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Jan Letzel, photo: PD-Japan / Wikimedia Commons
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This week we reveal the identity of October’s mystery Czech, quote from your answers and announce the names of the four winners who will receive prizes from Radio Prague. Listeners quoted: Jana M. Vaculik, Barbara Ziemba, Harry Klugel, Krzysztof Borski, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Pier Carlo Acchino, Colin Law, Ivan Stržínek, Christine Takaguchi-Coates, Charles Konecny, Yukiko Maki, David Eldridge, Kristina Fallin.

Jan Letzel, photo: PD-Japan / Wikimedia Commons
Hello and welcome to the first Mailbox in November – which means it is time to reveal the identity of October’s mystery Czech – the architect who designed Hiroshima’s A-Bomb Dome. Again, you have sent us a great many answers to our quiz, some of them going into great depth and detail. I’m sorry we cannot quote each and every one because we would by far exceed the length of the programme. As usual, the first one to write in was Prasanta Kumar Padmapati from India. From the United States, Jana M. Vaculik wrote:

“Jan Letzel is the mystery Czech. A part or the dome of the Industrial Hall is the only part of the original building that was left standing after the bomb on Hiroshima. Japan decided it would be a fitting tribute to all the citizens who died. He designed more than 15 buildings in Japan and is popular throughout Japan but not as much in the country of his birth.”

Barbara Ziemba is from Illinois:

“He was a distinguished architect who studied under Jan Kotĕra in Prague. Letzel was born on September 4th, 1880 in Náchod, Bohemia in the region of Hradec Králové near the border of Poland at the time being a part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. During his early career he worked on the plans for the Grand Hotel Evropa and Hall of Mšené Springs. He died in 1925 at the early age of 45.”

Harry Klugel follows Radio Prague in Maryland:

“The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (the Genbaku dome) was originally called the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition. In 1933 it was renamed the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It later became commonly known as the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome. In 1945 it was within 160 meters of the first nuclear bomb ever detonated in war. It was one of few buildings to survive this detonation. It has been preserved as a reminder of that devastation.”

Krzysztof Borski from Poland wrote:

“Jan Letzel graduated in 1904, and in 1907 he came to Japan, finding work as a designer in Tokyo. During his ten years in Japan, Letzel created more than 15 residences and public buildings. Hiroshima's Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a fusion of neo-Baroque and Art Deco, was completed in 1916. The architect left Japan in 1923 and returned home to Czechoslovakia. Suffering from ill health, he died at the age 45.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty lives in New Delhi:

“This month's Czech mystery person is none other than the dynamic, modern architect and one of the brightest products of Prague's School of Creative and Industrial Art Jan Letzel. Born in Náchod, northeast Bohemia, he was largely instrumental in bringing a fusion of bold European (neo-Baroque) and decorative architectural art in Japan. When in his 30s, he designed and built the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition – one of Hiroshima's striking landmarks which was subsequently renamed as Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall in 1933.

Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hal, photo: PD-Japan (www.kinouya.com)
"The atomic bomb exploded almost directly above the building. However, the copper-coated Genbaku Dome withstood the explosion. Jan Letzel, however, never lived to see his dream project being preserved as a grim reminder of the devastation wrought about by human cruelty. … What is heartening is that the memory of Jan Letzel and with that the spirit of the Czech Republic has been deeply ingrained in the memorial as a symbol of hope for world peace, harmony and brotherhood of nations, the very tenets cherished by the Czech Republic.”

Pier Carlo Acchino writes from Italy:

“I read (in Radio Prague Mailbox, 2005!) that he worked more abroad than in his country and he lived in Japan several years of his short life. Here, he become famous because Japanese people appreciated his personal style, as his use of concrete, a construction material stronger than wood and paper, in a country often affected by earthquakes. It's a very curious thing that a European man left one of the few ‘surviving’ landmarks in a Japanese town completely destroyed by an atomic bomb: the skeleton of his Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall survived because it was just beneath the atomic explosion. At the same time, it's a strange thing that Jan Letzel died forgotten and alone in the capital town of his own country... Sic transit gloria mundi.”

A detailed answer came from Colin Law from New Zealand:

Hiroshima, photo: United States Government / PD
“The Japanese held the Letzel in great esteem and apparently he often had to explain that he was not an Austrian, but a Czech. He acquired the unusual nickname of ‘foreigner with a Japanese soul’, a fitting title as his designs included not only motifs from nature, but also from Japan’s past. On 6 August 1945, the buildings in the Hiroshima downtown area were destroyed by an atomic weapon which left the area a scorched plain. The Industrial Promotion Hall was 160 metres from the hypocentre of the bomb. The building was bathed in thermal rays and flames from the dome devoured the entire structure. Because the blast originated directly from above, the centre of the building did not collapse. All the people in nearby offices died instantly. The bomb killed 140,000 Japanese civilians, and turned the city into a blackened wasteland.

"By September 1949 the recovery of the city allowed many people to visit the dome. But by 1950 the area surrounding the dome had become overgrown with weeds and damage to the walls around the building had become more pronounced. Eventually in 1962, when the building became a hazard, people were forbidden to enter and a wire fence was built around the vicinity. It was rededicated, still as a ruin, as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, or the A-Bomb Dome and is Hiroshima's most recognizable symbol of the events of August 1945. Only one other of Letzel’s buildings in Tokyo survived until today: the gate of Tokyo's Catholic University of Sacred Heart.”

Ivan Stržínek lives in the Czech Republic:

Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall after dropping the atomic bomb, photo: Frank Gualtieri / PD
“I use your Internet broadcasting to improve my English and I heard your question on Mailbox. I knew the Hiroshima Atomic Dome was designed by a Czech architect but I unfortunately couldn’t remember his name so I had to research it in Wikipedia. The building is very famous from photos of Hiroshima because it alone survived in the centre of the Hiroshima ‘Armageddon’. It was seriously damaged, of course.”

Christine Takaguchi-Coates is writing from Hiroshima:

“Your quiz this month is an easy one for me, as I have lived in Hiroshima for many years, and have so many times seen the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is all that remains of the wonderful building created by Jan Letzel, and felt the power of the message to the world that he has left. I came to live in Hiroshima 26 years ago. I can still remember the very deep emotion I felt the first time I visited the Genbaku Domu. It's incredible to be able to stand so close to where the bomb went off, and to feel a sense of history and realize the basic in humanity of it all.

"My children attended Japanese schools in Hiroshima, and every year before breaking for the summer, there is a week of study dedicated to the atomic bombing and peace. The children see films about it, and listen to the stories first-hand from A-bomb survivors who try to hand down their experiences to the younger generation who have never experienced war. These story-tellers can also be found in the Peace Park, talking to the many groups of school children who come from all over Japan to visit Hiroshima.

"Since 1947, every year on August 6, Hiroshima City holds the Peace Memorial Ceremony in front of the Cenotaph in the Peace Park, with the Genbaku Domu standing majestically behind. The Mayor of Hiroshima reads the Peace Declaration, which is distributed throughout the world. The name of Jan Letzel is very well-known to the Japanese, and his creation now stands, starkly terrible and beautiful, as a symbol of world peace, and is a cry from the heart that says ‘No More Hiroshimas’!”

Charles Konecny from Ohio writes:

“A remarkable building made strong by Letzel using concrete to withstand an earthquake. Instead, it withstood a direct hit by an atomic bomb. Should the bomb have been used? In President Truman's view, it was either use it, or endure a blood bath on both sides resulting from an invasion of Japan by Allied Forces. It is too bad [Letzel’s] life was cut short by ill health. I understand his grave is empty in Náchod because he died of syphilis and the people of the town did not want him buried there. Perhaps you can tell us, if this is true, where he is buried. No matter what, he was another Czech who made his mark in history.”

I shall look into where exactly Jan Letzel found his final resting place because what you write is indeed quoted in several sources. Yukiko Maki listens to Radio Prague in Japan:

“To tell you the truth, I had not known his name until I found the answer to this quiz. I was surprised to learn that he designed so many modern buildings such as hotels and universities in Japan at the turn of the century. I really think he should be remembered well for his great contribution to the advancement of modern architecture in Japan. The Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall was half-destroyed by an atomic bomb, and I wonder what he would think if he saw the present state of the building. It was registered as UNESCO world heritage, but I wonder, would he be really happy if he knew it?”

David Eldridge from England wrote this in his long answer:

Photo: CTK
“The Dome was solidly built, as were other substantial buildings in Japan, because of the frequency of earthquakes, the majority of buildings having lighter construction built from wood. ...Apart from its substantial construction two other factors assisted its survival: the large amount of glass windows it had which shattered on the initial shock and the fact that the Dome was immediately under the bomb detonation which also reduced the effect from shock-waves. The connection between Jan Letzel and the A-bomb is only circumstantial since he died on 26th December 1925 and could not have foreseen the fate in store for his construction. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945 and of Nagasaki three days later is a far deeper and controversial story.”

Kristina Fallin writes from the USA:

“This structure is very important to the Japanese people, as it now remains a key symbol of hope, after withstanding the devastating carnage of the first nuclear bomb. On a more personal note, about 8 years ago, I had the great fortune to witness this amazing piece of art while vacationing in Hiroshima, and was profoundly moved by how the Japanese people regard this utterly breathtaking structure.”

Once again, many thanks to all of you for devoting your time to our little quiz. All of you would deserve a prize but unfortunately, we can only send out four each month. And this time these four listeners have been picked in our lucky draw: Swopan Chakroborty from India, Krzysztof Borski from Poland, Lars Wieden from Sweden and Kristina Fallin from the United States. Congratulations and your parcels are in the post.


And finally here is our November question. It’s short and straightforward:

Which Czech composer came to be known as “Il divino Boemo” or “the Divine Bohemian”?

Your answers should reach us by the end of November at english@radio.cz or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. Next week we will be quoting from your letters and e-mails and answering your questions concerning Radio Prague’s broadcasts. Until then, bye-bye.