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:
December 10, 2013
Dagmar Lawrenz was born in Bratislava in 1941. She worked as a middle school teacher for several years before immigrating to the United States in 1969. Dagmar lived in the Chicago area, and then ran a restaurant in Wisconsin for 17 years. Today she lives in Itasca, Illinois.
January 14, 2011
Eva Lutovsky was born in 1922. Her father František owned a flower shop, while her mother Hana worked as a secretary at the local courthouse. When Eva was still a toddler, her mother moved to Prague without her father and started working at the Supreme Court in the city, raising Eva on her own. During WWII, Eva and her mother sheltered two Jewish women for 22 months until liberation.
April 17, 2012
Jozef Madzo was born in Košice in 1976. He studied biology at Pavol Jozef Šafárika University and then received his PhD in molecular biology from Charles University. In 2005, Jozef accepted a research position from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today he is a research associate at the University of Chicago.
August 18, 2011
Ottilia Maly was born in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, Slovakia in 1930. Her father was living in the United States and decided to move Ottilia and her family there in 1937 because of his concerns about the impending war. They moved to Chicago where they became involved in the Slovak community. Ottilia has traveled many times back to Slovakia, and throughout Europe as well. She lives in La Grange, Illinois.
October 24, 2010
Vladimir Maule was born in Prague in January, 1952. In eighth grade he and a number of school friends formed a band called ‘The Explosive Group’, which performed cover versions of songs by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. He arrived with his mother in Chicago in April 1969 and, after a period spent working at Sears, Vladimir gained a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
October 21, 2011
Igor Mikolaska was born in Trenčín, Slovakia in 1978. He studied English at university there and first went to the United States to work at a summer day camp in Fox Lake, Illinois. Igor settled in Chicago in 2004. He is the founder and president of Slovak USA, an organization that puts on events for the young Slovak community in Chicago.
July 14, 2011
Susan Mikula was born in Bratislava in 1943. Her father left the country at the close of WWII because of his position in the Tiso government. He was also heavily involved in the anti-communist resistance, and, as a result, Susan and her mother and sister escaped in November 1949. Susan is now a professor of history and lives in Chicago. She regularly visits Slovakia.
August 21, 2013
Rudy Misurec was born in southern Moravia in 1924. After graduating high school, he was sent to work in a factory making plane engines for the German war effort. Rudy graduated from medical school and worked as a general and thoracic surgeon before immigrating to the United States in 1967. He settled in the Chicagoland area where he had a long career as a urologist. Today he lives in Oak Brook, IL.
April 12, 2011
Paula Moss was born in Prague in 1925. Her father served as a senator for three terms until Parliament was dissolved before the outbreak of WWII. At school, she specialized in languages, becoming fluent in English and German. Upon Liberation in 1945, her English-language skills were discovered by a member of General Patton’s Third Army during a victory parade. She was taken on as a translator and followed the Third Army to the spa town of Mariánské Lázně when they withdrew shortly after the end of the War.
February 28, 2011
Zdenka Novak was born in Prague in July, 1931. After WWII, she moved with her family to Tašovice, near the West Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, where she started attending ceramic school. In 1949 she was arrested for helping smuggle news to American forces in West Germany. She was interrogated and found guilty without a trial. In 1951 she escaped from prison.
August 20, 2013
Lubomir Ondrasek was born in western Slovakia in 1972. He grew up in Martin and graduated from high school in Nove Mesto nad Vahom. In 1995, Lubomir moved to the United States. He received a bachelor's degree from Zion Bible College, a Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Masters of Theology from Harvard University. Today Lubomir lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter and is the president of the non-profit Acta Sanctorum.
February 05, 2014
Tomas Opatril was born in Pardubice in 1974. He was 15 at the time of the Velvet Revolution and recalls participating in demonstrations in the city. Tomas moved to the United States in 2007 after receiving a green card through the lottery system. He lives in Chicago.
April 20, 2012
Jan Pala was born in Bratislava in 1952. He left Czechoslovakia with his son in September 1989. The pair took a bus trip, ostensibly to watch an international soccer match in Cologne, Germany. Instead of attending the game, however, they applied for asylum. Jan and his son spent 15 months in Germany and were then sent home to a newly-democratic Czechoslovakia, where they applied for tourist visas to the United States. They came to America in December 1990.
October 17, 2013
Lubos Pastor was born in Košice in eastern Slovakia. He was interested in math from a young age and also enjoyed computers, chess and sports. Lubos studied economics at Comenius University before moving to the United States in 1994, where he finished his undergraduate studies at Wichita State University. Lubos received his PhD from Wharton and today is a finance professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
August 09, 2010
In 1951, Karel was accepted at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied organ with Jan Krajs for the next five years. Karel was conscripted to the Czechoslovak Army in 1957. Through his oboe playing, he was sent to Písek to become part of the Army’s musical division. He was allowed to travel to Iceland in 1961, to become head oboist with the National Symphony Orchestra there.
April 05, 2010
Mojmir Povolny was born in 1921. He left Czechoslovakia following the Communist coup and was sponsored by the American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees to study at the University of Chicago. He was chairman of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia. He died in August 2012.
January 18, 2011
Joseph Pritasil was born in Miřetice, eastern Bohemia, in 1925. He was one of seven children raised on a farm. Following WWII, Joseph was drafted into the Czechoslovak Army, which he says was ‘a joke,’ as there were neither guns nor uniforms for any of the troops. He was told he could train for the police force instead, which he duly did. He was a policeman until 1948, when he left Czechoslovakia fearing arrest.
September 13, 2011
Jerry Rabas was born in Pardubice in 1945. His family left Czechoslovakia following the Communist coup in 1948 when his father was warned that he was in danger of being arrested. After spending 16 months in refugee camps in Germany, they settled in the South Lawndale area of Chicago. Jerry owned a travel agency for many years and supported Czech organizations in the Chicago area.
April 26, 2010
In January 1947, Vera went to Sweden on what was supposed to be a one-year work exchange. She successfully prolonged her stay once, but when she visited the Czech consulate to extend her stay a second time in the summer of 1948, she was told it was time she returned home. Vera wrote to her parents who told her to come back only when Czechoslovakia was again ‘free’. She applied for asylum in Sweden.
December 20, 2011
Frank Schultz was born in Maňovice in 1930 and grew up on a family farm. Active in Boy Scouts, Frank protested the absorption of the group into a Communist youth organization. He was worried that he would be arrested, and crossed the border into Germany in July 1948. Frank stayed in refugee camps for over two years, and arrived in New York in December 1950. Shortly thereafter, he joined the U.S. Army. Today, he lives in Woodridge, Illinois.