The forgotten story of the Kolben family

3-4 2007 Kultura English
obálka čísla

The theme of this exhibition which maps out a very important chapter of the history of Czech industry in modern times is the fate and history of the numerous members of the Kolben family It is an important witness of both the fame and the tragedy of personalities to whom this country owes much and should be grateful for its good name in the world.

The exhibition called ' The Story of the Kolben Family' devotes itself mainly to the life and times of Ing Emil Kolben who discovered the use of alternating current and eventually the founder of the Ceskomoravska-Kolben- Danek enterprise which until recently was part of the foundation of the Czech electro engineering industry.

However, the exhibition also devotes itself to other members of the family, notably to Emil's brother Alfred, himself an inventor, his son Hanus Kolben, an artist whose paintings are exhibited here for the first time and finally grandson Jindrich who is presently in his 80th year.

The whole of Vysocany, part of Libne, Karlin, Smichov and other parts of Prague were linked by the initials CKD. The lives of thousands of people living in Prague, be it those employed in the 'Kolbenka' or those just living in - until recently- the dusty , noisy area of the factory were affected. This colossal enterprise on one hand greatly polluted the living conditions of the area but on the other brought honour, recognition and reward to the Czech management and all the workers involved in the vast production. In the course of the 20th century it endured a number of upheavals.

Originally, the enterprise was founded by Emil Kolben as an electro technical factory but quickly within the following ten years greatly prospered becoming one of the main pillars for the national economy.

It is a very different chapter of history after 1948 and the following unnecessary and irretrievable final closing in 1989.

Although the name of Kolben is still remembered today only a few people know that the founder and managing director of the famous CKD - Emil Kolben - was of Jewish origin and at the age of 81 was deported to Terezin where after three weeks of incarceration he died.

His brother Jindrich (b. 1864) immigrated in his youth to USA and for many years led the administration of a Czech paper 'Svornost ' in Chicago. Brother Ludvik (b1868 -1972) managed estates in Petrovice and Rychnov nad Kneznou.

Closest to Emil was his brother Alfred (b1874 -1942) also an engineering graduate who at the start of the business worked with Emil on the construction of the electrical machinery. Later he became the headmaster of a technical high school in Brno and for many years also devoted himself to painting. Sisters Marie (1865 -1937), Albina (1867 -1937) and Kamila (1879 -1942) remained single and lived in the family home in Strancice.

The exhibition in the 'Galerie Robert Guttmann' lasts till April 14th.

U Stare skoly 3, behind the Spanish synagogue.

Grandson Jindrich Kolben in Prague

The grandson of the founder, 80 year old Jindrich Kolben lives in Germany but occasionally visits Prague.

He remembers...

Work was the mainstay of our lives in good times and bad. If you have that nothing can break you. You also need some personal luck. If, for instance, I had been born in Russia I would have ended up somewhere in Siberia.

My grandfather was a man with a creative mind. It was important when in charge of such a technical organisation you choose the right colleagues.

I attended a German primary school in Jicharich. Across the road was a church where we celebrated all the festivals - Czechs, Germans and Jews lived here together amicably.

In the fifties what saved me was that I worked in the aircraft industry- a necessary discipline though politically I was in a very bad situation. I worked in a factory for aeroplane engines. In my mind I carried the memory of my grandfather and felt I must be with him even within the system I had to live in - where capitalism was seen as a hereditary disease.

We left on the 21st August 1968 after the Russian occupation in a borrowed car with four suitcases.

Now, when I return to Prague my soul exalts. This city has been reborn from the gray years of communism to the benefit of better lives for all. One can breathe freely. And when I take the metro and hear the announcement of the stop 'Kolbenova' I feel so proud. After all the trials and tribulations suffered by my family because of its name this is indeed a great compensation.

Martina Fialková
Translated by Milena Grenfell-Baines

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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