Prague school renamed in honour of Chicago’s Czech mayor

Antonín Čermák, photo: U.S. Library of Congress

An elementary school in Prague now bears the name of the Czech-born former mayor of Chicago, Antonín Čermák. The renaming ceremony in his honour took place on Thursday, the 140th anniversary of his birth, and was attended, among other guests, by Čermák’s grandson.

Petr Karvánek  (second from left),  Anton Kerner  (second from right),  photo: archive of Municipal District Authority Prague 6
The inscription Základní škola Anontína Čermáka, or The Antonín Čermák Elementary School, was unveiled on Thursday above the entrance to the school located in Dejvice, a residential area just north of Prague Castle. Formerly called the Interbrigades Elementary in honour of the international brigades fighting against Franco’s fascist troops in Spain, the school now bears the name of Antonín Čermák, a Czech American who became the mayor of Chicago, and was assassinated in 1933, after only two years in office. Petr Karvánek is the school’s director.

“We thought that the former name of our school, which in full was the Interbrigade Elementary School, 6 Antonína Čermáka street, was a little illogical. We first got the idea of renaming the school when we visited Chicago two years ago.

“The street we are on was renamed after Antonín Čermák in 1994, at Václav Havel’s initiative, and we thought Antonín Čermák was such a significant personality in American and Czech history that he deserved to have a school named after him.”

Antonín Čermák, or Anton Cermak as he was known in the US, was born in Kladno in 1873. His family left for the US when he was one year old. “I didn’t come on the Mayflower”, Anton Cermak later said, “but I came as soon as I could”.

From humble beginnings, Anton Cermak rose to hold important positions in the Democratic Party in Illinois, and was elected the mayor of Chicago in 1931. Although he himself had little formal education, his grandson Anton Kerner says that having a school named after him would have made him very proud.

Antonín Čermák,  photo: U.S. Library of Congress
“I don’t think there was anything in his life that could match this honour, including being elected to office. Knowing that children are having an opportunity to fulfil their dreams through education, that would be a most fulfilling thing to him.”

In a video message, the current mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, said he greatly valued Anton Cermak’s legacy.

“I use the same desk Mayor Cermak used at City Hall 80 years ago. And each day, I reflect on the legacy he left onto the city of Chicago. On the day Mayor Cermak was killed, he was on a mission for Chicago students. He was in Miami to ask for President Roosevelt’s support for our schools during the worst days of the Great Depression. So when I sit in my office, I share more than a desk with Mayor Cermak.”

Outside the school, its pupils gathered for the ceremony, and applauded when the school’s new name was unveiled. But it will take them some time to get used to it. One pupil said he was used to the old name while a girl from eighth grade said she would always think of it as Interbrigády school, adding this was not the first time the school got renamed. But we will get used to it, she said.