Now and then, I think of this time I was interviewed on the streets in Prague during a protest:
It was for the Prague Post, an English-printed newspaper, but I am not sure if this is around any more.
It was a fairly rainy, dismal day, like many in Prague. The clouds and the moisture reflected on the grey cobblestones.
This day had a particularly odd feel because a few groups of neo-Nazi protesters were coming in from Germany and Poland into Prague. A few of them were held up at the borders of the country, but in this buffer time, hundreds of people gathered to come guard the Old Jewish Quarter against their unwelcome presence. The protesters did succeed, as according the article, none did make it into the Jewish Quarter, and many were arrested.
We were told to go by our old professor, Jan Wiener, in our European History class. This was quite likely the most bizarre class I’ve ever taken during my four years in college. It was held in our decrepit communist dormitory in a very institutional room with fluorescent lights at 8 in the morning on Tuesdays. Most of us were still dressed in our pajamas, as we got up from down the hall and walked into the room and listened to the short old man with white hair tell us about old history and his personal war stories. He never brought any notes, nor seemed to prepare much for the class, but would endlessly lecture for three hours about political relations and occupations and battles from World War I and World War II from his Jewish and Czech perspective, fermented from his 80-plus years of experience.
This was quite the strange contrast for someone coming from my generation, being in Prague as an enjoyable state and escaping from the confines of the formations of the New World across the Atlantic, now enjoying the beauty and the freedom that this city granted me and fulfilled my dreams. Those from two generations ago had quite a different story, and somehow history and its consequences brought us together in that room in that time.
Jan told us that the neo-Nazis were coming to town one day, and encouraged us to join him at the protest and blockade them out. His personal favorite way of conducting class was to tell us of old stories when he would be at a beer hall, and get up to punch out Nazis that would harass him, then sit down and finish his drink. He said he would not be afraid to throw out a few punches when they came around. It was quite interesting to imagine, as I saw him entering through the blockade, walking with his cane, held up by his wife, ready as ever to face his enemies.
Though there was confusion with the mixture of languages and different humans, and not everyone completely knew what was going on until later, it was quite an impressive site to see the turn-out. Around the break out of WWII, some people in Prague had tried to protest against the former Nazi occupation by assassinating an officer, only to have a suburban town destroyed and leveled. A concentration camp, Terezin, was also developed in this era. There seems to be no Jews currently living in the Jewish quarter, as it is an upscale area full of expensive cafes and galleries and avant-garde statues of Franz Kafka. However, it is still important that people feel the need to stand up to it as an effort against residual effects of the dark history that Europe has faced.