Jiří Pavel Kafka

07.07.2014 | 00:00
Jiří Pavel Kafka

Lieutenant colonel retired Jirí Pavel Kafka was born on 2 May 1924 as the  rst-born soon of a Jewish lawyer. His father Emil was 20 years older than his Mum Eliška Weinerová, who came from Ceský Brod. His parents got married in 1922 or around that time and lived in the Smíchov District of Prague and then on Parížská street in Central Prague. His Mum was a very kind, clever, strong and capable woman, who was good at languages. His Dad had a law  rm on Rytírská street and he worked in the Prague Jewish community as a volunteer for its chief until the war started.

Jirí together with his younger brother Felix (date of birth 28 June 1925) went to the Academic secondary school at Príkopy. Jirí never took the approaching threat of National socialism very seriously. As a boy he went to Tchelet lavan (Blue white), one of the  rst Jewish youth movements. He  rst found out about his journey by train from Czechoslovakia to London together with his brother about a month before departure. Their parents sorted everything out with Mr. Winton. Yes, with Sir Nicholas Winton, who took 699 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, rescuing them, and who turned a blessed 105 years of age in May 2014. Their parents wanted the boys to  nish the school year so their departure date was 28 June 1939, which was Felix‘s 14th birthday. The children of the father‘s brothers Max and Karl also left for England, but not as part of Winton‘s transportation.

The adults stayed and awaited their fate, which was ruthless. Jirí remembers that grandfather Ludvík Kafka died at home before the transportations to Terezín. Max and Karel Kafka went through the Terezín ghetto and died in extermination camps, as did the two sons and daughter Julie with the baby of grandfather Bernard Weiner, who died in the ghetto inTerezín. Only Karl‘s son František and Max‘s daughter Marie were saved thanks to departing for London. Jirí‘s Dad was lucky that during the time when Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis he was in Paris and London negotiating the arrival of a certain number of Jews, but the war broke out, the borders were closed and he couldn‘t return. During the war he worked in London at the Ministry for economic renewal of the Czechoslovakian exiled government. At his o ce Jirí also met Jan Masaryk. Jirí‘s Mum was deported on the second transportation in November 1941 to the ghetto in Lodz, Poland. Despite never talking much about her experiences, Jirí heard her say that in the ghetto in Lodz it was up to her to look after girls fourteen years old and older. In August 1944 because of the approaching Red Army she was transported to Osvetim and in the winter of that year to Northern Moravia to a factory in Bernartice, where she survived to experience the liberation.

The  rst place Jirí stayed at in England was a camp for refugee children in Ipswich. After the holidays he completed his studies at secondary school in Cheltenham and started training at Sigmund Pumps in Gateshead. When he was an adult on 13 June 1942 he enlisted in the Czechoslovakian army in England, and within a month he was chosen for the Czechoslovakian squadron of the Royal Air Force. He went through training, in the Bahamas among other places, and was given the combined role of radio operator-gunner at the 311, the Czechoslovakian bombing squadron of the RAF as sergeant in the crew of sta captain Rudolf Protiva and later in the crew of Lieutenant Jan Josef Hubicka. As Jirí says fondly, he has many great memories of serving in the RAF, but there‘s no point mentioning them, and the same applies for the bad ones. The operations of the squadron were ended on 4 June 1945.

After the war, the  rst to return to Prague was the Mum, and on the street she met Jaroslav Kafka, the cousin of Jirí, who had just come back from a concentration camp. As he had been allocated an apartment on Klimentská street, he o ered her a place to stay. His Dad moved in with them after returning with the exiled government. Jirí returned to Prague together with his 311 squadron in August 1945 and after so many years he met his Mum again. Later his parents got their own apartment, also on Klimentská street. His brother Felix returned home for a student festival, he met his parents, but he returned to England, where he continued to study. After the war, Jirí didn‘t stay with the air force, he thought about studying, but in the end he began teaching English and worked at the o ce of the dispatch company of his father‘s friend – Rivnác & Šula. Circumstances in the country were becoming dismal though. And because his brother lived in England and Jirí also as a member of the British army could demobilise where he enlisted, he didn‘t hesitate for long. So he left the country for a second time to go to London, again by train, this time with another  ve people in a similar position in a section for British soldiers.

His parents remained in Czechoslovakia and his Dad died in December 1948 already. When Jirí returned for his funeral, he began sorting out a travel permit to England for his Mum. They lived there to start o with together with his brother, and Jirí ran an importing company. In 1952 he married Dorothy Blundy, with whom he had a son Stephen (1954) and a daughter Helen (1956). During 1960 the whole family left to Israel, where they lived until 1968, and after returning to England Jirí worked as a developer. He went to Czechoslovakia several times, but before his  rst journey he  rst had to redeem Czechoslovakian citizenship. In 1986 Jirí‘s Mum died and two years later his wife died. In 1990 he arrived in Czechoslovakia to visit his friend Pavel Vranský, and he  rst met his current partner Helen Machacová, and has remained here since then.

for Terezín Memorial Ludek Sládek

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