*written for Šternberksko magazine. Our 120 year history in Šternberk (Sternberg), Moravia, Czec Republic *see Friedmann Textile OR Miroslav's We Remember You-Tube video (12 min, sound) OR other Stories OR Our Famous Relatives on GENI
My name is Peter Rohel born in 1955 Šternberk and living in Canada since 1970. Our family association to Šternberk is "at least" 120 years old (1850-1969), with a Friedmann being born in 1851 and the last Rohel born in 1963. My parents Miroslav Rohel (1914 Paskov-2002 Toronto) + Adele (Klimesch) Rohel (1927 Šternberk-) have 8 children; Dáša, Zdeněk, Majka, Pavel, Petr, Jana, Jan, all escaping in August 1969 and Monica, born in Toronto. Dáša and Majka visited Šternberk with their family 2 times, our parents in 1990 with Monica and our mother again in 2004. Two years after our father’s death, I began researching our origins and creating a genealogy web site with 55,000+ names. That’s me, back row behind our mother and Pavel. For those who remember our family, there are more pictures on our web site.
Origins: People have always been interested in where a person’s family comes from and rightly or wrongly, make an assumption usually based on the “surname”. This can cause segmentation such as German(Sudeten)-Czechs, French-Canadians, etc., while the mother’s maiden name is totally excluded from origin assumption. Our origin? Well, it depends who you ask, their point of view, which century, what family branch, etc. Our mother’s ancestors came from Czech, Slovakia?, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Polland, France, Spain, etc. - going back to our relative King David, etc. & other royals like Šternberk, Habsburg, Liechtenstein - all previous owners of the Šternberk castle & listed on our Famous Relatives on Geni web Page. Having German origin or speaking the language just pre & post WW-2 in Šternberk was a problem, and that is why the population is 95% New - a Communist solution. My grandfathers Klimesch family has been in Czech lands since the 1500’s and his ancestors "may have" come from Germany prior to that. Relax, our grandparents did not cheer Hitler or support the Nazi’s. They did speak German at home, since our grandmother was 2nd generation Austrian, but Czech was also spoken at home. Our mother did go to the Šternberk German school, becoming multi-lingual even in English. Her grandparents and their relatives were hard working individuals, mainly with Austrian Jewish origins and Czech before that. One of our ancestors is Rabbi Sinai Loeb (1508 Poland-1607 Czech), Chief Rabbi of Moravia - via our Oberländer-Morawetz-Friedmann families. Sinai is the elder brother of Rabbi Jehuda Loew “The Maharal of Prague, known for the Golem legend”, whose statue has been in front of the city hall in Prague since 1917, while his "famous tomb" lies in the Old Jewish cemetery. Our father Miroslav’s family has been traced back to Johannes Rohel (ca. 1750 -) Křivec now part of Ostrava, Moravia, Czech and the Rohel name has been in the country since at least the 1300’s, as noted by the Rohle /Rohle village (derived from Rohel) on Rohelnice river, north of Uničov. The name originates in the Netherlands, while France has the most Rohel’s.
Our Mother’s Jewish ancestors and relatives use to own several factories and properties in Czechoslovakia, mainly in Textile and employed 1000’s of people in towns like; Červený Kostelec, Hořice /Czech, Humpolec, Mikulov, Nový Jičín, Prague, Šternberk /Czech, Úpice and elsewhere, as well as in Vienna. I am sure they never imagined that their hard work would be rewarded by their “factories & properties being stolen”. I am also sure it was nothing personal, just government business the Czech communists called “nationalization”, since the country had to be rebuilt after WWII. More than 3,000 companies, representing about 2/3 of the overall industrial capacity of the country at that time were nationalized or as I like to say - stolen. If you were a Foreigner and had a factory in Czechoslovakia or you were Jewish and had to flee the Nazi’s or if you spoke German, your factory, business and properties were all confiscated. Don’t get me wrong - I have no sympathy for the Sudeten-Czech’s who wanted to be part of Germany and supported Hitler. However, the post war communists took the opportunity to do a lot more during 1946-1948 than throw out the Sudeten-Czechs and only keep their assets, they confiscated what ever they could. Let me quote a line from a Prague Post article: “Everyone is in favor of welcoming foreigners... that is, if they spend freely and don’t ask for much in return”.
1850-1938: Around 1850 Rabbi Israel Friedmann (1801 ? - 1881 Budapest) + Schendel Durmant or their son Heinrich started their Textile business in Šternberk. Heinrich Friedmann (1823 Senica, Slovakia married Prostějov, Moravia - 1891 Vienna, Austria) manufacturer from Senica, while his son JUDr Hugo Friedmann (1851 Šternberk - 1922 Vienna) was born here, his other son Ludwig Friedmann (1855 Prostějov - 1920 Vienna) was not. In 1863, Anton Heeg & Heinrich Friedmann bought the current Šternberk “Post Office” building for their business *see 1865 Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia, Krakow business directory (in German). In 1868 their partnership dissolved and Anton Heeg sold his share to Heinrich. His son Ludwig Friedmann inherited the building and sold it in 1909. In the meantime, one of Israel's other sons; our great-great-grandfather Bernhard Friedmann (1836 Budapest - 1900 Vienna) + Auguste Morawetz (1845 Úpice - 1923 Vienna) built a new larger factory in 1886 on “Nádražní 6” and kept the “Heeg & Friedmann” factory name. Their son Arthur Friedmann (1877-1929) + Leonie Böhm (1884-1966 NY) both of Vienna “picture” continued the business in Šternberk. The Böhm family moved from Mikulov to Vienna in 1840, continuing in their textile “klobouky” trade. Jews were not generally allowed to reside in Vienna before 1848, unless they were part of the long established community, military personnel, and doctors or had special permits. Arthur was a Captain in the Austrian army during WW-I, loved to read, travel, collect violins and fine furniture, by the Czech architect Adolf Loos (relative), who also designed his sales office and apartment. The factory was “self sufficient” with its own water and electricity. First floor had offices and shop floor; second floor had apartments, where Leonie stayed during her visits.
1939-1948: Their daughter Anne Friedmann (1907 Vienna-1939 Šternberk) + Johann Klimesch (1888 Pisařov -1972 Montreal) “picture” lived on the second floor of the factory, with their Šternberk born children *Adele, Arthur and Rudolf. While grandmother Anne had the flu, she visited her family in Vienna, few days after the city was occupied by Germany in 1938. As a result, her illness became worse and she died 1 ½ years later of Tuberculosis, at the young age of 32. Anne had a teaching degree in English and started to teach her children very early. She bought the book “Gone with the Wind” as soon as it was available and our mother Adele remembers this book well, as she was taught to love reading very early in life. The Political situation was “very stressful for Anne” in October 1938 Germany occupied Šternberk. She recalled; how the German citizens were not very nice to the family. Her mother Leonie and aunt Hedl fled to Paris, her grandmother Clara (Bach) Böhm and sister Clarisse fled to London, where Clara died in 1940. Anne’s sister Edith, with 2 small children stayed in Šternberk during the summer of 1938, but fled before the Germans to Prague, where they stayed with our Morawetz relatives. Although our families lost a lot, most were fortunate, that they did not die in concentration camps. They were able to stay one step ahead of the Nazi’s, running from country to country, until their escape from Europe.
Besides the “Heeg & Friedmann” factory in Šternberk, their property included a large garden, land next to the factory leased to a farmer and 1 apartment building across the street, where some of the employees lived. It went from Nádražní to the Sitka river and Nádražní to the street in the east. What’s on their property now? - 8 Apartments Nádražní Sídliště, Věžní road, 2 unknown buildings & Gas station - Benzina, a.s. The Friedmann’s were the 2nd largest industrial employer in Šternberk “after the tobacco factory”, employing up to 400 workers at any given time. There was also Gröeger (Kurt) textile factory, which became Moravia (now Mora-Top), as well as few other smaller firms. Both factories and all their properties were confiscated in 1946 by the town, one year before the start of Chronotechna. Grandfather Johann Klimesch, son of Emmanuel from Hrabenov + Theresia Valenta from Pisařov, was associated with the factory since 1912, becoming its manager and after his wife Anne’s death, the owner. He would purchase the latest machines from Switzerland, as well as invent new ways to automate. Our mother’s brother Arthur, hoping one day to follow in his father’s footsteps, was in a textile school since 1943, at the age of 14. Because their father was active against the Nazi regime and never a member of the NSDAP, he was not deported to Germany with 50 kg of belongings, as almost everyone else in 1945/46 Šternberk.
A guard named Mr. Jordan was placed at the factory and when the Russians arrived in May 1945, he told the Russians who in the factory belonged to the German party. On May 30th, our grandfather Johann Klimesch was arrested, because he was the owner of the factory, but released after investigation and interrogation. However, in 1948 while his children Adele, Arthur and Rudolf were at home, he was arrested again. Johann, along with many others including the Gröger family, was forced to go on a “journey by foot to Russia”. Somewhere on the road by Šumperk he fell down, “pretending to have a heart attack”. After several death threats and attempts by the soldiers to get him up failed, they left him behind in the ditch. It was at this time that Mr. Leopold Knappek, who was also in the march and knew Johann from business, took the opportunity to empty Johann's pockets and take what money he had with him. Three days later Johann made it back to Šternberk and his children by foot, however he was immediately imprisoned by the Russians. Extensive interrogation followed, but he was found innocent again of any collaboration and released.
After the “communist take-over” in February 1948, grandfather Johann realized, that there is no future for him and his family in Czechoslovakia. He obtained an affidavit from a Morawetz relative in Canada and left for Montreal in December 1948 with sons Arthur (age 19) and Rudolf (age 16). This was only allowed, after the communists had Johann sign a document – forcing him to give up his Czechoslovakian citizenship and his Šternberk properties. Only his daughter, our future mother Adele Klimesch (age 21) chose to stay in Šternberk, a decision which must have been very difficult for all of them. As to what became of “Heeg & Friedmann (Klimesch)” factory since being stolen in 1946; it took until 1948, before an “official confiscation document” was issued. By then, “Vigona (now Fibertex)” of Svitavy either owned the factory or had some deal with Šternberk as to the factory management. It’s possible they were unable to utilize the factory for 2 years, but it’s more likely, that it was a communist “scam to steal the land” from the beginning, since the factory was “demolished” in 1950's. The regime wanted to make sure there were no “structures for possible future claims”, as the country was now becoming “officially communist”. Our mother did not wish to see the demolition (see cover page) as it hurt too much, but she did see the chimney fall down from a distance. The worth of the stolen land, factory & all assets is estimated at $20 million dollars.
1949-1967: Why did our mother Adele stayed? In 1946 our dad Captain Miroslav Rohel, son of František + Johanna Slováčková of Paskov, was stationed at the Šternberk tank military base, after years in the air force as a mechanic. Year later in 1947, he noticed a pretty woman Adele Klimesch walking in Šternberk few times. He found out where she lived and one day knocked on her door and asked, if she would be interested going on a date. After several meetings, they began dating in 1948. Our father Miroslav was than kicked-out of the army for his anti-communist views, ending his military career, which began at the age of 18. After all, this is not why he belonged to the group “Obran a Národa” or spent 4 years in jail under the Nazi’s during (1941-1945), first 2 in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) and 2 in Straubing, Germany. During a “prisoner Todesmarch” to Dachau, American planes bombed the Germans and he was fortunate to escape alive. Although our father was baptized, he was not practicing and it was in prison, where he really discovered religion, to the benefit of our Catholic mother. Adele and Miroslav married January, 1950 and thereafter, my 6 siblings and I were born. We lived at 20 Cš. Armády (Šternberský Dvůr top balcony) next to the hotel. There, one of our apartment neighbors was asked to “spy on our family”. Our parents worked at Moravia, where their co-workers were told “do not associate with them or you could get in trouble” by the communists. Our parents knew what the regime was all about and would not compromise their values and join the party, even at a cost to our family. Not all people heeded the communist warning at Moravia and our parents did make friends, as did their children. I personally remember several of their friends, including the fighter pilot Mr. Ladislav Valoušek, whose diary copy Miroslav received upon his death from his wife. I am sure the communists were not pleased that our mother stayed behind in Šternberk, because just by her presence, it reminded them; “what they did to her family”.
On the magazine cover, you can see our mother Adele doing laundry in the creek behind St. Jan Nepomucky statue on Potoční street. What a change from her early upper-middle class life, forced to live with her family in a 2 bedroom apartment, which had an outdoor washroom on the top balcony. Either all the empty German houses were already taken, or this was the price she had to pay for staying behind. Our large family was hard to miss in Šternberk. The Sunday walks through town were long, especially since we the boys had the same outfits, as did the girls and our berets had to be at the right angle, just like in the army. We were very active in sports, gardening in Moravia, swimming and outdoor activities in general. Many of us became good skiers, with our dad’s help and Mr. Novotny’s training. Gates would be set-up on the hill under Zelenou budkou, where we and others would practice, resulting in Zdeněk and Majka racing in local competitions, but I was catching-up. For Dáša and Majka my elder sisters, enjoying their youth was considerably harder, having to help with 4 younger children. Zdeněk, who is the 2nd born and was a perfect student in the family, received certain benefits at home, allowing him to study at Gymnázia. Pavel and I shared some of the same friends and activities, since he is 1 year older than I, while Jana, 4 years younger and Jan 8 years were still very young. We’ve always had plenty of bicycles, but in our latter years our parents bought a scooter and Zdeněk a moped. Since I loved the town’s yearly motocross races near Zelene budky, as well as Ecce Homo car races, the addition of 2 motorcycles was great. Later our parents bought a Škoda car, allowing the family to travel and see some of Czechoslovakia.
I have fond memories of my time in Šternberk; the activities, sports, climbing trees to pick cherries at Moravia, going to camp organized by the factory and having several friends. In our early years, we would play with neighborhood friends on Potoční; build a dam for swimming, skate, etc. New friends at the age of 12-13 brought a different set of activities, such as the Winnetou movies, resulting in us making tomahawks, bows & arrows and wooden starter pistols. We also made summer & winter sleds, bicycle enhancements, moved on to mopeds, tried smoking, alcohol and discovered girls, just as other young males our age. Our mother visited Canada in 1964 and again in 1967. She would bring back “great toys, gifts, gum” and a large department store catalogue, we all enjoyed viewing. Four relatives also came to visit us from US, one of them cousin Alastair, who came by himself at the age of 10 in August 1968, only few days before the Soviet-bloc invasion.
August 21, 1968: Our radio woke me up during the night. I asked my parents “what's going on” and they replied “Russians are coming” and they're trying to break into the Radio Prague station. Sometimes later, we heard a loud noise, could not see anything yet, but our parents recognized the sound of “Tanks in our town”. The streets were full of tanks and military vehicles and after finding my friends, we asked the soldiers “where do you come from” and to our surprise - they said "Poland". The ordinary soldiers thought they were only on maneuvers and did not know they were invading our country. It did not matter they were not Russian, the soldiers were invading our country and in our minds, they were no different. We proceeded to throw rocks and other items at the vehicles, as well as put nails in the tire valves - to deflate them. Others would park their farm machinery on roads, block traffic and remove or change street signs, to stop their advancement. Life after that was certainly different.
August 2, 1969: Date of our “Escape to the West”. Only the elder (3 of 7) children leaving by train knew that our family was escaping and not coming back. Rest of us in the car were told - that we are going to visit our relatives in Ostrava, Moravia and therefore, we did not say goodbye to our friends. The possibility of either group not making it to Austria was high and neither of us knew, if the others made it across the border. My two sisters and brother were already very nervous and happy to see us, upon our arrival in Vienna. Later we were told that the plan was to escape earlier in October 1968, but while driving to pick-up their visa, our parents had a car accident. They wanted to wait for the court proceedings to complete, before trying again. I can just imagine the stress by all that “knew the plan” were under. Waiting and waiting and hoping that the border would not be shut down in the meantime. We made it “just in time”; as the border was shut down 1-2 months after our escape for everyone, except of course, good communists. We stayed with friends of my mother in a nice 2-bedroom apartment across from Schönbrunn Castle-Park and I am sure the family of 3 expected our family of 9 to only to stay for few weeks. However, with our late departure from Czechoslovakia, we missed the 10,000 people limit Canada took without delay and had to wait 6 moths, before receiving our exit visas. While my elder siblings worked, I kept busy discovering Vienna, its many museums and attractions, since I was not yet 15, the minimum age for working.
January 15, 1970: We arrived at uncle Arthur’s house in Montreal. My aunt from New York state offered to let one child stay with them for six months, while the rest of the family remained in Canada. Since I always enjoyed adventure, I jumped at the opportunity, even though my relatives did not speak Czech and I knew no English. Arriving in the middle of a school year, I repeated half of gr. 8 to learn English. Our relatives offered to let me stay for another year and I did, before returning to Toronto, where our family moved to.
Rohel’s in Canada: Our mother Adele celebrated her 80th birthday in November 2007 and is doing fine, keeping busy, although missing her husband Miroslav, who is in all of our hearts, since his death in December 2002. Dáša - married is a homemaker with 2 girls and 1 boy. Zdeněk - married Diane continued his education, receiving his PhD in Virology. Majka - married Standa from Czech Rep. and is a homemaker with 2 boys. Pavel - married & divorced Eva (Czech parents), has 1 girl and 1 boy, got his Master’s degree and is a high school teacher. Petr - is single and although I went to college for ski resort management, I ended-up working in the computer industry. Jana - married Kevin has 1 girl and 1 boy and is an Addiction Counselor. Jan - is single with a degree in urban planning. Monica - born in Canada is single, an elementary school teacher, currently working on her Master’s degree.
Nádražní Property status: In 1995, our mother Adele (Klimesch) Rohel sent a letter to the mayor of Šternberk and the response was; “there will be no compensation” for their property, because it was before 28.2.1948, the regime’s “official communist” date and besides, “the factory structure” does not exist on the property anymore. I did not find out about the letter until 2003 and besides, I always thought it was the Nazi’s who stole the factory, since our parents never talked about the past and I had other interests. In 2005, I wrote to several Czech government officials and on September 28, I received a letter from the “Kabinet předsedy vlády České republiky”. It was not even a personal apology, but only a general form letter, to the people who were against the Nazi’s, stating their policy of no compensation. Instead, the only funds that will be set aside will be for documentary purposes: 30 million Kč - to map the stories and lives of those Sudeten Germans, who suffered unjustly under the Czechs. The problem is; that all confiscations were grouped under the Sudeten category and unless you have a lot of money and are willing to have your case in the courts for 10+ years, you are out of luck. The letter did not please our mother, but she was not surprised. I certainly expected a better response. You may say; who cares - forget it, all this happened 60 years ago and besides, “we the Czechs” have moved on since 1989. If that is the case, why are there still so many former communists in control of so many institutions and corporations? Because they were very good managers and did such a great job for 40 years? All 1938-48 & 1968-69 Czech expatriates thought, that the fall of communism at home, would be the end of their (communists) influence in the country after 1989. Looks like they fooled us again!
If Šternberk built a museum, library, school or hospital on the Nádražní property, our families would most likely feel a little different and perhaps ask to have their name associated with the building. But that did not happen; instead there are 8 apartments on the property “same as the number of children in our family” currently being renovated and the units are being sold by the town. If your property was “confiscated for un-just cause”, would you not feel the same, that “something stolen is always stolen” and try do something about it? I told my mother in early 2006, that I will to try to get her some justice and restitution for their loss. This article is only my 2nd step and perhaps soon, I can still work something out with the Czech or Šternberk government and convince them to do the right thing, while our mother and her brothers are still alive. Since going to court is not a possibility for me, I will have to use other means to achieve this and hopefully, the result will be something which will satisfy us, as well as our home town and country.
p.s. This story was to be published in the Šternberksko regional Magazine - by Karel Fiala, publisher of Šternberk.org web site and publisher of the 2007 history book Šternbersko napříč časem 1850-1945
Contact: Peter Rohel, 42 Cardigan Rd., Toronto, ON, Canada M8Z-2W2 | Copyright:© 2004-2012