Kamil Bena (1929–2019) was a Czech exile who worked for Radio Free Europe (RFE) and was an active participant in many Czech émigré organizations. Born in Opava, Czechoslovakia, he fled the country after the Communist takeover in 1948, working in refugee camps in Germany for several years until joining RFE in 1952 as a news writer, senior editor, and, eventually, administrator of the Czechoslovak Broadcast Department.
The bulk of the papers, which date from 1951, covers Bena’s employment with RFE from 1952 to 1987. Bena worked in the Czechoslovak Broadcast Department in various roles. His papers reflect the structure and activities of that department within RFE as well as its outside contacts with various organizations and figures, so that the papers reflect the activities of Czech and Slovak exiles on a broader level.
For example, an important group of materials relates to the Česká strana národně sociální (Czech National Social Party), which was a significant political force in interwar Czechoslovakia. It was briefly revived after the Second World War but was co-opted by the Communist regime, with many members forced into exile until 1989, when efforts were made to revive the party in the rebirth of multi-party democracy that followed the collapse of one-party rule. The periods of exile and party revival within Czechoslovakia are covered best in the Bena papers, with substantial correspondence with the party leadership (including the chairman and his deputy, Ota Hora), programs and minutes of conferences and meetings, party issuances, and various organizational and administrative documents. The Council of Free Czechoslovakia, based in London, was closely affiliated with the Czech National Social Party in exile, and its activities are also well reflected in Bena’s papers. Generally speaking, Bena’s papers are a fantastic resource for researchers interested in Czechs in exile. They reflect the activities of an array of organizations, such as the patriotic gymnastics Sokol clubs. The collection contains a large amount of correspondence with other Czech exiles, with many long and detailed letters, which are always welcomed by researchers.
The Bena papers form an excellent and powerful complement to the Radio Free Europe Corporate and Broadcast records, the Sig Mickelson papers, the Juraj Slavik papers, the Klement Simoncic papers, and other collections in the Hoover Institution Library & Archives on Czech and Slovak history as well as on Cold War broadcasting.