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.”