From the Weeklies

Mystery shrouds the Czech-born wife of Senator Joe Lieberman, Al Gore's running mate in the American presidential elections. A young Roma girl strives to come out from the confines of her conservative community, and another young Czech woman makes it big on the roof of the world.

The Czech authorities have imposed an information blackout on the family background of Hadassah Lieberman, the wife of the U.S. vice presidential hopeful, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, the first Jewish nominee for this post in American history. TYDEN magazine reported this week that the world media have been eager to uncover something about this lady, who apparently is very private about her family affairs. But there have been too many inconsistencies in their reports. As TYDEN's investigative team have found out, her father, Samuel Freilich, certainly wasn't a chief Czechoslovak rabbi, as claimed by the White House and reported by some media. Second, her mother Ella's maiden name was not Weider, as suggested by The Washington Post, but Vider and, third, Hadassah wasn't born in a Czech refugee camp for freed concentration-camp prisoners, as claimed by the AP and Reuters news agencies.

Searching for her background is being further hampered by the Czech Personal Privacy Act, which prohibits revealing in public or to unauthorised third parties such information as a person's date of birth, state of health, confession, political allegiances, racial origin and other relevant personal data. Moreover, the State Central Archive has imposed a special embargo concerning Hadassah Lieberman. The American Embassy in Prague has categorically denied applying pressure on Czech institutions to keep silent in this particular case, TYDEN reports, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil corroborates this assertion.

So the only information that has been ascertained reveals that Ella Vider and Samuel Freilich were married in 1946 in Prague, and that their daughter was born two years later. According to Associated Press and Reuters, Hadassah was born in a Czech refugee camp for victims of the Holocaust. But experts from Prague's Jewish Museum are adamant that no such camps existed. The young couple, TYDEN reports, fled Czechoslovakia in order to escape an encroaching totalitarian regime. They arrived in New York City in 1950. The rest of Hadassah Lieberman's story has been publicised: university studies, a marriage with a rabbi, then a romance, divorce and marriage with Joe Lieberman.

But where does this leave her father, Samuel Freilich? TYDEN asks. The name Freilich was not very common in the Prague Jewish community. One of them, born in 1897 in Prague, lived in Masna Street and had four children, none of whom was a Hadassah. He perished in Auschwitz and therefore couldn't have been Hadassah Freilich's father. According to The Washington Post, her father was a successful Prague lawyer between the two world wars. The Charles University records actually mention a Samuel Freilich, a Ruthenian Jew, who in 1946 married an Ella Vider, who had been in Auschwitz and Dachau. Her name is mentioned in The Washington Post as Ella Weider. Two years later a daughter was born to them. This may be a clue.

Thirdly, in 1980, an ostensibly Czech-born rabbi, Samuel Freilich, published a book in the United States, in which he described the conditions in an Hungarian forced-labour camp. He described himself as a lawyer. Could it be that the last two Samuel Freilichs were one and the same man? In this case, TYDEN concludes, he could be our man, the father of Hadassah Lieberman.

When Helena Rafaelova was 16, her parents promised her in marriage to a boy she'd never met. She shocked her family and community in the west Bohemian city of Plzen by rejecting the union and announcing instead that she wanted to attend university. Romani students win scholarships to study languages in foreign countries, notes Michael Lee in this week's edition of THE PRAGUE POST. Such scenarios aren't too usual these days for girls from western Bohemia, but Helena Rafaelova is no ordinary girl, he writes. She's a daughter of the Vlachka Roma, one of the most orthodox Roma communities in the Czech Republic. She's also this year's winner of the George Soros Scholarship, a 4,000-dollar prize open to Romani high school or university students of English and other languages at the intermediate or advanced level.

"At first my parents couldn't understand," she told THE PRAGUE POST. "But it was very easy for me," she said, "because I knew my dream: to get my Ph.D. in anthropology." Maria Kopecka, director of the Open Society Fund which supervises the scholarship programme, emphasised to Prague's English-language weekly that the prize, now in its second year, is part of a coordinated programme to advance education among young Romani people in the Czech Republic. "It's about going abroad," Ms Kopecka says. "It's about being in an international community, seeing that it's okay to be different. And also, a bit, about fighting stereotypes, showing the Czechs that Roma are qualified, intelligent people who just don't sit around collecting welfare."

The first Czech gal on Everest! rejoices PRAVO magazine. On May 5 last year, 25-year-old Renata Chlumska found herself on the summit of 30,000-foot Mt. Everest to become the first Swedish woman to climb the highest mountain of the world. But also, PRAVO adds defiantly, the first CZECH GIRL!!! The mystery was solved when I read that Renata's mom and dad are Czech, and that she also holds a valid Czech passport, in addition to her Swedish nationality. The latter information, PRAVO magazine swears, wasn't revealed until long after her feat. What's more, her rival in the world's all-female battle of Mt. Everest, the top of the world, was Sweden's Tina Sjoegren who, before she acquired her new identity, was an Olga Marikova, another Czech.

Renata, who, judging from a couple of photos published, is a very attractive young woman, had been preparing for her stint since 1996, training hard with her boyfriend, the noted Swedish globetrotter Goran Kropp. He had trekked all the way to Nepal and, after a 11,000-kilometre journey by bike, had climbed Everest without the use of oxygen before pedalling back to his native Sweden. This included almost 300 kilometres across Czech territory, which was when Renata started to have a dream. "The funny thing was," Renata confided to PRAVO magazine, "we failed to get permission to travel through Iran by bicycle. The Iranian authorities told me that a woman on a bike is a sexually explicit view, absolutely objectionable and therefore strictly banned in the Islamic Republic."

But a year later, they both rode on motorbikes and, strangely enough, women riding motorcycles were not considered sexually inviting in Iran. Asked if, on the top of Mt. Everest, she and her nearest Czech rival, Tina Sjoegren, traded at least a few words in Czech, Renata said no, they never spoke together. Perhaps, she says, both of them had realised that climbing a mountain is only half the job. "There's always the vital need to get down into the valley," she confides. "And if someone has all the motivation to go up until they reache the top, and sacrifices all their efforts to this single goal, the winner may not prove strong enough to negotiate the critical, life-saving descent. They may falter. Or they may use up all their resources, including their will to survive."

And finally, one month has passed since Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily publicly complained that the Czech police had no appetite for stamping out child prostitution in their country and for working at this together with their Western colleagues. Mr Schily's Czech counterpart Stanislav Gross, RESPEKT weekly points out, hasn't even found time to either accept or dismiss all the criticism. This at a time, the magazine points out, when stories about the Czech Republic being a pedophile's paradise are standard fare on German TV channels. The only practical outcome of Mr Schily's remarks, RESPEKT notes, was last week's get-together of Czech and Saxon police officers, who said they would swap information on a regular basis. The Czech side never admitted it perceived child prostitution as a problem.

The best proof of the German minister's veracity was the report on child prostitution on the Czech side of the border discussed early last month by the Czech government. It was harshly critical of the action the Czech police had taken thus far. "Busloads of German sex tourists arrive in the Czech Republic and it is high time we put an end to this moral devastation," the German Interior Minister told RESPEKT.

However, North Bohemian Police Director Jiri Voralek struck back. He asks if, when a German minister speaks about those busloads of child abusers coming to this country to have sex and asks the Czech side what it is planning to do about this, it is proper to ask if acts of sexual abuse committed by Germans abroad are not against the law in his country.

Author: Libor Kubík
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