Remembering Clare Hollingworth, the war correspondent who saved thousands of Czechoslovaks from the Nazis

Clare Hollingworth, photo: CTK

The great British journalist Clare Hollingworth, who has died at the age of 105, is most famous for breaking the news that the Nazis were poised to invade Poland and start World War II. But many also revere Hollingworth for her earlier work saving the lives of thousands of refugees, many from Czechoslovakia.

Clare Hollingworth, photo: CTK
Clare Hollingworth passed away in Hong Kong on Tuesday at the age of 105. The UK journalist had been best known for her “scoop of the century”, when she spotted German tanks massed on the Polish border in August 1939.

Though she was the doyenne of war correspondents, many in this part of the world hold Hollingworth in great esteem for her invaluable work with Czechoslovak refugees in Poland.

Clare Hollingworth recalled those times in a 1999 interview for the BBC’s Desert Island Discs.

“I wanted to be a journalist and I got a job with the paper that was then the liberal paper, that became the News Chronicle, and they sent me out to Poland. And when I got there instead of reporting anything I got bogged down – very willingly, I may say – in the fund that the News Chronicle, or whatever the paper was then called, was raising for refugees.”

Her grand-nephew Patrick Garrett, author of Of Fortunes and War: Clare Hollingworth, First of the Female War Correspondents, told the news website Hlídací that she already had strong ties with Czechoslovakia.

As her husband was then teaching at Prague’s Charles University, Hollingworth was in the city at the time of the Munich Agreement in September 1938. This meant she witnessed the arrival of refugees from the annexed Sudetenland.

Nazi soldiers in Prague in 1939, photo: Public Domain
Working with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia in March 1939 – when the Nazis took over the rest of the Czech lands – she managed to get around 450 Czechoslovaks out of the Polish port of Gydnia. They included Jews, soldiers and others fleeing the Nazis.

In the city of Katowice in the summer of 1939 she then helped an estimated 2,000 more Czechoslovaks who had escaped across the Polish the border.

At the British Consul General in Katowice she helped interview refugees and arranged for their passage to third countries, including the UK, Scandinavia and South American states.

According to Clare Hollingworth’s one-time employer the Daily Telegraph, some 13,000 people registered with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia and a successor organisation. On that list of names was two-year-old Madlena Körbelová, who later, as Madeleine Albright, became US secretary of state.