Zdeněk Dittrich

* 1923  †︎ 2015

  • “(Did you participate in that march? What do you remember of it?) When I look back at it, I feel certain melancholy. The police had us march in an indirect way, and when we finally came to Pohořelec, we were stopped there and dispersed. None of us even got to the President. But when you realize what his health condition was, he was already a wreck of a man, he would not be able to do anything anyway. When I exhausted returned home from the demonstration, I was living with my aunt in Smíchov then, the entire family was sitting around a radio. What is London reporting about it? During the war we were listening to the London broadcast. One could feel that the cage was falling down again. I went to my room to pack my things. The next day I boarded a train to Pilsen and beyond…”

  • “The mobilisation was something amazing. I was fifteen then. There was so much enthusiasm, you cannot even imagine that. And not only in Prague and surrounding areas, but in Slovakia as well. I remember it and it still stays in my memory. Like that farmer from a place near Lamač. He was on his way to the barracks, because he got mobilised. He was dressed in his folk costume which is worn on festive days, and the guy was probably quite drunk with slivovitz, and a Gypsy man was walking behind him and playing the violin for him. The master leaving for war. An unforgettable scene.”

  • “The man who helped me cross the border was the chairman of the National committee in Česká Kubice, formally he was a communist, but in reality he was an old social democrat worker from the Škoda factory. The communists had been terrorizing the employees there already for a longer time before the putsch. Many of the workers therefore formally joined the party, but they were not really communists. This man led me to the border – it was Saturday, the guards were not around – and he explained to me: ´On the left there is a Czech house, on the right a German one.´ I walked there and I saw three houses there. I was a little scared, thinking I might knock on a wrong door. I saw a brook which was running in the direction of Germany. So I followed this brook and I eventually came to Furth im Wald. This was the American zone, and there I reported to American soldiers.”

  • “I crossed over to Germany on the leap-day of February 1948. Naturally we were interrogated by the American CIA, questioning us who we were, etc. Meanwhile many of the escaped politicians have assembled there. I was lucky that I could get to know some of them, like Krajina, Vilím, minister Procházka... This was in Regensburg. Then we were sent to different places. The worthy politicians went to Frankfurt, you could call it honorary internment, and from there they sent them to America, in order to have a reserve Czechoslovak government there should a conflict break out. This is the way it was done then. The less important people, including myself, got to a German internment camp, where the conditions were quite bad. I met several colleagues there and with them we summoned courage to go to Holland.”

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    Praha, 16.09.2008

    duration: 52:49
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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One could feel that in February 1948 the cage was falling down again. I went to my room to pack my things. The next day I boarded a train to Pilsen and beyond...

Zdeněk Dittrich in 1946
Zdeněk Dittrich in 1946
photo: archiv pamětnika

Dr. Zdeněk Dittrich, Professor Emeritus of Utrecht University, was born to Czech parents in 1923 in Bratislava. He lived in Slovakia until he was fifteen (1938) when the family left the country. Dittrich completed his secondary studies in Kolín. After graduation, during the occupation period, he worked in the State Historic Institute in Prague. After the war he began studying history at Charles University. During his time as a student he was actively involved in the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party; he was one of the members who strongly opposed the Communist Party. In February 1948 he participated in the student march to the Prague Castle to see President Beneš. Several days after the “victorious” February of 1948, he crossed the state border in Česká Kubice and entered the American occupation zone. From Germany he continued to Holland, and completed his studies of history at Utrecht University. He then taught at various universities in Holland and Germany. In the 1990s he held the position of visiting professor twice at universities in Prague and Brno. His son is the well-known Dutch liberal politician Boris Dittrich.