Seventy years after a Nazi SS commander ordered his statue in the Czech capital of Prague to be destroyed, Woodrow Wilson – the 28th U.S. president, founder of the League of Nations, and a man remembered warmly in the Czech Republic for his efforts to support Czech independence – has returned.
A 35-foot-tall monument to Wilson was unveiled, Oct. 5, at a ceremony that featured former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Czech President Vaclav Klaus, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen and attended by hundreds of people who packed Vrchlicky Park near Prague’s historic train station.
And the monument, which includes a bronze replica of the original Wilson statue atop a granite base, is again in Vrchlicky Park due in large part to the efforts of former Riverside resident Robert Doubek.
Doubek is no stranger to making big plans – then making them a reality. He was also instrumental in raising money, obtaining a site and commissioning a design for the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington, D.C.
In 1995, he and good friend Phil Kasik, a Berwyn native, founded the American Friends of the Czech Republic to support the Czech Republic’s entry into NATO. The organization helped establish a memorial in to Tomas Masaryk, the first president of the independent Czech nation, in Washington, D.C., in 2002.
In 2006, Doubek met a delegation of the Czech parliament, which visited that monument, and came away from the experience with an idea.
“These people were so proud and so grateful that I was moved by the whole thing,” said Doubek in an interview with the Landmark last week, “and I thought we should have a second act.”
Doubek recalled that a statue of President Wilson once stood prominently opposite the Prague train station. He did a little research and found it had been designed by Czech-born and American-trained sculptor Albin Polasek, the longtime former head of the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago – a man Doubek’s father personally revered as an artist.
The original 1929 statue had been hauled down by order of Reinhard Heydrich, the Gestapo commander named as governor of Czechoslovakia after the U.S. entered the war against Germany in 1941. Heydrich was also infamous as one of the architects of the Third Reich’s Final Solution for the Jewish people.
“I thought, ‘Do we really want Heydrich to have the last word?'” Doubek said. “Are we going to sit here and let the Nazis have the last word?”
After getting the support of his colleagues at the AFoCR, Doubek convinced the Prague City Council of his plan to bring the statue back to the city. It was an effort that would require Doubek’s group to raise $750,000 and require the city of Prague to secure the site and fund the construction of the granite base. He got that agreement from the city in 2007.
In 2008, the organization announced a competition open to all sculptors in the Czech Republic to design the new monument, including a replica of the original statue. The trouble was the original was long gone. The only thing that remained was a full-size plaster cast of the statue’s head and shoulders, which was found in 2008 in the National Museum in Prague. By 2009, a team of three artists was working on a new Wilson monument.
“They used digital scanning of the head to get the exact dimensions of the final product,” said Doubek. “To my eyes, it’s identical to what Polasek did in 1929.”
The AFoCR held fundraising galas, organized by the organization’s chairman, Fred Malek, a longtime Republican political operative. Malek served as George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager in 1992 and was co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign finance committee in 2008. They also sent direct mail pitches to Czech Americans to raise the $750,000 needed to fund the statue.
In September a crane lowered the new statue onto its granite base and Doubek, Kasik and Malek participated in the week-long celebration of the monument’s dedication, which culiminated in its unveiling on Oct. 5
Kasik and Doubek pulled the cords that brought down the curtain covering the statue of Wilson, standing with his palms down in a gesture of blessing for the Czech democracy.
The event was of great national importance, and Wilson’s legacy in the Czech Republic – all but unknown in the U.S. – still reverberates, Doubek said.
“I talked to young people there, some distant relatives, and I said, ‘What do you think?'” Doubek said. “[One] said, ‘I think it’s important for us to understand our history, and Wilson played a very important role in our democracy.'”