Voticky recounts his Czechoslovakian family’s escape from fascism and communism and his later life as a Canadian pilot in this memoir.
The author was born in 1934 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, during a time when dark political forces threatened to swallow Europe whole. His Jewish parents, Arnold and Annamarie, after witnessing the degradation of Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis, prudently prepared for escape, funneling money to Annamarie’s brother in Switzerland. They fled to Italy, but Arnold temporarily stayed behind, and when he found himself unable to obtain an exit visa, the whole family returned to be with him. After Arnold narrowly evaded arrest, the family once again took flight back to Italy—this time, to catch on ocean liner to Shanghai by way of Bombay and Manila. The author, only 6 years old at the time, attended an American school in China, where he not only learned English, but also cultivated a lasting admiration for the United States. However, the Japanese eventually invaded, and, as Jews, the family was relegated to living in a segregated ghetto until after the war, when they could return to Prague. Once back home, Voticky learned of some of his extended family members’ grim fates in death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. Once the Soviets took over, the family was compelled to run yet again, this time to Montreal. The author lucidly captures the extraordinary drama of his family’s lives as they were caught between two of the 20th century’s worst tyrannies. His story is a stirringly inspirational one, as well; he tells of being so awed by the spectacle of American fighter planes in 1945 that he vowed to become a pilot—and he eventually did, for a commercial airline. The memoir ends with a thoughtful and emotionally poignant reflection on immigration in the United States. Voticky’s account of his adult life is less cinematic than that of his youth, and he can sometimes overburden the reader with minutely detailed descriptions of his aviation career and training. Still, this book remains a gripping slice of history overall.
An often stunning story of personal triumph amid the political turbulence of the 20th century.