“I was not even aware of my mother being Jewish. People didn’t care about it, at least in the society I was living in.”
Tomáš Klima was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1931 to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father who was studying medicine at Johns Hopkins University. The following year his parents, Jaroslav and Eliza, returned with Tomáš to their native Czechoslovakia. Both parents practiced medicine in Prague, and Tomáš enjoyed the attentions of a large extended family.
Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. The provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, where Prague is located, became a German protectorate. Eliza’s marriage to a non-Jew offered her a degree of protection, but she knew that she and Tomáš were not immune from danger. In 1940, as anti-Jewish persecution intensified, she and Tomáš fled to their country home on the outskirts of Prague. There, Eliza continued to treat patients in violation of regulations, routinely refusing payment from the poor villagers who came to her for help. When Eliza was arrested on June 10, 1942, her neighbors, grateful for the kindness she had shown them, plied her with blankets and food for the journey to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and transit camp northwest of Prague.
Tomáš went to live with his father. Several weeks later, the Gestapo arrested Jaroslav, and Tomáš moved again, this time to live with his paternal uncle and family. Periodically, Tomáš was permitted to send food packages to his mother, who remained in Theresienstadt for the duration of the war. Friends and family generously contributed to the packages, even as wartime shortages made provisions scarce. Tomáš and his mother were reunited when the war ended in 1945. They learned then that Jaroslav was dead, executed by a firing squad along with other doctors, professors, and members of the intelligentsia.
After the war, Tomáš and his mother returned to Prague, where he completed his schooling, earned a medical degree, and began to work in the Department of Pathology at the Medical School. He married fellow physician Marcella Pikalková in 1959. Tomáš was in Houston on a one-year fellowship when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, quelling government reforms after a brief period of liberalization. Immediately, Tomáš’s wife, mother, and young daughter fled to Austria. The following month they arrived in Houston, where Marcella secured a post at Baylor College of Medicine. Tomáš has had a distinguished medical career, serving on the faculties of Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine. In 1990, he and other colleagues from Czechoslovakia established a physicians exchange program. Tomáš traveled often to Prague, where he was a full professor at the Medical School. He was very proud of his daughter, Eva, the family’s fourth generation to enter the medical profession. Tomáš reflected, “We are so fortunate that the last quarter of our life we lived in freedom.”
Jaroslav Klima, d. 1942
Eliza Shulhová Klima, survived