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BBC’s Baptiste star Tom Hollander reveals how a letter saved his Czech grandfather from the Nazis

Actor Tom Hollander has spoken of how a letter from the BBC inviting his music critic Grandfather Hans to appear on the network saved his family from the Nazis in 1939

Actor Tom Hollander has spoken of how a letter from the BBC inviting his music critic grandfather to appear on the network saved his family from the Nazis in 1939.   

The Hollander family, who are of Jewish origin, believed they could not escape the Czech Republic as the German army planned their invasion and expected to lose their freedom.

Tom, 51, a star of the BBC’s Baptiste, said his Grandad Hans was given a ‘passport to freedom’ when he was invited to talk about composer Leos Janacek on the BBC by one of its sound engineers.

Hans fled Prague by train with his wife and three-year-old son on the day Hitler’s forces invaded on March 15 1939, the Mirror reported.

Had the Hollanders not been able to escape Prague, they faced a brutal oppression and almost certain death, because most of the Czech Jew population were murdered by the Germans. 

Tom, his father Tony, 83, and sister Julia tell the family’s remarkable story on BBC Radio 3’s Between the Ears which is to be broadcast at 9.30pm today.

On the programme, the letter from the BBC’s K.A. Wright, dated March 6, 1939, is read by Tom.

After receiving the 'passport to freedom' Hans fled Prague by train with his wife and three-year-old son on the day Hitler's forces invaded on March 15 1939. German troops are seen entering Prague by lorry, towing anti-aircraft guns in Mach 1939

After receiving the ‘passport to freedom’ Hans fled Prague by train with his wife and three-year-old son on the day Hitler’s forces invaded on March 15 1939. German troops are seen entering Prague by lorry, towing anti-aircraft guns in Mach 1939

Hans fled Prague by train with his wife and three-year-old son on the day Hitler’s forces invaded on March 15 1939, the Mirror reported.

Had the Hollanders not been able to escape Prague they faces almost certain death as most of the Czech Jew population were murdered by the Germans. 

Tom, dad Tony, 83, and sister Julia tell the family’s remarkable story on BBC Radio 3’s Between the Ears which is to be broadcast at 9.30pm today.

On the programme, the letter from the BBC’s K.A. Wright, dated March 6, 1939, is read by Tom.

Had the Hollanders not been able to escape Prague they faces almost certain death as most of the Czech Jew population were murdered by the Germans. Pictured, steel helmeted German troops marching into Prague during the invasion of Czechoslovakia

Had the Hollanders not been able to escape Prague they faces almost certain death as most of the Czech Jew population were murdered by the Germans. Pictured, steel helmeted German troops marching into Prague during the invasion of Czechoslovakia

It states: ‘Dear Hans, We are talking over next season’s programme plans very soon and it would be very helpful if you could possibly arrange to come for a few days to London to give us an ­opportunity to discuss Leos Janacek and the whole question of Czech music generally.

‘How soon do you think you could come and how long would you be able to stay?’

Tony said the note was a clear document of salvation for the whole family.

‘He explained it was sent on the 6th and arrived arrived on the 9th, adding that the family decided to go on the 12th and left on the 15th.

He said: ‘March 15 happens to be the day that Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.’ 

The family were shocked to see a Lutheran pastor they recognised as an old friend arrested on the train in Leipzig, Germany.

Tony said the family were terrified they would be picked up by the Gestapo as they had to change trains during the night and there was a delay of a few hours 

When the family reached, Holland, they caught a ferry to Harwich, Essex.

Upon arrival they were subjected to 10 hours of interrogation by suspicious officials before eventually being able to settle in Britain to enjoy a new life away from tyranny. 

The Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia, a protectorate set up by the Nazis following the invasion, was virtually annihilated.

Approximately 78,000 Czech Jews in the protectorate were killed. 

On the day the German soldiers marched on Prague on March 15,  German citizens of the capital city saluted and waved swastika flags.

But some Czechs  sobbed, hurled snowballs at the vehicles and refused to give lost Germans directions.

On the day the German soldiers marched on Prague on March 15, German citizens of the capital city saluted and waved swastika flags. Pictured, German troops and tanks on the streets of Prague on March 16, 1939

On the day the German soldiers marched on Prague on March 15, German citizens of the capital city saluted and waved swastika flags. Pictured, German troops and tanks on the streets of Prague on March 16, 1939

Numerous Czechs gathered in the city’s Wenceslas Square, where they sang the national anthem.  

The next morning Hitler signed a declaration that officially created the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. 

The mainly Czech population of the protectorate was mobilised for labor to aid the German war effort.

Special offices were also  organised to supervise the management of industries to assist with this.

Some Czechs were forced to work in coal mines, in the iron and steel industry, and in armaments production.

Tom’s great-uncle who was a homosexual morphine addict killed himself by taking a fatal overdose to avoid being imprisoned.  

While his Jewish great-grandfather was arrested and died in the Treblinka. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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