Josef Franz Zenker – England
10th February 1785 Valteřice- 14th February 1852 Dresden
Josef Franz Zenker was born in Valteřice, house No. 35 as the eldest of seven children of Franz and Marie A. Zenker. He went to school in Horní Police because there was no school in Valteřice at that time. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, he also was interested in music. After graduating from school, he played at all dance parties in the surrounding villages until he was 17 years old.
In 1802, Josef Zenker left his native Valteřice and went to Moscow to be employed at the family business of his uncle, the Moscow banker Andreas Zenker (1762-1833). As he received only basic, therefore minimal education at Horní Police school, he was not qualified enough for working in a bank. So his uncle sent him to St Petersburg to study English, French and commerce. After that, he eventually became the right hand of his uncle. In 1812, Josef Zenker remained in Moscow occupied by the French, and left the city only after the great fire had started. He, however, had managed to save all bank books and documents, which later allowed his uncle to assess accurately all losses caused by the war and Moscow fire. In 1825 he joined the bank’s management, and in 1829 he became a member of the Academy of Practical Commerce in Moscow.
Josef Franz Zenker never forgot his homeland and his native village. In June 1821, he came to Valteřice to visit his mother and brothers, whom he had not seen for nineteen years. On that occasion, he became the godfather of his just-born nephew Josef Zenker of Novosedlo (Neugrund), whom years later he would nominate his heir and successor to the family business in Moscow.
Valteřice school became the most important and long-term testimony of Josef Zenker’s love to his native Bohemia. He founded the school fulfilling the will of his late uncle Andreas Zenker who had bequeathed 25,000 roubles for the establishing a school in his native village. Josef Zenker, together with his business partner, the prominent Prague banker Leopold von Lämel, presented to the municipality of Valteřice his intention to build a school there, and to expand and support it raising it to the level of a secondary school.
Josef Zenker was well aware of the importance of good education, so he insisted on teaching reading, writing, mathematics, German, religion, geography, history, calligraphy, as well as Latin, French, music and, in addition, fruit-growing. For this purpose, he established special School Fund, as, according to his own statement, “present school education is insufficient”. The School Fund and school itself always remained his heart’s desire. He supported not only poor school pupils, but also local peasants, etc. The capital intended for the construction and equipment of the school, including financial support for pupils, was 50,000 roubles.
The school building was designed by engineer Wenzl Jerzabek. Its construction began in May 1835, and on January 2, 1838, the school was ready for teaching in two classes. On June 11 of the same year, in the presence of the founder, the school was solemnly consecrated by local vicar Anton Krombholz.
The school in Valteřice after 1904, already with the monument in front of it
On September 9, 1850, the school was promoted to a secondary and commercial school with all appropriate rights. The local school council felt obliged to do so, because the founder of the school, in addition to the fine school building, in which the entire teaching staff and the doctor were given apartments, gave excellent teaching aids and financially supported the institution. On the south side of the school, he had a garden set up, in which half of the land was intended for practical fruit-growing lessons, and the other half for vegetable-growing. He also established a school library with three departments, namely for schoolchildren, local residents and teachers. The school was provided with a significant collection of minerals, the necessary physical and mathematical instruments and musical instruments. He appointed a school doctor, whom he also supported financially. The doctor treated the teaching staff, its family members and servants free of charge, and also provided them with medicines with the exception of mineral waters and leeches. In addition to the School Fund, Zenker also established a Pension Fund, from which, according to existing laws, all teachers and their widows, with the exception of catechists and doctors, got pensions.
Josef Zenker’s benevolence and generosity were deservedly rewarded. On August 9, 1850, he was awarded the Imperial Order of Franz Josef in recognition of his merits in school education
Josef Franz Zenker died on February 14, 1852 at the age of 67 in Dresden, where he went to treat his long-term health problems. He is buried on the Old Catholic Cemetery in Dresden. His nephew and godson Josef Franz Zenker-junior (1821-1870) from Novosedlo, took over the family business in Moscow and the administration of the Valteřice School Foundation.
Zenker’s tombstone bears the epitaph in German and Russian inscription: God, save his soul!
In the spring of 1904, Josef Hocke, the headmaster of Valteřice school, announced a fund-rising for the construction of a memorial to Josef Zenker. Thanks to friends, teachers, pupils and residents of the local villages, the required amount was raised in a very short time. The monument was created by sculptor Wilhelm Spölgen from Šluknov. The bronze bust of Josef Zenker was delivered by Mr. Fiedler from Prysk. The pedestal stood on a double step made of Šluknov syenite.The pedestal itself was made of Nordic Labradorite. The memorial was ceremoniously unveiled on October 9, 1904.
The memorial bears the inscription:
Your generosity and your faithful love to your homeland will remain unforgettable!
On October 9, 1913, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Valteřice School took place. The celebration was attended not only by pupils and teachers, but also representatives of Valteřice, District Governor Franz Schmidt with District Secretary Kindermann, delegations of neighboring municipalities, numerous associations from Česká Lípa, school inspector Josef Just as a former student of Valteřice school, Chairman of the district teachers‘ association, head teacher Josef Weber, etc. The celebrations included Mr. Franz Sachs from Úštěk and Franz Gierschick from Žandov, the very first pupils of the school, from the year 1838. Josef Hocke, the school headmaster and a relative of the school founder, praised Josef Zenker’s merits, as well as all his actions that raised the living standards of the local population. The patron of the school at that time, Andreas von Zenker (1855-1928), could not attend the celebration. He sent 100,000 roubles to the School Fund for the operation of the school in 1913, and added 1,000 roubles for the costs associated with the celebration.
Photo from the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Valteřice school
A commemorative medal was issued on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Valteřice School. The guests received medals made of gold-plated silver, and schoolchildren – made of bronze.
After the end of World War II, the monument was vandalised and removed. Various sources state different years for its removal. On March 25, 2020, during cleaning of the Valteřice cemetery, the employees of the Municipal Office in Žandov discovered stone parts of the memorial. They were found in the corner of the cemetery, in a pile of ancient tombstones that were brought here in the 1980s. Both parts were in good condition, so they could be restored. Unfortunately, the bronze bust of Josef Zenker was not found. The summoned city officials immediately expressed their wish to restore the monument. The parts of the memorial were entrusted to the care of Šluknov company Kamenopr Průmyslové závody, s.r.o. (Šluknov company Stone Industry Works, Ltd.), Josef Bartoš. The bust of Josef Zenker was carved of Carrara marble by sculptor Petr Řezáč from Prague.
Petr Řezáč measures the plaster model of the bust
In October 2, 2021, the memorial was unveiled and blessed by Father Stanislav Přibyl, church administrator in Horní Police, Jezvé and Žandov. The restoration and unveiling of the monument to Josef Zenker was financed by the city of Žandov. On this occasion, the city of Žandov issued a commemorative certificate and a commemorative medal.
Josef Zenker was one of the most outstanding natives of this region, and the local people can be rightfully proud of him. The inscription on his tombstone summarize well his personality and his impact into cultural life of his native country:
«His benevolence erected a lasting monument to him here, on earth»
Edited by: Petr Fletcher, translated by Olga Baird (Yatsenko)
Title portrait: Franz Riss (1804–1886). Portrait of Josef F. Zenker, 1831, Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Article: Baird (Yatsenko), Olga. The portrait of Louisa Zenker by Sophie Cheradame. In: Bezděz, 2021; https://www.academia.edu/39655679
Local Museum and Gallery, Česká Lípa
State District Archive, Česká Lípa