National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library

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New York City

The Lysy family takes in the view
The Lysy family takes in the view
For thousands of Czechs and Slovaks arriving in the United States during the Cold War era, New York City was the first port of call.

Whether it was at Ellis Island or JFK Airport, the first glimpse that many Czechs and Slovaks had of America was provided by New York City. And while the majority of émigrés spent just a couple of nights in the city before moving on to other locations, hundreds stayed - making New York City home to one of the biggest, and liveliest, Czech and Slovak communities in the country. 

Here are the stories of some of the Czechs and Slovaks who settled in New York City:

Balaz, Joseph
January 07, 2013
Joseph Balaz was born in Prague in 1960. He studied civil engineering at ČVUT and left Czechoslovakia while on a ski trip to Austria in 1982. Eighteen months later, Joseph moved to Edmonton in Alberta. He eventually settled in New York City and started his own construction and development business. Joseph is on the board of several Czech organizations and is the president of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association.

Balev, Anna
January 15, 2014
Anna Balev was born in Olomouc in 1950. Her father, an ardent Catholic, was arrested and spent two years in prison. Anna studied nursing and worked in Prague and Karlovy Vary before marrying her American husband and moving to the United States. In 1976 Anna settled in New York City where today she owns a rental company. Anna frequently travels back to the Czech Republic.

Ben-David, Joseph
July 31, 2013
Joseph Ben-David was born in Prague in 1920. Early on he became involved in the Unitarian church and the humanist movement. In 1939, Joseph took a transport to Palestine where he lived for 15 years. He arrived in New York City in 1954. Joseph founded the Church of Humanism in the 1970s which he still leads today. Joseph lives in Manhattan with his wife Alyson.

Bil, Jozef
June 26, 2013
Jozef Bil was born in eastern Slovakia in 1961. His grandfather's experience in the Pennsylvania coal mines in the 1920s piqued Jozef's interest in the United States. He left Czechoslovakia in 1990 and settled in Pittsburgh before moving to New York City. Today Jozef owns a general contracting company and is involved in the local Slovak community.

Bisek, Peter
September 08, 2012
Peter Bisek was born in Prague in 1941. After high school, Peter worked in a print shop and completed an apprenticeship there. In May 1965, Peter and his wife Vera left Czechoslovakia for Sweden. They moved to the United States six months later where Peter continued in the printing business. In 1990, Peter revived a Czechoslovak newspaper called Americké Listy, which he and Vera edited and printed for 20 years.

Bolchazy, Ladislaus
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.

Breiner, Peter
September 10, 2013
Peter Breiner was born in Humenné in eastern Slovakia in 1957. He started music lessons at the age of four and studied at the conservatory in Kosice and the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. Peter moved to Toronto in 1992. A renowned musician, Peter is a performer, composer and conductor. Today he lives in New York City.

Cech, Alex
May 16, 2012
Alex Cech was born in Kolín in 1927. In 1949, he escaped across the border into Germany. Alex lived in Venezuela from 1950 to 1958 where he worked for an export company. He moved to New York City in 1958 and, after working several jobs, bought his own export company. He was an active member of the Czech community of New York. Alex lived in Bronxville, New York, with his wife until his death in 2012.

Chmelar, Lubomir
October 29, 2012
Lubomir Chmelar was born in Zlín in 1935 and moved with his parents to Baghdad at the age of one. They were set to return to Czechoslovakia in March 1939; however, Hitler's occupation of the country changed those plans. After graduating from Oxford as an engineer, he met his wife in Toronto and the pair moved to Manhattan. Lubomir started the Prague-Vienna Greenways organization and today travels frequently to Moravia for pleasure and business.

Demetz, Peter
June 14, 2012
Peter Demetz was born in Prague in 1922 to German and Jewish parents. His mother was deported to Terezín during WWII where she died. Peter studied German and English at Charles University and graduated in 1948. He crossed the border into Germany the following year and lived there for two years while working for Radio Free Europe. Once in the U.S., Peter received his PhD from Yale and taught there for many years. He now lives in Highland Park, New Jersey.

Edwards, Ivana
July 12, 2012
Ivana Edwards was born in Prague. She left the country with her family while still a child and lived in Tel Aviv for a few months before moving to Montreal. Ivana studied journalism at Boston University and returned to Montreal to work for the Montreal Gazette. A few years later she moved to Florida, and then to New York where she still lives today. Ivana has published a book titled Praguewalks and is an active member of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences.

Eisler, Eva
June 27, 2013
Eva Eisler was born and raised in Prague. Her father was a mechanical engineer while her mother was an artist. Eva began studying architecture but was expelled from school when her father emigrated in 1970. She began working at the architecture firm SIAL and there met her husband John. In 1983 the pair moved to New York City with their two young children.

Eisler, Marek
November 28, 2011
Marek Eisler was born in Prague in 1980 and moved to New York City with his parents and older brother when he was three years old. He visited the Czech Republic twice before returning to Prague to live in 1999. Today he is an English teacher at The Waldorf School in Jinonice.

Exler, Jitka
July 15, 2014
Jitka Exler was born in Karlovy Vary and grew up in the nearby town of Ostrov. A keen artist from a young age, Jitka studied graphic arts in Prague and worked in an animation studio at Barrandov. She was a signatory of Charter 77 and left Czechoslovakia in 1980. In New York City, Jitka has worked as a Muppet and toy designer. Today she lives in Larchmont, New York.

Hadl, Tomas
March 05, 2012
Tomas Hadl was born in Prague in 1985. He worked for Czech public television before moving to the United States in 2005. Today, he is a manager for the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association in Manhattan and lives in Staten Island with his wife and son.

Halsey, Suzanna
August 28, 2012
Suzanna Halsey was born in Karlovy Vary in 1951. She studied Latin and philosophy at Charles University and worked in a publishing house in Prague. In 1977, Suzanna traveled to West Germany, England, and France where she met her American husband. She moved to New York in 1978. Suzanna studied film at NYU and has worked as a translator, interpreter, and Czech language teacher. She is involved in Friends of Czech Greenways and SVU.

Hauner, George
September 04, 2014
George Hauner was born in Prague in 1949. He studied architecture at Czech Technical University in Prague and left Czechoslovakia in 1981. George settled in New York City where he still lives today and works as an architect.

Heller, Katya
July 30, 2012
Katya Heller was born in Prague in 1960 to an American mother and Czech father. She studied English and Spanish at Charles University and was a freelance interpreter before leaving the country. In 1986, she moved to Barcelona and the following year, settled in the United States. During the Velvet Revolution, Katya returned to Prague and worked as an interpreter for the Civic Forum. Today she lives in New York City where she is director of the Heller Gallery.

Holub, Martin
January 25, 2014
Martin Holub was born in Prague in 1938. His mother was arrested in 1950 and released 18 months. Martin studied architecture and, in 1967, went to London to work abroad for one year. Upon the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968, Martin decided not to return to Czechoslovakia. He moved to New York City in 1970 where he started his own architecture firm.

Horejs, Vit
July 03, 2012
Vit Horejs was born in Prague in 1950. In 1972, he visited England which, he says, made him ‘fall in love with English’ and consider a life abroad. Six years later, he translated Primo Levy’s Il Sistema Periodico and received an invitation from the author to consult with him on the translation in Italy. Vit left Czechoslovakia in March 1978 and applied for visas to both the United Kingdom and the United States. He arrived in New York City in February 1979, sponsored by the American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees.


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