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Following the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989, when the democratic movement overthrew Communism, I decided that the time was ripe for me to go back there some time - perhaps to rediscover something of my past, my early days in Ostrava and Opava. And so it was that my son, Martin, and I set off for Prague from Heathrow in August 1991. We had booked on Czechoslovak Airlines. Once settled on board their Il-62 we were confronted with air traffic delays on take off. The cabin staff opened the doors to let in some fresh air, opened the bar, and proceeded to serve good, cool, Czech beers all round. The atmosphere soon became very friendly and, somewhat to our surprise, we found the Ostrava football team on board. I was certainly beginning to feel at home.
The trip turned out very rewarding. We saw all the old places back in Ostrava, not very different from the way they had been when I left there more than 50 years earlier. The same situation prevailed at Opava. We visited one or two places I had never been to. And we finished our trip with a visit to Bratislava, where my cousin Elli, 15 years my senior (then aged 78) was living - the only survivor of the bad times. While there I took the opportunity to ask Elli to fill in details on my mother's family and to record, as far as possible, important dates. I was beginning to regret that I never took the time to do this while my parents were still alive, but that is a common complaint amongst my contemporaries. So I was now starting to fill in some of my family details.
A little later, in early 1992, my granddaughter Kerrie, then aged 10, asked me to tell her something about how my father, my mother and I, got out of Czechoslovakia after the German invasion in 1939. She was doing a project at school about those momentous days and the Second World War that followed. Sitting down to produce a brief summary of my recollections, I quickly came up with a four-page screed, which I despatched, to her on January 29th 1992.
This got me thinking that I really had a lot more I could place on record for her and, indeed, for all my family. I realised that, even if they might not be interested in all the detail at the moment, sooner or later someone might want to try and reconstruct a record of the past and where the Vogels' roots originated. In fact, as I found to my regret, I didn't really try to record all the relevant details of my parents' families until it was almost too late. Thus I am now attempting to assemble all the pieces - of the Vogels and the Slatners and the McLoughlins and the Halls and all the others around their fringes. These records are to be found in the database that is complementary and vital to this project.
So here I am, four years later starting to recreate the pictures of our various family trees and to fill in the details by putting down on paper my recollections and/or understandings of how we got to where we are now. It is my intention to deal with my family background, my childhood and formative years and the lives of those closest to me and to illustrate these with family photographs of the period.
The chapters that follow are intended to be by no means an exhaustive, detailed, record of those last 60 or more years. That would be far beyond my capabilities. It is but a rather brief survey, highlighting some of the significant milestones in the overall story, which readily come to mind. It is, therefore, a distinct possibility that the story will never receive a definitive ending. I am sure, in fact, that the more I cast my mind back and put these memories down in hard print, the more memories will come flooding back on these re-readings, inviting constant updating and elaboration of what I have written. Be that as it may, I am looking forward to getting on with this project.
Ostrava: A Brief History
The Vogel Family
The Slatner Family
The Times of Peace
The Shadows of War
A Polish Interlude
A 'Transient' Refuge in England
Alfred Goes to War
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