Survivor of Nazis, Soviets, discusses modern parallels
When Rudy Krejci was a boy in Czechoslovakia, authorities at his school replaced pictures of the president with images of Adolf Hitler and he began learning about the glories of Germany.
Today, Krejci, 87, a founder and retired dean of the UAF College of Arts and Sciences, believes the same forces that allowed dictatorships to rise in 20th century Europe are again gaining strength. His conclusion, as one who survived, escaped and personally witnessed two of the most brutal totalitarian regimes in modern history, is that the world is once again entering dark times.
“I never expected the same thing to happen in the United States,” Krejci told a class of UAF journalism students on Jan. 26.
Speaking less than a week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Krejci drew parallels between Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and Trump’s populist and authoritarian tendencies. The former dean cited the politicians’ similar promises to make their countries great again, the exploitation of marginalized and disillusioned people for political gain, the lack of a real plan once taking office, the silencing of critics, protectionist and divisive policies; and gag orders on government agencies.
“The patterns and tactics are exactly the same,” he said.
During his studies in the city of Brno, Krejci came face to face with Hitler when his motorcade passed only a couple feet in front. He may be the only Alaskan alive to have seen the 20th century’s most notorious dictator in person. He still laments not having a bomb that day.
When the Nazis came, they forced schools to teach the German language along with German curriculum, art, songs and literature. As the war drew to a close, it was the hope of Krejci and his friends and family that the arriving Soviet army would leave them independent again.
The hopes and dreams people placed on the Soviets didn’t materialize. The soldiers were brutish, assaulting Czech women and stealing from the citizens who had welcomed them just hours before.
“They behaved in not a very civilized way,” Krejci said. “So these were our liberators from the east.”
Krejci described this “liberation” as difficult for him.
“We were excited at the beginning, but after awhile they were exactly the same as the Germans,” he said.
At 20, Krejci went into hiding in his parents’ cellar following his involvement in an anti-communist group. During those years he learned English from BBC London on the radio, read books his father stole from a discarded library collection.
But as his health deteriorated, escape became a necessity. One night in May, 1954, Krejci and his father left the house with a handmade coffin. Hidden in the box amid the contents of a coal train, Krejci made his escape to Austria, and eventually, to the United States.
Still a Fairbanks resident after retiring from UAF, Krejci partly blames the U.S. education system and a society which doesn’t “pay attention to people who don’t make it.” As a result, a significant portion of the American population is not educationally prepared to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world and a globalized economy.
“Trump, in some strange way found out about it,” Krejci reflected. “That there were millions of people which were deprived, just like after First World War in Germany, in Italy, in Russia. We have similar kind of people, unprepared to deal with problems of today. Of course, when he appeared on the scene, they followed him because he promised them a better future.”
Hillary lost the election due to her poor assessment of this population, Krejci said. He described these people as disillusioned in their hopelessness.
“There is something in human psyche that is very similar,” Krejci said, describing this portion of the population. “Disillusionment with reality is similar to what is happening now. You can’t talk with these people. They suffer, they do not understand.”