Several years ago, Tom Hasler ’62 was faced with an unusual and challenging predicament: How does one meet a man who is dead, but still alive?
This was the question posed by Czech Jewish writer Arnost Lustig, and explored in the documentary “The Immortal Balladeer of Prague.” While it may seem paradoxical, the man to whom Lustig refers is Tom’s father, the late Karel Hasler. Karel was a Czech singer, songwriter, actor – both stage and film – and cabaret artist in the early 20th century; and yet he was much more. He was a symbol of Czech nationalism and a voice for the people. Though Karel was arrested by the Gestapo for his anti-fascist sentiments, and brutally murdered in the Mauthausen concentration camp, his songs have lived on in the Czech Republic.
“The Immortal Balladeer of Prague” will be shown in the Geneva Room on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. Tom will provide an introduction to the film. While on campus, Tom will also visit the film class of Associate Professor of English Elisabeth Lyon, where he will discuss the documentary with students and share his experiences while filming. Following the documentary, Tom will answer audience questions. There will also be a special performance by David Autovino of Karel’s most famous song, “Our Czech Song,” or Ceská písnicka.
In a generation plagued with uncertainty and turbulence, Karel Hasler sang of hope. When the Nazis banned the Czechoslovakian national anthem, Karel’s words about Prague and his home country became the unofficial anthem of the people. His personality sparkled on the silver screen, and it was his performance in the 1932 film “Písnickár” that triggered an emotional connection for his son who had only ever seen static, unmoving pictures.
Lustig, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, presented Tom with the unique opportunity to see the city of Prague through his father’s eyes. “The Immortal Balladeer of Prague” chronicles the life of Karel, and his son’s path to unearthing the man behind the symbol. The film, directed by Czech filmmakers Josef Lustig and Marek Jícha, attempts to connect Tom with his father who was imprisoned before his birth.
“Karel Hasler had been so tied to Prague – like the sky above it,” says Lustig within the first moments of the film. It is this legend with which Tom is well acquainted. It is a legacy that has produced books, CDs, and DVDs that have all accumulated on the shelf of a son who never knew his father.
While at Hobart, Hasler majored in political science. In the photo above, Hasler stands next to his father’s statue in Prague.