Former Radio Free Europe staffer Jaroslav (Jeff) Jan Endrst died February 22, 2014; below is a short review of his life:
Jaroslav Jan Endrst, of Pelham, NY, passed away Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. He was 91. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Mr. Endrst proudly served as correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for more than 40 years, the majority of them as chief correspondent at the United Nations.
He was predeceased by his loving wife of 41 years, Elsa B. Endrst, and Jan Endrst, his son by a previous marriage. Mr. Endrst is survived by his son, James Endrst; his daughter Christine Endrst McDermott; and grandchildren Veronika Endrstova, Nina Endrst, Liam McDermott and Mae McDermott.
A journalist for more than 57 years, Mr. Endrst escaped from behind the Iron Curtain in November of 1949, at the age of 26, rather than help an agent of the Communist government frame and imprison his American colleagues at the Associated Press in Prague. Forced by the dangerous nature and circumstances surrounding the escape to leave his infant son, Jan, and first wife, Jaroslava Mullerova, behind, Mr. Endrst enlisted the help of professional smugglers and made his way through the Soviet-occupied zone of Austria to Vienna. "The episode turned out to be a seminal event of my life," he wrote in a series of personal memoirs. "But the flip side of personal triumph over ideological evil was what is now called 'collateral damage' to 'unintended victims.' In this case, they were my family and my friends…The knowledge of it, and the uncertainties about their lives, dampened any feeling of glee or jubilation.”
For the next two years, Mr. Endrst made a living as a stringer, creating his own independent news service and working with a variety of Western news organizations. In October 1951, he went to work for Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany, where he met his second wife, the former Elsa Latzko, a pre-war American immigrant from Austria. They were married in Oberammergau in September of 1954. On May 9, 1955, Mr. Endrst arrived in New York-and America-for the first time, accompanied by his new wife after a transatlantic trip on the Italian ocean liner Vulkania. "I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment," he wrote, noting that it had been a dream of his from a young age.
Over the course of his life and career with Radio Free Europe, including a stint covering the Kennedy White House, Mr. Endrst traveled to more than 100 countries (he was fluent in three languages), forever cultivating his lifelong interest in other cultures and his keen understanding of international relations and world politics.
A towering physical presence known for his wit, charm and wry humor, Mr. Endrst lived independently following the death of his wife, "Elsie," in 1995-surviving three bouts of cancer and numerous physical challenges, before his passing. "I have been blessed with a loving family and good friends," he said, writing about his "American Journey" in 2005. "I have no regrets about the past. It has been a good journey for me, ending in a terrific country.”
(Obituary published on NYTimes.com, February 27 - February 28, 2014)
For a fascinating look into the life of Jaroslav Endrst, especially his escape from Czechoslovakia through the Iron Curtain, here are the links to a 3-part tribute written by his journalist son James Endrst:
Interestingly, a detailed article entitled "No Game for Sissies" about Jaroslav Endrst and his escape to the West appeared in the June 9, 1951, issue of the American magazine Saturday Evening Post. The author, Joseph Weschsberg (also born in Czechoslovakia), used Endrst's family name as Vejvoda, in order to protect his identity.