I picked “Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937 – 1948” by Madeleine Albright in one of the bookstores in Prague thinking it could be a fun read but also out of egoistic desire to learn about the nation I partly belong to and how it formed into what it is now. Little did I know that Madeleine Albright was the first woman who was the United States Secretary of State but also someone who eye-witnessed one of the most dramatic events of modern history – the World War II, the formation of Czechoslovakia’s democracy and the years of that small state in Central Europe through the Nazi’s occupation. I bet that’s a lot in this paragraph so let’s start from the beginning.
I always hated history classes through school but biographies and fictional realism were among my favorites because they were about people, relatable real people going through real struggles posed by specific historical events. Albright’s “Prague Winter” went so much deeper in all possible directions: the book offers not only the personal remembrance but also a well-researched and documented history of Czechslovakia before the World War II, during and after. The father of the author, Josef Körbel, was an ambassador to Yugoslavia during that period which allowed Albright to give us an up-close look at the leading political figures of that time and why they made the decisions they made. From the times of democratic Czechoslovakia built by Tomaš Garrigue Masaryk where the minority groups enjoyed the equal democratic rights, the variety of political opinions was entertained, the coffee houses were full of democratic newspapers to the Nazi occupation and resistance forces who sabotaged Nazi’s work to the post-war period of emerging communism – the author takes us through everything showing it through the history of her family.
The book is not an easy ready, but it is truly eye-opening: the author herself lost more than fifteen relatives in the concentration and work camps organized by Nazi’s. Reading the letter excerpts from her family members makes me only think how people could get through that kind of pain. I finished the book with a lot of empathy but also a note of optimism and gratitude. I am so immensely grateful to be living in a place where I can enjoy human rights and in times where we can enjoy more world peace than ever before.
On the global scale of the world events, the Czechoslovakian occupation might not seem as dramatic but it there was real people affected by the global events who had to adjust their life for what came and knowing. And what came was not easy something. But I would like to finish the post with the words of the author:
“In the world where I choose to live, even the coldest winter must yield to agents of spring and the darkest view of human nature must eventually find room for shafts of light”.