I was born in a village called Rosice, near Chrudim. My father was a teacher in the local school. I joined the Social Democratic Party while I was still in high school, and I was also an active member of various student societies, including the Central Association of Czechoslovak Students. In 1932 I graduated from the Charles University with a doctorate degree in law. I was able to spend one term of my studies in Sorbonne, Paris. After I completed military training, I got a job at the Ministry of Finance; they sent me to Cheb, since I knew the German language.
Living in the borderlands gave me the opportunity to learn about the mentality and spirit of our German people. Until the tragic events of autumn, 1938, I worked closely with the social democrats of Sudetenland who helped us defend the Republic against Henlein’s militia. During the Nazi occupation I joined a resistance movement called Petiční výbor Věrni zůstaneme (Petition Committee Faithful We Remain). I was arrested by Gestapo and spent most of the war in a concentration camp.
When the Communists took control of the government in the February 1948 coup, I wasn’t surprised to be one of the first members of the Party to be expelled and labelled a traitor of the working class.
In 1945 I had to spend some time recovering in the Tatra Mountains before I could fully participate in the activities of the Social Democratic Party again. I was also appointed general secretary of the National Renewal Fund – the Settlement Office, which was responsible for rebuilding the borderlands after the expulsion of German people. I spoke out during hundreds of public meetings and I didn’t hesitate to condemn communists, who acted as conquerors in the former Sudetenland.
When the Communists took control of the government in the February 1948 coup, I wasn’t surprised to be one of the first members of the Party to be expelled and labelled a traitor of the working class. I was in danger of being arrested, and so I fled to Austria.
In Innsbruck I managed a camp for Czechoslovak refugees. I successfully organized shipments of relief supplies to our people and was invited to Switzerland to work on a similar task in Zurich. After a few months I moved on to Belgium, where I initiated the publication of an exile journal, Hlas (Voice).
In March of 1950, I organized an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of T.G. Masaryk’s birth. I was also a co-founder of an international organization of former political prisoners. As its delegate I often travelled around Europe, drawing attention to the issue of forced labour camps in communist Czechoslovakia.
In the summer of 1952, my wife Helen and I moved from Europe to the USA permanently. We both received American citizenship five years later. We lived in the Bronx, New York and had a daughter Helenka and a son Jiří. I worked as a waiter in a club for Manhattan’s elite and then as a clerk in a transport company before settling down for a good while as an accountant for the energy company Columbia Gas System Service.
New York has historically had a large Czech community, based mostly around 73rd Street on the Upper East Side. That is also where you can find the Bohemian National Hall, built in 1896 following a successful Czech community fundraising campaign. Apart from the lounges and a great hall where concerts and plays took place, the building also had enough room on the first floor for two classes of Czech children. And it was regular afternoon education three times a week, which kept the young generations aware of Czech language and culture. We also published several Czech textbooks. As time went by we struggled with low numbers of students.
Taking care of the school became my passion and my hobby yet also a source of worry. For over thirty years I worked at the school, almost every day. I managed the organization of community events and handled the necessary paperwork.
Taking care of the school became my passion and my hobby yet also a source of worry. For over thirty years I worked at the school, almost every day. I managed the organization of community events and handled the necessary paperwork. The building began to fall into ruin and there wasn’t enough money for a total renovation. Some societies’ representatives suggested selling this lucrative realty. There was a lot of bad blood as a result of these arguments and the issue even lead to a lawsuit. It was a very difficult time for me personally. People refused to shake my hand and made threats, and the whole community went through a deep crisis. Fortunately we were able to keep the building in Czech hands. That is all that matters. I hope we’ll manage to save it.
Jaroslav Profous died on the 27th of January, 1989. He didn’t live to see the fall of the communist regime or the renovation of the Bohemian National Hall, financed by the Czech Republic. It re-opened exactly ten years ago, in October 2008. Today it serves as headquarters of Czech consulate, hosts frequent culture events and once again beats as the heart of the Czech community in New York.