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Whether to go back to Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion


Being offered a chance to defect after the invasion of Prague
Jan Klein Scientist
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In September of that year, 1968, there was an international congress of genetics in Tokyo and I, Milan Hašek and Pavol Ivanyi went to that meeting. It was in that time, you know, we didn't... it was a problem to pay with hard currency. So we had to pay with Czech money, which was not accepted everywhere, and... so we flew with Czech airlines as far as we could. They didn't fly to Tokyo, but as far as we could. So we... I remember that this trip I don't take travel easy. I get... not anymore, but used to... used to get at the beginning, I get sick on the plane. But the memorable thing about it was that is hopping flight. So, first stop was in Athens. Then it was in Kuwait. Then it was somewhere in the India. Then it was not really Australia, but somewhere down there, and then slowly up north again to Japan. So a very memorable flight in that time.

Now, I was at the meeting and one night I came home and the telephone was ringing in my room, and I got there. It was Len Herzenberg on the phone and he said, 'I know you are terribly upset now but think about it and call me in the morning. If you don't want to go back we will go tomorrow to the American embassy and I will arrange everything that you can go to the United States and you can then decide whether you want to go back or not'. I said, 'Len, what's the matter? What's the...?' I didn't have any idea. They all knew already. On that day Prague and Czechoslovakia was invaded by the armies of the Warsaw pact, of course led by the Russians. So there were tanks in Prague and the situation didn't look very rosy obviously.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Prague Spring, Warsaw pact, Czechoslovakia, Milan Hašek, Pavol Ivanyi, Len Herzenberg, Leonard Arthur Herzenberg

Duration: 2 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008