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Deciding not to return to Czechoslovakia


Whether to go back to Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion
Jan Klein Scientist
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So I said, 'Len, okay, I will think about it until the morning and I'll let you know'. So I had about a few hours to decide what to do, and in the end I decided, okay I will go to the US. And in the morning we went to the embassy. Thanks to him it was arranged without too much red tape and in a few days I was on the flight to San Francisco with one suitcase in which I had a pyjama and you know a few shirts and that was all. It was a flight through Honolulu. I don't think they fly it anymore that way, but in Honolulu I met Hašek who had a planned trip already to the US. So he was not defecting and somewhere, I think in Palo Alto, then I met Pavol. So the three of us met at Stanford at that time.

Pavol was very upset. Very difficult, facing very a difficult decision whether to stay or what, or go back. In the end he decided to go back. I think the main reason in his case was he really... I'm not saying I didn't love the country. Of course there were my friends there, my home there, my family, everything. But somehow it was... I could live without that, but Pavol it seems like he couldn't. He... that was not the reason why I decided not to go back. I will tell you in a minute why I decided, but Pavol had a very hard time to decide. Hašek... Hašek was drinking and in a good spirit, but he faced a tough decision as well. And he was going, I think, then from the United States to England, to Germany and trying to postpone the... to make the decision. I know that for instance, in England there were some scientists who tried to convince him that he should go back. That he's needed in his own country and that the right... his right place is in the... in the case of need that he should go to his home country. Whether it had an influence that in the end he did go back or not I don't know. But I, to this day I don't understand that argument of these people because I think it can be only an argument that somebody who has not lived in the totalitarian system could make. And they didn't know what it really meant. It must have been clear, should have been clear to them that he could go back. But whether he is going to help or not... he was already too deeply involved in the reforms himself and he... his hesitation to come back already indicated that he was not the firm Communist as he started. So there was only one thing that would happen to him, which it did. That he was eventually deposed very quickly of the directorship of the institute, and to the end of his time he could hardly do any work. So that was the end of him and it didn't help at all that he did go back, because the situation was worse than it was before and there was not much he could do about it. Before he was part of the party echelon and he could do a lot of help, and he did. And many, like Pavol... I'm sure he helped me in many cases and he helped many people. So the fact that he was a Communist, that he was drinking with the... drinking buddy with all those in the hierarchy gave him the possibility of doing things that otherwise he could not do. And he did it and there are many cases like this. So I think when one judges a person like this it's... one has to always take into account what in the end came out of it. And I think in Hašek's case it was very clear.

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

Duration: 5 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008