NGO challenges Czechs to dig into their family roots

Photo: archive of Post Bellum

A recent poll commissioned by the Post Bellum organisation which collects 20th century oral history recordings has found that while 86 percent of Czechs believe knowing one’s roots is important, less than a half of the population actually do anything about it. And that’s what the organisation aims to challenge, with a public contest searching for the most captivating personal accounts from the 20th century.

Jana Háková,  photo: archive of Post Bellum
Founded in 2001, the Post Bellum organisation strives to preserve for posterity the stories of Czechs who experienced the two totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. With the number of survivors of Nazi and Communist terror dwindling, the organisation is urging those close to them to try and find out more about their family history. I spoke to Post Bellum’s Jana Háková.

“We often meet people who regret not having asked their grandparents about their youth while there was still time. It is often only after their death that they find out in our database how interesting their relatives’ story was. We decided to motivate people to talk with their grandmas and grandpas. Christmas time is a period when families reunite, so we thought this poll would be an incentive for people to really talk to their relatives.”

The poll conducted by the NMS Market Research company also revealed that Czechs tend to know more about the family history on their mother’s side. Around half of the times when people actually do ask their relatives, they learn something extraordinarily interesting. Also some periods tend to be discussed more than others.

“The communist era is interesting, but the poll suggests people are less inquisitive about it than WWII where it is clear who the enemy was. However some families don’t talk as much about the communist period because not everybody opposed the invasion of 1968 and not everybody fought against communism. So in some families this is a bit of a taboo subject.”

Photo: archive of Post Bellum
Politics in general and religion tend to be avoided in family discussions, on the other hand the most popular topics are school, playtime, cooking and celebrations in the past. According to Jana Háková of the Post Bellum NGO, Czechs may not be too well versed in their history, but their interest in the subject appears to be growing.

“We feel that people are more and more interested in history. As the present day offers certain parallels with the past, we have more followers and people turning to us and the circle of our supporters has been growing significantly in recent years. This indicates that people care about the past, they want to know about it and learn as much as possible.”

Both students and adults who come across an interesting story in their family or neighbourhood can record it and enter it in a public contest now in its fourth year. All the entries will be published on the organisation’s website and the best stories will be entered in its database which already contains some 5000 records.