July 09, 2014 - John Kozak was just 7-years-old when he escaped with his mother Rose and older sister Zdenka from oppressive Communist rule in Czechoslovakia during the late 1940s.
From 7-8:30 p.m., July 14, Kozak will discuss his story, "Through the Eyes of Rose" at the Brandon Township Library, 304 South St., Ortonville.
The story details how his mother successfully defied the Czechoslovakia Communists in October 1949 and escaped with her children through the wilderness of the Bohemian Forest to the freedom of West Germany.
Kozak reflects on his mother Rose born in Austria-Hungary in 1907.
"Mom always thought she was an American citizen," said Kozak. "Actually, her parents James and Hedwig Kozak, who were residents of Dayton, Ohio, decided that three months prior to mom's birth they wanted a midwife in Austria-Hungary named Schmidt. So Hedwig traveled to Europe for the birth and returned to Dayton with her baby Rose three months after she was born."
About 1910 the Kozaks moved to Highland Park, Mich. where James worked as a model maker for Chrysler.
"My grandfather was a fine cabinet maker so he used those skills in automobile design. Mom graduated from Highland Park High School in 1924 at the age of 17. However, my grandparents did not want my mom to be a 'flapper.'"
"A flapper was a woman who smoked, drank, danced, and voted," laughed Kozak. "It was the Roaring Twenties with bathtub gin and Speakeasies—they danced the Charlston. They did not want her to be a social butterfly, so they sent her to Europe."
At 17-years-old they sent Rose by train to New York City where she boarded an ocean liner to Trieste, a port city in northern Italy.
"My Aunt Eva Smidt took mom to Kutina, Yugoslavia to live," he said.
"Within a week or two Eva took mom to Vienna, Austria, that's where she met dad, Anthony Kozak," he said. "He was a post graduate student and had 13 years of Latin.
They were married in 1930 and lived with grandparents in Bratislava, located in southwestern Slovakia, on the banks of the Danube River.
Nazi Germany occupied the country from March 1939 until April 1945.
Kozak recalls in his book his mother's struggle to free her family during the Nazi occupation of Czecholovakia, her near drowning in the Danube River, and her reaction to the news that the Czech Communists had fabricated criminal charges against her husband, all making for an intriguing look into the lives of a family deeply affected by the Communist takeover of their native country. When Rose's husband Anthony was unable to return from Switzerland to Prague (Czecholvakia) where he faces impris-onment due to fabricated charges by the new Communist regime, Rose decides to escape. During her journey to seek a better life, she is betrayed by a money-hungry guide, hunted by tracking dogs and nearly captured by a Soviet patrol.
"Mother and I came back to the United States in 1952," said Kozak. "Dad stayed behind in Switzerland to close out his business and my sister Zdenka wanted to graduate high school before she left. Six months later they came back to Detroit, too."
"I remember my grandfather meeting us at the bus station in Detroit near the Ambassador Bridge," he said. "It had been 28 years since mom had left Highland Park for Europe—he said, 'Rosie' when she got off the bus. She did not recognize him."
John Kozak earned his bachelor of arts degree from the Detroit Institute of Technology and taught sixth and seven grades at St. Catherine's Elementary School while working on his master's degree.
He is a resident of Grosse Pointe Farms.