Nazi Forced Labour Documentary Premieres at Czech Embassy
By 1944, a quarter of the Nazis' entire workforce used forced labour. The German war economy would most likely have crashed in 1941 without the millions of men, women and children the Nazis forced into servitude.
My new documentary, Building Hitler's Empire, exposes the shocking true story of the Nazis' forgotten forced and slave labour programme from the perspective of my Czech great-grandfather, Miroslav Jeřábek, who was conscripted and sent to work in Germany.
More than 50 people attended the film's premiere at the refurbished cinema of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in London on Friday 27 October — raising £520 for the Ukraine Crisis Appeal, organised by the British Red Cross. Read on below to see how it went.
Czech Deputy Ambassador, Michal Strouhal, opened the event by welcoming everyone to the embassy and introducing the film.
I then gave a short address in both Czech and English language, which was followed by the main screening — lasting approximately 48 minutes.
After the screening, I was invited to the stage by Dr Jakub Beneš, Associate Professor in Central European History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London (UCL).
Dr Beneš questioned me about my approach to making the film, sourcing my interviewees and what I think still needs to be done to recognise the millions of victims of Nazi forced labour. Dr Beneš also accepted several questions from the audience, each highlighting a further aspect of this topic.
Dr Beneš, an American-Czech, also shared the experiences of his Czech grandfather, who the Nazis sent to Berlin as part of a forced labour contingent clearing up rubble after Allied bombing raids. His health never recovered. His story is testament to how widespread and unavoidable forced labour was in the occupied territories — and how each victim's experience varied.
The audience then vacated the auditorium in promise of free, well-earned beer, wine and other refreshments, and conversed in the lobby until 9:30pm.
I thank everyone who has supported this important and ambitious project from its inception, but especially my brother Milos.
I also wish to thank the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the UK Marie Chatardová, Michal Žižlavský, Michal Strouhal and Aleš Adam for kindly hosting my film, and to Dr Beneš for volunteering his time to present the post-screening discussion.
Lastly, I am sincerely grateful to everyone who attended the premiere, including representatives from the British, Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA), the Memorial Association for Free Czechoslovak Veterans (MAFCSV), Bohemia House in West Hampstead, and the Newbury Weekly News.
It was a pleasure to reconnect with familiar faces and to meet plenty of new ones as well. Thank you for your questions, your feedback and for sharing your own family stories with me after the screening.
And for anyone who missed the premiere, my next screening will be at Bohemia House (74 West End Lane, London, NW6 2LX) on Friday 10 November at 7pm. Tickets are available at: https://shorturl.at/opN45
The Czechoslovak Club was originally established in Holborn in 1939 as a hangout for Czechoslovak and Allied veterans but moved to West Hampstead in 1946. Renamed Bohemia House in 2020, the club has seen countless Czech and Slovak refugees, students, intellectuals and their friends pass through its doors. What better place to show a film about a forgotten era of Czech history.