It’s been a while since we’ve heard Vlado’s “voice”, so here are a few letters between him and his friends, Don and Marty Davies, from 1955. Their fondness for Vlado is obvious, but it was Marty who wrote these wonderful letters. We don’t get to learn exactly what happened to the Davies car, but there was an accident on the road to La Berarde; and Vlado was being a know-it-all about the altitude of Col d’Izoard with Don, which prompted a “scolding” from Marty. Vlado refers in one letter to a dispute with a Czech Ambassador in Washington about his passport renewal, and I have included scans of the documents in regards to that. Also included are the condolence letters from Don and Marty to Vlado’s mother and sister, from September 1961.
Dear Don and Marty,
you might remember the little Indian chappie called Radhakrishnan who was precis-writer for the GOC and UNCI (if you still remember what that stood for!) – he used his savings from various currency operations etc to make a trip to New York and was taken by Foster to see the Empire State Building. Asked for his impression, he said simply: “It reminds me of sex.” Poor Foster speculated for a while about the symbolic implications of that comment and finally asked point blank for an explanation – which was “but everything reminds me of sex.” Mutatis mutandis (and there’s quite a bit of mutatis, I hasten to add) I’m in the same predicament – everything seems to remind me of the Davieses. To start with – a year ago was the momentous date when I tried to introduce you to the noble sport of skiing and found a response enthusiastic beyond all my expectations; also, last weekend I spend at Mrs Cornwall’s Lodge in North Creek,- although this time both days were perfectly sunny and there was no need to have recourse to crossword-puzzles; going up I was caught speeding practically at the same spot as when we drove up to make our concerted attack on Mt. Marcy:- happily I was able to talk myself out of it; and so on ad infinitum. In other words, I miss you.
I started the New Year with a rather successful party, featuring the traditional roasted pig without the corresponding (also traditional) stinked-in apartment,- but things started going wrong thereafter. I tried to cold-shoulder an infected throat, hoping that the infection will get disgusted and leave if I don’t pay any attention to it, and ended up with a bad bronchitis which kept me at home for two weeks. It may have lasted longer but for the fact that at the end of two weeks came the weekend when I was assigned by the Appalachian Mountain Club to lead a 15-mile crosscountry excursion, my first leading assignment and so I decided to do my duty, fever or no fever. It turned out to be a blizzard day, and breaking tracks through two feet of new snow with a fifty pound rucksack on my back proved to be just the right medicine for my bug,- they took flight in absolute panick even before we finished the trip. I hope I discouraged them permanently from trying to return.
Your postcard from Garmisch had the foreseeable effect, it made me turn a proper green with envy and spoiled my working efficiency for the rest of the day while I was mulling over in my mind the more pleasant alternatives to my enforced location behind a steel grey desk in a steel grey room under a steel grey sky. Would also be interested to know how you made out in Vienna – bit of home territory for me, you know-, whether it was able to shower on you a sample of its old-time Gemuetlichkeit. Don’t take all your vacation time now – I am still hoping that I may get some assignment to Europe this year, and this time I would like to spend a bit more time with you than last year.
My office activities got somewhat expanded into related channels. I was elected representative on the staff committee, i.e. made a shop steward in our trade union,- I have the smallest unit in terms of number of staff but the only one who represents three Under-Secretaries; and I got stuck with the chairmanship of the UN Ski-Club..- Lonely Hearts Club would probably be really a better name, we have 97 girls and 14 men as members (not to speak of some married couples),-some of the girls quite charming little things [but] I still have a lot of troubles chasing after my bachelor-friends and trying them to induce to come as guests on our weekend excursions. I am probably getting to be known as a hopeless lecher, arriving every weekend to a ski-lodge with a carfull (up to six) of different girls. Good thing I have my visa in the bag, I would never have gotten through the investigation after this.
Remember me to your father, please,- you don’t know how wonderfully comforting it felt to know there are kind and thoughtfull people who not only are willing to help us, but will go out of there way in doing so and in taking the initiative themselves. In your words of the understatement of the year: Nice guy, really. God bless him.
With best wishes to you all-
25 May 1955
Dearest Vlado —
Don’t you suppose you could take Mr. Hammarskjold aside and explain that a very important mission takes you to Europe practically immediately, it is a mission in the best interests of the UN, peace and the fellowship of mankind. You know, the usual sort of stuff. You will be happy to report to him personally of your findings and recommendations. This is by way of telling you our time is up, almost. Plans of this moment are for our departure the twenty-second of June for –guess?? Algiers. Don is going to be something called Public Affairs Officer, much better than visa-stamping, but Algiers is not Paris. Since the French insist the problem there is an internal one which does not concern the UN I fear we can’t expect to see you there. I’m so sad. Paris is heavenly even if it is gray and rainy all the time. It is a divine, divine city and I don’t want to leave.
My only hope of getting you over here before we leave is to tell you we’re making the grand tour south to Marseille, to make you so envious you can’t bear the thought of our doing the Route d’Ete via the Col d’Isere, Col du Galibier, Col Izoard so we can see Briancon and Barcelonnette and you’ll come over to drive south with us. Oh, I know, I know, this isn’t by any means the route to Marseille. We’re going to Vienne for dinner and theatre in the amphi—-. What else can you do in an amphitheatre except theatre? And then we do the mountains. Suddenly, unexpectedly inexplicably Don has taken a fancy to mountains. He like them. Does this sound reasonable to you? Me, neither. I’ve just wound up ten pages to the family which sort of explains the typing, I’m typed out but I’m hoping that with sufficient warning of what is in the wind you will take a plane this way. Not only has Don taken a fancy to mountains, he is also fancying sightseeing. This is not to be believed. He drags ME sightseeing. For an entire year I’ve been apologizing at the same time I’ve been insisting on seeing things. Don used to go wash the car while I did churches or chateaux. Now he has the bug and it has bitten him badly. Won’t you come? Can’t you come? Don’t you think your family would like to see you?
We had such a nice visit with your family one evening ages ages back. I was then going to write you immediately to tell you how well he looked and how full of beans and plans he seemed. Goodness he is such a cutey. We’ve both got pretty sweet fathers. I’d be willing to bet he is all hot and bothered about the possibilities in Czechoslovakia now that Austria has been released. My poor darling of a Pop, though, just when he was getting all set to come to Europe for a long holiday, had a stroke. The news cut my heart in shreds simply because I couldn’t visualize Daddy as a cripple. I didn’t count on the incredible spirit which moves the old boy. Nothing is impossible. At his age, with his heart he has stunned the doctors. Instead of spending the entire summer in California as they has thought necessary, they leave for home the middle of June with Pop back on his feet, navigating, weakly, true, but determined that this will not stop him. The subject of a trip to Europe has been brought up again….He belongs to a tougher breed than any of his children.
Italy was great fun. Another time I’ll forget the existence of Rome which is a dull and singularly unattractive city and just concentrate all travel in the north of Italy. Those wondrous hill towns, each more delightful than the next….The news of the move to Algiers was here on our return. Fine thing to come home to.
Hotel St. George
6 July 1955
Dearest Vlado —
Don has had his scolding; it is now your turn. The two of you were acting like a couple of children. This has absolutely nothing to do with the incident on the road to La Berarde. It was an “accident” in the real sense of the word, unexpected, unavoidable, unpremeditated. Pfft, we forget about it.
But, Vlado, what earthly difference does the precise altitude of the Col d’Izoard make? What great importance does St. Andre’s location on or not on a lake make? There are times when exactitude is frightfully important and insistence upon upmost precision may mean the difference between life and death. But, when Don reads from a travel folder that the Col d’Izoard is blank number of meters high and you flatly contradict him, he can only think that you think he is a stupid oaf because you know the Col is at least blank plus X. I know your reaction because it is one I’ve had to discipline myself to overcome. Fourteen years of discipline because I don’t want to contradict Don and be rude or hurt his feelings. I’ve had to learn that if I disagree or know Don’s position is not right, I must find a way around answering him that will not be contradicting him. Often it means keeping my own counsel if the matter has no great significance; at other times the subject has to be tossed around indirectly until Don sees by himself. Flattery works much better than insult and contradiction often sounds like insult. Contradiction makes conversation impossible….I could watch Don hedging his ideas to protect himself from being pounced upon, hedging them in such a way as to be completely meaningless and thus making himself look exactly the way you made him feel……..Therefore the sullen clouds.
I know now why three squabbling children used to get on Mother’s nerves — yes it is, no it isn’t, it is too, it isn’t either, you’re crazy, I am not, you are too and on and on ad nauseum. And that’s the end of the scolding. Let’s forget it too.
I’ve been told no mountain-climbing here before October, so, unless you can be persuaded to postpone your next summer holiday until Fall, we probably wont see you again till we get home on leave….Thank you for Moustiers Ste. Marie and the very thoughtful call to Marseille. Without you we would have known neither.
Dear Don and Marty,
time flies,- it just knocks my breath out when I stop to think that it is three months since I waved you good-bye at the Roches Blanches in Cassis,- it still seems like last week. I better start recapitulating what I did since to realize how much time I let go by before writing you.
I had a lovely week with mother, Olga and a friend of hers in the Dolomites – each early morning I popped off for a climb while the ladies were resting and picking wild-flowers, and by the time the clouds started gathering in the afternoon, I was back and off we went to the next place. I stopped for a few days of skiing in Cervinia,- went up the Breithorn /4200m/ on skis in shorts, and was roasting through my seventh skin with a tan which even now is still around. Was joined by some friends, fellow-climbers from the Appalachian Mountain Club, in Chamonix for a week’s climbing in the Aiguilles, interspersed with afternoon picknicks in the valley in which Olga and another girl joined up. And then the vacation was over with a blow and back through an empty Paris bereft of your presence and on to New York. Stops in Iceland and Gander, with temperatures near freezing and icy gales, a cold /non-pressurized/ plane, and the shock of landing in New York on the hottest day of the year, and being left standing in our warm clothing and weighted down by assorted luggage on the blazing hot concrete apron in the middle of the relentless afternoon sun. Struggling with heat and humidity through a rather erraticly[sic] unpleasant summer, to be relieved only by the blow and deluge of hurricanes. Apartment hunting /my South-African landlords decided not to have any babies for a while and gave up their “maternity ward” apartment, forcing me to look for a new one/ – but found a very nice place /apt.14-D, 2, Beekman Place, N.Y.22/ a stone’s throw from the office, high up, with unencumbered view over the East River, with the green of the UN garden right under me, bookcases lining not only the living-room and study, but also the bedroom up to the ceiling, and plenty of air,- and I managed to push the price down to 125 a month which is still within my means. A couple of weekends at the shore and one in the White Mountains, and then I took up rock-climbing again and am now hard on it, climbing every weekend. Am spending most of the evenings getting acquainted with the book supply,- see very few people.
Soon after my arrival in New York I was called by my former neighbour from Riverdale, who has taken over /together with three other associates/ the controlling interest in the Muldrow Aerial Survey Corp., a well-established company producing geological maps, surveys, etc. He offered me a job as the manager of their subsidiary company in Calgary /a Canadian corporation/, at a salary of $1.000 monthly, 2% of the sales /another $1.000 monthly/ and expense account including car, club memberships, etc. It was a very tempting offer – it would have meant considerably higher earnings /some 500 $ more monthly after taxes, taking into account that some of my present expenses e.g. car would have been borne by the company/, and a chance to get into private business a few stories about the ground-floor level. However, after a lot of thinking, I refused the offer. Immigration told me that as an employee of a Canadian corporation, I could not maintain my american residence for purposes of acquiring citizenship; the higher earnings seemed more than outbalanced by the lesser security of the job /I had my permanent contract here confirmed, and I have a promotion “in the works”/; the prospect of spending my working day in selling was rather dismal when compared with the pleasure and stimulation that my present job gives me; and last but not least, the prospect of exchanging my independent private life for one where I would have to keep up with the Joneses, backslap prospective customers and be a gregarious “regular” fellow seemed gloomy indeed. So I guess I shall remain an international civil servant for some time to come – offers like that are not falling from heaven each day.
To end this long egotistic tirade – I just had received a registered letter from the Czech Ambassador in Washington asking me to set a date at which it would be convenient to discuss with him personally the question of renewal of my passport /a similar letter was also sent to other emigrees in UN employ/. This is one of the occasions where I wish I was not an international civil servant bound by the rules of diplomatic curtesy[sic] towards an official of one of the Member-governments, so that I could answer the letter in a language appropriate to the occassion!
Before I close, there are two things I want to do. First, to apologize for my behaviour at the Route des Alpes,- I am sincerely sorry to have so stupidly spoiled such a nice trip, and my only and true excuse is that I did not realize what I was doing. My thanks to Marty for opening my eyes. Secondly, to inquire after the health of Mlle. Fregate and about the status of her doctor’s bills – did the insurance company pay up?- Because if not, my offer to cover them still stands, and I will feel much better with a slimmer bank account and a quieter conscience than the other way around. So please let me know.
All the best and lots of love – Vlado
These four documents were paper-clipped together. Click to enlarge.
Miss Mary McKenna, Administrative Officer
Bureau of Personnel
1. As I have informed you by telephone, I have received a letter from the Czech Ambassador in Washington suggesting that “in the matter of your passport it may be necessary to hold person to person negotiations on this question”, and offering three alternative dates on which I may visit his office.
2. I consider myself stateless and I am at present residing in the United States on an immigration visa obtained in accordance with provisions made for immigration of displaced persons; after fulfilling the required period of permanent residence in this country, I intend to apply for United States citizenship. For reasons which I trust are known to the Bureau of Personnel, I cannot in good conscience comply with the suggestion made by the Czech Ambassador.
3. On the other hand, I realize that the staff regulations, while not requiring me to give up my national sentiments or political and religious convictions, impose on me the duty to exercise the reserve and tact incumbent upon me by reason of my international status. Consequently, after consultation with my superiors, I decided to send a polite reply to the letter of the Czech Ambassador. The English translation of my reply would read as follows:
In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of 17 September 1955, I should like to inform you courteously that I do not intend to avail myself of your offer to hold person to person negotiations with regard to the granting of a passport, as this issue has become irrelevant(literal translation: as this question has lost its object)”.
I intend to send this reply on Friday, October 14th, unless directed otherwise by the Bureau of Personnel.
And a message to Vlado from Mary McKenna: “The Office of Personnel has no objections to your letter to the Czech Ambassador but we do not, of course, accept the responsibility of approving it.”
And now, the letters of condolence from Marty and Don:
1908 Belmont Road, N.W.
Washington 9, D.C.
27 September 1961
Nos tres cheres deux Olga,
This morning we laughed again at the mad escalade of Mt. Marcy in the company of Vlado. This evening at dinner we wept for the morning’s excruciating frivolity. Don returned from the office this evening to tell me that his worst suspicions had been confirmed; that the Fabry on the Hammarskjold plane was indeed Vlado.
How could it be, and, yet, how could it be otherwise, for so long as we have known dear Vlado he has been where the UN was having to handle difficult problems. The excitement, the intellectual challenge and the demand upon resources of courage both physical and moral — where else could Vlado be expected? Right there. And Don said this evening he felt that Vlado was merely a younger Hammarskjold, that everything which made Hammarskjold’s loss so irreparable could be repeated in Vlado’s case. Only Vlado, well, Vlado is a very dear and cherished person whom we were privileged to call a friend and whose family we have come to love as our own. Our sense of loss is that of a member of the family.
Our own desolation can be but very little in terms of your own. Vlado was so much more than son or brother; he was your guardian angel, bringing the family together as he did after it had been so painfully separated and then keeping it together with his enthusiasm, devotion and tender care.
Naturally, we are concerned for you both. Wont you let us have a word from you when you feel you can write. If it would suit your plans or your desires, we have heart and the room to take care of you here with us.
With all my devotion deeply saddened,
Sept. 27, 1961
Very dear friends,
It was not until today that I heard about the other members in Mr. Hammarskjold’s plane, and received confirmation of the identities. My first thought was for you. Where are you and what can we do to help?
I found late today that you both are in Geneva – or at least the telegram said “the family” is there.
We grieve for you and our hearts are with you in this difficult time. You must know, of course, that you have our affectionate sympathy.
Please let us know if we can be of assistance. If you plan to return to the United States perhaps we can be of some help in that way.
We would like to be with you now but since I am on post in Washington and will be assigned here for two more years, we cannot see you at least for a while if you are in Europe. But please let us know if there is anything we can do to ease your problems.
We both send our love. Bon courage.