Seminar: Martin Nekola, ‘Czechoslovak Cold War Refugees in New Zealand’

The exile after the Communist coup in 1948 in Czechoslovakia and the fate of Czechs and Slovaks abroad, who sought the return of freedom and democracy to their homeland are an integral part of Czech modern history. However, this phenomenon is still neglected and the general public has only fragmentary information about it.  Researchers are still unable to agree on the intensities of individual waves of emigration between 1948-1989.  The most likely figure would be probably 250,000 people in total, including thousands heading to Australia and New Zealand. The first steps of Czechoslovak refugees in the free world brought these people into the displaced persons camps in Western occupation zones of Germany and Austria and in Italy. It is a forgotten fact that more than 20 million people in Europe were out of their home countries by the end of World War Two. These included former Jewish prisoners in concentration camps, forced laborers returning from Germany, expelled German minorities from Eastern Europe and, above all, people escaping from Stalin and his Communist regimes or refusing repatriation behind the Iron curtain. The newly arrived refugees were carefully interviewed and given some degree of protection or declared ineligible by the International Refugee Organization (IRO).  The atmosphere in the camps was extremely tense because there was a widespread belief that the Cold War would quickly change into an armed conflict between the USA and the USSR. But as time passed, and people remained long months or even years in the camps, sending visa application and waiting for work permits and transport to a new home. Australia and New Zealand seemed to be the most open countries, they needed “fresh blood” and experts in wide range of disciplines. Therefore, qualified Central Europeans were warmly welcome. The lecture will focus on the journey of selected Czech refugees to New Zealand and will also uncover interesting details about the whole history of the Czech community.

Martin Nekola completed his Ph.D. at Charles University in Prague. He has held a variety of positions with the Czech government, and various NGOs in Czechia. He has published several books in Czech about the Second World War, and published a variety of articles on Czechoslovak exiles in America.

Venue:            Old Kirk 406 (F L W Wood Seminar Room)

Date:               Friday, 15 March 2019

Time:              12:10pm to 1:30pm

For more information: Contact Dr Alexander Maxwell (alexander.maxwell@vuw.ac.nz; 04 463 6753).