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Shatz honored by Virginia legislature for second time

Column runs in Lake Placid, Williamsburg, Virginia newspapers

Virginia State Sen. Montgomery Mason, right, presents Frank Shatz with the Commonwealth of Virginia Senate and House Resolution, commending him for his actions. Gerry Underdown, left, portraying at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Robert Carter, a member of the Governor’s Council, participated in the ceremony. (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid News columnist Frank Shatz was honored in September for the second time in 20 years by the Virginia legislature.

Shatz and his wife Jaroslava, who both ran the Continental Shoppe leather goods store in Lake Placid from 1962 to 1985, had split their residency between Williamsburg and Lake Placid since the early 1980s — winters in Virginia and summers in New York — but they now live exclusively in Williamsburg. His weekly column, World Focus, has been published in The Virginia Gazette for 38 years and the Lake Placid News for 22 years.

In 2001, the first time the Virginia General Assembly (House and Senate) honored Shatz with a resolution, it was for his work to help establish the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary and for his actions as a Holocaust survivor during World War II. The Shatzes are originally from Czechoslovakia and arrived in the U.S. in 1958 after surviving Nazi and communist regimes.

This year, the Virginia General Assembly honored Shatz as “a distinguished columnist and heroic Holocaust survivor whose stories and wisdom have touched innumerable lives.”

“I tell you the truth, it didn’t change my life. Everything is the same,” Shatz said on Sept. 28 about this year’s resolution.

The resolution was agreed to by the Senate on Feb. 4 and the House of Delegates on Feb. 8, and a copy of the resolution was formally handed to Shatz on Monday, Sept. 13. Senate Joint Resolution 336 was sponsored by Sen. T. Montgomery Mason (D-1st District), Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. (R-3rd District) and Del. Michael Mullin (D-93rd District).

“I felt like after such an emotional weekend celebrating you on Monday was great for me to remain positive and upbeat,” Mason wrote to Shatz on Tuesday, Sept. 14 in an email. “You have spent a lifetime remaining positive and upbeat after unspeakable loss and family tragedy. I remain in awe of who you are and your lifetime accomplishments. Thank you for sharing them with me and this community!”

Mason said his favorite line in the resolution is “Frank Shatz has recently given public talks about his life experiences at The College of William and Mary, leaving all attendees with a greater understanding of both World War II and the Holocaust and the philosophies that have helped him remain positive in spite of the traumas he has endured throughout his life.”

Shatz, now 95 years old, was born in 1926 in Parkan, Czechoslovakia, a port city on the Danube River. It is now called Sturovo, in the republic of Slovakia. During World War II, he was sent to a Nazi slave labor camp because he was Jewish, and in 1944 — at the age of 18 — he escaped, made it to Budapest, Hungary, and joined the anti-Nazi underground movement. He cheated death at least three times by the end of the war, and after the war, he became a journalist, working in Prague as a foreign correspondent. That’s where he met Jaroslava. They married in Prague in 1948.

“As the Iron Curtain was descending, the borders were sealed off,” Shatz wrote in his 2012 autobiography, “Reports from a Distant Place.” “But as an accredited foreign correspondent, I had a valid passport and could have left for the West. But without my wife. This I refused to do.”

The secret police detained him one night, and after more than 10 hours of interrogation, he was let go. In 1954, less than a year after the first interrogation, he was under suspicion again, so they finally decided to leave.

“We fled Communist Czechoslovakia with only the clothes on our backs and a small piece of hand luggage,” Shatz wrote in his book. “But in it my wife, without my knowledge, had hidden my tresured copy of ‘The Anatomy of Peace,’ by Emery Reeves, a book that has become my bible.”

The Shatzes made their way to Sweden, then traveled around Europe and the Middle East before arriving in the U.S. on the Queen Mary in November 1958. Shatz worked for Pan Am, then as a foreign news editor at the Hungarian Daily in Cleveland, Ohio, before moving to Lake Placid in 1962, a year after spending a vacation in the Adirondack Mountains.

Through all of his life’s challenges, Shatz has remained positive. Asked where that comes from, he said: “I suppose it is what saved my life in the first place. I’m an optimist by nature,” he said. “It’s really attitude what makes you resilient. I’m very proud of it, everything what I’ve been through didn’t change me.”

And Shatz isn’t slowing down. He still walks 3 miles a day. He still writes a column for The Virginia Gazette, which is sometimes reprinted in the Lake Placid News. And he still gives lectures at the College of William & Mary.

One time, while interviewing a presidential candidate, Shatz was asked was he was doing to stay youthful.

“I said keep your body moving. Keep your head moving, I mean your mind. Don’t slow down. … And I am turning out my column every week. That is the big secret.”