrouhla, February 2, 1871."
Not only relatives but also friends invited others to emigrate over the ocean. Vaclav Krizek from Male Zbesicky wrote on June 12, 1876, "To have a better livelihood, I decided together with my wife to go to North America. Our friends, who live in North Dakota, have made sure for us that we will have a better life there, and so we are resolved to take this journey. We need to have an important permission for it, and that is why we ask a reputable C. K. district administrator for it, and I am sending the necessary enclosures." The 30 year old independent innkeeper and former baker, Jan Vejdovec from Veselicko wrote in his application for a passport on the 6th of April, 1870, "I have an intention to move with my entire family to North America, because I have wealthy friends there, who will help me and my family with our livelihood." Another innkeeper by the name of Josef Panoch, who was from the village of Pisek which was a Budejovice suburb, and who resided at No. 82 Tabor Street, decided for emigration, saying in his application, "I, respectfully as signed below, have friends in America, who as farmers have very good futures and they prosper. They have invited me and my family to go to their place, and that they will help provide for me a more splendid future and for my children a better livelihood. That is why I sold my pub in Pisek and now I and my ten other family members have to live from a coach, as I thought that for emigration to America we did not need an application or any other thing. We have also recently bought ship tickets and have to be ready to board a ship named the Helena in Hamburg on the 3rd of September, 1877. I am a citizen of Radetice, but for more than five years following the time when I sold my farm in Radetice, I have lived as an innkeeper in Pisek.