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War experiences made me a person who cannot tolerate violence


Near misses during World War II
Jan Klein Scientist
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On another occasion it was... it could have been very serious. Again we were watching them, I remember with my elder brother in the farmyard as they were... well we could hear them actually coming and we didn't see them yet and suddenly the sound changed dramatically. Normally it was a humming but suddenly it was like a siren and my brother just yelled, 'Run, run, run in the cellar'. And I was... I had a slice of bread covered with butter and with lekvár... you know what lekvár is? A kind of plum jam, which I liked very much. And I didn't move immediately so my brother pushed me as we were getting on to the steps and I tripped and I remember the slice of bread falling on the... on the ground... on the floor and then we somehow got into the cellar, but by that time we could hear already the explosions. One after the other. I would like to know what actually... why they were bombarding the village? There was nothing there, no military target or anything. No factory, nothing. Whether it was a mistake or a... whether they just had enough... that they wanted to get rid of or something. The fact is they... the village became a target of the bombardment. And fortunately they missed. When we then later went out we saw right after the... well we were close to the end of the village and right after the last house the craters began in a series, one after the other, about 15 or 20 big craters. If it had fallen on the village it would have covered more or less the length of the village. I don't think there would have been much left of it and it would not have saved us if we were in the cellar or somewhere else. So, serendipity... by serendipity I survived and the improbable event that I am here was just because of the pilot error or some mistake in the mission that they were supposed to achieve. I must say the... that Mars, the god of war, tried once more on my life. That was in the last days of war as we were practically living in the cellar and because the front was not very far from our village in the city of Opava where I then went to school, which was almost totally destroyed. And... but as they were bombarding but also artillery fire was reaching our village also and one day in the morning when it usually... the bombarding, the cannonade was during the night... we got out and we realized there was a big hole into the... right next to the house, into the... where the garden began. Again about a few metres from the house. Much later my brother actually dug it out and it was a big, huge shell which, if it would have hit the house and exploded, there would not have been anything left of the house. So Mars missed again and I'm here to tell the story.

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: Opava

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008