Memory of Nations Awards

The Memory of the Nation Awards for five outstanding Central European personalities.

This year we commemorate 30 years since the lifting of the “Iron Curtain”. The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany, the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution, and democratization processes in Poland and Hungary mark the most significant political upheaval in Europe after the Second World War.

The organization Post Bellum traditionally celebrates this anniversary with its annual award ceremony held on November 17 at the historic National Theatre in Prague. Every year we award two Czechs and two Slovaks who showed in their lives that honor, freedom, and human dignity are not empty words. The laureates have included war veterans, political prisoners, resistance fighters, Holocaust survivors, and many others.

This year, like on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central Europe from five years ago, we would like to give special recognition to personalities from other post-communist countries. During the ceremony, the public will hear the fascinating personal stories of five laureates from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Germany.

The gala event will be broadcasted live on Czech and Slovak public television channels, as well as on TV channels and the internet in other countries.

Wladyslaw Frasyniuk * 1954, Poland

This bus driver stood at the very beginning of the Solidarity movement in Wrocław, joining the Gdańsk Shipyard strike as soon as August 1980. In July 1981, he was the head of Solidarity for the Lower Silesia region. Just before the declaration of martial law, he ordered the immediate withdrawal of Lower Silesian Solidarity funds, carried out by Treasurer Józef Pinior. He walked out of the Wrocław branch of the Polish Bank with 80 million złoty.

After martial law was declared on the 13th of December 1981, he hid for ten months before being arrested in October 1982 and sentenced to six years in prison. As a Solidarity leader, he faced pressure from the Polish national security officials and endured cruel interrogations. “There is no prison punishment I haven’t been subjected to. The worst was six months in isolation, and I’ve lived through multiple days being handcuffed behind my back during the day, at the front at night, I’ve sat in ice-cold cells and there have been many, many more punishments cooked up in each prison by the individual prison guards.”

Shortly after his release, as part of the 1984 amnesty, he was sent back to prison once more, only to be set free again in 1986. However, this time he had the feeling something in society had changed. It was time to leave the underground and begin formal talks with the Communist government, something which was achieved in 1989 during round-table negotiations. “The decision to negotiate with the Communists was not an easy one. It was quite the shock to both parties – for us having to deal with the people who had locked us up – for them because they were forced into discussions with people they considered criminals.”

The negotiations resulted in the legalization of Solidarity and the declaration of semi-democratic elections on the 4th of June 1989. In these elections, the Solidarity movement managed a resounding victory and Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-Communist prime minister in the Soviet Bloc. In free Poland, Władysław later established a transport company, took part in communal politics in Wrocław and was a member of parliament in the years 1991–2001. After 2005, he withdrew from politics but has recently taken part in anti-government protests as a civil rights activist.

László Regéczy-Nagy * 1925, Hungary

He served in the Hungarian army during the Second World War. In 1945, he was captured by the British and this moment was, for him, his first “taste of democracy.” His status as a POW of the Allies meant he was forced out of the army as soon as the Communists came into power. László then lived as a shepherd, warehouseman and truck driver. When the British Embassy issued a public tender for a driver in 1949, he signed up and got the job. “I spent my working day within a Western democracy and then went home to the dictatorship of the proletariat according to Rákosi.”

For this reason, he worked as an intermediary between revolutionaries and the West during the Hungarian Revolution against the Communist dictatorship in October 1956. This dictatorship was bloodily suppressed by the Soviet forces lead by General Konev. László risked his life when together with his friend and later Hungarian president Árpád Göncz, they smuggled out the last declaration of revolutionary Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who was executed in 1958. László also smuggled out the writings of István Bibó, a revolutionary government minister and political theorist, who he was imprisoned within 1957 for 15 years. He was freed six years later due to the intervention of the Secretary-General of the UN, U Thant.

On his release in 1963, he worked as an auxiliary laborer and later as a translator. In 1988, he founded the Committee on Historical Justice, an organization bringing together victims of persecution during the Communist period, which is similar to the Czech Confederation of Political Prisoners.

At 94 years of age, László Regéczy-Nagy lives in Budapest in a house with a beautiful view. Infirmed and almost unable to walk, he is cared for by the family who waited for him those six years under Communism.

Dietrich Koch *1937, Germany

This theoretical physicist from the Academy of Sciences in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) protested against the demolition in 1968 of the Paulinerkirche, the gothic church of St. Paul in Leipzig. It had served as the school’s church since the founding of Leipzig University in 1409. Despite its connection to Johann Sebastian Bach and the miracle of its survival amidst the bombing of the Second World War, in May 1968 the Communists decided to have the church demolished. Three days before the demolition, Dietrich was arrested for the first time by the Stasi – the East German secret police – during a protest gathering in front of the church. Subsequently, he was fired from his job. “As the church collapsed, the Communists and the Stasi felt one step closer to Socialism. On the day of the explosion, I wrote them a letter letting them know this was something they wouldn’t be able to keep a secret.”

A month later he helped dissidents in Leipzig unfurl a banner calling for the church’s renewal during the closing ceremony of the televised International Bach Competition in a hall before the eyes of thousands of people, including journalists from around the world. He and his brother Eckhard constructed a time-switch to release the banner. It took the police two years before they caught Dietrich. In 1970, he was betrayed by a young Socialist and Stasi agent from West Germany. He had heard about the Bach fest protest from one of its organizers who emigrated to West Germany.

During his almost two-year imprisonment, Dietrich was subjected to the cruel tortures of the Stasi, who wanted him to turn in his colleagues and agree to collaboration. As one of the few in the GDR, he resisted and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, followed by psychiatric detention. In 1972, thanks to the intervention of the philosopher Carl Friedrich from Weizsäcker, he was able to travel to West Germany. He studied philosophy and teaches at a university in Essen, where he and his wife still live today.

Dalma Špitzerová * 1925, Slovakia

She spent her childhood with five siblings in the Slovakian town of Liptovský Mikuláš, where her father served in synagogues as a Hazzan – leading congregants in songful prayer – and her mother taught French and German. When the work and concentration camp transports began leaving in 1942, her father sent Dalma with her two older sisters to Hungary, making the journey with false documentation.

In Budapest, it seemed they were safe, at least for a while. They got jobs and helped each other. One day, however, one of her older sisters, Lilka, returned home escorted by a policeman. “She told me quietly that we had been caught and not to say a word, whatever happens, because I had different documentation. I didn’t want to stay there alone, so I jumped up and told them I was her sister. So, they arrested us and sent us to the internment camp.”

The sisters were subsequently taken to Auschwitz, where Dalma, healthy at the time, was moved to the hospital after being declared sick with typhus by the prison doctor. After several failed attempts at escape, she ended up in the Nováky assembly camp, where she spent two years. She worked in a workshop sewing satchel and later took part in theatrical performances. Her first role was as the character Emilia Marty in Karel Čapek’s play The Makropulos Affair, in which she excelled. The director was originally loathed to give her the part due to her age. “After that performance, he told me I had so much talent, that if we survived I should immediately sign up for drama school. And that’s what I did.”

She took part in the underground movement in the Nováky camp and after the start of the Slovak National Uprising, she ran away to Banská Bystrice where she joined the rebels. She originally worked in the press department, but after the uprising was suppressed she joined a resistance unit in the mountains and stayed with them until the country was liberated. After the war, she became an actress in the theatre, and following the closure of the Tatra Cabaret in 1970, she became an assistant director in Slovak television. After the Velvet Revolution, she founded a private acting studio, which later won her an international prize in Paris.

Miroslav Hampl * 1932, Czech Republic

In May of 1952, this nineteen-year-old youth started his year of heavy labor in the Jáchymov uranium mines. He worked in the Svornost mine as a collector – determining radioactivity levels of the ores to be mined. “When I started work, they had told me I would be on the job with the worst type of criminals, and to be on the lookout.” He soon realized that these were not criminals, but rather victims of Communist oppression. He became friends with many of the political prisoners, and after listening to their life stories, he decided to help them out by delivering letters, parcels or warm underwear.

He helped one of them get to freedom by smuggling in some civilian clothes. He just walked out of the gates with the political prisoner by his side. He, however, failed to escape to the West – a friend turned him in and he spent three years in Ležnice prison in Horní Slavkov. At the time of his arrest in November 1952, he weighed 90 kilograms, but after three months of interrogation and a month of solitary confinement, he was a wreck of a man weighing slightly over 50 kilograms. In that state, he was incapable of meeting his quotas and as punishment was sent to “correction”, which was a tiny room without windows and with a concrete floor. “I slept in the cold and wet with a single blanket. In the morning I had to head out for my shift, and when the shift was over, it was right back in correction.”

In return for his help as a civilian employee, those prisoners then helped him to survive. With their assistance, he managed to fulfill his quotas and was given better food. He was released after serving half of his sentence in September 1954. His dreams of escaping to the West only fizzled out after falling in love with his wife-to-be Evženie. They settled down in Šumperk, where he worked as a builder until retirement. He is one of the founders of the local Confederation of Political Prisoners.