20 July 2012

My Seven Lives by Agnesa Kalinov

Thanks to my (minor) involvement with the British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) I am invited to some events organised by the Slovak Embassy and while some of these do not interest me and some I cannot get to there are a few invitations each year that I am delighted to accept.

This one was to launch the book My Seven Lives by Agnesa Kalinov.

I had not heard of her before but I was interested to hear from somebody who had direct experience of Word War II (as a Jew), the post-war period leading up to the Prague Spring, the Russian invasion in 1968 and the Velvet Revolution in1989.

This region of Europe has been called The Blood Lands because of the turmoil, and deaths, caused by these momentous changes.

The event was opened by The Ambassador of the Slovak Republic H.E. Mr. Miroslav Wlachovský who explained his personal interest in the book. Prior to the Velvet Revolution Agnesa Kalinov had been part of the Radio Free Europe organisation that broadcast to the other side of the Iron Curtain from West Germany and he had listened to those broadcasts.

The book takes the form of a series of long interviews with Jana Juráňová in which she tells lots of little stories about herself and the people she met. These personal histories help to show the larger history in which they took place.

Think of this as The Diary of Samuel Pepys rather than Gibbon's The Rise and Fall.

Our panel for the evening was (R-L) Miroslav Wlachovský, Agnesa Kalinov, Jana Juráňová and Agnes' son-in-law who read from the book. Her grand-daughter, sitting in the audience, also did some reading.

Obviously in the short time allowed for readings and questions we only skirted around a few of the topics covered in the book and my notes taken at the time reflect that.

Agnes was a young woman when the Nazis invaded and in 1941 she was thrown out of secondary school and was taught to sew instead.

In 1942 she was due to be taken to a labour camp but escaped by feigning sciatica. She was advised to do this by a friend as it is an illness that is relatively easy to fake. Later she managed to escape to Budapest but her parents were taken.

Many years later she fled Communist Czechoslovakia to enable her children to have the education that had been denied her by the Nazis.One can only begin to imagine what it was like to flee from Communism to the country, Germany, from which you had fled twenty years earlier. That, for me, summed up the changes that happened in central Europe in that period.

The evening ended with a chance to chat with people that I knew from the BCSA while nibbling a few cakes and drinking some Saris beer. That part of the evening was as pleasant as the earlier part had been informative.

I am very grateful to the Slovak Embassy for inviting me to events and as long as they are as good as this one then I will keep going to them.

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