Pavel Theiner - memories of my grandfather from a lost world


Pavel Theiner was eleven when his family left Prague in 1968. From his London exile Pavel's father became one of the most prominent figures in the Czech émigré literary community, and Pavel grew up unable to return to the country where he had spent his childhood. But today he is back in his native Prague with his wife and four-year-old daughter, working as a media researcher. Here he remembers his grandfather, a man who has remained important in Pavel's life, even though he died when Pavel was still small.

Pavel TheinerPavel Theiner "My grandfather was from a generation that is no longer around in Central Europe. He was called Jan and was of Jewish origin, although, like almost all Czech Jews, they were totally assimilated. For them the main commitment was the Czechoslovak state, and they weren't very religious at all.

It fascinates me when I think of him. He worked for the large printing works in Kolin [east of Prague], and in 1938 - I think wisely - he left the country for England. What I find quite interesting, and for younger generations, including mine, not that easy to comprehend, is his degree of commitment. Here you have an office person, who by the beginning of the Second World War was around 38 or 39 years of age, and still he felt it was his duty to join the Czechoslovak Army. So he was in the Artillery at Dunkerque and in North Africa. I've no idea what he did in the Artillery as he was a very gentle man and he wasn't a professional soldier, nor, as far as I am aware, had he had any army training.

So my memories are of someone who is no longer around to ask, and I'm sorry about that. He died when I was six years old in Prague in 1962 or 1963.

"It also brings up the wider issue, where if you think that those cities like Prague and Brno, pre-Second World War, were basically a mixture of Czechs and Jews and Germans. For obvious reasons - the annihilation of the Jewish community firstly and secondly the expulsion of 3 million Germans after the war - those cities will never be the same again, and I think that's a great pity."