New book puts spotlight on family of Milada Horáková

Bohuslav Horák, Milada Horáková and Jana Kánská, photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

Politician Milada Horáková was executed, after a show trial by Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime, 70 years ago this Saturday. Ahead of that anniversary, journalist Daniel Anýž has just brought out a new book looking at the fates of Horáková and her family, entitled I Go With My Head Held High. I asked him how the publication had come about.

Daniel Anýž | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

“I met Jana Kánská, the daughter of Milada Horáková, in Washington, D.C. in 2006, when I was there as the correspondent of Hospodářské noviny.

“The Czech ambassador, Petr Kolář, introduced me to her and we used to visit her, from time to time, with my wife.

“We kind of became friends, I dare to say.

“Then when we were speaking about her childhood I saw some pictures around her house, nice drawings of Milada Horáková.

“I asked who had done them and she said, That was my father – he was really talented.

“We began to speak about her father and I realised that I knew only half of the story of the whole family. That Milada Horáková was so busy with all of her activities that in fact when it came to time spent with the child then the father, Bohuslav Horák, was more important.

Source: Zeď publishing house

“So at that time I realised it would be nice to write a book about the whole family.”

I also understand from hearing an earlier interview with you that you were partly inspired to write this book by the way today’s Communist Party speak about Milada Horáková?

“Definitely. It took me a long time, and I was not sure whether I really wanted, or needed, to write a book. Because what was missing was the story of Jana, the daughter.

“She didn’t want to be that much involved; she really wanted it to be about her father and the family.

“But in 2015 or 2016, when I heard representatives of the Communist Party, how they began to cast doubt on the story of Milada Horáková – they said she somehow deserved what she got – I began to push Jana to speak about herself, so the story would be completed.

“Because I knew that now is the time to do it. I was really outraged… “At the time I already knew the story of the family and I studied the historical facts around the whole process.

Bohuslav Horák,  Jana Kánská and Milada Horáková | Photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

“And I was really outraged at the kind of, I might say, bullshit the Communists were trying to spread in Czech society.”

How did Jana Kánská, who I guess was a teenager at that time, describe the period surrounding the trial and execution of her mother?

“You may not be surprised that it’s not easy to speak about it.

“I was kind of circling around the last events of Milada Horáková’s life and the visit the night before the execution.

“But Jana Kánská first gave me her written memories, because she had at the time 50, 60 pages on paper, written by hand, because she wanted to preserve her memories herself.

“So I read it first in her writing and only after that did I dare to ask.

“And the way she describes it is kind of cold, with distance, but you can feel that this is the only way that she is able to speak about it.”

And was it the case also that her father had to flee Czechoslovakia around that time?

Jana Kánská | Photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

“Speaking about this particular thing, I would say she is more open, more relaxed.

“Because it was a terrible thing to live through, but the difference is that she and her father met again.

“It was after 16 or 17 years, but he was still alive and they knew about each other, that he was living in Washington, she in Prague.

“So she was more relaxed about describing this situation.”

I’m sure you did a huge amount of research. Was there anything in particular that surprised you about the story of Milada Horáková and her family?

Milada Horáková,  photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

“I’m not a historian, so maybe if I was a historian I wouldn’t be surprised.

“But I was surprised reading in Bohuslav Horák’s memoirs about the three years between 1945 and 1948, this three years, starting at the end of the war, when they both came back from the German camps after five years.

“When they began to build new careers, Milada Horáková was able to do it, but he didn’t manage, because the Communists didn’t let him into his former position.

“Before they were arrested by the Gestapo in August 1940, he was the head of the news section of Radiožurnál, so a quite high position in Czechoslovak Radio.

“When he came back after the war he had serious health troubles, so he first had to recover and spent three months around hospitals.

“And in those three months the Communists were able to push him out of Czechoslovak Radio.

“When he came back there, all the positions were taken. He was refused an ‘approval of reliability’, which people were given after WWII, so they could take positions.

“He was refused and only after half a year did the Communists give it to him – and it was over for him; in the meantime, the Communists had been pushing on all fronts in the life of the society, at the Radio and in politics.

“So I was surprised how persistent, how pushy and how strong and violent the Communists were from the very beginning.”