One Life: Is Hana Hejdukova Based on a Real Czech Humanitarian?

Directed by James Hawes, ‘One Life’ follows the incredible true story of a rescue mission of the children in Prague right when the Nazis are about to walk in the door. The story focuses on Nicholas Winton, who went to Prague as a volunteer, initially only for a week, with the intention of helping the tribe of volunteers with the paperwork. But once he got to the place and realized the gravity of the situation, he decided to do more. This led him to rescue 669 children before the Second World War broke out, and he didn’t do it alone. Of the several people who work as volunteers to help refugees, the film focuses on a young woman named Hana Hejdukova. Her story takes a tragic turn by the end, which leaves one wondering about what happened to her and others like her in real life.

Hana Hejdukova Represents the Czech Volunteers Who Gave Their Lives to the Cause

The super talented Juliana Moska essays the character of Hana Hejdukova in ‘One Life.’ Though the character is most likely fictional, rather than being completely made up, it is based on the plethora of people who volunteered before the outbreak of the war. While Nicholas Winton is seen as the face of the operation that helped save the lives of hundreds of children, many people worked behind the scenes to keep the plan running smoothly for as long as possible for the kids to make it out of the Nazi-occupied territory and into a safer environment, where they could live until things got better.

Hana Hejdukova’s name does not appear as one of the volunteers at the time, but her character was created solely for the purpose of representing the people who gave their everything to help save the children, but their names never found the glory they deserved. In the movie, Hana works as the Liaison Officer for Czech Refugees at the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia with the likes of Doreen Warriner and Trevor Chadwick. She is revealed to have been involved with the volunteer work long before Winton’s arrival and the inception of the plan to rescue children.

In real life too, several Czech volunteers worked day and night to help the refugees survive. Despite the lack of all amenities, the volunteers made sure there was enough food, clothes and shelter to help the refugees survive. They also made lists of people, especially children, when Winton’s plan was put in motion. But while Winton and several other people worked from Britain, where their worst enemy was the refusal of bureaucracy to extend a helping hand, the volunteers in Czech were putting their lives on the line to do their jobs.

As shown at the end of the film, the arrival of the Nazis was highly fatal for the volunteers, as most of them were rounded up and sent to the camps if they were not outright executed. Some succeeded in escaping to friendly territory, but even in comparatively safe environs, they didn’t stop fighting, and like Hana Hejdukova in ‘One Life,’ real-life Czech women were an integral part of this resistance.

Over a thousand women are reported to have served in the Czechoslovak Army units on the Eastern Front after the Soviets called for Czech citizens to enroll in the army in 1942. Even though women’s participation in wars was not conventional at the time, it didn’t stop them from enrolling and taking up whatever role they were provided. From working as nurses and cooks to a select few becoming snipers, Czech women proved themselves completely up to the task of fighting the enemy.

Not just in Russia, Czech women also joined forces in other countries, including the UK, where they joined the British Army and the Royal Airforce through the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where about two hundred women took all sorts of roles, from drivers and interpreters to working in intelligence. The women were dedicated to fighting the fascist regime, helping win the war, and getting back their country’s freedom. Through the character of Hana Hejdukova, ‘One Life’ acknowledges the work and sacrifice of all these women and other forgotten heroes whose names are lost to the pages of history.

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