Book NINE Out of Ten that have Shaped my Life: Prague Winter – a personal story of remembrance and more, 1937-1948 Madeleine Albright

I have been blessed by many people and experiences that have enriched my life. Among these blessings was the partnership that we shared as a community with IBTS, the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. The partnership afforded me the opportunity to visit and teach there for several years. I bought Prague Winter because of its title and my interest in politics. It’s author, Madeline Albright, was appointed by Bill Clinton as US Secretary of State during his second term in office from 1997 – 2001. She was born in Prague in 1937. Her father was a Czech diplomat and fled with his family to Britain following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Following the Second World War the family returned to their homeland only to flee the country again, this time being granted political asylum in the United States in 1949. Fleeing not from the Nazis but the murderous hands of the local Communist Party. Albright’s father, Josef, became the Dean of the University of Denver’s School of International Studies, where interestingly he taught another future Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice.
Albright’s book grabbed my attention from its openings pages. She writes with intelligence and intuition. The book takes us on a journey that includes her compelling personal exploration of her family’s Jewish roots as well as giving the reader an excellent history of Czechoslovakia from 1937 to 1948. The book is insightful and informative and brings vividly to life so many pivotal historical events including descriptions of the German occupation; the assassination of Heydrich “the hangman”, the murder of the heroic Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Masaryk by Czech Stalinists and the subjugation of the country by a communist party that behaved no less brutally than the Nazis. Albright paints a picture of happenings during a period that was to shape the ensuing years that correspond with my lifetime.
And all the time I was reading the book, often sat in a café in Old Town Square in the beautiful city of Prague. Learning about a really important period in history I couldn’t help thinking that without the sanctuary Britain offered Albright and her family she would have died in the Theresienstadt or Auschwitz camps like many of her family members. Instead, she went on to become the first female US Secretary of State. Reflecting on my reading of the book and my travels across Europe in recent years I am mindful and fearful of happenings across the Continent today. The chronicling of happenings that led to conflict and the Second World War, the schemes that fuelled hatred and led to war are being deployed again. Exploiting the prevalent fears, insecurity and ignorance, fanning into flames the seeds of popularism, nationalism and racism, deploying skilful narratives that proport simple ‘solutions’ to capture the hearts and minds of the masses – evidenced in the 1930’s are seen today in Britain and across Europe.
I write this on the morning when our former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson is accusing Theresa May of “wrapping a ‘suicide vest’ around Britain and giving the EU the detonator”. An appalling, dangerous and damaging statement that has been cleverly and strategically released to divert attention from the less than savoury stories that report on his affairs, flings and the ‘love’ children left in his wake. The attack on our Prime Minister follows up his description the other week claiming that “women wearing burkas look like letterboxes and bank robbers”. A statement that triggered attacks on innocent Muslim women. Very disturbing and trouble making.
A Prague Winter addresses not only the past but has some very pertinent things to say to us in a turbulent and troubled Europe today.

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