Pavla Alter

* 1952  

  • "So he [brother] flew from Prague to New York in July 1968. At the airport, my dad told him, 'If something happens, don't come back! You must disregard us. It doesn't matter. Don't come back! You have to take your life in your own hands and you have to move forward.' That was also a lesson my dad learnt from the Shoah, that you should act regardless of your old parents, that the younger generation has to mind their own family. Not the one that existed before, but their own and their children."

  • "My dad used to say all the time, 'And if it goes wrong here, we'll pack up and leave. I am not going to risk again!'. That means that the decision whether to emigrate or not to emigrate didn´t have to be made at all. That was clear. On the twenty-first of August it was clear that it was the end for us."

  • "Grandma Pavla was arrested on August 29, 1951. My mother was only shortly pregnant at the time. Why do I know that?! Because at home it was always said: 'If big Pavla had been arrested earlier, you wouldn't have existed! We wouldn´t have made you!' And she was released in December 1954. I really remember my grandmother Pavla telling me that the communist prison was worse for her than a concentration camp. My parents say that they didn't break her, but that they almost killed her. She had white hair, she was sickly, she had sunken chest, she had osteoporosis, shortly, she was hunched. And yet I knew her as an energetic, strong woman. It means, she pulled herself together pretty soon."

  • "He [dad] in the year 1945, a 20-year-old boy, 42 kilograms, he didn't give up! He escaped from the hospital in Terezín because it was obvious that if he stayed there he would die. He ran away to the station and climbed up the roof of the train that was going from Terezín to Prague, and he arrived in Prague like that."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Frankfurt nad Mohanem, 01.02.2021

    (audio)
    duration: 03:01:31
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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We can learn our lesson and be more careful in judging others and more honest in assessing our own community

Pavla Alter
Pavla Alter
photo: Witness´s archive

Pavla Alter, née Kostová, was born on 8 March, 1952 in Prague. Her father, Tomáš Kosta, came from a Jewish family and during World War II he went through several Nazi extermination camps - Terezín, Auschwitz, Meuselwitz - and survived death marches. In 1945, he managed to escape from Terezín to Prague. Her grandfather was the translator, poet, and Communist Party member Oskar Kosta (Kohn), who emigrated to the British Isles in 1939, after splitting from his wife Pavla. After the end of the war he returned to Czechoslovakia. After the arrest of the politician Noel Field in August 1949, Oskar Kosta, who had maintained contact with Field in Czechoslovakia, was imprisoned. During his imprisonment he attempted suicide and was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Bohnice. In August 1951, a few months before the witness was born, her grandmother Pavla, an ex-wife of Oskar Kosta, was arrested by State Security and convicted of espionage. She was released in 1954. Witness´s father, Tomáš Kosta, also joined the Communist Party after the war and worked at the Ministry of Social Affairs in the post-war years, but because of his father’s imprisonment, he resigned from his post in 1950 and worked as a digger and cook. In the 1960s her grandparents were rehabilitated and her father, Tomáš Kosta, became a managing director of the Svoboda publishing house. He defended the reformist ideas of the Prague Spring. Immediately after the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968, Tomáš Kosta decided to emigrate with his family, which gradually went away, first to Vienna and then to Switzerland. Together they lived in Germany from April 1970 and a year later they obtained German citizenship. Pavla Alter completed her business school studies at the German airlines Lufthansa, where she remained employed until she was 59. Tomáš Kosta became a managing director of a trade union publishing house and his talents could fully develop there. He established friendly relations with leading German politicians and intellectuals and became a member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). He co-founded the literary agency Aura-Pont, which represented Czech dissident authors abroad, and in 1988 he supported the establishment of the Atlantis publishing house in Brno. He became an adviser to three Czech prime ministers, he was an adviser to Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and advised also former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. He died at the age of 91 in June 2016. The witness was living in Frankfurt am Main at the time of the recording (2021).