WWII-era letters from Prague by relatives of former US ambassador describe the advancing Holocaust
A book of letters describing the onset of the Holocaust and the gradual introduction of prohibitions for the Jewish population of Prague was launched yesterday at the Lucerna Palace by the editors together with former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro. The letters were written from 1939 through 1941 by his family members, who remained behind in occupied Prague, to their adult children who had managed to move to the USA.
Some of the family's grandchildren also remained in occupied Prague, one of whom was Raya Czerner Schapiro, the mother of the future ambassador. She and her sister later arranged for annotated English translations of the letters to be published as "Letters from Prague 1939-1941".
The letters describe everyday life in Prague prior to the authors' deportations and are written in a language of familial love, hope, and intimacy, according to the publisher. The Czech-language edition of the book is edited by historian Kateřina Čapková and published as "Dopisy z Prahy 1939-1941".
Schapiro's grandparents, the Czerners, who lived in Prague with their three children, attempted to emigrate after the Nazis invaded. They offered their large apartment to a German officer in exchange for permission for five people to leave the German Reich.
The officer, however, brought them just three exit visas instead of five. The parents left with their young son, while five-year-old Raya and seven-year-old Helga remained behind in Prague with their Uncle Edwin and their aunt, Mrs Czerner's sister.
The American consul in Prague promised at the time to send both girls to their parents soon. However, the USA had quotas for refugees that had already been filled in the case of Czech applicants.
At the last moment, thanks to their father's ethnic origin, both girls managed to fit into the quota for "Russian" refugees. They were reunited with their family in the United States.
Raya earned a medical degree, married, and gave birth to her son Andrew. In 2014 he became the American ambassador and arrived in Prague, the city his mother had left while still a preschooler.
Helga and Raya's mother died in 1990, after which they discovered a box of 77 letters written by their grandmother and grandfather in Prague to their mother in the US. Bearing the stamp of the German censor, the letters had been sent from Prague to America between 1939 and 1941.
The first letters describe the grandparents' anxiety over how to get their granddaughters to their parents in America. The letters are intermingled with reports of concerns about the Jewish population and how the Czech authorities and Hitler were treating them.
The letters describe how one official decree followed another and how the process that led to the destruction of Jewish people in Europe was begun. Helga and Raya then had the letters translated into English and offered them to the world, with annotations, as authentic testimonies to the injustices committed in the name of antisemitism and Nazism against their close relatives and all of their co-religionists.
- DEADLINE 26 APRIL: Int'l conference 11-13 May on "European Roma Identity in the 20th Century in Light of Documenting Holocaust Victims"
- Czech Republic: Commemoration of Romani victims of the Holocaust on 13 May at Lety Memorial
- European organizations meet in Berlin to discuss combating hatred and teaching about the Holocaust, including Roma
- Czech Govt Council on Roma Affairs insists Museum of Romani Culture manage Romani Holocaust memorial at Hodonín
- Director of Jewish Museum in Prague responds to commentary by František Kostlán, says its remarks about him are "gossip"
- Even in hell, she chose good: Alfreda Markowska, the Polish Romani woman who saved Jewish and Romani children from the Nazis
- Brooke Pavek, an American with Romani roots, has more than 700 000 social media followers
- Alexander Soros: We celebrate the identity, self-determination and unity of Roma, Open Society Foundations will always support them
- Czech clergyman proposes the readers themselves choose the names of Holocaust victims to be read on Yom Hashoah this year, whether Jewish or Romani
- Petr Mati, social pedagogue, tells Czech Health Minister his communication style about COVID-19 is demotivating
- Exhibition in Czech capital shows newly-identified photographs of the deportations of Jewish people from Prague during the Holocaust
- Holocaust survivors and remembrance organizations object to how younger generation is using TikTok to commemorate victims
- Czech ceremony commemorating Romani prisoners sent to Auschwitz on 20 August attended by more than 150 people
- Slovak Prime Minister says the Holocaust and its Romani victims must be remembered so that its "bloody history" will never be repeated
- Grandson of Holocaust survivor says he experiences racism on a daily basis in the Czech Republic
- UK Holocaust commemoration features Romani activist Daniela Abraham, who met with royals