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Pictures That Permeated The Iron Curtain


"Brutal Communist," a cartoon by RFE's Miroslav Sasek, was among the fliers dropped by high-altitude balloon into communist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.

"Brutal Communist," a cartoon by RFE's Miroslav Sasek, was among the fliers dropped by high-altitude balloon into communist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s.

Like thousands of other Czechs, Miroslav Sasek emigrated after the communist coup of 1948. Prevented from returning home, he traveled the world, producing charming illustrated travel guides for children, and put his talent to work for Radio Free Europe.

The work of the acclaimed author, illustrator, and former broadcaster with RFE’s Czechoslovak service will be on display at the U.S. Embassy’s American Center in Prague from November 20 through the end of January 2015.

Sasek was born in Prague in 1916. Though his dream was to become an artist, his parents discouraged him from drawing and pushed him to train as an architect. After finishing his studies he traveled to Great Britain, France, Germany, Holland, and Belgium, a tour that would solidify his desire to combine his two passions: illustrating and writing books for children about foreign countries.

Prior to and during the Second World War he illustrated many children’s books and drew cartoons for magazines and newspapers. In 1947 he went to Paris to study drawing at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and decided to remain abroad after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia the following year.

Exiled from his home, he stayed in Paris and worked as a graphic designer before joining RFE as a radio theater producer, actor, and singer with the Czechoslovak Service, where he worked until 1957. During his time at RFE he was a regular star of the service’s popular radio program “Theater of the Week.”

Germany-- Miroslav Sasek (left) interviewing for Radio Free Europe at the Munich headquarters in January 1961.

Germany-- Miroslav Sasek (left) interviewing for Radio Free Europe at the Munich headquarters in January 1961.

His sense of humor and graphic talent were harnessed to the production of anti-communist flyers that were floated over the Iron Curtain by the millions from West Germany to Czechoslovakia by high-altitude balloons.

“It was not just about cartoons and stories, but a variety of graphic elements and characters that were in the fliers,” said historian Prokop Tomek, who has studied his work. “Thanks to Sasek, the fliers were no longer just a collection of texts, but an original creation.”

Sasek continued to contribute to RFE after 1957, filing short stories from his travels that were read on the air. He also designed layouts, covers, and illustrations for a number of magazines published by the Czech exile community.

“This is Paris,” the first in his series of illustrated city guides geared toward children, was immensely successful, and in all he published 20 titles in the “This is” collection.

His books have been translated into many languages and met with critical acclaim--in 1959 and 1960 the “New York Times” named him the Best Illustrator of Books for Children of the Year for “This Is London” and “This Is New York.”

He died on May 28, 1980, in Switzerland while visiting his younger sister Vera.

The exhibition of his work is organized in partnership by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Prague, The Miroslav Sasek Foundation, The Security Archives of the Czech Republic, Libri Prohibiti, Collegium Carolinum, and Baobab publishers.

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