“When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture.”
I’m Betty Martin with Martin’s Must Reads and that’s a quote from The Last Palace by Norman Eisen. From 2011- 2014, Eisen served as the US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and lived in the embassy in Prague, the last palace built in Europe.
The book begins with the story of the builder Otto Petschek, a wealthy man dubbed the King of Coal who spent six years building his one-hundred room home, starting first with the gardens. He traveled Europe searching for treasures and sent home full grown trees and once an entire room because of its wallpaper. As WWII ramped up, his family was forced to flee due to their Jewish heritage.
The second resident, Rudolf Toussaint, was a Wehrmacht colonel assigned to Prague. He protected the castle from destruction and helped broker a peace agreement when the Soviets took over Prague after the war.
Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt, the third occupant, successfully helped the United States purchase the palace for its embassy.
On a visit to Prague, Shirley Temple Black witnessed the Soviet takeover and bravely led a convoy to safety across the border. Being there at that moment in history and watching as a woman was killed right in front of her, fueled Black’s passion for justice and began a love for the Czech people. In 1989, she was appointed the US ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
If you enjoy reading about European history, or loved Shirley Temple, you must read The Last Palace by Norman Eisen.