Thursday, April 26, 2012

Best QB in NFL draft: Brandon Weeden

Everyone knows who the top two picks in tonight's NFL draft will be: the Colts will take Andrew Luck of Stanford and the Redskins will choose Robert Griffin of Baylor. Yet, consider the following scores:

Brandon Weeden 41- Andrew Luck 38: in the Fiesta Bowl, a game which, if the NCAA did not have an SEC bias, would have been for the national championship.

Brandon Weeden 59 - Robert Griffin 24! slaughter in a regular-season Big XII game between Oklahoma State and Baylor.

Consider further that Luck's Stanford played in one of the weakest conferences in the nation, while Weeden competed in a league which, at various times throughout the season, had 30% of its teams in the top ten. Consider also that Weeden's team's only loss came due to a missed field goal on a day of an airplane crash which took the lives of members of the OSU athletics family; the players were in mourning. Yet, the guy who completed 408 out of 564 passes for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns will be selected either late in the first round or early in the second round tonight, while the two guys he outplayed will be #1 and #2. Why?

Because Weeden is 28 years old, having spent five years playing professional baseball before enrolling at OSU. One would think the NFL guys would be smart enough to know that this means one thing: Brandon is mature and ready to start at the pro level, while the other guys are young and inexperienced.

The most unfair result will be that Luck and Griffin will be drafted by teams which desperately need starting quarterbacks, and they'll get their respective chances immediately. Weeden, by virtue of going later in the draft, will no doubt be taken by a team which has an established QB, and Brandon will spend a year or two sitting and watching. By then, he'll be in his early 30s, and who knows if he'll ever have the chance to shine in the NFL? I hope this won't happen, and that the world will get a chance to see just how good this guy is.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Story of PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME goes national

Theresa Winslow's story about PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME has been picked up by Associated Press and is appearing in newspapers and online throughout the US. Here is a story on the CBS website:

                            Man Writes Of Life In Nazi-Occupied Czechoslovakia

Help save unique story from ending!

My young Czech friend, Judita Matyasova, is an outstanding writer, with a book about Kafka on her resume along with many feature articles in newspapers and magazines. During her research for a story, she came across a surprising -- and untold -- event from World War II: the rescue of 150 Czech children from the Nazis. Taken to Denmark, the children were later dispersed throughout Sweden. After the war, they settled in various countries around the world, losing touch with one another.

Judita calls the tragedy of these kids' departure "Czech Sophie's Choice" because their parents could choose only one child for rescue. In most instances, mother, father, and the remaining children were murdered by the Germans. For Judita, finding these surviving "children" (most in their eighties or nineties today) and writing their stories has become an obsession. She has visited them in several European countries, and later this month will travel to Israel.

She has been unable to find financial support for this quest, and thus has financed all her travels and research with her own money -- not plentiful for a young writer. Unless those of us who think it's important to keep the Holocaust history lesson alive help, the story will die because Judita is out of money and  the survivors will not be on this earth much longer. I am hoping that you'll join me in writing a check -- no matter how small -- to assist Judita in her quest. When the book about these children is written, all of us will be able to take pride in having helped to memorialize this important piece of history. There's no tax deduction for these contribution -- only satisfaction.

Please read Judita's own description of her work by clicking on the link below, and send a check made out to "Czechs Abroad," and send it to:
Czechs Abroad
c/o Judita Matyasova
Korunni 79
130 00 Prague 3
Czech Republic

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME featured in Maryland newspaper

On Easter Sunday, The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland featured a story about Prague: My Long Journey Home. I appreciate writer Theresa Winslow's carefully researched piece:

Arnold man writes of life in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia
Capital Gazette Communications
Published 04/08/12

When he was 9 years old, Charles Ota Heller found a loaded gun in a roadside ditch and shot a Nazi in the chest. Charles Ota Heller of Arnold grew up in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and lost more than 20 members of his family in concentration camps. His memoir, “Prague: My Long Journey Home,” was published in December. The Czech version was released last spring.
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He hoped the man died, though he didn’t stick around long enough to find out. All he heard was a woman’s screams as his victim lay on the ground in the waning days of World War II.“It was pure revenge” said Heller, now 76, of Arnold, who grew up in Czechoslovakia. “I just hated the Germans so much. I would never have killed a dog or a cat, but to kill a German didn’t bother me one bit.”
More than 20 members of his family died in concentration camps. Only his mother and father, who was a non-practicing Jew, survived. They came to the United States in 1949 and attempted to forget the past. One part of this was changing his name. Born Ota Karel Heller, his parents opted for an American-sounding alternative for their only child.
“All my friends knew I was from Czechoslovakia, but nothing else,” Heller said. “I had a party-line answer (when people asked me about my childhood): My father was in the British Army and fought against the Nazis, my mother was in a labor camp, and I was hidden away on a farm. Then, I’d clam up. I’d say it in such a way as to discourage more questions.”
He only broke his silence about the shooting to his mother a couple years before she died in 2006. When he told her, she said, “You did good.”
“I still to this day hate Nazis for what they did to my family and my entire country,” he said.
Heller ultimately discovered the man he shot was probably not a Nazi, but a Czech collaborator, and survived. He still doesn’t regret his actions.
Heller, who holds a doctorate in engineering, taught at both the Naval Academy and the University of Maryland, founded many companies and sits on nine boards of directors. He decided to open up about the past in his memoir, “Prague: My Long Journey Home.”
A grandfather of three, he first returned there in 1970 when the country was still under Communist rule. He went back in 1990 after it gained its independence and reunited with a childhood friend. Those trips were tough. “That’s when I started facing the demons of the past,” he said.
Heller’s been home many times since, and the visits have gotten a lot more pleasurable.
“Charlie brought to life a very ugly time in our history; of survival in the worst of circumstances,” said longtime friend and one-time business partner Phil Samper of Annapolis. “When you see the details, you’re very impressed with Charlie’s strength and courage and that of his parents. I don’t think anyone could read the book and not come away impressed.”

Speaking volumes

“Prague” is the first of three planned volumes detailing Heller’s life. It was initially published in the Czech Republic last spring. The English edition came out in December and was the first-ever recipient of Writer’s Digest’s Mark of Quality.
“To me, it was a great addition (to my) bookshelves of readings about the Holocaust,” said Susan Moger, who had Heller in her writing classes at Anne Arundel Community College.
Heller first revealed parts of his story in those AACC sessions, and Moger feels privileged to have provided a literary spark. She said Heller manages the difficult task of speaking about his childhood from many different perspectives in his memoir — an adult looking back on his life, a little boy, and a teenager coming to America without knowing any English.
Although “Prague” is Heller’s first book, he’s done other writing, including skiing and sailing columns for The Capital. He decided to try writing full-time in 2008.
A memoir had been on his mind since his father’s death in 1988 and was reignited by his 1990 trip. The final straw occurred around 2000 while he was on a business trip and watching television in a hotel room. The show highlighted how little college students knew about World War II.
So, Heller began writing snippets of what he could remember. He then signed up for writing classes. Five people in those classes formed their own writing group, which is where he honed passages of the memoir.
“He puts the rest of us to shame,” said Karen Cain of Laurel, a member of the writing group, “and we were taught English in this country.”
Cain said Heller’s book offers a different perspective on the war. She was impacted by the loneliness he must have felt when he was in hiding and everyone in his life disappeared. “Basically, these people were stripped out of his life, one by one,” she said. “The fact that he survived, that is very amazing. It’s a wonderful success story.”
The second installment of Heller’s memoir is titled “Cowboy from Prague,” and details his high school and college years as well as the start of his business career. It’s tentatively due out in the fall. The title refers both to his attending Oklahoma State and his view of himself as a cowboy entrepreneur. He plans to use a picture of himself standing on a bridge in Prague wearing a giant Stetson hat for the cover.
The third book “Ready, Fire, Aim” concentrates on his business career and should be published by the middle of 2013.
“I always heard writing a memoir could be a catharsis, a cleansing,” he said. “To a certain extent, it was that. But it was very difficult. I delved into things I’d never really thought about.”
In order to finish his first book, Heller did a lot of research on his family, his home country and the war. The more he investigated, the more memories he dredged up, and the more upset he became. “I spent a lot of sleepless nights,” he said.
But the process ended up making him enjoy life more, and while he didn’t run off and join a synagogue, Heller, who raised Catholic, became more interested in Judaism and Israel.
“I’m relieved more than anything, happy about the fact I’m able to tell the story of my parents, who are the real heroes of my life and this book,” Heller said. “Now that that I’ve put the entire puzzle together, I appreciate more than ever the type of courage it took for them to do what they did, not only during WWII but leaving everything behind and coming to the U.S.”
His father, who owned a large clothing manufacturing company in Czechoslovakia, took a job as a pattern cutter. His first pay stub, which Heller still has, was for $37.50. Eventually, his father became a top executive in the firm. His mother first worked as a cleaning lady, then a seamstress. She ended up an associate scientist at a pharmaceutical company.
“It’s quite a story,” said Paul Harrell of Severn, another member of Heller’s writing group. “It’s quite a life.”

For more information on Heller and his book, visit He’ll be signing books from 3 to 5  p.m. May 19 at the Annapolis Bookstore.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME in former NJ hometown paper

Morris County Daily Record, April 6, 2012
Former Morristown resident writes about surviving war in Europe

Written by

Special to the Daily Record

Charles Heller was 9 years old when he shot a Nazi in Czechoslovakia. The son of a Jewish father and Christian mother, Heller was in hiding at a family friend’s farm on the outskirts of Prague. It was 1945, and the war in Europe was coming to an end — so much so that Nazi soldiers were tossing their weapons to the ground so they could be captured unarmed, Heller, 76, formerly of Morristown, writes in “Prague: My Long Journey Home,” his memoir published by Abbott Press.
Heller found a discarded Walther pistol, and it was loaded.

“I boasted to the kids, ‘I’m going to shoot a German,’” Heller said. “There were some Germans stationed in the village where I was hidden.”
Heller wandered onto an estate with some of his friends and was hiding in the bushes watching two Nazis load up a truck, apparently getting ready to flee.

“This one kid said to me, ‘Well, are you going to do it?’” Heller said. “I reluctantly stood up, and as I had seen in cowboy movies, I aimed at him and squeezed the trigger and shot him. The gun recoiled and I flew back into the bush. The same kid said, ‘You got him.’”
It would be years before Heller realized the man he shot was indeed a Nazi — a Czechoslovakian native who sympathized with the Nazis and joined them.

“I saw the guy laying on the ground,” Heller said. “A woman was screaming in German. I ran like hell. I expected someone to follow me … I never had an adrenaline rush before. I felt that I had single-handedly won the war.”
Heller’s book isn’t solely about his encounter with a Nazi — who, based on Heller’s research, likely survived but was badly wounded. It recounts his time growing up during the war, and more or less repressing that he was part Jewish.

Prior to the upheaval in his own life, Heller began noticing something.
“The rest of my family started to disappear without me knowing why,” he said. Heller was only around 6 years old at the time, and his mother deliberately withheld from him that his family members were being murdered. He lost 15 members to the death camps.

His father, Rudolph Heller, joined the British Army to fight in the war. His mother, Ilona Heller, was detained and sent to a slave labor camp with other Christian wives of Jews.
Unlike many families, Heller was able to reunite with his mom and dad after the war. They stayed in Czechoslovakia until 1948, when Communism began to take a hold. The family eventually made its way to the United States.

His father told him to forget everything that happened to him in Europe, and that it was time to start over, to become assimilated as an American as quickly as he could.
Heller was self-taught and home-schooled while in Europe. His first formal education began at the Alexander Hamilton School in Morristown, in the eighth grade, he said.

Not only did he graduate from Morristown High School while playing baseball, basketball and tennis, he met his future wife, Sue Holsten, there.
“That’s really where I became an American,” Heller said. “Where I learned to play sports, speak English. It was my first home in America, and I still think about it very fondly and still visit, and still enjoy coming to Morristown.”

The second half of Heller’s memoir focuses on his life in America, where he went to college at Oklahoma State, and eventually wound up working in the aerospace industry before becoming a C.E.O. for two software companies, and then becoming a venture capitalist.
He began writing the book more than a decade ago, and while he repressed a lot of his childhood memories, he returned to Prague to do research for his book.

“I learned a lot about my family,” he said. “I really didn’t know very much beyond my parents, and the family members who lived with us when I was very small. I was really lucky — my great-grandfather was actually my best friend when I was hidden. But beyond that, I didn’t really know that much about my father’s side of the family.”
Heller said he learned more about himself, his ethnic origins and the Jewish part of his family.

Heller never told his father about the Nazi he shot, but did tell his mother before she passed away. Heller was a Catholic then, and still is. He said he struggled over whether he didn’t actually know he was Jewish, or was just denying it.
“Part of it was to search where I really came from and why I didn’t realize some of these things, and why I didn’t really previously honor the (members) of my family who were murdered by the Nazis,” he said.

Heller said he continues to write, and enjoys it immensely. He settled in Annapolis, Md., years ago with his wife, and their (son and) three (grand)children.