Jiří Pavel Kafka

07.07.2014 | 00:00
Jiří Pavel Kafka

Trains of second chances

Retired Lieutenant-colonel Jiří Pavel Kafka was born on 2nd May 1924 as the fi rstborn son of a Jewish lawyer. His father was twenty years older than his mother Eliška who came from Český Brod (her maiden surname was Weinerová). His parents got married in about 1922 and fi rst, they lived in Prague’s Smíchov, then at 32 Pařížská Street (the house no longer exists as it was hit by an aircraft bomb during bombing in the war). His mother was a very good-natured, skilled and effi cient woman who was good at languages. Father’s authority at home was unchallenged and Jiří recalls that his father would come home for lunch after which he allowed himself to have “his 15 minutes of rest”. He would also often see his dad in the Oldtown Square when dad was returning from his offi ce and Jiří was on his way from school. Father had his solicitor’s offi ce in Rytířská Street and he also voluntarily held the position of the chairman of Prague’s Jewish Community until the beginning of the war.
Jiří and his younger brother Felix (born 28th June 1925) went to the Academic Grammar School in Příkopy Street. Jiří never took the forthcoming threat of Nazism too seriously, he can only remember that once he was reprimanded by an older man for wearing shorts and who mistook him for a Hitlerjugend member. On the contrary, he says that never in his life, either in Czechoslovakia or England, has he experienced any anti-Jew reaction against himself. As a boy, he went to Tchelet Lavan (Blue white), one of the fi rst Jewish youth movements promoting ideas of romanticism, freedom and inclination towards nature.
The fi rst time he and his brother learned about their impending journey from Bohemia to London was nearly a month before the departure. Their parents arranged everything with Mr. Winton. Yes, it was the Sir Nicholas Winton who transported 699 Jewish children from Bohemia thus saving their lives, the Sir Winton who in May 2014 turned a respectable 105 years. The parents wanted the boys to fi nish the academic year so the departure date was set at 28th June 1939, which was by coincidence Felix’s 14th birthday. Also his uncles Max and Karel’s children František and Marie left for England – though not as part of the Winton’s transport. The grown ups stayed and waited for their fate which was merciless. As Jiří recalls his grandfather Ludvík Kafka died at home before the transports to Terezín in 1941. Uncles Max and Karel Kafka went through the Terezín ghetto and died in the extermination camps. Grandfather Bernard Weiner died in the ghetto in Terezín. His two sons and a daughter Julie with a baby were deported from Terezín eastwards where they were murdered.
Jiří’s father was lucky that in the time of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia he was staying in London where he was negotiating the acceptance of a certain number of Jews but the war broke out, the borders were closed and he could not go back. During the war, he worked for the Ministry of Economic Recovery in the Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London. He would also meet Jan Masaryk in his office.
Jiří’s mother Eliška had a much worse fate. She was deported in the second transport in November 1941 to the ghetto in Polish city of Lodz (between 16th October and 3rd November 1941, some 5 thousand Czech Jews were taken there – only 277 survived). Although his mother never talked much about her experience, Jiří heard from her that in Lodz, she “was welcomed” by the head of the Elders Council, Mr. Rumkowski. Her task in the ghetto was looking after girls of fourteen and older. In August 1944, she was taken to Auschwitz. In winter 1944, she was sent to northern Moravia to work in a factory in Bernartice which belonged to a Nazi Šlechta. Here, Eliška saw liberation.
The fi rst destination in England for Jiří junior was a children’s refugee camp in Ipswich. After the summer holiday, he started going to secondary school in Cheltenham. He started his apprenticeship with Sigmund Pumps in Gateshead and after turning 18 he joined the Czechoslovak Military Unit in England on 13th June 1942. He was there for about a month where he was chosen for the Czechoslovak Squadron operating in the Royal Air Force. He underwent training, with others in the Bahamas, and later was assigned to the combined post of radio operator-gunner with No 311 Czechoslovak Squadron RAF, whose motto was “Never regard their numbers”. The squadron were fl ying the British Vickers Wellington bombers from August 1940 and from May 1943 the American Consolidated Liberator.
Sergeant Jiří Kafka was fi rst posted to the crew of Captain Rudolf Protiva (died 17th January 1949 on a passenger plane Dakota near the Belgian coast) and later to the crew of the First Lieutenant Jan Josef Hubička. As Jiří says lost in daydreaming, there were many best memories from his RAF days but they are not worth mentioning just like the bad ones. Nevertheless, there are many things to remember, for instance, when they had to land with their Consolidated Liberator bombers without the landing gear “on their bellies” or when there was a fi re in the aircraft. The squadron did their operational, but above all, patrol fl ights over the Bay of Biscay, and in the Atlantic fi rst from Predannack Airfi eld in Cornwall (23rd Feb – 9th Aug 1944) and later from Tain Airfi eld in the Highlands (9th Aug 1944–4th June 1945). Their targets were enemy ships and submarines which were threatening the Allied convoys.
The squadron did their last operational fl ight near the Norwegian coast. The estimates of casualties of the fl ying staff of 311 Squadron vary; there were probably 250 killed (including Zdeněk Launer, Jiří’s schoolmate at the elementary school) and 35 captured. The squadron stopped their operational activities on 4th June 1945 and Jiří returned to Prague in August 1945 with his squadron.
After the war, the fi rst one to return to Prague was mother Eliška and she bumped into Jiří’s cousin in Klimentská Street where he had been given a fl at after his liberation from the concentration camp. As she had nowhere to stay, he invited her to his place. Their father also moved in with them, after returning with the exile government. Jiří came back to Prague with 311 Squadron in August 1945, and as he had learned about his parents’ address, he headed straight to them to see his mom again after so many years. Later, the parents got their own fl at, coincidentally in Klimentská Street. Jiří’s younger brother Felix came home fi rst to the student festival and met with his parents but went back to England where he was studying.
After the war, Jiří did not stay with the Air Force, he was considering going to university but after a week, he left it and started teaching English at a language school in Národní třída and he also gave private lessons. Later, he worked for his father’s friend’s transport company – Řivnáč & Šůla. The circumstances in the Republic, however, started changing substantially. His brother was living in England and moreover, Jiří, as a British Army serviceman, could demobilise where he was enlisted. He did not hesitate for long and left the country for the second time heading for London. Again by train, along with fi ve other similar cases, but this time in a compartment for British soldiers who had their transport costs paid by the UK. His parents remained in the Republic; father died in December 1948 and was buried in Prague. Jiří came back to his funeral but already at that time, he started arranging an exit permit to England for his mother. He recalls that even though the times were bad and the ruling nomenklatura held the reins of governance tighter, there were surprisingly no problems with the bureaucracy and in a few months, his mother obtained all the permits required for her departure.
Initially, Jiří, his brother and mother lived together in England and Jiří ran an import company with a business partner, which imported parts for jewellery-making. In 1952, he got married to Dorothy Blundy, and they had a son Stephen (1954) and a daughter Helen (1956). During 1960, the whole family left for Israel where they lived until 1968, the fi rst two years in Tel Aviv and later in Haifa. In 1968, they returned to England where Jiří worked as a developer. He visited Czechoslovakia several times but before his first visit, he had to buy himself out of the Czechoslovak citizenship. In 1986, Jiří’s mother died and two years later also his wife. In 1990, he came to Czechoslovakia to visit his friend Pavel Vranský where he also met his current partner Helena Machačová for the first time and he remained here to live.

for Terezín Memorial Ludek Sládek


Jiří and Felix spending their holidays in Písek Jiří and Felix spending their holidays in Písek Felix´s student card Parents Eliška and Emil Kafka´s Felix‘s document for Winton Train Registration sheet of the soldier of the Czechoslovak exile army Jiří in the Czechoslovak military troop in England In the uniform of the Royal Air Force 311th squadron – Jiří is the third from the right Jiří with his crew in R. A. F. Badge of the 311th Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron of the RAF Jiří before continuing on patrol fl ights In the uniform of the Royal Air Force Jiří with wife and children Exhibition „Winton“, Prague – Vyšehrad Exhibition „Winton“, Prague – Vyšehrad


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