Exploring My Roots Abroad

Written by Charlie Kay, Foster undergraduate

I chose to study in Prague for a lot of reasons, but the main one was to explore my roots in the Czech Republic. My grandfather was born and raised in Brno, the second biggest city in the country. His mother was Christian, his father was Jewish, and when the Nazis rose to power in the neighboring Germany, his parents were wise to get him and his sister out of Europe before the War started. My grandfather left his country for the US in 1938 when he was 17, and he never returned home. The Jewish side of the family was then almost completely wiped out during the Holocaust. Of the 20 descendants of my grandfather and his sister, only 3 of them had visited the Czech Republic before.

I made it my mission to explore the areas where my ancestors lived and learn more about them. After 4 months of living in this amazing country, I have a much clearer picture of my family and what they lived through. I visited the Terezin concentration camp, where Czech prisoners of the Holocaust were held until transferred to Auschwitz or other much worse camps. My great-grandfather and a few more of our relatives lived there for 18 months before they were sent to their deaths. It was incredibly powerful to be in a place where your ancestors spent the last year and a half of their lives in fear and terrible conditions. I also happen to live 5 minutes away from the house where my great grandmother lived in Prague during the War while she tried to help out all of the family members who were detained in Terezin.

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The best part of my adventures, though, was when my mom and two aunts flew out to visit and we travelled to Brno. Walking the same streets he did all those years ago was incredible, and it made me feel so much more connected to him. We saw the location of my great grandfather’s textile store, which at some point turned into a McDonalds. And best of all, we met my great aunt’s best friend from when she was a little girl. Her name is Liddy, she is 95, and she still lives by herself. We found her in an apartment she has lived in her entire life, and we sat and talked with her for two hours, and learned so much more about our family, her family, and how life was during the communist era in the Czech Republic.

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Studying abroad was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy I got to explore my roots. In just a week,I’ll be back home in the States, but part of me will never leave Prague.