“In 1955 I was the first Israeli, who was officially invited to come to Czechoslovakia. I came as the secretary general of the Israel-Czechoslovakia League of Friendship. It was not the case that the officials would have any special affection for me or the organization I was heading. Czechoslovakia wanted to restore broken ties after anti-Semitist trials with Rudolf Slánský. They found out what harm it had done and they wanted to amend the diplomatic relations and assure the Israeli side that it will not happen again. I was a guest of the Czechoslovak association for foreign relations. Even though I can speak perfect Czech, I had a guide, a cop that was following me. But it didn’t really matter, the visit was what mattered. I met with fellow believers, with doctor Iltes and the head rabbi Gustav Sicher who spent the war years in Israel and came back to Prague after the war.”
“I worked in the Vítkovice ironworks. I come from a very poor family. My father was injured in the WWI and he couldn’t work and make money. We had to help. I was fourteen and I picked coal on the piles and I was selling it to bring some money home. That was a part of the Jewish education – to prepare the youth for heavy manual work. It proved very good for me but it was also good for the movement. I worked in every department of the factory, from the blast furnaces to the foundry, the tool workshop and the rolling mill. It the times of the Mandate when Israel had to build its own weapons my skills were really appreciated. There were a lot of professors and academic workers in Palestine at the time but those who would know how to operate a lathe, a grinder or a miller were scarce. And of course they were willing to remunerate it accordingly. But that was not my primarily goal. I was in the kibbutz. ... It proved useful in the times of the underground movement.”
“We were a Jewish family, my older brother left already in 1926, my sister in 1929, my other sister in 1936. After the Munich treaty, when I was working in Vítkovice, they told me that I should leave as well. So we set off, me and my two brothers and we went on a journey to Palestine. From Bratislava along the Danube to Galati where the river enters the Black Sea. Then we sailed on board of “pirate” ships that shipwrecked along the way and we docked somewhere after sailing for almost two months. I don’t know where it was, whether it was Cyprus or Rhodos. Finally we met in Netanya, Israel. If you had any papers, you had to throw them into the sea. We couldn’t carry any documents in case we were caught by the English soldiers. They knew we were illegal immigrants but they could not tell where we had come from and could not send us back. Some people were sent to Mauritius, some were sent back from where they came from. We didn’t have anything and they didn’t know so they had to accept us. Some people were sent to a camp in Atlit, some like me were lucky that they could stay.”
“You have to be a bit crazy in anything you do. And there aren’t many people like this. A large number of supporters does not in itself mean anything. One person who is mad enough can do a much better job in persuading the public to a certain cause.”
“The activities of our association – even though it has a distinct significance – will be handed to the Czech center, the embassy or the Czech cultural attaché. That’s natural. There were times when we did everything. During the film festival at Karlovy Vary, we secured that Israeli filmmakers were represented and we sent musicians to the Prague Spring. And we carried out these activities even in times when it was much harder than today.”
If you had any papers, you had to throw them into the sea.
Chanan Rozen, born in 1918 in Ostrava, was the honorary consul of the Czech Republic in Tel Aviv and one of the most significant members of the Czech movement in Israel. He moved to Israel in 1939 and joined the Hagana forces, where he manufactured weapons. After Israel declared independence, he co-established the league of friendship between the two states and became the secretary general in 1951. In the 1960s he helped to organize several cultural events, such as Israeli musicians participating in the Prague Spring and Israeli filmmakers showing their films at the Karlovy Vary festival. In collaboration with Max Brod, he established a Franz Kafka exhibition in 1964. He organized several events until the diplomatic relations were officially revoked in 1967. The activities of the league have since been strangled. Rozen was also active in Israeli politics. In the ‘80s, he was deputy mayor of Ramat Gan. He diied in Tel Aviv on 18th February 2013.