Vaclav (Venda) Mach was born in Upice, Bohemia, in 1917. His family had been in the textile business for two generations before his birth, and Vaclav’s father built a modern factory in 1929. His father’s early death in 1936 forced his son to end his formal education at the age of 19 to run the business. Although Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis, Vaclav Mach was able to continue to operate the family textile mill profitably. However, when the communist regime took control of Czechoslovakia in 1946, he lost the business.
With a wife, Jarmila Pyterowa, and young stepson to support, Mr. Mach applied to leave Czechoslovakia, but was refused. He and his family attempted to escape from Czechoslovakia four times. During the last attempt, at Christmas 1950, all were caught and jailed.
Mr. Mach and his family were convicted and sentenced to incarceration. However, because the jails were full, they were sent home to await confinement when conditions allowed. Mr. Mach seized this opportunity to make a last dash to freedom. In 1951, he took his wife and stepson to East Berlin, where they successfully entered West Berlin. From there, the Machs travelled to Switzerland.
Initially, Mr. Mach attempted to develop a business in Ethiopia, creating bags from kenaf rather than jute. However, nothing came of these efforts and, in 1953, he emigrated to Canada and settled in Québec.
From a humble beginning repairing looms, Mr. Mach advanced to become executive assistant to the president of Wabasso, the Canadian textile company. Subsequently, he took a position with an international firm, Werner Textile Consultants in New York. In 1963, he formed his own consulting firm — Textile Managers, Inc. in Unteraegeri, Switzerland — where he remained until his retirement.
Mr. Mach’s first wife, Jarmila, died in 1978. In 1981, he married Hanni Gaensslen, a Swiss physician. Her interest in medicine led him to join her in creating two foundations, one in Switzerland and one in Canada, to advance medical research and education.
Switzerland was chosen as the site for one foundation because it was the land of Dr. Gaensslen’s birth and Vaclav Mach’s residence. Canada was the site for the other because it was Mr. Mach’s adopted homeland. He felt Canada had given him an opportunity to fully realize his talents — an opportunity he would never have had in Czechoslovakia under the old regimes. Nevertheless, until his death, Vaclav Mach continued to be interested in Amnesty International and political organizations in the Czech Republic. Vaclav Mach died in 2001.
Hanni Gaensslen was born in Aarau Switzerland in 1926. Her father died when she was 18 months old and her mother eventually married a widower with three children. Dr. Gaensslen enjoyed a good relationship with her stepfather, her stepsister, and her two stepbrothers. She attended elementary and secondary school in Aargau, then trained as a laboratory assistant. After working for 3 years in a laboratory, she entered medical school at the University of Freiburg, where she received her MD degree in 1959.
Following graduation, Dr. Gaensslen studied in Paris, Heidelberg, Berne, and Zurich, training in internal medicine, psychiatry, and neurology. In 1965, she received specialist designation as an internist and eventually entered practice in internal medicine in Aarau. Dr. Gaensslen’s practice continued until 1981 when she married Vaclav Mach.
Dr. Gaensslen was a compassionate woman. From the time she became a medical student, she was a member of the Vizenzkonferenz (known as Viko). Members of this organization visit a needy family weekly to provide both financial support and advice, something Dr. Gaensslen did all her life. She was also active in religious organizations, including Religious Belief in the Second World War, Pro Ecclesia, Whither the Church, and Christian Solidarity International.
As neither Dr. Gaensslen nor Vaclav Mach had children, Dr. Gaensslen convinced her husband to help her create two medical research foundations. One, in Switzerland, is known as the Mach-Gaensslen Stiftung Schweiz. The other, in Canada, is the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada. Both had just begun operating before Dr. Gaensslen’s unexpected death in 2000.