Prague: My Long Journey Home is the story of a different kind of Holocaust survivor. Son of a mixed marriage, Ota Karel Heller was born in Czechoslovakia three years before the Nazi occupation of his country. Raised a Roman Catholic, he was unaware of his Jewish roots, even after his father escaped and fifteen of his family members disappeared. He was denied the right to attend school and to live with many of life's necessities. Later in the war, before his Catholic mother was taken away to a slave labor camp, she hid him on a farm in order to protect him from deportation to a death camp. All the while, he was told that the persecution stemmed from the fact that "your father is in the British army, fighting against the Germans." This made his suffering a point of pride despite the fact that he faced danger every day. During the waning days of the war, he picked up a revolver thrown away by the retreating occupiers and shot a Nazi. He was elated and proud of the fact that, like his heroic father, he had helped to defeat the hated Germans. He was nine years old.
Prague is, concurrently, a riveting adventure story, a moving recollection of a loving family nearly destroyed, a history lesson, and a personal account of man's inhumanity -- and humanity -- to man, of a long journey of persecution, of struggle and survival in Nazi- and later Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, of eventual escape from tyranny to America, and of the author's return to a newly-free Czech Republic where he confronts the demons of the past which had been hiding deep in the recesses of his soul.
This saga of two families united by the marriage of the author's parents is, in many ways, a reflection of the modern history of the Czech nation and a round trip from happiness to despair and back. It is a tale of a family amassing wealth through entrepreneurship and hard work; the family's enjoyment of life and freedom between the world wars; heroism, death, and survival under Nazi occupation, including the extermination of all but three family members; joy of reunion and brief period of democracy; dramatic escape from Communism; life in refugee camps; and finally, despite many struggles, crossing the Atlantic to live the proverbial American dream.
It is the narrative of an assimilated American who left the horrors of the past -- and even his name -- behind in the Old World to become Charles Ota Heller: a successful student, athlete, engineer, educator, entrepreneur, mentor, investor, husband, father, and grandfather in the U.S., only to find confusion and uncertainty following the death of his father and the opening of old wounds on the heels of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution.
Sometimes sadly, at times hilariously, and always in a self-deprecating manner, Heller weaves historical events into his own story of survival, cruelty, tragedy, joy, love, guilt, denial, and triumph. At times, his memoir reads like a mystery thriller, at other times like a comedy, and occasionally like a historical novel. In addition to being a "can't-put-it-down" read, it is an inspirational story of human ability to overcome overwhelming odds.