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The Czechoslovak Talks is a project that embraces the life stories of Czechoslovaks around the world – the stories of the personal ups and downs, the opportunities and obstacles, and especially the life experiences that we would like to preserve for future generations.


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Jan Ehrenreich

“My destiny took me down many paths. I was born to a German-speaking family in Czechoslovakia. Growing up, it did not even cross my mind that I would witness so much sorrow and live through the Terezin concentration camp. If you wanted to survive in the ghetto, you had to suppress your feelings and work very hard. After the war, we would often get together with others that went through the same hardship. We would look back and often cry. I also think we were incredibly lucky that we survived, and we had the obligation to share our experience, horror, and humiliation with the world.

England was a completely different world. The air was filled with enthusiasm and a desire to build new things.

In 1946, I got the chance to study one year in England. I was so thrilled. England was a completely different world. The air was filled with enthusiasm and a desire to build new things. A short escape from Czechoslovakia where the proletariat was growing stronger, it felt refreshing.

A year soon past by, and I was bound to return, but my boss at Tesco, where I worked in my free time, put a good word in for me at the immigration office. Thanks to him, I was allowed to stay longer in England. After the 1948 coup d’état in Czechoslovakia, I was no longer required to return.

After a couple of years of working at Tesco, I longed for independence. I started to trade with various goods, but the beginning was very difficult. The English are conservative and did not want to do business with a foreigner. One day, I was sitting in a bar in Paddington, cheerless and full of scepticism, when a nice looking black man approached me. His name was Nabi. Enjoying a small chat, he mentioned he was searching for a supplier of second-hand clothes for Nigeria. I sensed the opportunity; I had plenty of contacts around London and agreed to lend him a hand. And that’s how me and Nabi founded our joint export company.

All of Africa yearned for second-hand clothes from Britain, and the business was growing at a rapid pace. After a few years, we decided to use our profit for a good cause and launched philanthropic activities in Africa. Rather than just giving away the money for free, we decided to support particular projects with participation of the locals. For decades, we were constructing wells, building schools and medical facilities, or providing scholarships for studying in all corners of Europe.

I have gone through many hardships and failures throughout my life, but I always stood up and moved on. Failures will strengthen you.

A few years ago, both me and Nabi decided to stop our business and enjoy retirement. I reminisce about Czechoslovakia with nostalgia, and I wish you success and democracy. And my message to young people? Do not be afraid to risk and keep on improving. I have gone through many hardships and failures throughout my life, but I always stood up and moved on. Failures will strengthen you. And always rely on yourself, not on others. This approach brought me to my achievements, and I am happy and grateful for it.

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