The extraordinary story of a Central European Jewish family to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2021.
25 January 2021, 6 pm GMT (7.00 pm CET)
Streamed live on the Czech Centre London Facebook page
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When Oxford-based Colin Wels first opened a box that his father Tomáš had kept for decades in the back of a cupboard, he entered an unknown past. Through the contents of the box, made up of hundreds of letters and documents, photographs, sketches and drawings, and two remarkable manuscripts, the immense creative energy of several generations of the Czech Jewish Wels family was brought to life.
Colin Wels will discuss his search for his family’s past with Gerry Turner, whose translation of the memoir At the Bernards written by Colin’s great-grandfather Šimon Wels marked the beginning of his search. The book offers a vivid picture of life in a Czech village in the second half of the 19th century. The story continues with Colin’s grandfather Rudolf Wels, a successful architect who worked closely with the influential modernist architect Adolf Loos in pre-First World War Vienna. Another piece of the puzzle is provided by Sancta Familia, which was also preserved in the box. Written by Rudolf’s sons, eighteen-year-old Tomáš and thirteen-year-old Martin in Prague at the end of 1938, it is made up of humorous scenes from the family’s daily life and richly illustrated by Martin, it depicts the world of a modern middle-class Prague family just before it was drawn into the abyss of WWII. Only Tomáš was to survive the Holocaust, reaching Britain as a refugee in the spring of 1939.
The discussion will be complemented by extracts from Sancta Familia and At the Bernards, by examples of the family’s rich visual legacy - including Martin’s sketches and Rudolf’s designs as an architect - and extracts from a new podcast series devoted to the family and produced in cooperation with Czech Radio. It will be moderated by writer and journalist David Vaughan, who has devoted several years to researching the family’s history and has been instrumental in publishing Sancta Familia in a first trilingual (Czech, German and English) facsimile edition (Triáda, 2020). He is the author of the exhibition No Night So Dark devoted to the Wels family, which was held in Prague’s Winternitz Villa in 2020.
David Vaughan is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and university lecturer. His debut novel Slyšte můj hlas(2014) won the Czech Book Prize readers’ award in 2015. The book was been published in English by Jantar Publishing as Hear My Voice (2019). He is also author of Battle for the Airwaves (2008), a study of the role of the media in the run-up to WWII. For eight years he was editor-in-chief of Radio Prague, having previously been the BBC’s Prague correspondent.
The event is organised by the Czech Centre in collaboration with Insiders/Outsiders: Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Culture and Czech Radio.