On Saturday the 13th of November 2021, the community of Lidice and all those who knew him the world over, raised a final glass to Václav Zelenka. Lidice had suffered yet another great loss with his passing but his impact on humanity remains indelibly imprinted on the very soul of Lidice for generations throughout the world for countless years to come. With former Mayor Hana Pokorná we look back on the life of the Lidice child who led the way in rejuvenating the village’s rose garden and memorial following a sustained period of neglect:
“Václav Zelenka was born in Kladno. He was only 3¾ years old when the Nazis exterminated his village and the majority of its inhabitants. He was one of the first to be selected for Germanisation from the group of mothers and children held at the Kladno Grammar School Gymnasium; and was ultimately placed within a German family in April 1945 following a very hard Hitler Youth re-education process in Oberweis, Austria.”
The Wagner family, who re-named Václav, Rolf, rarely had time to settle because of Allied bombing raids. After arriving in Bülhau (near Dresden), the bombing of Dresden took place, necessitating a move to the Wagners’ native home of Olbernhau; and in the autumn of 1946, Rolf began attending German school. 1947 saw the whole family move again to the town of Lohsa in Lusatia, 20 km from the Czech border, as Václav gradually transformed into a German boy, losing his ‘mother tongue’. He had a very close relationship with his adopted father and although Václav lived in a German family near the border of his homeland, the last child from Lidice did not return to Czechoslovakia until May 1947.
“Efforts had been ongoing since the end of the war to reunite the surviving Lidice women with those children who had been sent to German families. It was Václav’s memories of old Lidice that helped to identify him. He remembered his old village, his house, and the clothes of his mother. In 1951 he moved with his Czech mother to the new Lidice.”
Václav graduated from the Secondary School of Electrical Engineering in Prague, so after completing national military service, he focused on technical professions. His last job was as a technician in today’s Air Traffic Control at Prague airport. In 1962, he met Helena Šnáblová at a dance party in Lidice. They fell in love and later married. Václav’s first son was born in 1962, the second in 1964, and the third in 1975. In the 1980s Václav became involved in politics and took a serious interest in the running of the town. In 1998, the future of the village looked in jeopardy and he became Lidice’s Mayor. Under his administration the Lidice Memorial was established under the stewardship of the Ministry of Culture; the Rose Garden of Peace and Friendship was renovated; a communist peacekeeping memorial, still in the construction procedure was liquidated; and property issues in the village were resolved.
“Václav was an animal lover since childhood and particularly liked dogs. But he could be a paradox, for example, he was also a passionate hunter. He loved the company of friends, colleagues and especially his own family. He never spoiled any fun. He did not like double-dealing, lies and dissemblance. In short, he had a genuine character.”