Learning about My Father, a Czech Martyr

Czech TV is likely to make a mini-series about my father, Karel Hasler, who was a leading Czech song writer, singer, actor and director before World War II.  He opposed the Nazis by mocking them through songs, and eventually was arrested by the Gestapo and died at a concentration camp a month after I was born, so I never met him.

I recently had a Zoom conference call with Pavel Jech, who teaches film at Chapman University in Southern California. and Harold Apter, who teaches film at USC.  Both work with the director of content development at Czech TV.  Pavel was director of the Czech Film School (FAMU) when we made a documentary about my search for the father I never met, The Immortal Balladeer of Prague, 15 years ago.

The documentary was made at the urging of the late Arnost Lustig, a Holocaust survivor and writer of many books about the Holocaust, who considered my father as a symbol of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Pavel and Harold plan to also seek a German co-producer, as my mother was German.  They made a mini- series for Czech TV in 2018, Lync, about the lynching of a Roma or gypsy, with ARTE, a German-French arts producer.

My father met my mother when he was celebrating his 60th birthday at a nightclub in Prague.  He danced with her and fell in love with her even though fraternization between Czechs and Germans was forbidden by the Nazis.  He wrote her letters every day until she succumbed.  They had two years together before his arrest.  The mini series will be based on her memoirs.

We left Czechoslovakia in 1949 and I grew up in Australia. I refused to speak Czech because I was ashamed that the Czechs had voted in the Communists.  After we came to the US my connections to things Czech were minimal.  In 1993 when my late wife and I visited Prague after the fall of Communism and watched some of his movies I saw one about his political activities and heard “Our Czech Song” for the first time.  Without understanding one word I had my first emotional connection with my father.  Subsequently when I met Czech-Americans around the country, they all sang the song with gusto, their favorite song.  It reminded me of Waltzing Matilda in Australia.

You can find out more about Karel Hasler here.   The photo is of me with a statue of my father that was unveiled on the castle steps in Prague in 2009.

(Tom Hasler, the author, retired from the Baltimore Sun and lives in Bolton Hill)