Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Jiří Pavel Kafka

* 1924  

  • “When I was a child we were in the Tchelet lavan, but at the same time we were members of Sokol [the patriotic Czech sports movement - transl.]. So the connection to Judaism was very strong, but the connection to Czecho-Judaism was even stronger. Seeing that Dad was one of the leading Czech Jews, he was the chairman of the Jewish Community in Prague before the war. Judaism was a part of my life, as was being Czech. But we didn’t speak proper Hebrew or German, apart from what we learnt at school.”

  • "Usually there happened something a little bit unusual, but we didn't get into any fighting and generally were not in any great danger. Sometimes it would get pretty boring because we often spent long hours in the air. So it could get pretty boring. Pavel Wechsberg [Vranský – note by the author] liked to spend most of his time on the radio and I liked operating the radar. A radar was still a relatively new thing back then. I liked that, because you looked around and you knew what was going on."

  • “I know because they sent [my father] to try to get permission for as many Jews as possible to emigrate to France and England. He was there with Mrs Šmolková, who represented the Zionists, he represented Czech Jews. They stayed there for several days, then came back here... That was what was odd, because there were permits to leave the country. But I think they were the only two to get re-entry permits. After a while, a few weeks, they went again. When my father was in London, the war broke out. So on that day he was on the way to me and my brother - we were at summer school in southern England. When he arrived, we told him that war had broken out while he was travelling by train. That meant the borders were immediately closed, and he couldn’t return. So my mum was stuck in Prague and he was stuck in London with a small suitcase for two three days.”

  • "He wasn't too enthusiastic about it. I asked him to help me with being accepted to the aviation school when I was already in the Air Force. He told me that that I could go wherever I wanted, but that he wouldn't help me to get somewhere where I might get killed. He didn't want to have anything in common with it. Which means that he probably didn't have anything against me being in the Army or Air Force, perhaps even quite the contrary, but he didn't want to be responsible for my possible death."

  • "They taught us how to click our heels together, how to salute and so on. Not much. I spent maybe a month in the army. I didn't learn anything of importance. Nothing that would prove to be useful later on. In aviation school, it was something a little bit different. There was not that kind of military discipline. On the contrary, they taught us to rely on ourselves and to automatically obey without thinking. They taught us rather to think for themselves."

  • "In Germany, the windows had to remain closed and we just transited the country, without feeling that the population was friendly towards us. They looked more hostile at the stations. But nothing special happened. When we arrived in Holland, suddenly everything changed. Dutch ladies offered us treats like sandwiches, sweets, drinks and so on at the train stations. They were very friendly to us although we didn't understand each other."

  • "Then it didn't look too much as if there was a big political future or any other future for me here and Lála, my brother, lived in London, so I had a place to go. So I applied for a demobilized in London, where I had enlisted originally. I was entitled to it. I went to London and again I was looking for a job. My friends helped me again. I tried various things, but I didn't succeed at anything and I hardly earned any money, although I was able to make a living more or less."

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    Praha, 06.05.2003

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    Praha, 10.02.2011

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    Praha, 17.12.2015

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    Praha, 09.02.2016

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    Praha, 22.05.2017

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I don’t like to portray it as a heroic episode

Jiří Kafka as a RAF pilot
Jiří Kafka as a RAF pilot

Retired Colonel Jiří Pavel Kafka was born on May 5, 1924, in Prague in Czechoslovakia. His family was of Jewish extraction, his father worked as a lawyer and was also the chairman of the Jewish community in Prague, his mother was a housewife. Jiří Pavel Kafka attended elementary school and later grammar school. Thanks to the providence of his father, Jiří and his siblings managed to travel to England on the so-called Winton train (June 28, 1939) shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. In England, Jiří Pavel Kafka and his brother at first ended up in a camp for refugee children in Ipswich. But later, thanks to his father, who fortuitously came to England and then worked as head of the Nečas ministry for economic recovery in the Beneš exile government, the two brothers got on a summer school and subsequently on a high school in Cheltenham. However, Jiří Pavel Kafka grew tired of studying and thus he went into business, taking an apprentice at the company Sigmund Pumps. Then, on June 13, 1942, he resolved to join the army. For approximately three months, he served in the Czechoslovak land army, he completed basic training and then was accepted to the Royal Air Force (RAF). He attended training in Wales, Scotland and the Bahamas and was ranked as a gunner and radio operator in the 311th Fighting Wing, where he served between September 3, 1942 and September 19, 1945. His crew operated over the Bay of Biscay, the North Sea and the Atlantic. Their task was to accompany Allied convoys and destroy enemy ships and submarines. In 1945, he returned to Czechoslovakia where he found his mother, who had survived the Lodz ghetto, the Auschwitz concentration camp and then a camp in northern Bohemia. However, Jiří Pavel Kafka left Czechoslovakia again in 1947 and he went back to England. In 1949, he visited his native country for the funeral of his father, but didn’t remain in the country permanently. In England, he lived with his brother and then they were joined by their mom. Jiří Pavel Kafka, together with a friend, founded a company for the import of components for the manufacture of jewelry. However, he became influenced by Zionism, and thus in 1960, he and his wife decided to move to Israel. In Israel, he became active in the real estate business, renting, buying and rebuilding houses. He continued to work in this field even after 1968, when he returned to England. In 1986, his mother died, followed by his wife in 1988, and so he decided to return to Czechoslovakia in 1990. Jiří Pavel Kafka currently lives in Prague.