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Czech Jewish Leaders Cry Foul After Firing of Head of Nazi Victims’ Group

October 23, 2003
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Czech Jewish leaders are upset that the chairman of a support group for Nazi victims was fired for writing a controversial letter.

The Czech Association of Liberated Political Prisoners, a support group for Nazi victims, said this week that it had dismissed its chairman, Oldrich Stransky, for writing a letter supporting compensation for ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of World War II.

Stransky sent the letter to the Sudeten German Association, which campaigns for compensation for many of the 2.5 million ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia immediately after the war. In his letter, Stransky, 82, congratulated the German group’s head, Bernd Posselt, on the opening of a new office in Prague.

The Czech Association said Stransky should not have signed the letter in his capacity as chairman.

But while the association said it had lost confidence in Stransky, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who long has advocated reconciliation between Germans and Czechs, Czech Jewish leaders said Stransky’s dismissal was unfair. The dismissal is part of a power struggle involving the Czech Association and an umbrella group, the Czech Union of Freedom Fighters, Jewish leaders said.

“Mr. Stransky does not deserve this and he did not cause this,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities.

Kraus said the letter was only an excuse to dismiss Stransky because Stransky had resisted efforts by the Union of Freedom Fighters to take control of his organization.

“He has worked for many years to get compensation not only for Czech Jewish victims of Nazism, but all victims,” Kraus said. “Many Jewish members of the freedom fighters’ union have contacted us and asked why Stransky has suddenly become a terrible man. We have told them that he is the same man he always was.”

Tomas Jelinek, chairman of the Prague Jewish community, also backed Stransky, saying the issue was a conflict between two organizations and had nothing to do with Stransky’s letter.

“Mr. Stransky has been one of the most important people involved in negotiations for compensation of Czech and Jewish victims of Nazism,” Jelinek said. “His treatment by this organization, which is kicking him out, does not recognize his great contribution.”

But Rudolf Wittenberg, who was appointed acting chairman of the Czech Association after Stransky’s dismissal, denied that his predecessor was the victim of a power struggle between the groups. He said the controversial letter simply was “the last straw” in a series of grievances against Stransky.

“The communication between Mr. Stransky as chairman and our association’s committee was poor, and he failed to inform them about a lot of things,” Wittenberg said. “Mr. Stransky distrusted the committee, and it is not possible to work in this atmosphere.

“I am very sorry to see him go in this way,” Wittenberg added. “I personally respect him very much because he has done a lot of good work, but the main point is that over a long period he failed to take notice of the committee.”

For his part, Stransky admitted that it was “perhaps not appropriate” to sign the controversial letter as the Czech Association’s chairman. But he said he saw nothing wrong in writing to the Sudeten German Association.

Stransky has challenged the board’s decision to remove him, arguing that he can only be removed by a vote of the association’s assembly. He said he will call a meeting of the organization’s membership before the end of the year to discuss the matter.

“Perhaps it is true that members have lost their trust in me, because they don’t have all the information about this,” he said.

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