Books Reviews

American diplomat Madeleine Albright was a Czech hero

Hořovice, CZECHIA – Every nation has its way of patriotism. It doesn’t matter how big the nation is – every member of this community is proud of the history of their nation, their fellow citizens, what they have achieved so far and are going to achieve together in the future.

Czechs are no exception. Our small country in the heart of Europe came through bad times and times of prosperity and glory. We honor our patriots and heroes, especially those who try hard to tell our story abroad, in countries like the United States and beyond. Without them, our country might not exist.

One of these patriots was the late Madeleine Albright. This inspirational, brave woman was born in 1937 in then-Czechoslovakia. When the Communists came to power in 1948, she emigrated to the United States with her family.

She became a successful politician and scholar, thanks to her excellent education, moral sense and commitment.

Albright was the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. She served four years, beginning in 1997. She died in 2022.

Her book Prague Winter was written as she discovered her Jewish origins. She found out that almost all of her relatives who were Jewish died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

This horrific discovery encouraged her to be more interested in where she came from and to focus on her family‘s roots. And she dug deep into her family’s story.

To summarize the book in a few words, the basic aim is to explain the history of the Czech nation to all people all around the world. Albright describes history very simply but still mentions all the kings and monarchs, and almost every significant historical event. She focuses mainly on the 20th century, emphasizing the time of the nation’s foundation by philosopher and university professor Tomas Garigue Masaryk.

In honor of his American wife, Masaryk adapted her name Garigue into his own, which was a great compliment. Though just a few men do it, it means a lot.

Czech people know that only thanks to Masaryk’s effort and the pressure he put on American President Woodrow Wilson, Czechoslovakia became a sovereign state in October 1918.

The majority of the book, though, is centered on the period between the years 1938 and 1948. Czechoslovakia, a young, inexperienced neighbor of the Nazi Germany, was in trouble.

Despite having solid relationships with powerful countries like France, Great Britain, and the U.S., Czechoslovakia wasn’t able to unite its German minority along the border, which was already strongly influenced by Hitler’s rhetoric.

The Holocaust impacted everybody in the country, not only the rather large Jewish community.

Albright combines the destiny of her relatives with historical facts and is by no means impartial – she clearly wants the reader to sympathize with the poor people in all the concentration camps around Europe.

When these nightmares ended in the majority of the world in the mid-1940s, Czechoslovakia fell into another disaster – Communism. The author describes how it possibly happened and the consequences, which lasted more than 40 years. 

I cannot recommend the book enough. It won’t just help you understand Czech history, but you’ll also gain a better knowledge of WWII and the following victory of Communism in many parts of Europe.

Albright was and always will be a figure the Czech nation commemorates and respects as someone who was proud of her roots.

Albright and Czech heroes like her will never be forgotten.

Renata Pernegrová is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. 

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