As part of this year’s celebrations of the centenary of modern Czech statehood, Czech president Miloš Zeman and his Slovak counterpart Andrej Kiska undertook a joint ride on a historical train to mark the anniversary of the declaration of independent Czechoslovakia and also to commemorate its first head of the state Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
One hundred years ago this October, just before the end of World War I, Czechoslovakia declared independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While these are basic historical facts you might expect every schoolchild to know, a newly released poll shows that almost 1 in 5 adults cannot name an event from 1918 – and even fewer knew the basic history of more recent decades.
Petra Tonder’s father Ivo Tonder took part in the Great Escape in 1944 and later also succeeded in breaking out of prison in his native Czechoslovakia. There, like many former RAF aviators, he had been persecuted by the Communists after their 1948 takeover. In the second half of a two-part interview, Petra Tonder shares details about her own incredible journey to freedom as a very small child, and the lives her family led in the UK. But first she discusses her parents' post-war return to – and subsequent escape from – Czechoslovakia.
RAF officer Ivo Tonder played an important part in what became known as the Great Escape, a mass breakout by Allied airmen from a German prisoner of war camp in March 1944. But this was only one of many escapes by the Czech pilot, who evidently had nerves of steel – and a lot of luck. I recently spoke with his daughter, Petra Tonder, who came to our studios with a copy of In the Heavens and in Hell, a book by Tonder and the famous photographer Ladislav Sitenský. In the first half of a two-part interview, Petra Tonder describes her father’s remarkable
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.
Philosopher Julius Tomin left communist Czechoslovakia for the UK a few years after signing Charter 77. As he explained when we spoke, the Plato expert found it near impossible to find a job in academia in his adopted country. But the second half of our two-part interview begins with his underground seminars in Prague; they led to the creation of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation in Oxford after Mr. Tomin invited leading Western philosophers to deliver clandestine lectures.
The Czech philosopher and Charter 77 signatory Julius Tomin is perhaps best-known for inviting top Western philosophers to speak at clandestine seminars he ran in Prague during the late communist era. Recently the UK-based Mr. Tomin visited his native city for events marking the 40th anniversary of that move, which eventually gave rise to the Oxford-based Jan Hus Educational Foundation. But when we met I first asked the 79-year-old ex-dissident about his family background.
In the early years of Radio Free Europe, the U.S. station – although initially founded and largely secretly funded by the CIA – played a critical role in providing balanced, objective news to listeners in the Eastern Bloc, especially during turbulent periods of history. Having failed to live up its own standards when covering the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, RFE took a radically different approach to its coverage of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, says former RFE director A. Ross Johnson.