Czech Republic - The Cradle of Talent

A look at some of the most famous people with Czech roots

Jan Purkrábek

Written by Jan Purkrábek Published on 12.06.2012 10:33:38 (updated on 12.06.2012) Reading time: 6 minutes

The world is full of individuals that have become famous for a given achievement or invention, but sometimes, we know very little about these people’s roots. What is now the Czech Republic could be credited with giving birth to a plethora of talented people who would, later in life and often abroad, achieve great things. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous people who have a connection with the Czech Republic, be it now or in the distant past. While many famous sports figures or politicians are clearly identifiable as Czech, you may be surprised to learn some of the following names have Czech origins.

Sigmund Freud
Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born in 1856 in Příbor in Morava (Freiberg in Mähren). He was born to a Jewish family, and following the Panic of 1857, his family then moved to Leipzig, eventually settling in Vienna, where he began his psychiatric career.

Czech Republic - The Cradle of Talent

He is most famous for fathering the concept of psychoanalysis, which argued that our development and psychology are affected by early childhood, our unconscious and irrational drives. Differences in the conscious and unconscious were considered to cause disharmony and subsequent psychological problems. Freud is considered as one of the most, if not the most famous psychologist of all time.

Ferdinand Porsche
Ferdinand Porsche probably does not need much of an introduction. He too was born in what is now the Czech Republic, namely in Vratislavice nad Nisou (Maffersdorf) in Northern Bohemia.

Native House of Ferdinand Porsche
Native House of Ferdinand Porsche

He was born to a German-speaking family and began his career as a designer and engineer very early on in Liberec (Reichenberg). He then moved to Vienna, later living in Germany, where he gained most fame for his contributions to innovative WWII tank and airplane designs, the Volkswagen Beetle, The Mercedes Benz SS/SSK and the legendary Porsche lineup.

Gregor Mendel
Gregor Mendel is considered by many to be the father of genetics. He was born on July 20, 1822 in Heinzendorf bei Odrau, now known as Hynčice. Mendel worked as a gardener, studied beekeeping, and then continued on with philosophy and physics at the University of Olomouc. He then became religious and entered the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno, later becoming its abbot. It is there that he carried out experiments on pea plant inheritance, which lead to what we now refer to as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance, i.e. the foundations of modern genetics. He spent the rest of his life largely dedicated to his abbot duties and passed away in 1884 in Brno.
Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright, born as Marie Jana Korbelová, was born on May 15, 1937 in Prague’s Smíchov disctrict. She was born to a Jewish family of parents Josef Korbel and Anna Spieglová. Her family went into exile in the England prior to WWII, and her father was part of the exiled Czechoslovak Government headed by Eduard Beneš. In the post-war years, she lived with her family in Belgrade and studied in Switzerland. In Czechoslovakia, the Communist regime took hold in 1948, and Madeleine along with her family moved to New York.  She became a US citizen in 1957, marrying Joseph Medill Patterson Albright in 1959. She later became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and, for the first time in US history, became a foreign-born Secretary of State, in 1997. To this day, she has not forgotten her Czech roots and is known to give interviews in her mother tongue when in Czech Republic, which she still visits to this day.

Sir Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard, born Tomáš Straüssler in June 3, 1937 is a famous British playwright with Czech roots. He was born in Zlín and his family worked for the Baťa shoe company. Since his parents were Jewish, Baťa ensured that his employees were relocated to his many factories abroad in order to prevent Nazi persecution. Stoppard’s family moved to Singapore and later to Australia. In 1941, they moved to India, this time without the father, who died in 1940. In 1946, they moved to the UK.

Czech Republic - The Cradle of Talent

He became famous for his playwrighting activities, and also co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love. He has won one Academy Award and four Tony Awards.

Dolly Buster
Dolly Buster was born as Nora Dvořáková on October 23, 1969. In 1982, she and her family emigrated to Germany. Very briefly, she worked at the border patrol as a translator. Soon after, she began her career as a porn actress and starred in hundreds of European adult films.

Czech Republic - The Cradle of Talent

In 2004, she ran for a seat in the European Parliament as a Czech candidate, but only got 0.71% of the vote. She currently lives in Wesel, Germany with her husband, and likes painting, has written a crime-novel series, and acts as an adult film producer.

Daniel Swarowski
Daniel Swarowski (originally Daniel Swartz) was born on October 24, 1862 in Georgenthal bei Gablonz, now known as Jiřetín pod Jedlovou. His father who was a glass cutter who owned and operated a glass factory, where Daniel learned his skills. At the time, glass was cut and decorated manually and the products were becoming increasingly expensive. He was sent to Vienna to improve methods of production, and soon after invented a glass-cutting machine, which he patented. With the help of an investor, he began production in Czech lands, but due to heavy competition, moved his production to Wattens in the Tyrol Mountains near Innsbruck. The Swarowski company was set-up in 1895 and began rapid expansion. Swarowski glass bijoux and decorative products are now considered to be among the most luxurious ones available worldwide.

George Voskovec
Jiří Voskovec, born as Jiří Wachsmann in Sázava in 1905, was a renowned actor of Czech origin. He became famous for his cooperation with the legendary Jan Werich, namely through their unforgettable theater performances. In 1939, Werich and Voskovec left Czechoslovakia, returning after the war.

Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec
Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec

Werich remained in Communist Czechoslovakia and Voskovec immigrated to the US, where he played in over 67 international films, including memorable performances as one of the jurors in the Sidney Lumet classic 12 Angry Men and as a German official in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Voskovec always proclaimed “I am a born and bred Czech,” and always felt a strong connection to his country of origin, despite living in the US for the rest of his life. He became a US citizen in 1955 – hence why he is known internationally as George Voskovec.  

Miloš Forman
Miloš Forman was born as Jan Tomáš Forman in Čáslav in 1932. His parents both died in concentration camps during WWII. He is one of the leading film directors worldwide, having made some of the most successful films of all time after emigrating to the United States following the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and becaming a naturalized us citizen in 1977. His most famous works include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, Hair and The People vs. Larry Flynt. He has won two Academy Awards for Best Director and a plethora of other awards (BAFTA, Golden Globes, Cannes, etc.)

Czech Republic - The Cradle of Talent

He is, to this day, a celebrated director and still proud of his Czech origin. Much like many other Czechoslovaks, the communist regime prevented him from returning prior to the fall of communism in 1989.

The Czech Republic and its preceding regimes and periods of time have all contributed significantly to the world in terms of exporting talent. Although this article features some of the most famous individuals, there were many more who have achieved worldwide recognition. More will follow in their path and chose to live and pursue their lives abroad. However, most of them will never forget their origins. Although some did not openly proclaim their roots, they are forever tied to this wonderful country, now the Czech Republic.

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