PRAGUE – Jan Wiener, a Czech Jew who fought in the British air force during World War II after fleeing Nazis in Germany and Czechoslovakia, has died. He was 90 years old.
Jiri Pehe, director at Prague's branch of New York University, said Wiener died Wednesday at Prague's military hospital. The cause of death was not given.
Born May 26, 1920 in Hamburg, Germany, to a Czech-German Jewish family, Wiener and his life reflected the turbulence of the 20th century.
His family fled Hitler's Germany for Prague, but Wiener found himself on the run again after Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi troops.
He managed to escape to Britain through Yugoslavia and Italy, where he was captured, to join the Royal Air Force's No. 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron.
Wiener's father committed suicide to avoid ending up in the hands of the Nazis. His mother died in the Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp north of Prague.
After the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, Wiener spent five years in communist prisons, a fate shared by many of his colleagues because the brave fighters anti-Nazi fighters who fought in the West were considered the enemies of the communist state.
In the mid-1960s, Wiener settled in the United States and became professor of history at the American University in Washington, D.C.
After the collapse of communism, he returned to his homeland on a regular basis and became a guest lecturer at Prague's branch of New York University.
Pehe said he remembered Wiener as a brave man who "rarely made a compromise."
"It was admirable that he was still able to give lectures when he was 88," he said.
Wiener is survived by his wife, Zuzana, a son and a daughter.