The AAUW: Books-Sandwiched-In 2013 series continued March 13 with Edie Schrot’s review of Prague Winter: a Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 at the Joseph & Elizabeth Shaw Public Library. Schrot’s presentation took the audience on a historical journey with author Madeline Albright’s book.
AAUW member Gwen Fox expressed her excitement with the great turnout of more than 30 people for the second presentation in this year’s Books-Sandwiched-In series. Fox also clarified for the audience that all proceeds collected during the Books-Sandwiched-In series fund the AAUW Interrupted Studies Scholarship Program. Finally, she introduced the audience to her friend Edie Schrot, a former resident of New York with a doctorate in biology.
Schrot originally chose Prague Winter because she was doing research on the Schrot family in order to get a listing in a national registry. According to Schrot, Prague Winter is a personal story by Madeline Albright, but it is not a memoir. The story of Albright’s family is imbedded throughout the book, particularly her father Josef Korbel, who was active in Czech government. The story recounts the tangled history of Albright’s homeland, including the Nazi invasion of the Czech Republic, the Allied victory in World War II, and the rise of communism.
The central theme, according to Schrot, is the question of why people make the choices they do. Many of the major players in the book, politicians especially, made choices for certain reasons. Schrot says that Albright contrasts courage with lack of courage, insight with naiveté, and hope with knowledge.
Madeline Albright was born in Prague in 1937. In her presentation, Schrot stated that Albright was sheltered in London and Switzerland during the war and moved to the United States with her family in 1949. Albright is known as the first woman to be appointed Secretary of State. After serving in that position, she worked as an ambassador and is now a professor at Georgetown.
Throughout Prague Winter, Albright does not make judgments, but rather draws conclusions from the presented facts. The book is divided into four parts based on years. In the first part, the history of the Czech setting is chronicled. After 1918, the country became the Czech Republic. When Tomas Masaryk died in 1937, Eduard Benes took over. According to Schrot’s review, Benes was a weak leader.
During this time, Germany was gaining power. Schrot stated that people hoped they could pacify Hitler if they gave him little bits of other people’s land, but eventually World War II began. As a result, the Czech Republic was betrayed. In 1939, Hitler marched through Europe. As of 1941, Franklin Roosevelt remained committed to stay out of war, but according to Schrot, his wife Eleanor did not think that was right choice.
It was not until after the Germans attacked their allies Russia, that they eventually surrendered. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin all met at what was called the Yalta Conference. Roosevelt and Churchill trusted Stalin, which resulted in bad consequences for Europe. Schrot again spoke of what happens when people make the wrong choices. She stated that right choices are made when people act courageously.
When Benes returns from London, the Czechs began an expulsion of ethnic Germans. This collective punishment was rationalized on the grounds of security, but it was a weak decision. The Czechs were wronged and retaliated by punishing everyone, instead of those responsible. When given the choice on how to react towards the Germans after the war, the Czechs chose the same path.
As Schrot began her summary, she quoted several passages from the book regarding choices. According to Albright, “Given the events described in this book, we cannot help but acknowledge the capacity within us for unspeakable cruelty or–to give the virtuous their due–at least some degree of moral cowardice. There is a piece of traitor within most of us, a slice of collaborator, an aptitude for appeasement, a touch of the unfeeling prison guard. Who among us has not dehumanized others, if not by word or action, then at least in thought?”
Albright concludes the book by stating, “I have spent a lifetime looking for remedies to all manner of life’s problems–personal, social, political, global. I am deeply suspicious of those who offer simple solutions and statements of absolute certainty or who claim full possession of the truth…the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest. It is not what we find, but the reason we cannot stop looking and striving, that tells us why we are here.”
Schrot wrapped up her presentation with a few personal opinions of the book. She liked how Albright analyzed facts and provided evidence for her analysis. She stated that it is important for politicians in charge to know the facts. Overall, Prague Winter taught her a few things and allowed her to examine how Albright might react to the choices made in light of the present situations in the world. Finally, she suggested additional stories related to the themes presented. Schrot suggested the audience read the books Farewell to Prague, Girls of Room 28, and Brundibar.
Prague Winter: a Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 is available for checkout or hold at Shaw Public Library.
Fox reminded everyone to sign-up for the next program in the AAUW: Books-Sandwiched-In 2013 series. On March 20 at 7 p.m., David Wulderk will present a three volume group of books about Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. The review will discuss the life of Roosevelt and feature his connection to the Clearfield area.
Reservations for the AAUW: Books-Sandwiched-In 2013 series may be placed by calling Shaw Public Library at 814-765-3271 during regular business hours. Shaw Public Library is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Fridays from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. Additional information may also be found on Shaw Public Library’s Web site at http://www.clearfield.org/shaw.