Jindrich Lion "My Escape From Prague"

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Jindrich Lion, a noted journalist and author, takes us through his remarkable life--from interwar Czechoslovakia to Palestine, then back home to begin again--only to leave when the Soviets invaded his country in 1968.

Mr Lion shares with us his photo album,  made in 1938 when he was sixteen years old-- a teenage witness to a history.

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Jindrich Lion was born in Prague in 1922.  Prague was the capital of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938). Read a chronology of key events during Czechoslovakia's statehood (1918-1992) provided by the BBC.

 

 

Jindrich Lion’s brother, František, was born in 1919. At that time, Prague was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Read more on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Read an article on ideas of the Czech National Revival.

 

Jindrich Lion's mother came from Maschau (Czech: Mašt'ov), then part of the "Sudetenland." "Sudetenland" is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia associated with Bohemia.

 

 

 

Jindrich Lion attended the funeral of president Masaryk. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was the president of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935. Masaryk was not only a statesman, but also a sociologist and philosopher. Read an article on Czechoslovakia's first president by Radio Praha, the international service of Czech Radio. Read another biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

Edvard Beneš followed Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in office, and was president of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1948 (in exile during the Second World War). Read his biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

 

 

Jindrich Lion talks about the Munich Agreement. In 1938, the Munich Agreement signed by Germany, France, Britain, and Italy permitted Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses were situated there. The agreement was negotiated among the major powers of Europe without the presence of Czechoslovakia. It was an act of appeasement, which is commonly called the "Munich dictate" or "Munich betrayal" by Czechs and Slovaks. The Yale Law School offers the original text of the agreement in English translation.

 

St. Andrews University offers  a collection of key documents and other materials relating to the "Munich crisis" of 1938. The documents reflect the attitude of Nazi Germany towards Czechoslovakia and the development of the British response to the rising international tension in Central Europe culminating in the Munich Agreement.

 

 

 

 

The term "Appeasement" is most often applied to the foreign policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1939. Read an essay on Chamberlain's foreign politics by the Oxford Biography Index.

 

Before World War II, "Fall Grün" (Case Green) was a German plan for a war against Czechoslovakia. The first draft of the plan was made in late 1937. The final version scheduled the attack for September 28, 1938 but after the Munich Agreement the plan was completely abandoned. St. Andrews University offers the original text of Hitler's directive for "Case Green".

 

In November 1938, Emil Hácha was elected president of the Second Czechoslovak Republic (renamed Czecho-Slovakia), succeeding Edvard Beneš. Read his biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

On March 15, 1939, Nazi Germany, in flagrant violation of the Munich agreement, invaded and occupied the remaining provinces of the rump Czechoslovak state. Read a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum article on the history of Czechoslovakia after 1938. The Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers information on the fate of Czechoslovakia during World War II.

 

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established on March 15, 1939 by a proclamation by Adolf Hitler from Prague Castle. The protectorate, which Nazi Germany established, included central parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia in what is today the Czech Republic. Yale Law School offers the original document concerning the establishment of the protectorate.

 

The partition of Czechoslovakia between 1938 and 1939 determined the fate of its Jews during the war. Read a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum article on the Holocaust in Bohemia and Moravia.

 

In October 1939, the former Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš created the Czechoslovak National Liberation Committee in Paris, France. British diplomatic recognition turned this committee into the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Radio Praha, the international service of Czech Radio, offers a post-Cold War perspective on the wartime Czechoslovak government in London. You can also read an article on Czechs during World War II by Radio Praha.

 

During World War II, Czechoslovak pilots fought for the British Royal Air Force. In 2001, Czech director Jan Sverák, who won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, made a film about these pilots called "Dark Blue World" (Czech: Tmavomodrý svět). Read a BBC film review.

 

In June 1942 the German General Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Prague by members of the Czechoslovak Force serving in England. At that time he was serving as the Reich Protector for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the state formation set up by Nazi regime after occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. In 2002, an exhibition marked the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Nazi governor Heydrich. Read an article by Radio Praha.

 

Lidice, a village just northwest of Prague, was completely destroyed by the Germans in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. On June 10, 1942, the Germans murdered on the spot all men from the village who were over 16 years of age. The rest of the population was sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all the children were killed. You can visit the Lidice memorial online.

 

The Prague uprising was an attempt by the Czech resistance in the last moments of the war to liberate the city from German occupation. Events began on May 5, 1945, The uprising went on until May 8, 1945, ending in a ceasefire the day before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army. Read articles by Radio Praha and the BBC on today's commemoration of the events.

 

Jindrich Lion worked for the Allied Forces in Persia. During World War II, Persia (today's Iran) was a vital oil-supply source and link in the Allied supply line for lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. Though Iran was neutral, the monarch, Reza Shah Pahlavi, maintained sympathy towards the Axis powers. In 1941, Anglo-Soviet forces invaded Iran in order to secure Iranian oil fields and supply lines to the Eastern Front.

 

Jindrich Lion returned to Prague in 1946. At the end of the Second World War, the Communist Party worked with Czechoslovak government for the first time. Competition among political parties was restricted by banning the reestablishment of prewar right-wing parties that had been accused of collaborating with the Germans. All the parties that were permitted were grouped into a National Front. Read an article on the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia after 1945.

 

In February 1948. the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, with Soviet backing, assumed undisputed control over the government of Czechoslovakia. Read an article on the 1948 Coup by Radio Praha.

 

In the film, you can see a picture of Klement Gottwald, longtime leader of the Communist Party (KSC) and prime minister and president of Czechoslovakia from 1948 to his death in 1953. Read his biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

Jindrich Lion tells us about the "Prague Spring" in 1968, a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of Soviet domination. It began on January 5, 1968, when reformist Slovak Alexander Dubcek came to power, and continued until August 21, when the Soviet Union and members of its Warsaw Pact allies invaded the country in order to halt the reforms. Read an article on the Prague Spring by the German magazine "Der Spiegel" and a chronology of events leading to the 1968 Invasion by Radio Free Europe. You can also read a series of essays on the importance of the Prague Spring in the context of Europe's history after 1945.

 

Jindrich Lion conducted an interview with Ludvík Svoboda, a Czechoslovak politician and military leader who fought in both World Wars. 30 March 1968 - the time of the Prague Spring  - Svoboda was elected President of the Republic. Until August 1968 he was acknowledged as a moderate and noncommittal supporter of the reformers. He stayed in office until 1975. Read his biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

Charter 77 (Charta 77) was an informal civic initiative in Czechoslovakia that lasted from 1977 to 1992. Founding members were, among others, Václav Havel, who would become president in 1989. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, many of Charter 77's members came to play important roles in Czech and Slovak politics. The National Security Archives offers an in-depth documentation of the events. Read an original copy of the text provided by Carles University Prague.

 

Jindrich Lion tells us about the events of the "Velvet Revolution." On November 17, 1989, the Communist Party harshly intervened in demonstrations that were organized by students for the 50th anniversary of the closure of Czech schools by the Nazis. People came out on the streets to protest the brutality of the intervention and organized demonstrations and strikes. The Czech Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides information on the Velvet Revolution and its aftermath.

 

At the end of the film you can see a picture of Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech republic (from 1993 to 2003). Read his biography provided by the Office of the President of the Czech Republic.

 

The dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which took effect on 1 January 1993, saw Czechoslovakia split into two separate countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Read an article on the dissolution of Czechoslovakia by author Jirí Pehe.

 

Today, the Czech Republic is a member of NATO (since 1999) and the European Union (since 2004). The Czech Republic presided over the European Union in the first six months of 2009. Visit the official website to find out more on news and events during the Czech presidency.

 

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Jindrich Lion was born in Josefov (also Jewish quarter; Josephstadt in German), a quarter  of Prague, and formerly the Jewish ghetto. Historical sites include Franz Kafka's birthplace, the High Synagogue (a 16th century synagogue), the Jewish Town Hall (an 18th century rococo town hall), the Klaus Synagogue (a 16th century baroque synagogue), the Maisel Synagogue (a 16th century synagogue destroyed by fire, now used as a museum), the Pinkas Synagogue (a 16th century synagogue, now a memorial to Holocaust martyrs), the Spanish Synagogue (a 19th century synagogue with Oriental interior), the Old Jewish Cemetery (Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, the Old New Synagogue (a 13th century Gothic synagogue), and the Jewish Ceremonial Hall (a 20th century neo-renaissance hall). Find out more about Jewish Prague with the help of the Jewish Virtual Library.

 

 

The Jewish Museum in Prague manages six of the most historic sites in Josefov. You can visit the museum online.

 

The Czech Torah Network is an educational organization promotes Jewish spiritual continuity by connecting synagogues and religious institutions that have Czech Torah Scrolls. During the past 35 years, over 1,500 Czech Torahs have been rescued and distributed by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre of London, England. They are now on permanent loan throughout the world.

 

 

A ghetto is defined by Webster as a "a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure." Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities. Find out more about Jewish ghettos in Europe.

 

Jindrich Lion tells us that he could see the Old New Synagogue from his window. The Old New Synagogue situated in Josefov is Europe's oldest active synagogue. It is also the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin nave design. There are two explanations for the name: The first is based on the German and Yiddish name of the synagogue -according to this explanation, the synagogue was originally called the New or Great Synagogue and later, when newer synagogues were built in the 16th century, it became known as the Old New Synagogue. Another explanation says that the synagogue was   can built from stones from the Temple in Jerusalem, and the synagogue was built "on condition" (in Hebrew: Al-Tnai) that the stones would be returned after the reconstruction of the Temple. Find out more on the website of the Jewish Museum Prague.

 

 

Jindrich Lion's mother went to the Maisel Synagogue. The Maisel Synagogue is a synagogue in Josefov that was built in the 1590s and financed by Mordechai Maisel. Find out more on the Maisel family in the Jewish Encyclopedia. The synagogue burned down at the end of the 17th century and was then later rebuilt in baroque style. It serves today as the Prague Jewish Museum.

 

Jindrich Lion's father was a member of B'nai B'rith. Founded in 1843, the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith (Hebrew "Sons of the Covenant") is the oldest continually-operating Jewish service organization in the world. The organization is engaged in a wide variety of community service and welfare activities. The organization's main body is B'nai B'rith International.

 

 

Learn more about the Jewish history of what is today the Czech Republic in this article from the Jewish Virtual Library.

 

Jindrich Lion used to visit Vienna in his childhood and he later settled there for good. Take a virtual Jewish History Tour of Vienna.

 

 

Jindrich Lion fled from Prague to Palestine at the age of 16. The Jewish Virtual Library provides information on Jewish migration to Palestine. Here is an introduction to the History of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

 

The term Aliyah refers to Jewish immigration to Israel. Aliyah Bet refers specifically to the period between 1920 and 1948.

 

 

Jindrich Lion's journey to Palestine took him from Prague to Trieste, a port city in northeastern Italy near the Slovenian border. With the approach of the Second World War, Trieste became an emergency exit for Jews leaving Europe for Israel. After World War II around 1,500 Jews remained in Trieste; they restored the Synagogue (one of the biggest in Europe) and renewed Jewish communal institutions. Today the Jewish Community numbers at about 600 members. Find out more about the Jewish history of Trieste.

 

Jindrich Lion reached Haifa, which had been the scene of many dramatic confrontations between the British who sought to keep Jews from entering Palestine and the Haganah - a Jewish paramilitary organization - who were smuggling immigrants into the country. Read more on the city's history and Jewish immigration to Israel during the War in articles of the Jewish Virtual Library.

 

 

During the war, Jindrich Lion served in the Palestine Police Force, a British colonial police service established in 1920. The Middle East Centre of St Antony's College, Oxford University, runs a British Mandate Palestine Police oral history project where you can find further information on the colonial police force.

 

Here one will find information from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the United Kingdom's Jewish Brigade Group, which fought under the Zionist flag.

 

 

Jindrich Lion returned to Czechoslovakia in 1946. Though Czechoslovakia soon placed a ban on Jewish emigration to Palestine, it was one of the first countries to recognize Israel in the United Nations. In the years after 1948, relations between Czechoslovakia and Israel grew cold and diplomatic relations were finally severed completely following the 1967 Six Day War. Meanwhile, the Jewish community of Czechoslovakia, consisting of less than 20,000 people, was forced to hide their Jewish affiliation like those in most other Soviet controlled countries. One of them was Jirí Franek, a professor of Slavic studies who lectured at leading German universities and at Charles University Prague. You can read Centropa's interview with Jirí Franek to find out more about this fascinating persona.

 

Read another Holocaust rescue story from Czechoslovakia as part of a book by Ellen Land-Weber, professor at Humboldt State University's Art Department.

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Read about Jindrich Lion's family and about their decision to emigrate to Palestine.

 

Jindrich Lion tells about his return to Prague after the War, his work as a journalist and the rise of the Communist party.

 

 

In this excerpt, Lion tells about the Prague Spring and his escape to Vienna.

 

Jindrich Lion was born in Prague, the "golden city" - one of the most beautiful cities of Europe -  today the capital of the Czech Republic. Go on a virtual visit to the city centre and find out more about Jewish Prague.

 

See all of Centropa's photos from Prague.

 

 

Another name for Prague is "The City of a Hundred Spires". You can take a virtual visit of the city from the top of these spires.

 

During his childhood, Jindrich Lion often visited Vienna, about 250 miles (400 km) to the southeast of his hometown of Prague. He finally settled in the capital of Austria after 1968. Vienna and Prague were both part of the Austrian Empire, which can be detected through their architectural similarities. Take a virtual Jewish History Tour to Vienna or search the Centropa database for pictures from Vienna.

 

 

Jindrich Lion spent his first years in Palestine in Tel Aviv, today the second-largest city in Israel. To find out more about the city's Bauhaus-style architecture, which gave the city its nickname "The White City," read this article provide by the Jewish Virtual Library.  See all of Centropa's photos from Tel Aviv.

 

In 2003 UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has designated the "White City architecture" of Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site. You can read the official description on UNESCO's website.

 

 

During the war, Jindrich Lion's family lived in Jerusalem.  Search the Centropa database for photos from Jerusalem.

 

After the war, Jindrich Lion's brother worked for the Czech News Agency CTK. You can find their English website here.

 

 

Jindrich Lion worked for the newspaper "Svobodné slov" (The Free Word) after his return to Czechoslovakia. You can read on the history of its publishing house, Melantrich.

 

Jindrich Lion's latest publication is a bilingual German-English tourist guide to Jewish Prague in the Mandelbaum Publishing House (website in German).

Film Details

  • Duration:
    00:14:50
    Countries:
    Czech Republic, Austria

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