On Tuesday, August 6th, at the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan, international award-winning photographer, author of the book Memory Traces, and chairman of the Memory Traces nonprofit association, Jiří Doležel, unveiled the Memory Traces exhibit — Exile / Emigration to the USA 1938/39, 1948, 1968.
Memory Traces Exhibit
Exile / Emigration to the USA 1938/39, 1948, 1968
Bohemian National Hall,
321 East 73rd Street New York City
FREE now through August 25th
After finalizing the project in November of 2018, Memory Traces, the collection of portraits and biographies of Czech people affected by the Nazi and communist totalitarianism in the Moravia region, was exhibited at the American Embassy in Prague in honor of the Velvet Revolution. I had the great honor of attending the premiere of Memory Traces — Exile/Emigration to the USA, which gave a voice to those Czech patriots who fled their homes during the three fundamental waves of emigration in search of freedom in the United States.
I was able to speak with Mr. Doležel, with the help of his translator, Tereza Novicka, program coordinator for the Czech Center New York, about the origins of this amazing exhibit.
Doležel was intense yet composed as he described how he came to meet a Mr. Sverdik through various gatherings and protests with the Independent Peace Association just before the Velvet Revolution. Sverdik and Doležel felt very strongly that the fates of the persecuted people would soon be forgotten by the young and should be recorded for future generations. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that Sverdik and Doležel reconnected and decided that the time had come to put this idea into action.
Doležel conducted roughly 500 interviews of Czech people affected by World War II and the communist regime. Uncrossing his arms and looking away in remembrance, Doležel recalled his meeting with a Mr. Leopold Pospisil, Yale anthropology professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences. Pospisil had read Memory Traces and in 2013 invited Doležel to New Haven to add his story to the project. The interview took over eight hours and was made all the richer by the photo diary that Pospisil had kept of his emigration to the US during World War II in pursuit of furthering his education.
With enthusiastic hand gestures, Doležel told me how vibrant with Czech culture the area surrounding the Bohemian National Hall used to be, and how this fascinating history, this heartbreaking moment of decision to depart into uncertainty for the chance at a better life, is fading away. Doležel flashed a very genuine smile and looked at me as he declared, in Czech, his hope that this exhibit will preserve the dignity and the memories of the Czech people affected by Nazi and communist totalitarianism.
Memory Traces exhibit — Exile / Emigration to the USA 1938/39, 1948, 1968, organized by the Czech Center New York with support of BBLA, is free and open to the public. You can see this inspiring exhibit for yourself now through Sunday, August 25th.