For just under 15 years, from 1928 until 1941, a monument to the American president Woodrow Wilson stood in front of Prague’s main railway station. It was a mark of gratitude to the man who played a crucial role in the country’s independence – it’s hard to imagine the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918 without Wilson and his commitment to self-determination. In 1941, Wilson’s statue was torn down by the Nazis after Germany declared war on America. Now, almost 70 years later, a group called the American Friends of the Czech Republic is spearheading a campaign to restore it. Earlier Radio Prague spoke to the group’s founder Robert Doubek from his home in Washington.
“The Wilson Monument was an 11-foot or 3-metre bronze statue, which depicted Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference, standing in front of a chair which is bedecked with an American flag, and holding his hands raised in what is deemed to be a Protestant blessing, with the symbolism of blessing the new Czechoslovak democracy. The bronze statue stood upon a 4.5-metre pedestal, which stood on a lower base, and on the base were the words in both English and Czech – ‘The World Must Be Made Safe For Democracy’”
And do we know what happened to it?
“Well yes, to the best of our knowledge. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941. The United States Congress declared war on Japan, and on the night of December 11th, the monument was torn down upon the orders of the Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich. To our knowledge, the bronze casting was melted down to make bullets for the German army, and the pedestal was also destroyed.”
You’re spearheading this campaign to have the Woodrow Wilson monument restored to the Czech capital. What stage is that project at now?
“Well, we’re at the point where in February – after a selection process lasting nine months – out of thirteen proposals which we received from teams of Czech sculptors we selected a sculptor team. We have put them under contract. They’ve rented a studio in Prague, and are currently under way in creating an aperture and a framework for the statue.”
And will that be an exact replica of the original statue, or an interpretation?
“No, it will not be an interpretation, the intention is to recreate as closely as possible the work of the original sculptor Albin Polasek, who was born in Moravia, but who headed the sculpture department of the Art Institute of Chicago for thirty years, from 1920 to 1950.”
Do you also intend to put the monument back in exactly the same place as it was in 1941?
“It would have been ideal, but in the 1970s the communist government established an addition to the train station, which faces the original Wilson station, and they built a very ugly six-lane highway directly running back and forth in front of the façade of the station. The monument’s original location is now a rooftop parking lot, so it’s really not appropriate. So instead, the new monument will face the façade of the station addition, as the original monument faced the façade of the original station.”