prof. MUDr., DrSc. Karel Raška

* 1939

  • “The truth is that for example Professor Šorm and many other lead workers had enough power. There was a system that if they needed to get someone for the job, they could ask for the certain person from so-called placement systems. Normally, you would get a work placement at the end of your studies, they would send you here or there. And it could also be from Prague to Košice. However, each of the institutes had the possibility to ask relevant dean office´s to release people from the placement process and they could start a research assistantship. Šorm recruited people from persecuted families there. One colleague whose father was imprisoned started the research assistantship with me. He was in some troubles. But Šorm has the possibility to ask for him. There were many people who came from so-called big bourgeois families also in Professor Hašek´s institute. The possibility existed. Those lead workers did not hesitate and cared about the qualities and abilities of these people not whether they came from families established in the party.”

  • “Our relationship - it was also an interesting thing. There was a gap between the old and the new emigrants. Many of them [emigrants after 1948] perceived us [emigrants after 1968] in a peculiar way. Because when we came there, we had already been trained, we had passed the secondary school leaving exam. So we got jobs. However, when they left, they mostly had not finished the studies. Their beginnings had been much worse. It was much easier for us.”

  • “Just at the end of the war, the Germans used prisoners from the Little Fortress in Terezín to dig trenches against the proceeding Red Army that was already in Germany at that time. There was an outbreak of an unknown disease between prisoners. They were transported to some hospitals where they did not know what illness it was and their blood was sent for examination to my father to The National Institute of Health. My father found out using serological examination that it was typhus fever. And after a meeting with some people from the illegal Czech national committee he decided that he would go to Terezín. And indeed, he and the regional doctor from Roudnice Mr. Slach arrived at the gate of the Small Fortress on 2 May 1945 and demanded to enter. They were forbidden the entrance at first. My father managed to get to the Small Fortress after negotiations with the SS man. He met there with professor Syllaba who was imprisoned there. He did not know what disease it was because typhus fever did not occur in Czechoslovakia after WWI. He got to the casemates and he saw the horror there. He of course knew what it was. He asked professor Syllaba to get him blood from twenty prisoners. He came there the following there, Syllaba had the sera and he examined the sera. The leader of the camp, Jöckel appeared there at that time and yelled at them. My father did the Weil–Felix test and nineteen sera tested positive.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 03.05.2021

    duration: 02:43:36
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 2

    Praha, 03.06.2021

    duration: 01:27:53
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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My father was persona non grata, a nobody, until his death. He only appeared on the front page of Rudé právo (The Red Right) newspapers the day of his funeral

Karel Raška during recording
Karel Raška during recording
photo: Post Bellum recording

Virologist Karel Raška was born on 26 May 1939 in Prague in the family of a later well-known epidemiologist Karel Raška senior and a pharmacologist Helena Rašková. His father was in charge of the battle against the typhoid fever epidemic in Terezín in May 1945, he was in charge of the infectious disease section of the World Health Organization in the 1960s and he worked out a plan to eradicate smallpox. The plan was successfully finished, however without the participation of Karel Raška senior who was removed from Geneva in 1970 after the takeover of the normalization politicians. Karel Raška junior did not consider other than scientific career thanks to his parents’ influence. He studied at the Faculty of Medicine and he worked at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry under Professor František Šorm. He completed a study programme at Yale University in the second half of the 1960s and he became a candidate for membership in the Czechoslovak Communist Party. He spent the time of Prague Spring with joy but also concerned that the liberation process would be suppressed soon. That is why he arranged exit visas for his whole family in advance and when the Invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops occurred on 21 of August 1968, they left for Vienna the same day. He started to work at American University in New Jersey as soon as in October 1968. He could continue his professional career there, he focused on the study of molecular virology. He was chairman of the Society of Arts and Sciences and he is one of the founders of Comenius Academic Club.