Svoboda and Schaffhausen



May 11, 2013

My Dear Family and Friends, 

I am in Zurich, Switzerland where, for the first time, I have met my cousin Michal Svoboda and his family.  

Now I am one step closer to achieving a personal family goal.  I want to meet all my Poláček - Polatschek cousins.  There are more than one hundred of us and we live in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

My cousin Michal (Mike) was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. When he was a young man, he emigrated to Switzerland. He is the only son of the late Ida and Jaroslav Svoboda.   

Jaroslav was the eldest child of Gustav Svoboda and Anna Poláček.  

Anna was the daughter of Josef and Rosalie Poláček, the common ancestors of all of us Polatscheks. * 

Mike and I are second cousins.  We are the great-grandsons of Josef Poláček. 

Mike's Czech parents survived the Holocaust.  But during the War, Mike's grandparents, his four uncles, one aunt and two young cousins all languished in prison in Theresienstadt.  Finally, they were “transported” to Auschwitz where they "disappeared."

Mike and his wife Maria, also of Czech origin, are warm and generous hosts.  One evening Maria prepared a delicious dinner.  The main course was Swiss style with melted cheeses and vegetables.   For dessert, Maria’s homemade pastries were original Czech delicacies. 

At dinner, I also met Michal and Maria's youngest son, Mark and his Canadian-born wife Laura.  They have three young sons: Matthew, Dillon and Ryan. 

Mike and Maria have two other grown children.   Georg is the eldest.  Karin is married and has one young son. They are still on my To Meet list. 

On the weekend, Michal, Maria, Mark and I drove to the Rheinfall (Rhine Falls) and the small Swiss city of Schaffhausen.   For sentimental reasons, I have always wanted to see Schaffhausen. 

On the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah (Jewish Coming of Age Ceremony at thirteen), I received a very generous gift from  myfather’s sister, my late Aunt Ida Kiewe and her husband Bert.  They sent me a handsome gold watch that was made by the International Watch Company in Switzerland.  The face of the watch reads “IWC Schaffhausen.”  I wear the watch to this very day. 

I sense that my father Otto and Mike's father Jaroslav would be quite pleased that their sons finally met.  Our fathers were first cousins and I know they were very fond of each other.  When my parents traveled to Europe in 1964, they made a determined effort to go to Prague to visit the Svoboda family.  

My parents’ visit to Czechoslovakia was during the strict Communist times.  My father reported that they walked in the public park to avoid being spied on and overheard at home.    

I want to send a special “Thank you” to Mike and Maria.  “I was so happy to meet you.  I look forward to many more visits with you and your family.” 

Forty years ago, my father created a Poláček - Polatschek family tree.  Recently, I updated the chart.  Now it’s up to us, the descendents of Josef and Rosalie Poláček, to reestablish the family connections and to continue our family traditions. 

So to follow my own suggestion, I will go To See, once again, my first cousins, the Kiewe-Morris-Burton Family in England, in April, 2014. 

Cousin Jan 

*When my grandparents, Rosa and Herman Poláček, emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Germany, they changed the spelling of their name to Polatschek to conform to German spelling patterns.  My father was born in Germany. 

P-o-l-a-t-s-c-h-e-k …what a cumbersome word to spell, especially to Call Center Customer Service employees, wherever in the world they are!  From time to time, I considered changing the spelling of my name.  But to honor my father, my family and the “disappeared,” I decided to retain the original.


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