An image of the Hillsdale Com­munity Library.
(Photo: Facebook)

In 1949, John Kozak and his family escaped Com­munist Czecho­slo­vakia. Now, more than 60 years later, he’s vis­iting the Hillsdale Com­munity Library to share his — and more impor­tantly, his mother’s — story.

From 6 – 7:30 p.m. this Tuesday, April 17, Kozak will discuss and sign copies of his book, “Through the Eyes of Rose: A Mother’s Flight to Freedom in a Memory Mosaic.” Pub­lished in 2009, the book chron­icles his family history, cen­tering on his mother’s improbable exit from Com­munist-con­trolled Central Europe and her return home to Michigan.

Heidi Pruitt, who works in adult ser­vices at the library, said she’s seen lots of interest from the com­munity in hearing Kozak’s story, in part because he lives nearby.

“I know he has local appeal,” she said.

Kozak, a res­ident of Grosse Pointe Farms, said he wrote the story to cel­e­brate his mother’s courage.

“The book was written as a tribute to my mom who basi­cally defied the Czecho­slo­vakian Com­mu­nists,” Kozak said. “She was a gutsy 42-year-old woman who only knew one way. And she operated by the skin of her teeth.”

After World War II, Kozak lived in Prague with his teenage sister and his mother, Rose, while his father was out of the country for business. When Rose decided to emi­grate with her two children, she faced a series of obstacles, including an arrest warrant for her husband, a corrupt guide, and a close encounter at the edge of freedom.

Kozak said they jour­neyed to the Bohemian Forest, but as they neared the border, a Soviet patrol approached them.

“I heard my mother tell my sister that we might be caught by Russian patrol and adopted by a com­munist family but to never give up hope because she would come and find us,” he said.

Then gunfire broke out some­where farther down, and the patrol raced to check it out. The Kozaks slipped quietly across the border.

After the family, including Kozak’s father, immi­grated to Michigan, Rose became a U.S. citizen. Kozak said Arthur Hen­drick Van­denberg, U.S. Senator from Michigan from 1928 – 1951, con­grat­u­lated her at her ded­i­cation cer­emony in 1956.

Members of the Hillsdale com­munity have expressed their interest in hearing Kozak’s har­rowing journey from Czecho­slo­vakia to West Germany to Michigan.

Jessy Bigelow, who said she’s planning to attend Kozak’s talk, said a friend invited her to the event before she’d even heard of Kozak and his book.

“After finding out about him, now I’m super excited because the story is very intriguing to me,” she said. “I think it’s great an author is coming to our local library to promote his story.”


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Madeline Fry
Madeline Fry ’18 is the culture editor of the Collegian. She is studying French and journalism at Hillsdale. Growing up in Georgia, she developed a passion for photography, fell in love with Flannery O’Connor, and discovered the multi-purpose pronoun “y’all.” email: | twitter: @ffffrenchfry