Monument to industrialist Emil Kolben unveiled in Prague

Cnaan Liphshiz

PRAGUE (JTA) — A plaque honoring Jewish industrialist Emil Kolben was erected in the Czech capital.

Kolben, who died in the Holocaust, co-founded CKD, one of the most important industrial firms in the former Czechoslovakia.

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The monument located in the heart of Prague’s Vysocany district where Emil Kolben’s machinery empire was based, was unveiled by his granddaughter-in-law, Andree Kolbenova, and the district’s mayor, Jan Jarolim.

“We are proud to commemorate Emil Kolben,” Jarolim said. “He played a prominent role in the formation of Czechoslovakia’s industry, and contributed to the country’s rapid development between the wars.”

Born into a poor Jewish family in Strancice, central Bohemia, Kolben graduated from Prague’s Technical University and relocated to the United States where he spent four years working for Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company.

He founded his first company after returning to Prague in 1896. Through a series of mergers some three decades later, he created CKD, a large industrial complex that evolved into the world’s largest manufacture of streetcars and survived until the 1990s.

In 1939, Kolben was transported to the Terezín concentration camp along with his wife, son and grandson. He died there within three weeks at the age of 80.

After the war, Czechoslovakia’s communist authorities played down Kolben’s legacy, labelling him a capitalist who exploited his workers. Today, a metro station and a street in Prague bear his name. Slovakia and the Czech Republic peacefully split in 1993.

The monument in Vysocany takes the form of life-size glass plates showing a photo of Kolben and several of his collaborators.

Emil Kolben’s granddaughter-in-law, Kolbenova, 87, told JTA she liked the monument.

“It’s very unusual, and I could not really picture it when they first told me about it,” Kolbenova said. “But now I’m really excited. It was a great idea and I just hope it does not get vandalized.”