Friday, January 18, 2013

A CZECH-AMERICAN PATRIOT - Vlasta Adele Vraz

In my spare time (!!!) I have been working on finding the burial places of everyone who has lived in the houses on my block in Evanston. Harvard Terrace only runs from Ridge to Asbury and contains just forty-one separate homes.  It is interesting to dig into the histories of the homes and the people who have lived in them.  I have not found anyone famous or infamous who has lived here (not dissimilar from my family tree), just average people going about their lives.  Although no one notorious has lived here, I have come across some people who certainly have lived interesting lives.  This is the story of one of those people:  Vlasta Adele Vraz.  What did Vlasta Vraz do that was so interesting?  Her obituary from 1989 sums it up:

Vlasta Adele Vraz was the director of American Relief for Czechoslovakia after World War II, was arrested as an American spy by the Communist government there and later became the longtime president of the Czechoslovak National Council of America. 

A spy on Harvard Terrace - could it be?  Let's take a look into the life of the interesting Miss Vraz.

Vlasta Adele Vraz was born in Chicago on June 18, 1900, the only daughter of Vlasta nee Geringer and Enrique Stanislau Vraz, a noted world explorer and lecturer.

Enrique St. Vraz
Vlasta had one brother, Victor E. Vraz, who was a professor in the School of Commerce at Northwestern University. 

E. St. Vraz with his son Victor, wife Vlasta and daughter Vlasta Adele - 1908

Vlasta's maternal grandfather August Geringer, founded the first Czechoslovak newspaper in Chicago, called "Svornost" which began publication in 1875.  From a young age Vlasta helped out at the newspaper, eventually becoming an employee. 

Vlasta Vraz went to Czechoslovakia in 1919 to be secretary to her father, who was lecturing there. Eventually, her mother also moved there, and the family stayed for 20 years. Miss Vraz became a translator of Czechoslovak literary works and wrote a biography of her father.

Vlasta Adele Vraz, with her parents Enrique St. Vraz and Vlasta Geringer Vraz

Enrique St. Vraz died in Prague in 1932.  He was 72 years old.

In 1939, Vlasta Vraz watched the German army march into Prague. Miss Vraz and her mother returned to the U.S. that year, and during World War II she served as secretary to the president of the Czechoslovak government in exile in Washington.

It was Vlasta's brother Victor who bought the house at 1103 Harvard Terrace.  Vlasta stayed there with Victor and his wife Georgia upon her return to Chicago in 1939.

Victor E. Vraz

1103 Harvard Terrace

Her brother died suddenly from heart trouble in September of 1939:


After Victor's funeral, Vlasta joined her mother and the 1940 census shows them living together on Gramercy Place in Los Angeles.  

In 1945, Vlasta Vraz was sent back to Czechoslovakia by the American Relief effort, first as an aide to the director, then as the director.  Vlasta was the sole agent for distributing $4 million in food, clothing and other supplies for the American Relief program there.

Vlasta Vraz under street sign of street named for her father in Prague

In April of 1949 the government of Czechoslovakia announced that Vlasta Vraz had been arrested on suspicion of spying for the U.S. government.  The Czechs said that Vlasta's role as the Prague representative of American Relief for Czechoslovakia was merely a front for her spying activities.  Naturally the United States felt that the detention of Miss Vraz, a native-born American citizen was outrageous, and demanded her immediate release.  

Vlasta was released one week to the day after she was arrested, as noted in the New York Times article from April 17, 1949:


Upon her return to Chicago Miss Vraz purchased a home in Berwyn, where she lived for the rest of her life.  She was editor for 40 years of two monthly publications for the Czechoslovak National Council of America: The American Bulletin and Vestnik.  

Vlasta Adele Vraz died on Tuesday, August 22, 1989.  She is buried between her brother Victor and her mother in Section 21 of Bohemian National Cemetery:



She had no surviving relatives.

May Vlasta Adele Vraz, and all the members of the Vraz family, rest in peace.

All photos from the author's personal collection.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's so cool that you do all this research --- it's fascinating!!

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