Jan Drábek

* 1935

  • "My father (a successful lawyer) became a member of the Present Time Club – he always said that they had stolen the name from Ferdinad Peroutka – but that Peroutka, when they had lived in the same house in New York, had never mentioned this and had never taken it against him.. The Present Time Club was an interesting group of people. Different Prague intellectuals belonged there, among them Prokop Drtina who later became the Minister of Justice and they had interesting speakers. One of them was a Karl Hermann Frank from Karlovy Vary, a Sudeten German. They had an interesting debate then. Frank saw my father again at the People´s Tribunal in the year 1946 where my father was chief prosecutor and Karl Hermann Frank tried to justify his attrocious activities during the Protectorate times."

  • "I myself was abandonned to a Poděbrady boarding school where a year later, in autumn, Václav Havel, Miloš Forman a a couple of fairly well-known people, the nephew of Fierlinger came too and I got there thanks to preferential treatment because my father had friends who had friends in the Poděbrady boarding school. While all those who came a year later and were at the class with Havel had to pass very hard entrance exams, I failed three subjects at the gymnasium at Křemencová Street and my father had to pull a few strings to get me to the school but they were the best students of their basic schools. I wasn´t too fond of the Poděbrady school. I felt like being in exile there in that situation. I was dispatched. All these boys who I met later in exile or in Czechoslovakia were enthusiastic about their situation. I remember reading Winston Churchill´s Memoirs . Churchill and I agreed on this point with each other. Churchill wrote that the boarding school had been a terrible thing and that young people should stay with their parents and not in some old castle, which was exactly the Poděbrady situation. Jiří from Poděbrady and his castle where we studied or tried to study."

  • "One day I was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked if I wanted to become a press attaché at the Czechosloval Embassy in Washington. Well, I was an American citizen at the time. I thought it over a bit and said:“ I wouldn´t like to be at the Embassy at the time when I would have to, and this could happen, make decisions for or against these two countries.“ So, I said simply: “No, I can´t accept it.“ Although my father lived in an old folks´ home in Washington at the time and it would suit us well. And then they said: “And what about Kenya?“ And I said:“I had no idea you had a press attaché in Kenya.“ And they said: “No, no, that´s a post of an ambassador.“ So, I left for Kenya as an ambassador. In Kenya they had a residence as large as a castle, interesting indeed. I served there for two years but what I couldn´t stand was that Czechoslovakia was interested in other countries than in Africa. I led a splendid social life there. I was well paid, but in fact had nothing to do, because when I, for example, wanted Czech Skoda cars to be sold in Kenya, nobody in Prague expressed any sign of interest. They were interested only in Western Europe. So, in the end, I left rather frustrated and was named a head of the diplomatic protocol. The reason might have been that I was tall, owned a dark suit and could speak English, German and Czech reasonably well. That was what was needed. I stayed in the job for about two years. I had a chance to welcome the English Queen, the Pope, the Spanish and Swedish kings. I also welcomed the Canadian Governor General, the head of Canada, which was interesting. I welcomed him as a Canadian, my wife accompanied his wife and couldn´t say a word of Czech. My wife has never learned Czech although she could speak Swahili and taught German. She said:“Czech is a terrible language, I´ll never learn it.“ She stopped learning it because she was a perfectionist, I think. Then I left for Tirana (in function of an ambassador – MČ) where my wife got ill. There was a vast controversy between me and Mr Zieleniec over the way my wife was treated and I left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

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    Vancouver, Kanada, 28.01.2016

    duration: 01:00:29
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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Live in such a way that people will be bored when you die

6148-portrait_former.jpg (historic)
Jan Drábek
photo: Míša Čaňková

Jan Drábek was born on 5th May 1935 into the family of JUDr Jaroslav Drábek, a successful lawyer, and his wife Jarmila. Among the family friends were influentials such as Peroutka, Drtina and Krajina. During the war, Jan’s father participated in the resistance movement and was imprisoned in Pankrác and Auschwitz. Jan remembers building barricades in the May Uprising. His father was named chief prosecutor in the process with K.H. Frank. For a year, Jan studied in Poděbrady in the same school as Václav Havel and Miloš Forman. In March 1948 the Drábeks emigrated by skiing to Bavaria. In September of the same year they sailed to New York. Jan served in the US Navy, was an anouncer in the Radio Free Europe, and studied in India for a year. He settled in Canada but returned to Czechoslovakia with his wife in the early 1990s to teach English at the Ministry of Foreigh Affairs. Later he was offered the post of Czechoslovak ambassador to Kenya and then to Albania. He worked as a head of the diplomatic protocol before he finally returned to Canada in 1998. Since then he has devoted his time to writing.