Two Czechs turned Canadians are the subject of a fascinating article in a recent edition of the Vancouver Sun: The late Vladimir Krajina, a resistance fighter during World War II, and his friend, Jan Drabek, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1957. The occasion is the publication of Jan’s book, “Vladimir Krajina: World War II Hero and Ecology Pioneer” (Ronsdale Press).
More on Krajina in a moment; Jan has a life story that's just as interesting as his subject's. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and grew up there during World War II, as well as in Germany, France and the U.S. After his time at W&L, where he studied journalism, he pursued a many-faceted career that has included stints as a reporter, a refugee settlement officer, a broadcaster, a taxi driver, a travel clerk and a teacher. He moved to Canada in 1965. Oh, and don't forget a stint in Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, when he served as the Czech ambassador to Kenya and Albania and as chief of protocol.
The subject of Jan's new book made for an unlikely hero: he was a botanist. But Krajina joined the Czech resistance movement after Jan’s father pointed him in that direction, and he performed daring and dangerous work to help vanquish the Nazis. He survived the war and ended up as a professor of botany at the University of British Columbia.
Jan has written 17 books so far, including several novels and—no surprise, given his eventful life—a couple of memoirs. “His Doubtful Excellency: A Canadian Novelist’s Adventure’s as President Havel’s Ambassador” concerns his diplomatic career, and “Thirteen” tells the dramatic story of how his family survived World War II. You can read more about Jan at the Czech Literature Portal.