Why Am I Doing This?

This blog becomes part of my writer’s web site — https://charlesoheller.com/ — which I have just created and which goes live today. I call myself a “writer,” despite the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my professional life (translated “my day jobs”) as, first, an engineer, and then a university professor, a software entrepreneur, a company CEO, a venture capitalist, a speaker/lecturer, and a member of numerous boards of directors. But, always, I have been writing — one way or another. In high school, I was a sports editor; in college, I wrote for and edited the #1-ranked university magazine in the country; and, while running companies, I moonlighted as a newspaper columnist and freelance writer in fields ranging from sailing and skiing to entrepreneurship and corporate venturing. Always, I’ve driven my colleagues and employees crazy with my red proofreader’s pen. Now, I’m opening myself up to the same scutiny from others.

I was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, three years before the Second World War. When the Germans occupied us, my father escaped to join the British Army and my mother was taken away by the Nazis to a slave labor camp. She hid me on a farm, where I spent most of the war as one of the so-called “Hidden Children.” My parents and I reunited at the war’s end, but soon discovered that we were the only survivors in our family. In 1948, the Communists took over our country, and my parents and I escaped. We spent a year-and-a-half in refugee camps in the U.S. Zone of Germany, while awaiting a visa to America. We settled in Morristown, New Jersey, where I met my future wife and lifelong companion, Sue. We’ve had a great life together — most of it having been spent in the Land of Pleasant Living, upstream from beautiful Annapolis, Maryland. Our son David, his wife Bobbi, and our three grandkids, Sam, Sarah, and Caroline, live five minutes from us.

We’re about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution, which — in November 1989 — brought an end to Communism in Czechoslovakia. I had been asked — no, directed — by my parents to forget everything I had seen on the other side of the Atlantic the minute we stepped onto American soil. I had done as I was told. Or so I thought. My frequent visits to my native country — which included the recovery of our family properties — brought me face-to-face with my past. Much of that was heartwarming: reuniting with friends and the places where I had spent my early years. But, some of it was extremely painful: coming to grips with the fact that I had spent years denying my background and ethnicity, and thus, unknowingly, disrespecting my dead family members.

This battle with the past, in addition to a desire to add my voice to those who have borne witness to horrific events which some people deny and many more ignore, drove me to the realization that I must write a book. Out of Prague: A Memoir of Survival, Denial, and Triumph is a result of work which has taken some six years. Many people have helped and inspired me along the way. I was extremely lucky to be united with a super agent, Elaine Markson of the Markson Thoma Literary Agency in New York. Elaine has been instrumental in making me sharpen the book’s focus; she is now shopping the manuscript to publishers, while I’m working on a second memoir and keeping my fingers crossed.

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