There were many times in the life of philanthropist Dr Jan Telensky that he thought he might never be able to return home.
He was a victim of history, a youth driven from his family and his dreams by the invading forces he stood up against.
At barely 18 he had to flee across Europe as Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia because Russia saw his ‘hometown’ Prague as a hotbed of Western dissidence.
Dr Telensky was born into a family with a military background and he wanted to be a concert violinist. But the thunder of invading tanks and troops forced him to go to ‘war’.
Barely out of school he became a freedom fighter…
But it cost him dear and ultimately he faced death by firing squad TWICE.
So, under cover of night he fled.
When he landed on the shores of Great Britain he had just £2 to his name, couldn’t speak the language and was homeless …
The young man made his home under an old oak tree in a dreary cemetery in Dunstable. He was living amongst the dead.
But in the distance he could see Luton, a crumbling decaying town which would soon become the new base for his dreams and ambitions.
Dr Telensky says: “At 18 years old I’d nearly gambled my life away over the freedom of my homeland. I fled to Britain before they could shoot me and I learned to never be afraid of anything again.”
However, for the next 30 years he was a true exile, not even allowed to return home for his father’s funeral.
But he left the dead where they lay and began to rise from what could so easily have been the ashes of his own life.
Dr Telensky got a job on the assembly line at the Vauxhall car factory opposite his graveyard – next he moved on to be a security guard at Luton airport.
Then in 1973 with the small amount of money he had saved he bought a run-down delicatessen from an immigrant family. Three years later he sold it for £200,000 which, way back then, was a real fortune.
Within a decade of fleeing the unrest of Prague Dr Telensky could have retired – and so his story began again …
Poprad is known as the gateway to the mysterious High Tatras mountains. But when Dr Telensky arrived there it was more like a creaking gate.
Jan met his wife, Alenka, in Poprad and it was because of her family that he first saw his ecological vision of the future. They had showed him the blow-hole of the subterranean thermal lake which was about to buoy up his future.
He was about to create one of the most ecologically sound hotels in the world …
AquaCity… powered by water with a pedigree better than the world’s oldest wines. Poprad gave him a subterranean lake, a dream, a new ambition, a wife and ultimately a son.
But sometimes he would stare wistfully at the metaphorical mountains that separated him from the land of his warrior fathers … and he was preparing to go home.
Along his incredible journey from the rags of destitution to the riches of success, vision and philanthropy, Dr Telensky met authors Zuzana Palovic and Gabriela Bereghazyova. Zuzana is a Central Eastern European migration expert and Gabriela studied tourism in Slovakia and the UK.
And from this chance meeting was born the powerful and often moving publication The Great Return, Slovakia’s Lost Daughters and Sons Come Home.
It tells the stories of people who went out into the world looking for wisdom and experience – but ultimately came back to the big little country of Slovakia as politicians, business people, writers and artists and so many others who are becoming the intelligent bright and strong backbone of Slovakia’s future.
Dr Telensky put it this way: “When I was forced to leave my home I was lost, grieving and disoriented and with no money, knowledge of English, friends or family. But I had drive and spirit and ultimately I succeeded.
“But when finally I could return I was deeply disappointed by the consequences of 40 years of communism. Something had to be done and I dedicated myself to the transformation of the region and I am very proud to be part of her progress.
“I believe in the tremendous potential of Slovakia and its role in the future of Europe. The winds of change are blowing in favour of the Tatras Mountains but before the region can do a quantum leap towards true leadership the world beyond Slovakia’s borders needs to be understood. To go out and experience it, but to also return is a call of duty for every youth.”
The Great Return, Slovakia’s Lost Daughters and Sons Come Home is being serialised by the consumerwatchfoundation.com over the coming weeks. It is a long book revealing some powerful and fascinating personal stories.
We are committed to telling each story in its complete form. You can read it here
You can also buy The Great Return, Slovakia’s Lost Daughters and Sons Come Home from:
As well as Slovak bookstores:
Panta Rhei SK