“My parents left in 1968…right after the Soviet invasion,” I add in case he doesn’t know Czech history. Most people don’t.

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter One, Hana Silna

Prague 68 1

bandaged girl pragueLate on the night of August 20,1968, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia with thousands of tanks and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Across the country, citizens gathered to protest. More than one hundred people died and hundreds more were severely injured during this time, like the young  woman in front of the statue of King Wenceslas on the square that bears his name. 

 bike boysLocated near Wenceslas Square, Czechoslovak TV broadcast news of the occupation and urged citizens to resist. Young soldiers from the far reaches of the Soviet empire broke down the doors to the historic building and barreled inside. They lined up the television employees at gunpoint. A small group managed to escape and kept clandestine broadcasts going for a few more days until they were caught. (One of the young rebels, Vladimír Železný, would — many years later — be my boss as the General Director of TV Nova, the first nationwide private television station in the former Communist Bloc. He told me this story sitting in his office inside that same building.)

My mom and dad had to escape…in 1968.
“They were lucky to get out,” David replies. His eyes encourage me to keep talking.
“My dad wasn’t so lucky…He got shot.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter One, David and Hana on the flight from New York

Hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks left their native country to flee the totalitarian regime that followed the invasion. Some slipped through borders that weren’t yet secured. Others had permission to leave on a temporary basis and just never went back. Those who later wanted to return risked severe penalties. Many families were torn apart, like Hana Silna’s in The Riddle of Prague.


Photographs used by permission of Paul Goldsmith.  All other uses prohibited without express written authorization.Photographs copyright @ 1968 Paul F. Goldsmith.

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