The Prague composer of Jewish descent, Hans Krása, wrote Brundibár using Adolf Hoffmeister’s libreto as early as 1938. Sadly however, the opera only became famous once it premiered in Terezín on September 23rd 1943. Krása himself studied the opera with small jewish children after being deported to Terezín. Here it was performed more than 50 times.
The late Sir Nicholas Winton saved the lives of 669 children, most of them Jewish, when he organised for them to leave Czechoslovakia for his native UK on the eve of WWII. His daughter Barbara Winton has told his remarkable story in the book If It's Not Impossible...: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton and in July discussed what drove him and much more at the Melting Pot forum at Colours of Ostrava music festival, which is where I caught up with her.
Central Europe abounded in thriving Jewish communities for many centuries. They were frequently a target of official discrimination and had to try very hard to carve out their place in societies that were often hostile to their culture and religion. But there are many examples of peaceful coexistence of the Jewish diaspora in the predominantly Catholic Czechia. One of them can be found in the heart of the Highlands region.
David Lawson had never heard of Ostrava when, fifteen years ago, his London synagogue received a Sefer Torah that had belonged to a once vibrant community in that industrial city. Now, it’s fair to say, he is an expert on both the history of Ostrava and the key role Jews played in its development over centuries. I asked Mr. Lawson, co-author of the new book “Ostrava and its Jews: Now no-one sings you lullabies”, how it all came about.
In the last edition of Czech Books we featured an interview with Zuzana Justman, who with her older brother and mother survived the wartime Terezín ghetto. Her brother Jiří Robert Pick later wrote a remarkable novel set in the ghetto, under the title “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”. The book draws richly from his own memories; with an unexpected lightness and humour it tells the story of a teenage boy and the people around him – his friends and the older men sharing a ward with him in the ghetto infirmary. Thanks to Zuzana Justman
“Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” is a remarkable book by many standards. It is a comic novel set in the wartime Jewish ghetto in Terezín, written by the Czech satirist Jiří Robert Pick some twenty years after he survived the ghetto. The book is a classic, sparkling with life and humour, in defiance of the dehumanizing environment in which it was written. Thanks to J. R. Pick’s sister, the award-winning documentary film-maker Zuzana Justman, the book has just been published in English translation. In a two-part special, Zuzana talks
Martin Šmok moved to the US in the 1990s to work with the USC Shoah Foundation, which has recorded video interviews with more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. Long back in Prague, he remains a senior international program consultant with the project and is also active in the field of education. When we spoke, the conversation took in Czech attitudes to the Holocaust, “constructs of the enemy” in Czech society and more. But I first asked Šmok how he had been shaped by working with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors for over two decades.
For nearly 20 years, the Multicultural Centre Prague has been involved in promoting human rights and respect for cultural diversity. Their activities and projects focus on the social and economic advancement of migrants in the Czech Republic or inclusion of socially disadvantaged minorities. I met with the centre’s director Zuzana Schreiberová to discuss some of their activities, including a project called Prague Shared and Divided or the recently published Prague-Warsaw newspaper:
Since her early childhood in the 1920s, Lisa Miková had dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. When as a student she started submitting her designs to one of the best Prague salons, there was every reason to think that her dream would come true. But Lisa was Jewish, and the German occupation brought her studies to an abrupt end. In 1942, at the age of twenty, she was sent with her parents to the Terezín Ghetto. There she fell in love with a young engineer called František, and in the tough conditions of the ghetto they married. Miraculously they
Jaroslava Doležalová has become an honorary citizen of her home town Žďár nad Sázavou. She hid a little Jewish girl during WW II and probably saved her life, risking her own and her husband's in the process. Hardly anybody knew about it for a very long time and it has only been brought to public attention now, more than seven decades later. So, Mrs. Doležalová in the 93rd year of her life receives well-deserved, even if long-delayed, accolades and praise. But her story also reveals something less praiseworthy about the Czech attitude toward