First Czech envoy to Israel dies at 87


LONDON, Nov. 9 (JTA) – Eduard Goldstucker, a champion of Franz Kafka and the first Czechoslovak ambassador to Israel, died recently in Prague at the age of 87.

He spent the last nine years of his life fighting to have a square near Prague’s historic Jewish quarter named for Franz Kafka, the famed writer who was born in the Czech capital and lived most of his life there.

In April – six months before his death on Oct. 23, Goldstucker achieved that goal.

A Jew born in Central Europe just before the outbreak of World War I, Goldstucker lived through turbulent times.

He escaped Czechoslovakia with his wife immediately after Hitler invaded in 1939. He lost much of his family, including his mother, to the Holocaust.

He spent the early days of the war in England, where he worked with the Czechoslovak government-in-exile’s foreign service. He was rewarded with a post in Paris after the liberation of France, and he went on to represent his country in the earliest days of the United Nations.

When Czechoslovakia needed an ambassador to the new state of Israel, Goldstucker was the choice.

He was on his way to his next diplomatic post, Sweden, when the Stalinist show trials swung into action. A member of the generation of idealistic young Czechoslovak Communists, he had joined the party in 1933, when he was 20.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, pro-Stalin forces purged the party of many of those idealists, a disproportionate number of whom were Jews.

Goldstucker was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He ended up at hard labor in the a prison camp.

But the pendulum swung again, and at the end of 1955, Goldstucker was released.

He returned to Prague and to Charles University, where he took a position in the German department.

During this period, he began to champion Kafka – a move that had him walking into a political minefield because the Jewish author was persona non grata throughout the Communist world.

“Kafka makes people recognize the problematic side of the world they live in,” Goldstucker once said. “His bizarre world reveals the real problems of the real world.”

Goldstucker became chairman of the Czech Writers’ Union in 1968, the year of Alexander Dubcek’s “Prague Spring” reforms.

A reformer himself, Goldstucker supported Dubcek’s work, and he made his voice heard in the journal of the Writers Union.

The Soviets noticed.

When their forces invaded in August of that year, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev demanded the immediate removal of three people, including Goldstucker.

Goldstucker, who went into hiding, was soon on his way to Austria – and into exile for the second time in his life.

After accepting a professorship at the University of Sussex, he went to England with his wife, Marta, leaving two daughters behind in Czechoslovakia. He was unable to see them for nearly 15 years.

Both he and Marta held on to their dream of going home. Their chance came in 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s bloodless “Velvet Revolution” freed the nation from Communist rule.

He and Marta returned to Czechoslovakia in April 1991.

Recommended from JTA