A rally on Daley Plaza in the 1980s
At the turn of the 20th Century, Chicago was known as ‘the third biggest Czech city in the world’, after Prague and Vienna.
When Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, there was a massive exodus of Czechs and Slovaks, many of whom were drawn to the Chicago area because of the high number of ethnic Czechs and Slovaks already living there. In post-war America, Chicago was a thriving city which offered opportunities to these newly arrived émigrés. This wave of Cold War-era Czech and Slovak immigrants has contributed to the economic and cultural development of the city. Today, the influx of Czechs and Slovaks to the city continues.
The NCSML presented Recording Voices & Documenting Memories of Czech & Slovak Americans at the Czech Consulate in Chicago on June 1, 2011. To see an excerpt from this event, click here.
Below are the stories of some of the Czechs and Slovaks who settled in Chicago:
September 28, 2011
Zdeněk Bažant was born in Prague in 1937. He studied civil engineering at ČVUT and graduated first in his class. Zdeněk began working with a state company as a civil engineer and earned a PhD in mechanics and a postgraduate diploma in physics. In 1968, while completing a fellowship at the University of Toronto and hearing of the Warsaw Pact invasion, he decided to stay abroad. Zdeněk is a Murphy Professor at Northwestern University.
August 25, 2011
Ladislaus (Lou) Bolchazy was born in Michalovce, eastern Slovakia, in 1937. In 1948, his father emigrated to the U.S. and, one year later, Lou and the rest of his family joined him. They lived in Yonkers, NY. Lou earned a PhD in classical studies and went on to set up his own publishing house, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.
October 08, 2012
Petra Bolfikova was born in Havířov in eastern Moravia and moved to Děčín in northern Bohemia with her family at the age of three. She began learning English at a very young age and continued her language studies all through school. Petra received her bachelor's degree and master's degree in international business from the University of Economics, Prague and recently finished a master's program in business administration at Bradley University in Peoria.
August 27, 2012
Dagmar Bradac was born in Litomyšl in eastern Bohemia. After the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, Dagmar's father left for the United States. After Dagmar finished high school, she visited her father in the Chicago area with the intention of staying abroad. Dagmar has worked as a librarian at several law firms and at the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum in Oak Brook. Today Dagmar is pursuing a degree at DePaul University and lives in La Grange.
July 24, 2014
Emil Brlit was born in Nitra, Slovakia, and grew up in the nearby town of Partizanske. His father was a dentist and his mother a dental assistant. Emil enjoyed the outdoors and frequently fished and camped. He left Czechoslovakia with his family in the summer of 1969. After living in Boston, Chicago and Michigan, Emil settled in Florida where today he runs a dental laboratory with his wife, Elena.
April 05, 2010
Marie Cada was born in the small village of Komorovice, southeastern Bohemia, in 1919. She became an orphan at a young age and spent her early teenage years looking after the family farm with her brother.
May 01, 2012
Irena Cajkova grew up in Nymburk in central Bohemia. While studying at Charles University, she participated in the student protest that marked the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Irena moved to the United States and finished her studies in languages and Spanish literature. She teaches Spanish at the University of Chicago, and also teaches Czech language classes.
March 07, 2011
Ingrid Chybik was born in Brno, Moravia, in 1939. During WWII, she fell ill with diphtheria which, she says, saved both her and her brother Alfred, as they were quarantined when the nursery school they normally attended was bombed. Both of Ingrid's parents were killed during WWII. In 1946, Ingrid and her brother were taken in by an aunt in Vienna. In 1952, Ingrid was sponsored to come to Chicago.
August 08, 2011
Miroslav Chybik was born in Jalubí, Moravia, in 1935. His mother Josefa and father Miroslav had met in Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s, but had returned to Europe to care for their ailing parents in 1930. In 1948, Miroslav’s older sister Ester gained US citizenship on grounds that her father had been considered an American at the time of her birth. She came to America in December 1949 and encouraged her brother to do likewise. Miroslav applied for US citizenship and left Czechoslovakia on May 25, 1950.
January 04, 2011
Dusan Ciran was born in Brezová pod Bradlom, Western Slovakia, in 1929. His family arrived in Canada in 1950, settling first in Lethbridge, Alberta, before moving to Toronto, where Dusan played for the local Hungarian football club – Pannonia. Dusan moved with his family to Chicago in 1952. He co-founded the Oil Painters of America association.
October 26, 2010
Duke Dellin was born in Prague in 1940. His father, Eduard, had studied agricultural engineering and, after a time spent at the helm of the Sugar Beet Growers’ Association, became involved in politics as the Secretary of the Czechoslovak Agrarian Party. Duke arrived with his family in Chicago in 1949, after one year spent at Ludwigsburg refugee camp. He is now partner at William Blair & Company, an investment firm based in downtown Chicago.
April 26, 2011
Pierre Dobrovolny was born in Brno in 1933. He studied electrical engineering at ČVUT in Prague and graduated in 1958. That same year he married his partner Vera. His first job was at the Research Institute for Electrotechnical Physics, but after checks were run on his background he was let go and sent to work at TESLA Hloubětín instead. Following the Warsaw-Pact Invasion in 1968, he was part of a group which set up an illegal transmitter and broadcast unofficial news about the invasion from there. He left Czechoslovakia with his family in 1969.
April 25, 2011
Vera Dobrovolny was born in Prague in 1938. She attended commercial academy and then worked for Ferromet, a steel export company. In 1955, she met her husband Pierre at a dance. She left Czechoslovakia with her family in 1969 but returned home when her youngest child Lucie fell ill in Vienna. Several months later, the family tried again. After months spent in Traiskirchen and Bad Kreuzen refugee camps, the Dobrovolnys arrived in Chicago. Vera was employed as an accountant, first at CSA Fraternal Life and then at Bosch, where she worked for 26 years.
March 14, 2011
Robert Dobson was born in Prague in 1956. His father Vilém worked in construction and died in a workplace accident when Robert was still a child. His mother, Alena, subsequently raised Robert on her own and worked as an office manager. After one failed attempt to emigrate to Switzerland (which resulted in the passport of Robert's wife being confiscated), Robert arrived with his family in Downers Grove, Illinois, in 1984.
June 05, 2013
Kristyna Driehaus was born in Prague in 1973. Kristyna attended an architectural high school and was there at the time of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Kristyna worked for an American who owned a real estate company and eventually ran the company. She married an American in 1995 and subsequently settled in Chicago. Today Kristyna is co-founder of an investment company and runs The KMD Foundation.
September 09, 2011
Doris Drost was born in Olomouc, Moravia in 1920. She lived several places with her family until they settled down in Brno, where she finished her schooling. After the Communist coup in 1948, Doris and her husband John left the country with their son Rudy, leaving their younger son George with a relative. After two years, George joined them in Austria, and they moved to the United States, settling in the Chicago area. Today, Doris lives in Arlington Heights, IL.
July 25, 2011
George Drost was born in Brno in December 1946. His father left Czechoslovakia within days of the Communist coup in 1948, and his mother and brother followed two weeks later, leaving George in his grandmother's care. It took two years before George was reunited with his family. The Drost family settled in Chicago, where George says they were greatly helped by the congregation at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church. George became an attorney and, in 2000, was appointed the honorary consul of the Czech Republic for Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
June 16, 2011
Helena Fabry was born in Hradec Králové, Bohemia in 1925. Her father was a cabinet maker, while her mother stayed at home and raised Helena and her younger sister Věra. Helena graduated from business school in Hradec Králové during WWII and was assigned a job at the local supplies bureau. She was involved in local amateur theater which, she says, helped her through WWII.
October 22, 2013
Jan Florian grew up in the Moravian town of Strážnice. He studied biology and chemistry at Charles University and received his doctorate. Jan has spent the last 20 years in the United States as a postdoctoral fellow, researcher, and professor. Today he is a chemistry professor at Loyola University Chicago.
May 06, 2013
Daniel Funda was born in Prague in 1975. He studied at a culinary high school and worked in several Prague restaurants. In 1998, Daniel moved to the United States and settled in Chicago. He worked in construction for several years and today works in the HVAC industry. He lives in Chicago with his wife Colleen.