New school project to teach children injustices of Communist regime


It's just over two weeks until the 16th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution that brought down Communism in Czechoslovakia. But how much do the nation's schoolchildren know about what happened here between 1948 and 1989? Not much, says the leading human rights group People in Need. Throughout November they're visiting schools with documentary films detailing the excesses and cruelties of Communism. They're also bringing with them victims of the regime to share their experiences with pupils. One of them was Jan Wiener, now 85, who escaped the Nazis as a Jewish teenager and later fought in the RAF. After the war, he was rewarded by the Communists with a prison sentence. Rob Cameron spoke to him at the launch of the project in Prague.

"I did a stupid thing to return here after the war. Little did I know that the regime in the 1950s had really big similarities with Nazism. I believe that class struggle is as unethical as racism, because in both cases you punish people for something that they absolutely cannot change. I got into this mess here, and I spent five and a half years in a hard labour camp at Cerveny Ujezd, near Kladno, and worked for all these years at a blast furnace in the Marshall Koniev Ironworks."

What was your supposed crime? You were a hero.

Stories of Injustice
"I got it in writing. I was accused - I was never tried - of anti-people's attitude and anti-state activities. That is a very shady reason, isn't it? But I can assure you I was never feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling sorry, really, for the country that allowed such a regime and did not protest. This country was the only country that punished her heroes."

What were your feelings when you were sent to prison for a crime you didn't commit?

"I felt very bitter, and I felt that I do not want to be in this country anymore. So as soon as I came out, in '55, I started to work on emigration. I got to America finally, and I never regretted it, Bush or not."

Is that bitterness still with you?

"What is in my heart is that there were so many people here who joined an evil thing and found an excuse for themselves. If you ask them today why they joined the Party, they will tell you it was youthful enthusiasm, to build a better world. That is bullshit. It is bullshit. They built concentration camps, and they built hatred."