International Students’ Day – November 17th


bcjJanOpletalThe 17th of November is INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ DAY, an observance of student activism throughout the world. The date commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 demonstrations in Prague, Czechoslovakia by Czech students against the German Nazi occupation which resulted in the killing of Jan Opletal – an aspiring medical student by Nazi soldiers. The student’s funeral procession which was held on the 15th of November led to thousands of students, who used the occasion as another anti– Nazi demonstration. In a brutal retaliation all Czech higher education institutions were closed down; Nazi troopers stormed the University of Prague, more than 1,200 students were jailed or sent to concentration camps; and nine students and professors were executed without trial two days later on the 17th of November 1939. This day has further significance for Czechs. In 1989, the 50th anniversary of these events sparked the Velvet Revolution, the beginning of the end of communist rule. 

Border Crossings at SC4 Global Awareness Day


globalhorizontalSt. Clair County(Michigan) Community College’s 18th annual Global Awareness Day is set for Wednesday, November 19, 2014. This year’s theme is “Holocaust, Persecution and Refugees.”

The day’s schedule includes emotional stories from survivors and refugees and experts discussing current refugee crises, including in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

All events are free and in the Fine Arts Theatre on the college’s Port Huron, Michigan (48061-5015) campus at  323 Erie Street.  Global Awareness Day is presented by the college’s Global Awareness Taskforce.

bcsandynovacekembassycr400I’m honored to be doing the evening keynote to tell Charles’ story!

  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – “Resistance.” Sandra A. Novacek will share the story of her late husband, Charles Novacek, who was a member of the Czech underground resistance during World War II against the Nazis, as well as his resistance against the Soviet communists after the war. 

Here’s the rest of the day’s schedule, starting at 10 a.m.

  • 10 to 11:15 a.m. – “Natalia’s Story.” Hear the dramatic story of Natalia Malaydakh, who was rescued by a local American family after her homeland of the Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Her host parents, Linda and Greg Binda worked tirelessly to bring her to the U.S. Learn about her experience, which is part of the larger story of what is happening in the Ukraine today, and hear how one family chose to make a difference.
  •  12:30 to 1:45 p.m. – “Holocaust survivors Rene Lichtman and Esther Lupian.” Rene Lichtman and Esther Lupian, who were children when the Nazis were rounding up Jews for execution, will share their stories. Rene was living in France when the war began and hid in plain sight after being adopted by a family who risked their lives to keep him safe. Esther’s mother saved her by escaping the ghetto and living in the forest for months.
  • 2:30 to 3:50 p.m. – “Rescue.” Although much credit has been given to gentiles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, research is coming to light about Jewish rescuers. Rene Lichtman will discuss the current research on this topic followed by a screening of the film “On the Wings of Eagles.” The film tells the story of the community of Le Chambon, which was responsible for saving 3,000 to 5,000 Jews from certain death.
  •  4 to 5 p.m. – “ISIS, Persecution and Refugees.” In Iraq and Syria, many people fear for their lives as ISIS advances. Rampant sexual slavery, forced marriages, torture, beheadings and mass executions are causing a flood-tide of refugees. Hear Dr. Bassim Gorial, founder and CEO of the Arab Broadcasting Network, discuss the current persecution of those who differ from the radical ideology of ISIS.
  • 6 to 7 p.m. – “International Reception in SC4’s Fine Arts Galleries.” Join us for a meet and greet with SC4’s international students and foreign exchange students from local high schools. The international students represent several countries, each with their own unique culture and way of life. Refreshments will be provided.
  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – “Resistance.” Sandra A. Novacek will share the story of her late husband, Charles Novacek, who was a member of the Czech underground resistance during World War II against the Nazis, as well as his resistance against the Soviet communists after the war. She will be draw upon his story featured in “Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.”

For more information about SC4’s Global Awareness Day, contact Kraig Archer at or (810) 989-5695.

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Today is Charles’ Name Day!


Pictured above are Charles’ grandfather Karel Novacek, uncle Karel Novacek and grandmother Maria Novacek at home in Tasov. 

name day  noun

  1. the feast day of the saint after whom a person is named
  2. the day on which a person is christened

“Antonín, my father, was born on June 2, 1896, in a village called Tasov, located in southern Moravia. His father, Karel (Charles in English; I was named in his honor), was a farmer and owner of a small beer brewery in the district town Velké Meziřičí.”

—Charles Novacek, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance 

Today, November 4, is my late husband Charles’ name day. He was born Karel Novacek on May 11, 1928 in the village of Ožďany, in the district of Rimavska Sobota, region of Gemer, in the country of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia was a sovereign state that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in January 1993.

Charles was named after his Moravian-born paternal grandfather Karel Novacek. Had Charles’ grandfather been Slovakian-born his name would have likely been spelled Karol. He changed his name to the Spanish Carlos when he moved to Venezuela in 1950 and then to the English Charles when he moved to the USA in 1956.

The popularity of the name Karel was popular in Europe due to the fame of Charles the Great (742-814), commonly known as Charlemagne, a Frankish king who ruled over most of Europe.

Light a Candle for a Loved One


“Mother showed me the nearby cemetery, where Ilonka was buried. Once a year on Dusicky (All Souls’ Day) on November 2, like everybody else from the village, we would go to the cemetery, and my family would light the customary candle at my sister’s grave in her honor.”                                                                                                                                          –Charles Novacek, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

In Slovakia November 2nd is Dusicky (All Souls’ Day), the holiday for the dead. People remember and honor the good spirits that have passed on – their family, friends, and people who have left an impact.

All Souls’ Day is a Catholic festival, but the Slovak people have celebrated it since pagan times. It was believed that one night every year the dead walked the earth with the living. To calm family ghosts people took time on this day to pay respect to their loved ones’ souls. The tradition continues today with placing of lighted candles and wreaths on relatives’ graves.

The flickering glow of so many lit candles in cemeteries is enchanting!

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Across a Crowded Room. . .


When my late husband Charles and I first met face to face in 1996 he told me he had seen me somewhere before. . . “across a crowded room.” Charles declared he painted portraits and “never forgot a face.”  He definitely remembered seeing mine. Somewhere.  I hoped that was a good thing!

I oddly felt the same way about Charles’ face and started thinking long and hard about where we could have met.  What were the possibilities? What locations did we have in common? Where could our paths have crossed? We both lived in the city of Southfield, Michigan at one time. Maybe we saw each other at the public library or a bakery.  At a hardware store or movie.  Or was it our doppelganger or clone we saw? I was determined to solve the mystery.

Eventually, it occurred to me our encounter could have been work-related. I started to think about locations a civil engineer and a public library director would have in common. Somewhere connected with building construction or architecture.  And then it hit me!

In 1978, the taxpayers of Hartland, Michigan, where I was a library director passed a bond issue for the construction of an addition to our historic Federalist style building opened in 1927 and designed by acclaimed architect Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Lorch attended the Detroit School of Art and studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1890-1892. He taught architecture at the University of Chicago and adapted the concept of Pure Design developed by Denham W. Ross of Harvard University. Lorch’s version of Pure Design taught students to be inventive with shape, space and color rather than rely on traditional styles and architectural solutions. He was also credited with inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright in his design of Unity Temple in Chicago.

Lorch was the first director of the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan from 1906.  In 1923 he offered a visiting professorship to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, the second place prize winner of the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. Saarinen accepted Lorch’s offer and remained at Michigan until 1925 when George Booth invited him to develop a new art school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Then Lorch was named the first dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Michigan in 1931.

In preparation for our library building project, it was important to me to learn as much as I could about building and interior design. I felt it was important to respect the work of Lorch, the notable Michigan architect and designer of Cromaine Library.

I read a lot about “state of the art” libraries and researched workshops and conferences to attend. At that time there were virtually no local workshops on these topics focusing on library buildings exclusively. Luckily, I found out about “Design Michigan: Your Community,” a conference to be held at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1979. The target audience was community managers, planners, business representatives, people in charge of public buildings etc. I fit in.

Preconference endorsements stated, “Good design is an intelligent use of our resources. It uses what we have done in the past, with an eye toward the future. Good design can be efficient, saving money and supplies. It can respond to the times and the changes in our society. It can be functional, fitting in with the environment yet at the same time serving people’s needs. And while it can be practical, it can also be aesthetically pleasing.”

It sounded perfect for me and I loved the tie-in with Emil Lorch’s connection to Cranbrook, with its beautifully designed historic buildings and grounds.

And it WAS perfect. Charles had been doing work at Cranbrook. Nearly twenty years later we figured it out! That’s where I first saw Charles and where he first saw me “across a crowded room.”

Note: Above are photographs of Charles and me from close to the time period of our first encounter. It’s the best I could do.

Educator’s Guide Debut + 2nd Anniversary of Border Crossings

teacherguidecover1Today, 10/21/14,* I hail the second anniversary of the launch of BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.   Thank you one and all for your encouragement and support of Charles Novacek’s award-winning memoir and me through this remarkable journey! Many borders have indeed been crossed.

Charles’ timeless firsthand account of his life spent in the Czech Resistance from age 11 to 20 during World War II and the Cold War continues to inspire readers, young and old alike.

However, this year there will be no champagne toast or cake to honor this. Instead, I will celebrate with the debut of an Educator’s Guide for BORDER CROSSINGS created by author, educator, and consultant, Debbie Gonzales. Its official introduction will be at the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) Annual Conference, “Cavalcade of Authors” on October 23, 2014 in Ann Arbor, MI.

The guide “has been crafted with the overall intent to connect readers with Charles’ emotional journey as a young man growing up in a time of historical turmoil. The lessons and activities presented in the guide are creative, intuitive, and informative, thus allowing students to consider Charles’ plight as if it were their own. All aspects of the guide have been aligned with the Common Core Anchor Standards of Reading Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and History/Social Studies for grades 6 to 12.”

Ms. Gonzales states “This unforgettable book distills history down to a person level, one that young people can connect with emotionally. Students will identify with Charles and his initial desires to be a regular kid, engaging in activities and interests much like their own. As the incredible story progresses, students will be shocked by the unbelievable trials Charles was forced to endure – trials that are documented through letters, documents, and pictures. In short, BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance transcends a factual study of war and geography into an experience and appreciation of a man’s soulful journey of heartfelt love for his country and her people.”

The guide is available online through and What a thrill to be able to introduce and share Charles’ message and story with young people!

*It’s also the date Charles and I were married in 1996 and the name of my publishing company – 1021 Press.

6 Reasons to Attend Book + Art Event at the Scarab Club

scarabwindowDetroiter Sandra Novacek will present an illustrated talk on her late husband Charles Novacek’s life as told in Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 from 6-8 p.m. at the Scarab Club, Detroit. Sandra will show vintage family photos and give details of the dangers her husband faced and how art played an important role in his life during World War II and the Cold War.


scarabclubsmallbeam  1. THE HISTORIC SCARAB CLUB. The event will be held in Detroit’s beautiful and historic Scarab Club lounge where famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hung out while he worked on his Detroit industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Rivera signed a beam in the lounge in 1932, an over 80 year tradition of famous artists, writers et al leaving their autographs for posterity. The first beam was signed in 1928 (the year Charles Novacek was born) by Vachel Lindsey, the father of modern singing poetry. Other signers include writers Elmore Leonard and John Dos Passos and artists Norman Rockwell and Charles Burchfield.

bcmidwestbaseal2  2. AN AWARD-WINNING BOOK. The memoir Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance has not only been endorsed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but it has been a winner and finalist of 14 awards for independent publishing including a Midwest Book Awards Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir, and an Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Award for World History.

bcwarrenplsandycrnewsletter  3. A GREAT STORY! Charles Novacek died in 2007 but his widow, Sandra Novacek promised his story would be told. A gifted storyteller in her own right, Sandra enchants as she recounts tales from her husband’s heroic life, adventure, escape and survival in Czechoslovakia from terrifying to heartwarming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  4. BEAUTIFUL AND EXPRESSIVE ART WORK. The event will be enhanced by an exhibit of Charles Novacek’s drawings and paintings. His works range from portraiture in pastel and acrylic to deeply expressive acrylics and watercolors. Examples include “Samarkand Child”, a portrait of a beggar he found crying on a street curb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The paintings were created at different points in Novacek’s life as well, ranging from one he painted at age 13 to one he did shortly before he died in 2007.

bckroj3  5. VINTAGE, EMBROIDERED FOLK COSTUMES. A selection of rare and colorful, vintage Czech and Slovak embroidered folk costumes (kroj) from the collection of Jan Letowski will be exhibited.  Jan is an independent researcher, consultant and curator of European ethnographic dress. He lectures on the history and function of clothing in traditional societies, namely of Eastern Europe, and collects ethnographic material related to his research. His emphasis is on preservation and on increasing the awareness of the value of folk dress to the study of history and art.

applestrudelczechbox  6. DELICIOUS APPLE STRUDEL. Enjoy one of the Czech Republic’s most popular desserts – apple strudel (Jablecny zavin), while viewing the art, socializing and networking with other visitors at the event. Apple strudel is a traditional pastry, a large rectangular pastry turnover, easily recognizable because of its nice high stacks of apple layers. It is DELICIOUS and lovingly baked by the Czechbox Bakery!

The Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth St., Detroit. Free. Information: (313) 831-1250,  Lot and metered street parking. Secure public parking is available in the Cultural Center surface lot, directly behind the Scarab Club. There are no elevators or other handicap access to the 2nd and 3rd floors. 

Banned Books Week + Celebrate the Freedom to Read!

bannedbooksweekFree people read freely! Every year hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States. The American Library Association (ALA), says there were at least 464 in 2012.

The librarian and freedom-loving American in me has always been concerned by this and so each year I join the book community et al celebrating Banned Books Week, September 21-21, 2014 - bringing attention to challenged books and the importance of the freedom to read. Librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types share in the support of this freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

When I hear of books being banned I can’t help but think of the rampant censorship of the Nazis throughout Germany and the countries they occupied including Czechoslovakia, my late husband Charles Novacek’s homeland. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Propaganda Ministry directed by Joseph Goebbels took control of all forms of communication: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media.

Even before the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia (spring 1933) Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians created lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Then one night the Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany. They marched by torchlight in nighttime parades, sang chants, and threw books into huge bonfires. On that night more than 25,000 books were burned. Some were works of Jewish writers, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Most of the books were by non-Jewish writers, including such famous Americans as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis, whose ideas the Nazis viewed as different from their own and therefore not to be read.

Also censored were books by Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells and even the books of Helen Keller, who had inspite of her deafness and blindness had become a respected writer. When told of the of the book burnings, Keller responded: “Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States protested the book burnings, a clear violation of freedom of speech, in public rallies across America.

Schools also played an important role in spreading Nazi ideas. Some books were removed from classrooms by censors and newly written textbooks were brought in to teach students the German language and blind obedience and devotion to the party and Adolf Hitler.

My husband Charles experienced Nazi censorship in his schools in the Nazi occupied protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia from 1939-1945. He poignantly talks about his experiences in his award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, 2012. 

Please join me this week and year ‘round to protect our important freedom to read and share ideas freely Celebrate Banned Books Week and protect the Freedom to Read!

# Peace Day: Postpone No More!

Return to the Cave to Enlighten - Acrylic Series 36From Charles Novacek’s Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

My father could not understand

the mid-century chaos

that spread discontent

and disregarded peoples’ right to live in peace.

Silently I watched his torment

over the conditions in which we found ourselves

when the war ended.

Politicians had not—

and still have not—

learned enough from history to prevent wars







and the practice of domination.

The war didn’t end.

  Peace was just postponed.




Border Crossings – Tomorrow Night




             National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library | 1400 Inspiration Place SW                                                    Cedar Rapids, IA 52404 | 319.362.8500