CHM Taroks Players Christmas Party

The Czech Heritage Museum Taroks Players held their annual Christmas party on Tuesday, December 18 at the Museum.

Every first and third Tuesday night, anywhere from eight to 20 Taroks lovers fill our Svacina room with tables of four. Taroks (Taroky in Czech) is a European card game similar to bridge or spades and a favorite of Texas Czechs for generations.

This congenial group welcomes newcomers to the game and we gained some new regulars this year. Jimmy and Carolyn Coufal are expert coaches and their love for the game is infectuous! We celebrate birthdays with potlucks and cake throughout the year, but the last game night in December is extra-special with a nice Christmas dinner. This year Jimmy set up a tournament with prizes!

New Art Installation: Presidential Portrait

Artist Lisa Chase with her painting,  Visionaries of Freedom  at the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas.

Artist Lisa Chase with her painting, Visionaries of Freedom at the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas.

Visionaries of Freedom

Artist: Lisa Chase

Oil on canvas

40 x 60 inches

We recently unveiled a new painting at the Czech Heritage Museum. Local artist Lisa Chase painted the 40x60-inch oil on canvas as a gift to the Museum. The painting honors two historic Czech figures, Tomás Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia and Václav Havel, first president of independent Czechoslovakia after communism and first president of the Czech Republic.

It has been very touching to see the reactions of visitors from the Czech Republic. More than once I have seen tears.

We are very grateful for this exquisite gift from Lisa Chase. Her skill and talent for painting portraits is rare. The painting provides a fitting symbol of the timeless hope of freedom. It threads the story of the early Czech immigrants to Texas through historical eras and peoples around the globe and back home again. It is a beautiful centerpiece for our Museum.


Artist Statement

I am a lifelong self-taught artist. I have spent the majority of my work in portraits and was very pleased to be able to provide this portrait of Masaryk and Havel for my friends here at the Czech Heritage Museum.

 I was brought up with a strong sense of pride in our nation, and taught appreciation for the prices paid for our freedoms. We as Americans have never had to suffer the loss of them, as did the homelands of these freedom fighters here.

 America is now being seduced by the siren call of socialism, and hit on virtually every front to buy into it through promises of equality and utopia. Our liberties that over time have been undermined and slowly chiseled down are now being blatantly and aggressively attacked with the speed of a river headed toward a waterfall. To the people who know the history of oppression through communism and socialism, these are very very loud warning bells of the last steps into enslavement.

 My appreciation for the courage of these two men who stepped in to the battle against these odds for the love of their country is personal, and it was a complete privilege to be able to have the opportunity to honor them with this portrait.

Christmas Open House 2018

Annie Vahalik’s beautiful Czech “Merry Christmas” cookies delighted visitors at the Czech Heritage Museum’s Open House

Annie Vahalik’s beautiful Czech “Merry Christmas” cookies delighted visitors at the Czech Heritage Museum’s Open House

Once again, we had a wonderful time at our annual Christmas Parade Night Open House! Per CHM tradition, Ralph Milek brought his accordion music. Ralph’s special touch always makes his accordion sound sweet and comforting. We sang the old Czech songs from our childhood, even if some of us could only hum along. :-)

The Taylor Czech Chorus came with their band and great energy and enthusiasm to help us kick off the Christmas season with Czech Christmas carols.

SPJST State Fraternal Director Frank Horek brought the SPJST Royalty by the Museum after their appearance in the City of Temple Christmas Parade. These beautiful young people earned their titles at the SPJST youth competitions held statewide every year.

Special thanks to Directors Nancy Wiess and Roxy Bertrand. Each year, they bake homemade cookies for weeks before the event. Every year, the entire Board contributes and lends a hand. Board President Jerry Milan and his wife, Henrietta bring lots of food and help with preparations. Philip Vahalik always brings delicious, beautifully-decorated cookies made by his wife, Annie at her bakery in Victoria. Jesse Pospisil brings delicious smoked sausages from Taylor. Of course, we had to have freshly-baked kolaches! These were provided by Czech Honorary Consul Brian Vanicek.

Roxy’s sister, Wendy Pruski also baked up scores of cookies ahead of time and helped decorate, too! Roxy always brings her crew from Floresville. In past years, her faithful friend Janie Mutz has come to lend a hand at setting every thing up. They swoop in with a plan and get right to work!

Many hands make light work! Thank you everyone for a lovely tradition and a night of fun!

August 14 CZECH FILM NIGHT at The Beltonian Theatre: "Milada" (2017) English with Czech subtitles. True story of Milada Horakova, martyr for democracy.

The Czech Heritage Museum & Genealogy Center and the historic Beltonian Theatre will screen “Milada,” a 2017 film in English which tells the true story of Czech hero and democratic politician Milada Horakova (1901-1950). Milada Horakova was the only woman to be executed by the Communist regime for her political beliefs. Horakova is played by Ayelet Zurer, an Israeli actress of Slovakian descent who also starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” 

The screening for "Milada" will begin at 7 p.m., Tuesday,  August 14, 2018, at 219 E. Central Ave. Belton, Tx. Free admission.   Rating: Adult for themes, violence and mature situations. For more information on the topic, please see related links below the story.

 If there were such things as secular patron saints, Milada Horakova would surely qualify. The starting point for her canonization could be this information from Wikipedia:

“From 1927 to 1940 she was employed in the social welfare department of the Prague city authority. In addition to focusing on issues of social justice, Horáková also became a prominent campaigner for the equal status of women. She was also active in the Czechoslovak Red Cross.[3] In 1929 she joined the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party[4] which, despite the similarity in names, was a strong opponent of German National Socialism. After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Horáková became active in the underground resistance movement, but, together with her husband, she was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo in 1940. She was sent to the concentration camp at Terezín and then to various prisons in Germany. In the summer of 1944, Horáková appeared before a court in Dresden. Although the prosecution demanded the death penalty, she was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment. She was released from detention in Bavaria in April 1945 by advancing United States forces in the closing stages of the Second World War.[5]

Scene from the movie "Milada" 

Scene from the movie "Milada" 

“I have stated to the organs of state security that I remain, on principle, firm in my convictions, and that I remain so, because I have built these convictions on the opinions, points of view, speeches and information of people who I have respected. Among them I include our country’s two greatest figures, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš, both of whom were an inspiration to me throughout my life.”
— Milada Horakova

Following the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, Horáková returned to Prague and joined the leadership of the re-constituted Czechoslovak National Socialist Party, becoming a member of the Provisional National Assembly. In 1946, she won a seat in the elected National Assembly representing the region of České Budějovice in southern Bohemia. Her political activities again focussed on the role of women in society and also on the preservation of Czechoslovakia’s democratic institutions. Shortly after the Communist coup in February 1948, she resigned in protest from the parliament. Unlike many of her political associates, Horáková chose not to leave Czechoslovakia for the West, and continued to be politically active in Prague. On 27 September 1949, she was arrested and accused of being the leader of an alleged plot to overthrow the Communist regime.”

 The movie was written, directed and produced by David Mrnka, who has produced filming projects around the world for CNN, BBC, Larry King Live and others. Although the story is in the public domain and documentaries had been previously made, Mrnka sought the perspective of Horakova’s daughter, Jana Kanska, who lives in Washington D.C.

“I wanted personal information from the family and to have the blessing of her daughter,” Mrnka said.   “So I stayed three days and she drilled me. Ultimately she said yes and we worked together on the movie.”

“He had so much information already, which he obtained from the archives and from all the historical documents, that I was absolutely sure he was the right person to make this very difficult film,” Kanska told Radio Prague. “So I faithfully waited until now, when the film became reality.” The film was 10 years in the making, but Mrnka shot it in 35 days in 2016.  

“Milada” was a featured film for the “Czech That Film” festival held across the U.S. and Canada. It screened in April during the festival at Austin’s Violet Crown Cinema.

Click here to read Milada's last letter to her daughter. "I Will Always Be With You"

Interview with Milada's daughter

Click here to read more when Milada's daughter, Jana Kansky, accepted the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for her mother. Czechoslovakia after WWI - Masaryk Milada’s daughter Czech Ambassador to the U.S. resigns in protest of the rise of communism in the Czechoslovak government During the same trials, Franiska Zeminova, aged 68, was sentenced to prison for 20 years Documentary in Czech, with an interview of Frantisek Preucil, who was sentenced to life imprisonment during the same trial. Visit this page to see more about Preucil, his anti-communist activities, escape to West Germany in the and report to the Voice of America of the cruelties and conditions behind the Iron Curtain.

Jana on late night TV

Poster Series: iDnez - National Committee for a Free Europe

Trailer for movie

Graffiti on wall in Brno, Moravia, Czech Republic, marking the 65th anniversary of the execution of Milada Horakova. 

Graffiti on wall in Brno, Moravia, Czech Republic, marking the 65th anniversary of the execution of Milada Horakova. 

July 10 CZECH FILM NIGHT at The Beltonian: "Želary 2003 Academy Award Nominee - Best Foreign Language Film

Ana Geislerova stars at Eliska in " Želery.”

Ana Geislerova stars at Eliska in "Želery.”

“Želery” is one of those films that makes me wish it were holographic. The scenery is so beautiful and the music is so moving that I want to be surrounded by it. This movie is best viewed on a big screen, with excellent sound.  If I could have smelled the herbs, flowers and berry fields, the clean mountain air, the chimney smoke and even the animals; if I could have experienced it with all my other senses, I would have been even happier.

It is the story of Eliska (Ana Geislerova), a medical student in Prague during World War II. The Czechs were suffering under the hand of Reinhard Heydrich, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and architect of the Holocaust. She meets Joza (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) by chance one night at the hospital while there with her lover, who is his surgeon. Eliska and the surgeon work with the resistance, an underground network trying to save lives from Heydrich’s cruelties. When the network is exposed, she is sent alone to the country among rural folk to hide. As she adapts from city to country life and grapples with the risk she brings to the village, a romance quietly grows.

The story is set in Moravia, in the Wallachia region of the Czech Republic. This area, which includes the cities of Olomouc and Ostrava, is the ancestral home of the majority of Texas Czechs.  It is in the Beskydy Mountains, foothills of the Carpathians. The mountains are old and rounded, lush and green - similar to the Smokies here in the U.S. If you have visited there, you understand.  

The 2003 film, directed by Ondrej Trojan was nominated for the 2004 Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film.  The story is adapted from two works by Czech novelist Kveta Legatova, “Želery” and “Jozova Hanule.” Although Ms. Legatova, whose life spanned from 1919 to 2012, only found fame late in life, “Želery” was a literary sensation when it hit the bookstores only a few years before the film was made. In a 2004 interview with Radio Prague, Ms. Legatova spoke of her work.

“Želery” was written thirty or forty years ago - the basic stories - though, I had to make changes. But Jozova Hanule was written now - in the 1990s, when I was already in my 80s. I decided to write Hanule based on a competition put forward by the Milos Havel Fund, promoting the writing of film scripts. I thought 'Should I apply?' Then I took a story from Zelary - the end of World War II - and expanded it into the new book."

Kveta Legatova, author of "Želery.”


Ms. Legatova was born in Podolí u Brna, a village just outside of Brno, also in Moravia and a few hours north of Vienna, Austria. But, she taught school in the Wallachia, and her characters are studies of people she knew there.

"The characters there have very sharp contours, (a feature) which elsewhere is not so well-defined - or doesn't come to a head." She spoke about her love for writing. "If I were to talk till midnight about the gallery of potential characters and you were able to choose from among your colleagues, your students, your neighbors, you would uncover one story after another. It interests me so much. If I could only write it all! If one didn't have to do anything else ..."

The Czech Heritage Museum is screening “Želery” on July 10  starting at 7 p.m. at The Beltonian Theatre, 219 E. Central Ave., Belton, Texas. Admission is free. Rated R (nudity, violence, adult themes). Czech audio with English subtitles.

Here is the trailer in English:

“Mr. Cserhalmi, burly and soft-spoken and Ms. Geislerova are both subtle, serious actors, and they handle the relationship between their characters with patience and precision. Mr. Trojan is similarly patient, allowing the story to ripen and evolve according to the seasonal rhythms of the countryside rather than marching it from one incident to the next. His camera wanders around the rugged, beautiful landscape, across the mountainsides, and through the forests, as Zelary’s human tableau comes quietly to life.” 
— A.O. Scott, Sept 17, 2004, The New York Times

June 12 CZECH FILM NIGHT at The Beltonian: Kolya, 1996 Academy Award Winner - Best Foreign Language Film

Zdenek Sverak and Andrey Khalimon in Kolya

My mother invited me to see the 1996 Czech film, “Kolya,” in Fort Worth soon after it premiered. She had been going to the Czech Republic since 1988, but I’d never been. I enjoyed it on an artistic level, but I realized then that there were a lot of points, both humorous and serious, that the movie was making which I did not understand. I asked my mother a lot of questions and that helped me comprehend some of them. This film opened in me a new compassion for the Czechs, who have survived so many indignities to the soul.

Every few years, I watch it again and marvel at how many new clues are unlocked for me. There are things I did not understand until I visited my relatives in Moravia the second time, or until I’d refreshed my history education or until I became a focused student of my Czech heritage.

It’s a beautifully-made film. The photography, lighting, compositions and music are poetic and thoughtful. The story is so emotionally universal, I believe it would be understood without any words at all.

Watching it again recently with a new generation, I found myself explaining things to them that I’d missed the first time. For example, why the hero, Louka, a famous cellist with the Czech philharmonic is in severely reduced circumstances was not clear to me the first time, nor to my fellow viewers on this, their first time.

Roger Ebert wrote that “in a moment of unwise wit, he wrote a flippant answer on an official form.”

Wikipedia stated that he had been “half-accidentally blacklisted as ‘politically unreliable’ by the authorities.”

But, this time, due to my own experiences since the last time, I heard what was clearly laid out in the script, which for some reason, I had missed before. Louka’s brother defected to West Germany and Louka was punished for it. I’ve heard this story more than once from people I've met in the last few years, in both personal and eyewitness accounts. The last time I was in Prague, our driver told us he had an uncle in Fort Worth. We thought this was a nice connection. But, then he told us how his uncle’s emigration prior to the 1989 Velvet Revolution had been the reason this young man, who had qualified for a superior education, was denied one – and a good career - by the communist authorities.  

The first time I visited our relatives, we went to the home of the mother of our cousin, Jiri. She was a kind host with a warm home. The second time, Jiri took us to see her at a cemetery. Her black marble monument was freshly painted with gold leaf. I thought of Louka’s side hustle as a monument restorer.

While watching “Kolya” recently, a new question emerged for me. Although I could understand why Louka would so desperately want to buy a car, why would he risk so much for a Trabant? Why not a Tatra or a Skoda? Tatra, based in Ostrava, Moravia, is the third oldest continuously-operating car company in the world. The Skoda’s interesting story seems more likely though. Founded by Emil Skoda, in today’s market, it has a reputation equivalent in quality to Mercedes. Even though the brand fell behind during communism, the car was generally known as reliable. (The typically Czech humor piece to the story though, is that the word “skoda” means “it’s a pity.” It's a useful pun.)

Louka’s automotive dream however, is a Trabant, described as one of the worst cars ever made. Louka was willing to sell his bachelorhood in order to possess the car reviewed in the video below. After watching this, I think I need to go back and watch “Kolya” again to see what I missed. 


What are your thoughts and experiences on these topics? I’d love to hear your comments!

- Susan Chandler