Hebe Kohlbrugge revisits Prague at the age of 98

"Dear Professor Hromádka, I am sure you remember meeting me at Karl Barth's house in 1939…"

On 17 October 2012 the lecture room in the Protestant Theological Faculty (PTF) was packed with students and teachers who had come to listen to a very special guest. 98-year-old Hebe Kohlbrugge told her audience how her interest in Czechoslovakia had first been aroused when she was befriended by Czech fellow-prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. After the war she continued to maintain this interest in spite of the difficulties presented by the communist regime. The students were shown a copy of a letter she had written in 1954 to J.L. Hromádka, at that time Dean of the PTF, in which she offered to provide some theological books for the Faculty library. (She had first met Hromádka in Basel before the war in the house of Karl Barth, under whom she had been studying theology.) This was an early example of the help and support Hebe provided to the PTF and the ECCB over many years during the Communist period – books, contacts, visits, student exchanges… Her activity is one of the main reasons why contacts between the ECCB and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands have been and remain so important. Her influence is still strongly felt in the PTF: one of the teaching staff, a former Dean, was able to study in Amsterdam during the Communist period (and speaks fluent Dutch), while another is a Dutchman who first came to Prague as a theology student during the communist period (and speaks fluent Czech). Just two of the many student exchange visits organised by Hebe. The debt that the Faculty owes to her was acknowledged by the award of an honorary doctorate in 1991.

The story of Hebe Kohlbrugge's long and fascinating life can be read in her autobiography "Two Times Two is Five", which has been translated from the original Dutch into German and also, in 2011, into Czech. Hebe also came to Prague in 2011 to help launch this Czech translation, and all her Czech friends were very pleased and honoured that she had returned again so soon. We look forward to her next visit at the age of 100!

Peter Stephens