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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 embassy documentary premiere
Audience watching director Mirek Gosney and Dr Jakub Beneš in conversation. Credit: Stephen Potter

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.


czech embassy london
The Embassy of the Czech Republic, located on the corner of Kensington Palace Gardens and Notting Hill Gate since 1970. Credit: Mirek Gosney
czech embassy london
Entrance to the Embassy of the Czech Republic in London. Credit: Mirek Gosney

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.


czech embassy screening
Audience watching director Mirek Gosney and Dr Jakub Beneš in conversation. Credit: Stephen Potter
czech embassy screening
Audience watching director Mirek Gosney and Dr Jakub Beneš in conversation. Credit: Stephen Potter

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.


czech embassy screening
Dr Beneš mediating the post-screening discussion. Credit: Michal Strouhal
czech embassy london
Attendees mingling after the screening. Czech Deputy Ambassador Michal Strouhal and Mirek Gosney, centre. Credit: Stephen Potter

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.

czech embassy screening
Czech and Slovak guests pose for photos outside the auditorium. Mirka Vaňurová, daughter of Miroslav Jeřábek, front. Credit: Geoff Gosney

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.


ukraine british red cross
Thanks to your generosity, we managed to raise £520 to support the victims of this current ongoing crisis

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.


Pravda vítězí!


czech saalfeld
Miroslav Jeřábek and his wife, Božena 'Bobina' Jeřábková, during a visit to Saalfeld, Germany, where he was forced to work during the war. Credit: Private collection of Mirek Gosney
 

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