Karel František Koch

Karel František Koch
Karel František Koch.jpg
Born(1890-06-29)29 June 1890
Died24 January 1981(1981-01-24) (aged 90)
Toronto, Canada
Known forRescuing Jews during the Holocaust
Spouse(s)Josefína Kellen
AwardsRighteous Among the Nations
Academic work
InstitutionsComenius University
Main interestsDisability rights

Karel František Koch (29 June 1890 – 24 January 1981) was a Czech doctor known for rescuing Jews in Bratislava during the Holocaust. After the Communist takeover, he was jailed, but managed to escape the country shortly after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and settled in Canada.


Koch's sanatorium

Koch was born in Brno, then Austria-Hungary, in 1890. After studying medicine in Brno, Prague, and Vienna, he moved to Bratislava in 1919 (shortly after the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic). In 1927, he became a member of the Faculty of Medicine at Comenius University. Between 1929 and 1931, Koch had a sanatorium (cs, sk) designed by his friend, architect Dušan Jurkovič. Notably, he argued for the rehabilitation of disabled children.[1] In 1939, the Slovak State declared independence and Nazi Germany invaded the Czech lands, establishing the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. As an ethnic Czech, Koch faced discrimination in the Slovak State and was dismissed from his faculty post.[2]

Koch belonged to the Czech anti-fascist group Obrana národa[2] and saved the lives of several Jews from Nazi persecution.[3] During the wave of deportations in 1942, he helped some hide in various hospitals until the deportations had stopped.[3] In 1944, when the Germans invaded and resumed deportations, Koch built several bunkers around Bratislava. One of these was used by Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl after he jumped from a train headed for Auschwitz concentration camp, where his family was murdered. Koch personally brought Weissmandl food and other necessities. He convinced some of his friends to hide other Jews in their homes. Wanted by the Gestapo, Koch evaded arrest until the liberation of Bratislava by the Red Army in April 1945. After the war he married Josefína Kellen, one of the Jews that he had saved.[3]

Garden outside the sanatorium

In 1946, he performed surgery on the chief rabbi of Slovakia, Armin Frieder, who died two days later at the age of 34. At the time, some Jews blamed Koch for Frieder's death, but the accusation had no merit according to Armin's brother Emanuel.[4] The same year, Koch published a book[a] stating that the anti-semitic incidents that he witnessed in Bratislava in the summer of 1945 were "not antisemitism, but something far worse—the robber’s anxiety that he might have to return Jewish property," a view that has been endorsed by Czech-Slovak scholar Robert Pynsent [cs].[5]

After the 1948 Communist coup, Koch remained in Bratislava. In 1951, he was arrested and accused of espionage; he was imprisoned between 1951 and 1963. Following the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Koch fled the country with his wife and son and settled in Canada. He died in Toronto in 1981.[1]


For many years, Koch was little-known compared to his achievements as a doctor and humanitarian. In 2008, a biography, Zabudnite na Kocha ("Forget about Koch") was published.[1] He was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1971. There is a tree planted for Koch in the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.[3]



  1. ^ Koch, Karel František (1946). Slovo má lidskost. Prague: Vladimír Žikeš.