Juraj Braun

* 1952

  • "So I was in that camp, and somehow, I matured regarding my Jewish identity. And when the policemen in that department started telling me that we had nothing against the Jews, and they wanted me to sign some document that I would supply them with information or that I would tell them what was going on in the Jewish community. I said, you know what, this medicine is so important to me; I want to study it so much that I won't go there anymore, and I don't want to go there anymore. And I stopped going there. However, the way that security services worked was that they apparently kept a file on every single one of us there. And they had it well covered because when I got there... Unfortunately, they met with me about two more times, and they didn't want to... Twice, I was at Februarka, and then twice more in Metropol - there was a café opposite the Faculty of Medicine or opposite the dean's office - and there were always two of them in that café. There was always one such good cop and one such thicker cop. A good cop and a bad cop. One was the friendly one who was always sort of patting me on the shoulder and ordering me cognacs and things like that. And the other one was so rough again, asking me, you know, just between the two of us, what those Jews want, and whether we're planning to go, to flee to Israel or to America or to the West, and what conspiracies we have against socialism. They always told me that they had nothing against us but that if I had any anti-state goals and intentions, I would say goodbye to going to medical school. And I told them every single time, and it was quite stressful, very stressful, to tell you the truth. I was neither a traitor nor some collaborator, but it was quite difficult to live through that on top of the difficult studies of medicine. That started in the third or fourth year [of gymnasium]... I was in that camp between the third... I think after high school and before I started college. Or maybe even in my third year of high school. And the way they had it so thoroughly polished and well thought-out, and how they knew every step of the way, it shocked me. And apparently, there were those among the Jews who worked with them."

  • "When a whole group of tourists went to the Hofburg in Vienna, Milan and I told each other, and we were already prepared for this, that if there was an opportunity, we would just snap and we went to sort of film ourselves. We had a new film camera that we were filming ourselves with, and we were shooting next to the statue of Maria Theresa in front of the Hofburg - I was filming Milan, and Milan was taking footage of me. And then, as we were running away, we filmed ourselves running away. So we ran away, took a taxi on the street, and got taken to this hotel where the group was, and it was such a working-class neighbourhood in Vienna, where maybe those people were also cooperating with the Czechoslovak police, we don't know. So, one was waiting downstairs under the window in the hotel, and the other one went up to the room. I still went to see the one in charge of the room to see if, by any chance, we would discover those passports there. And we didn't discover them, we didn't find them. So we dropped those suitcases of ours, Milan's and mine, down through the window. Then, I went next to that concierge to say that I had forgotten something and returned to the group. And there was a taxi waiting for us around the corner, the same taxi that had brought us there, and we made him wait around the corner, and we paid him very well, of course. And then the taxi driver took us to some of these friends and people we knew before. Before that, they smuggled and took our diploma and our documents to Austria. Because one was not allowed to have anything suspicious with you. Not a medical diploma, nor any certificates - or matriculation certificates, or graduation certificates, or state examination certificates, nothing like that. So, both Milan and I arranged it through friends who brought it out in advance. And then, since we didn't have a passport, those friends we had in Vienna took us to the Fremdenpolizei, as it were. That's the alien police in Vienna, and they made us; I still have it as a souvenir, a kind of alien passport, a kind of Nansenpas - that's what it was called. It just allowed us to get out of Austria and into another country."

  • "We stayed in that Slovakia and we still held that '68 in our hearts. So, I was on the so-called strike committee in November and December 1968. It was the only high school in Bratislava that went on strike with college students to demand freedom of speech and no censorship to be declared again. For the Russian troops to withdraw or for Czechoslovakia to declare neutrality. Because if Czechoslovakia was neutral, the Russian troops would have to pack up and leave. And the people were revolutionary, even the professors. Some. And some already at that time, two or three months after 1968, they started to normalise, and the later after 1968, the worse and sadder it got. - Well, that's self-censorship, isn't it? Both self-censorship and forced censorship. They fired the principal of the school, who was there as a principal in the high school; he couldn't be a principal there anymore. Two deputy principals were temporarily put in charge of the management of that Novohradská. The few good professors we had had to leave the school. That strike committee of ours existed for about a week or two, and then it all started to get twisted. I think, maybe, I don't know the exact dates, but I guess from January onwards, it ceased to exist. And they had already started investigating who, what and how. And they had already started petitions that, well, actually, those Soviet troops were necessary to prevent the counter-revolution. What pained me was that I saw my classmates who had previously been against the Russian invasion or had protested when those five countries came to Czechoslovakia. Suddenly, they had already started to say that it was needed and that we could never become free anyway. And that socialism was actually better for us. That's when I started to realise how these people were warping their character, that this is not good, and that this is not the life I want to live. So the attacks on the basis of my Jewish identity, '68, and then that period of how those people started to treat each other...There was also such anger among those people that people stopped trusting each other and telling each other how things were."

  • Full recordings
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    New York City, 06.12.2023

    duration: 03:18:12
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th century
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A doctor who worked in Manhattan

Juraj Braun was born on 1 May 1952 in Bratislava as the only child of parents of Jewish origin. His mother Ida came from Dunajská Streda. This town became part of Hungary after the Vienna Arbitration, so Ida was not deported to a concentration camp until 1944. The Orthodox Jewish family of his father Mikulas came from Bratislava, and they were the owners of properties not only in Bratislava but also in Dunajská Streda. During the war, Mikulas was initially interned in the camp in Sered. He managed to “buy his way” to freedom, and until the end of the war, he hid alternately in Slovakia and Hungary. Part of the family’s property was returned to the family after the war, but in 1948, it was expropriated by the state. Juraj’s parents were evicted to the countryside near Lučenec as part of Aktion Z. After two months, they could return to Bratislava, where Juraj was soon born. After initial problems with finding a job due to his capitalist past, Juraj’s father took a job in the paper industry. His mother took up tailoring and later opened the first children’s fashion salon in Bratislava. From childhood, Juraj was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from his peers because of his origins. After finishing primary school, he started to attend the Juraj Hronec Gymnasium in 1967. In his second year, he participated in a Jewish youth camp in Dubrovnik, for which he was interrogated by State Security in the 1970s. From 1970 to 1976, he studied medicine. Then, he was employed in a hospital in Nitra in the department of surgery, later ENT. After a month, he had to go to military training and then return to his post in Nitra. In 1980, he emigrated to the USA with Milan Wister from Italy. After the nostrification exam, he was placed as a resident at the Manhattan clinic. He later completed his specialisation in laryngeal cancer and plastic surgery. In 1991, he married the daughter of Shoah survivors from Czechoslovakia. They have three children together.