PRAGUE (Jun. 30)
He survived Auschwitz, communism and dismissal from his post as chairman of the Czech Association of Liberated Political Prisoners. Now Oldrich Stransky, 84, has been stripped of his membership in the Czech Association of Freedom Fighters, the umbrella group in the Czech Republic for all those who fought against fascism or were persecuted by the Nazis.
The spokeswoman for the Freedom Fighters said the ouster was due to Stransky’s “Napoleonic and undemocratic behavior,” but most observers believe his efforts at reconciliation with Sudeten Germans — ethnic Germans kicked out of Czechoslovakia after World War II — have not gone over well with nationalist and even Communist elements of the group.
Stransky is a prominent Czech Jew who did much to help survivors get compensation from the German government after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is credited with ensuring that the fund pays out 10-year pensions directly to individual prisoners rather than financing social projects such as old-age homes for victims.
A native of the Sudeten region, Stransky lost his parents, grandparents and brother to the Nazis.
“Stransky has done a lot of good work for Holocaust survivors and all Nazi victims. He should not be treated this way,” Tomas Jelinek, who at the time was head of the Prague Jewish community, said in 2003 when Stransky was dismissed from the leadership post of the Association of Liberated Political Prisoners.
Stransky’s attitude as a Czech camp survivor is rare in that he holds no hostility toward the German people, let alone the Sudeten Germans, who for the most part supported Hitler.
He says his view of the Sudetens changed after the war, when he met a family that was shocked when he showed them his tattoo from Auschwitz.
Stransky received notice that he was being kicked out of the freedom-fighters group at the end of June, about two months after a court ruled that his 2003 dismissal by the Freedom Fighters as chairman of the political prisoners group was invalid.
Stransky had been fired from the political prisoners post for writing a letter of support to the head of a Sudeten organization, the Landsmannschaft, that had opened offices in Prague.
According to several polls, most Czechs regard the Sudeten office with feelings ranging from suspicion to hatred, fearing that the Sudeten Germans and their heirs will seek restitution of property confiscated after World War II.
Hitler cited alleged persecution of the Sudeten Germans as a pretext for annexing Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Sudetens largely supported the move.
After the war, nearly 2 million ethnic Germans were stripped of their citizenship and property in the region and expelled from Czechoslovakia. The expulsions initially were carried out by citizen brigades, and the Czech government now has acknowledged that the murder and torture of those who were expelled was commonplace and went unpunished.
However, successive Czech governments have refused to apologize for the expulsions — which remain controversial in Europe — saying they were a consequence of Hitler’s rampage across the continent.
Sarka Helmichova, spokesperson of the Freedom Fighters, said Stransky had refused to sign a document rebutting Sudeten demands for compensation, a document most of the Freedom Fighter members supported.
“As a regular member that would be his right, but as chairman of the Association of Liberated Political Prisoners, he had an obligation to represent the membership,” Helmichova said. “Any other organization would be forced to take similar measures, but our case is scrutinized by everyone because it is politically sensitive.”
Stransky, meanwhile, continues his activities as head of a breakaway chapter of the Association of Liberated Political Prisoners.
In mid-June he gave a talk on his concentration-camp experience, together with a Sudeten nun who had been on what Sudetens call the Brno death march, the transfer of thousands of Germans out of Czechoslovakia in 1945. Many people died of hunger and fatigue on the march.
What has most disappointed Tomas Kraus, chairman of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, is the infighting of those who fought the Nazis and survived their terror.
“I thought these people with this experience would stick together, but I was proven wrong,” he said.