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Czech President's Snub Of Holocaust Survivor Outrages Countrymen

Holocaust survivor Jiri/George Brady receives the Karel Kramar Medal for his lifelong effort to defend human rights from the Czech prime minister in Prague on October 27.
Holocaust survivor Jiri/George Brady receives the Karel Kramar Medal for his lifelong effort to defend human rights from the Czech prime minister in Prague on October 27.

Dozens of Czech institutions and civic groups have rushed to present an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor and remembrance activist with awards of their own after President Milos Zeman withdrew the offer of a state honor for George Brady in an apparent concession to China.

Brady, a Canadian Jew of Czech extraction who survived the Nazi Auschwitz death camp, told Czech media that he has received so many invitations following the president's last-minute reversal ahead of an annual state awards ceremony on October 28 that he is not sure he can attend all the events.

He has also said he no longer wants to receive the state award for public service, which Zeman's office had previously invited him to come to Prague to receive and which was to have been presented by Zeman personally.

"I'm no longer interested. I have other plans. I'm not available anymore," he told Czech Radiozurnal on October 24. But he said he was enormously proud of the awards that others were granting him, saying it showed a Czech awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust.

The adopted Torontan is well-known for his efforts to support global campaigns for Holocaust remembrance. In the past, Brady has been honored for his work by Britain's Queen Elizabeth and the German government, among others.

Tibet Connection

Zeman's U-turn on Brady, ahead of Czech national day on October 28, has angered many Czechs because it appears to be connected to a presidential feud with Brady's nephew, Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman. Herman met with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in Prague last week against the wishes of Zeman, who has sought to boost trade with China, which considers the Dalai Lama a violent separatist.

Czech President Milos Zeman's U-turn on Brady has angered many.
Czech President Milos Zeman's U-turn on Brady has angered many.

Herman told Czech Television on October 22 that "the president directly told me that if I meet the Dalai Lama, my uncle will be taken out of the list [for awards], and that is what happened."

Leading figures in the Czech Republic who have stepped forward to recognize Brady following Zeman's surprise reversal include the mayor of Prague, the mayor of Czech second city Brno, and the rector of Palacky University in Olomouc.

"I'm ashamed of what's going on regarding the award for Mr. Brady," Prague Mayor Adriana Krnacova said in a statement on her personal website. "That's why I've decided to use the authority I have to give him the official Key to Prague as an expression of gratitude."

The rector of Palacky University in Olomouc, Jaroslav Miller, expressed similar feelings.

"If the [president] really removed him from the honors list for meaningless reasons, Palacky University Olomouc would be honored to have Mr. Jiri [George] Brady accept our academic award," Miller wrote on his Facebook page. "At least we would save the honor of the Czech Republic and pay tribute to a man who did something for his country."

Reversing Havel

Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis has denied that there was any connection between the events. But he confirmed that the president had asked Herman not to meet with the Dalai Lama.

Zeman has pushed hard for closer economic ties with Beijing during his presidency, despite opposition from human rights group in the Czech Republic over China's repressive policies in Tibet, which it annexed in 1951. Beijing discourages foreign states from receiving the Dalai Lama, who is Tibet's spiritual leader and heads Tibet's government-in-exile in India.

Zeman and predecessor Vaclav Klaus's attitudes toward the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, contrast sharply with that of the late Czechoslovak dissident playwright and Czech president, Vaclav Havel, who was an internationally revered promoter of human rights and a friend of the Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Four government ministers and several other Czech politicians have vowed to boycott the October 28 ceremony at Prague Castle, the seat of the president. Instead, they plan to hold an alternative gathering in Prague's Old Town Square to protest Zeman's decision and celebrate the national day.

George Brady was born in Nove Mesto, a small town in the former Czechoslovakia, in 1928. His family, reportedly the only Jewish family in town, had a comfortable middle-class life until Nazi Germany invaded the country in 1939. Brady's parents were deported early in the war and reportedly died at Auschwitz. Aged 13, George and his younger sister were first sent to live with a Catholic uncle elsewhere in Czechoslovakia but in 1944 were sent to Auschwitz.

Assigned to the labor force in Auschwitz, George survived the camp. But his sister, Hana, died in a gas chamber there at age 13. He then returned to his uncle's home, finished his schooling, and fled communist Czechoslovakia in 1951. After becoming a Canadian citizen, he set up a plumbing company in Toronto.

The experiences of the Brady family are the subject of a nonfiction children's book published in 2002, Hana's Suitcase, by Karen Levine. The book has been translated from English into some 20 languages.

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    Kristyna Foltynova

    Kristyna Foltynova is a data and visual journalist in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom. She produces a wide variety of data-driven content, including infographics, animated videos, and interactive multimedia features. She is passionate about the topics of gender equality, climate change, and data privacy.

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