Jan Volavka

* 1934  

  • “My father was a religious Catholic Christian. He went with me to church every Sunday and went to Holy Communion. I think I was the only Jewish ministrant in 1944 in Prague. And so my father said, 'Well, our son is a Catholic Christian, take him to Strahov, take care of him there. There is a monastery. So my mom took me to Strahov. And there was the first unsuccessful job interview in my life - then there were many. The priest talked to me for about ten minutes and then talked to my mother. My mother came out crying that I didn't make a good impression. And then we walked down from Strahov, down the Nerudova street, it was dark. My mother started crying that she didn't know what to do with me. I was comforting her that things might not be so bad. And she said, Vojtíšek, and what if you went to Terezin with me?' That surprised me a little, because we both knew that we had never heard of any of my friends who had gone to Terezin. So I said maybe I would rather not go to Terezin. I think she was a little sorry. But on the other hand, maybe she was actually happy, so when we came down to the tram, we solved it. Well, she just wasn't there the next morning."

  • “I was much impressed. I remember ... Well, first of all, we were terribly afraid. They Germans beat the prisoners enough. We were in a cell that had bars, you could see through the bars to the corridor - you could see the prisoners taking them out of those interrogations with their faces completely broken and bleeding. They couldn't walk, they were completely destroyed. So it made a lifelong impression on me. Then I actually decided to try to figure out what it was that these people are alike. I have devoted quite a lot of my career to the psychopathology to violence.”

  • “Around the year 1942 she started working at the Jewish Museum. The other workers at the Jewish Museum were 100% Jews under Nuremberg law, while my mother remarried my father in 1942 after she divorced in 1939, I think. They couldn't agree. So she was classified - not as 'half-Jew', I had forgotten what it was called, but simply the wives of Christians who had not divorced from them, the wives of Jews were classified as a kind of ´half-Jews'. And it was the same the other way around. So, she stayed in the museum, although the others were gradually being sent to concentration camps and killed. Then, after the war, she also became the director of the museum and brought him the glory that the museum is now experiencing.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 30.07.2018

    (audio)
    duration: 01:28:53
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

I wanted to figure out why people commit violence

Jan Volavka in 2019
Jan Volavka in 2019
photo: Během natáčení

Jan Volavka was born on December 29, 1934 in Prague. Both parents were well-known art historians. Mother Hana, née Frankenstein, was of Jewish origin. She was partially protected by a mixed marriage during the war. John himself was classified by the Nazi laws as a first-degree Jewish half-breed. At the beginning of 1944, his father Vojtěch Volavka and his son Jan tried to flee to Turkey, but they were arrested and ended up in the prison in Uherské Hradiště. Nine-year-old Jan spent three weeks in a Nazi prison; his stay there formulated his later career. His father was deported to the labour camp in Bystřice u Benešov, his son returned to Prague. After his mother was also deported to Terezin in February 1945, ten-year-old Jan remained alone at home. Fourteen days later, his mother’s friend Elsa Kučerová took charge of him and he spent the rest of the war in her care. In 1953-59 Jan Volavka graduated from the Medical Faculty of Charles University. On August 22, 1968, he and his wife emigrated and he became a recognized psychiatrist and expert in the neurobiology of violence in the United States. He is Professor Emeritus of the New York University School of Medicine.