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Friday, 15 April 2011

Double Jeopardy: Frank Lampl and Otto Katz

I like the Financial Times - there is always a surprise somewhere in its pages. In its April 9 / 10 issue, Brian Groom has a fascinating narrative obituary of Frank Lampl (1926 - 2011) who was Chairman of the Bovis Construction Group from 1986 to 1999.

Lampl was a Czech Jew. The Nazis consigned him first to Auschwitz then, as a slave labourer for BMW, to Dachau. The only member of his family to survive the War, he returned to Czechoslovkia but was soon caught up in the anti-Semitic pogroms of the Stalinist regime. From 1950 until an amnesty (with strings attached) in 1953, he served a sentence of hard labour in Czech uranium mines. After that he made a successful career in construction, but fled Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the Russians invaded: he could not face more punishment. In England, he started over again as a building labourer and worked his way up. An extraordinary story of triumph over adversity.

Otto Katz (1895 - 1952) was also a Czech Jew. I have just read the biography by Joanathan Miles, The Nine Lives of Otto Katz (Bantam Books). Living in Germany after World War One, Katz's ambitions were focussed by Hitler's rise. He became a tireless advocate of the anti-Nazi cause and, at the same time, a Soviet spy. When Germany was no longer a possible base, his work took him to France, Spain during the Civil War, England in the era of appeasement - Jonathan Miles has some scary accounts of just how appeasing it was - , America and Hollywood, Mexico, and - at the end of World War Two, home to Czechoslovkia. In 1952, the Stalinist regime of President Gottwald hanged him at the end of the Slansky trial, where he was one of the 14 accused. He was someone who had undoubtedly committed crimes in the Soviet cause, but he was hanged for knowing too much, and too many people, and because he was a Jew.

These are very contrasting lives. Both made me reflect on the awfulness of a predicament in which you find that the enemy of your enemy is not your friend but another enemy.

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