Although a non-Jew, Jan Drabek’s father Jaroslav Drabek served on President Jimmy Carter’s 34-member President’s Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Eli Wiesel, that submitted its report to Carter on September 27, 1979 that led to the creation of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jan Drabek, a Vancouver novelist, has since translated his father’s substantial memoir of being incarcerated. It is anticipated this work will finally be published in English, for the first time, in a proposed sequel to this book to be called Bearing Witness.

As well, in 1985, Jan Drabek travelled to Poland with his father to film a twenty-minute documentary, Father's Return to Auschwitz, directed by Czech-born Ivan Horsky. Jaroslav Drabek was delivered to Auschwitz on January 9, 1943.


Born in 1901, in Chrudim (the "Athens of Eastern Bohemia"), formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Jaroslav Drabek gained his law degree in Prague, and served in the Czechoslovak Army against the forces of Hungarian Communist Bela Kuhn. Married with two sons, Drabek Sr. practiced law and wrote for newspapers until the 1938 Munich Pact doomed Czechoslovakia as a sovereign country. In 1938, en route to London to report to the exiled President Eduard Benes on behalf of the Czech resistance movement, Drabek Sr. and his wife witnessed the aftermath of Kristallnacht in Germany and reported the plight of German Jews to London.

While under surveillance by the Gestapo, Jaroslav Drabek worked with other Czech court officials to arrange for Jewish mothers to swear false affidavits that stated their children were fathered by Aryan men, out of wedlock. "...some people tried to prove they were only half Jews," he wrote, "in other words that they really had a non-Jewish father, a fact which could possibly save one from the gas chambers. Of course, it was necessary to prove that the mother had relations with some non-Jew and not with her husband who was Jewish.

"To this day," he wrote, "I remember the unpleasant feeling these memorized testimonies of Jewish mothers who, out of love for their children, allowed themselves to give. Such invented testimony in court meant horror and degradation for them. All of us knew -- the tribunal as well as the attorneys -- that the mother by her lie is trying to save her children; none of us dared to look into her eye or to ask her a question. We felt the magnitude as well as the monstrosity of this motherly sacrifice. It was really terrible to look at an elderly exhausted mother who had to publicly and under an oath claim that she had committed adultery. It was obvious how she was suffering, how difficult it was for her to recite the lie she learned by heart.

"The perjury didn’t disturb us. We knew for certain that the Lord would forgive these mothers. I must attest that the Czech judges understood fully this grotesque situation and tried to make such cases as easy as possible for us. At times it was they who advised me how to arrange it so that the case would proceed as smoothly as possible. There was one unfortunate part of the thing. It became well known that I was successfully concluding such cases and my practice grew by leaps and bounds until I became quite worried about it."

Jaroslav Drabek was arrested by the Gestapo for Resistance activities and sent by train to Auschwitz with his documents stamped RETURN UNWANTED. He was incarcerated on January 9, 1943. His tattoo number was 94692.

His son, Jan Drabek, has explained how the head of the Czech resistance, Vladimir Krajina, a family friend, contrived is father’s release.

“When [Vladimir] Krajina heard that he was in Auschwitz, he told the Gestapo that my father played a much larger role than he actually did in the resistance, so the Gestapo wanted him back for interrogation. But just at that time typhus broke out in the camp and father’s return was delayed by a few months due to the quarantine. By the time he returned, the Germans were on the run on the eastern front and the invasion was about to happen in the West. There was an active underground cell at the Prague prison and father, with the help of the Czech prison doctor, faked a leg injury. But then the Gestapo placed him on another transport to Auschwitz (while on a stretcher!). Again, his prison doctor friend and others helped and, in the summer of 1944, he was released and placed in care of the Prague insane asylum. Father always said that those in the asylum were the calmest days for him and without them he couldn’t have survived the war and postwar turmoil.”

Upon his release from prison in 1944, with the complicity of a turncoat Gestapo agent, Jaroslav Drabek learned that Reichsprotektor Heydrich had used his veto power to cancel the validity of civil verdicts brought out by Czech courts and so many of the carefully executed cased he had managed had their verdicts annulled. “For many of my clients,” he later wrote, “this, of course, meant the verdict of death.”

At war’s end, Drabek Sr. was made chief prosecutor of the People’s Court, bringing successful cases against collaborators and Nazi war criminals that included Karl H. Frank, the Nazi governor of Bohemia, against whom he obtained a death sentence. During these investigations, Drabek Sr. simultaneously uncovered nefarious Communist activities and published a collection of Auschwitz stories, Povídky o krutém umírání (Stories of Cruel Dying), in Prague, in 1947. When the Communists took full control of Czechoslovakia in 1948, there arose Communist suspicions and phoney allegations that Drabek Sr. had been too lenient in prosecuting Nazis. Consequently, the Drabek family, preceded by the Czech resistance leader Vladimir Krajina by one day, escaped on skis from Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, into Bavaria, in 1948.

The Drabeks were processed for immigration in Frankfurt. After the family had passed several months in Germany and France, Czech-American Jewish friends who had been advised by Drabek to leave Europe back in 1939, facilitated their resettlement in New York. There, Drabek Sr. became a commentator and announcer for Voice of America.

After retiring from Voice of America in 1971, Drabek Sr. was named to the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. This was on the advice of Madeleine Albright, who was the daughter of the Drabek family friend, Professor Josef Korbel. Eventually, President Jimmy Carter decreed by an executive order to build the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on October 26, 1979. Congress unanimously endorsed the initiative in 1980 and the Museum was dedicated on April 22, 1993. The researchers at that facility have since documented 42,000 ghettos and concentration camps erected by the Nazis.

President Vaclav Havel appointed Jan Drabek, his erstwhile schoolmate, as an ambassador to Kenya. Jan Drabek later became Chief of the Czech Diplomatic Protocol Department. There was also a literary connection. Some of Drabek’s novels had been published in Czech and Havel was himself an established playwright. When Madeleine Albright was serving as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, it was Jan Drabek who welcomed her to Prague on behalf of the government. It was also during this period, in Prague, that Hillary Clinton and Albright befriended one another. Hillary Clinton would subsequently prevail upon her husband President Bill Clinton to appoint Albright as the first female Secretary of State. Also, in 1996, Jan Drabek was the first official to welcome Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John Paul II to Prague.

Jaroslav Drabek’s wife, Jarmila Kucerova Drabek, who had been instrumental in his release from Auschwitz, died in Washington in 1983. Jaroslav Drabek died there in December of 1996 at age 95.


Jan Drabek immigrated to Canada in 1965 after he had served in the U.S. Navy (1956-1958), on the editorial staff of the Washington Evening Star (1958-1960), as a refugee settlement officer in Vienna (1961), a broadcaster in Munich (1961-1963) and as a travel clerk for American Express in New York. His wife's family was already in Vancouver, as was the Czech botanist, Vladimir Krajina, who had headed his father's underground group.

Although little-known in his adopted country, Vladimir Krajina, a UBC-based forestry professor, was personally thanked for his wartime resistance by Winston Churchill and was accorded some of the highest honours provided by both Canada and Czechoslovakia (before it was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Jan Drabek eventually published a biography of Krajina, the founder of B.C.'s Ecological Reserve Program, that was published in Prague in 2016 and re-issued in English as Vladimir Krajina, World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer (Ronsdale 2012). It was then re-launched in a new Czech version at the Canadian Embassy in Prague as Dva Zivoty Vladimira Krajiny (Two Lives of Vladimir Krajina).

Jan Drabek recalled the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and his family’s flight through the Alps in the first of his three memoirs, Thirteen: A Childhood in Wartime Prague (Caitlin 1991).

In 2005, Drabek Jr. returned to the Czech Republic for the launch of one of his own books as well as Jaroslav Drabek's posthumous novel, Podzemi (The Underground), in Czech. In 2013, Jan Drabek received the Masaryk Prize awarded annually by the Czech and Slovak Association of Canada to a Canadian of Czech or Slovak origin who has played a role in bringing freedom to Czechoslovakia, or enriched the lives of Czechs and Slovaks in Canada.



In 1939, the botanist Vladimir Krajina joined the Czech Resistance and quickly became one of its leaders. Various escapes from the Gestapo ensued while some 20,000 radio messages were sent by his group to London, among them those about the pending invasion of the Balkans and of the Soviet Union. As the general secretary of an anti-communist party, he escaped from the country on skis after the Communist takeover. Personally thanked for his wartime effort by Winston Churchill, Krajina came to the University of British Columbia where as a professor of botany he battled the forest barons and their practice of clear-cutting and slash burning. He then turned his attention to saving pristine areas of the province, earning the title of father of the Ecological Reserve Program, since replicated throughout Canada. As a Companion of the Order of Canada, he returned triumphantly to Prague in 1990 to receive the Order of the White Lion, the highest Czechoslovak award, from President Vaclav Havel. Krajina died peacefully in Vancouver in 1992, having achieved much of what he had set out to do in life.

Jan Drabek stayed in Vancouver where he taught high school in Kitsilano (1966-1976) and wrote a non-fiction book about his experiences called Blackboard Odyssey (1973) comparing European and North American education. He eventually published a biography of Krajina, the World War Czech Resistance hero and founder of B.C.'s Ecological Reserve Program, that was published in Prague in 2016. It was re-issued in English as Vladimir Krajina, World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer (Ronsdale 2012) and re-launched in a new Czech version at the Canadian Embassy in Prague as Dva Zivoty Vladimira Krajiny (Two Lives of Vladimir Krajina). The re-launch was orchestrated with the assistance of Canada’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, Czech-born Otto Jelinek, a former member of Canadian Parliament who won a world championship for Canada in pairs figure skating with his sister in 1962. Drabek undertook the translation himself, disenchanted with the Canada Council for its policy of not providing grants for authors who translate their own works. The Czech biography of Krajina was Drabek's 22nd volume, five of which he has translated himself in Czech himself.

In the Seventies and Eighties, Jan Drabek worked as a travel agent, studied at UBC and SFU, and served as the chair of the B.C. Federation of Writers and the B.C. representative on the Caucus of the Writers Union of Canada. In 2007, Drabek was elected President of The Federation of BC Writers. His earlier novels are Whatever Happened to Wenceslas? (1975), Report on the Death of Rosenkavalier (1977), The Lister Legacy (1980) and The Statement (1982). Report on the Death of Rosenkavalier concerns a Czech named Antonin Klima who returns to Prague from Canada in order to execute a sadistic prison official named Rosenkavalier who is killing political prisoners. The Lister Legacy is a post-war spy thriller that revisits the sabotage of a Nazi germ warfare laboratory. The Statement recounts how a political science professor at UBC engineers a revolution in a fictitious country called New Salisbury. "One of the most difficult points for us English-speaking people to grasp is that we are the aberration," says Drabek's radicalized protagonist professor, "and that the dictatorships and police states are much more the normal thing in the world." Like his fellow Czech emigre novelist Josef Skvorecky, Drabek feels obliged to waken North American society from a slumber of innocence with regards to the potential threats of totalitarian or communist regimes.

Jan Drabek and his wife returned to Prague during the 1990s to teach English at the Foreign Ministry there. He wound up being appointed the Czech Ambassador to Kenya and later to Albania. In between those two ambassadorial stints he served as the Chief of the Czech Diplomatic Protocol Department. He returned to Vancouver in 1998 not long after the Czech government failed to adequately respond to his urgent medical requests for his wife during an emergency abroad. The Czech ministry in 1997 required him to sign a statement that he would bear the cost of flying his critically ill wife out of revolutionary Albania. He signed and paid for the transport. Then he resigned from his post in Tirana. A former vice-president of the Czechoslovak Association of Canada, Drabek is fluent in English, Czech and German, with some knowledge of French. Drabek has been a columnist for Xantypa magazine, a Czech equivalent of Vanity Fair. In 2009 he published a book about the Vancouver Olympics in Czech, in the Czech Republic, with Oftis Publishers. Besides providing a list of venues and schedules for the games, the volume includes essays, both humorous and pensive; and photos.

Jan Drabek recalled his upbringing in Europe in a memoir called Thirteen (1991). His second memoir, His Doubtful Excellency, A Canadian Novelist's Adventures as President Havel's Ambassador in Prague (2006), concerns his years as an ambassador for Vaclav Havel and the Czech Republic. A third memoir, Up to My Ears in America (2012), covers Drabek's immigrant experiences as a high school student in New York City and as a college student in the Southern U.S. during the 1950s when the integration of blacks into white society was beginning to be considered. Drabek also describes his experiences as a naval aviation cadet in Florida and later as a Washington newspaper copy boy. Up to My Ears in America records how the Cold War, the McCarthy era and puberty affected the Czech emigre.

Drabek writes, "Up to My Ears in America deals with my twelve years in the country, of which about a fourth (between 1953 and 1956) was spent at Washington and Lee University. As you know, this was the McCarthy era, the time of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. Ties were worn on the campus and there were no women, though lots of time was spent at Virginia's girl colleges called Hollins, Sweetbriar and Randolph Macon, Mary Baldwin, and Southern Sem. (Some even went as far as West Virginia's Greenbrier). The French exchange student on W&L (Washington and Lee) was Phillip Labro. Although I knew him only slightly, he merits quite a few pages in the book because he was the romantic Frenchman on campus while I was the screwed-up Slav. Phillip later made the somewhat improbable movie called The Foreign Student about his affair with a black lady. It was filmed in Lexington. The book covers my family's arrival in New York and my High School days there. Following the Washington and Lee days came my questionable contribution to the defense of the US two-year career in the Navy as one of the worst pilot trainees in Pensacola, though I was a bit better later in my position of the editor of the ship's newspaper The 59er aboard the USS Forrestal."

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Vladimir Krajina: World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer


Up to My Ears in America (Donna Ink 2014) 978-1-939425-94-2 (ack.pbk)
Vladimir Krajina: World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer (Ronsdale, 2012) $21.95 978-1-55380-147-4
Grungia (2012)
I Love You British Columbia -- Winter Games in Vancouver (Oftis Publishers, 2009)
HIS DOUBTFUL EXCELLENCY: A Canadian Novelist's Adventures as President Havel's Ambassador in Prague, Ekstasis Editions, 2006.
HLEDANI STESTI U CIZAKU (Searching for Happiness with Aliens), published by Mlada Fronta in Prague, 2005 -- coincidental with publication of his father Jaroslav Drabek's posthumous novel, Podzemi (The Underground), in Czech, 2005
PO USI V AMERICE, Knizni Klub, Prague 2003
I LUFF YOU B.C. Self-published, Vancouver, 2002
PO USI V PROTEKTORATU, Knizni Klub, Prague, 2001
PO USI V POSTKOMUNISMU, Knizni Klub, Prague, 2002
PO USI V PROTEKTORATU, Knizni Klub, Prague, 2001
THIRTEEN, Caitlin Press, Prince George, 1991; 2014
THE EXOTIC CANADIANS, Borealis, Ottawa 1990
THE GOLDEN REVOLUTION, Macmillan, Toronto, 1989
THE STATEMENT, General Publishing, Toronto, 1982
THE LISTER LEGACY, General Publishing,Toronto,1980
MELVIN THE WEATHERMOOSE, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Toronto, 1976
BLACKBOARD ODYSSEY, J.J. Douglas, Vancouver 1973

[BCBW 2020] Alan Twigg / HolocaustLit





Jan Drabek greets Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright in Prague, July 8, 1996.

Jan Drabek (left) with father Jaroslav and Jaroslav's grandson, on Bowen Island, 1985.

[caption id="attachment_23483" align="alignleft" width="600"] Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes One Free). Jan Drabek's father was on President Jimmy Carter's Commission, chaired by Eli Wiesel, for the creation of the United States Holocaust Museum (above) at 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place in Washington, D.C.[/caption]