Lidice: A village immortalised through tragedy
The massacre of Lidice, a small village just North West of Prague, on the night of the 9th of June 1942 was the darkest moment in Czech wartime history. Following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the German Reichsprotektor of the Czech Lands, on the 27th of May 1942, the Nazis began a massive retaliation campaign against the civilian Czech populace. Lidice bore the brunt of this savage response, accused of harbouring one of the perpetrators of the assassination.
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, German troops stormed into the village and forcefully removed the villagers from their homes. Women and children were taken to the local schoolhouse, while all men over 15 years of age were lined up against a farmhouse wall the following day and shot. 173 lives were taken that day.
The village itself was completely razed and today little remains but open fields where children once played and householders went about their daily business. Recently, in honour of those who lost their lives and to provide a stark reminder of the atrocities of war, a new museum has been opened in the modern Lidice, which was rebuilt in 1949 close to the site of the original village. The museum aims to bring home to visitors the true nature of the massacre. It uses state of the art multimedia technology to depict the events of the time and the experiences of the Lidice women and children in the years that followed as vividly as possible. One of the creators of the new exhibition is documentary film director, Pavel Stingl. He explains how he first became interested in the village's history:
His involvement in the production of the documentary about the Lidice massacre for Czech television led Stingl's interest in the topic to broaden and he wished to make the atrocities which occurred more widely known on an international scale. Although an exhibition describing events already existed in the modern village, Stingl believed that to appeal to the younger generations it would have to be made more relevant.
"At that time, there was a very old museum which had been here for 50 years. This museum wasn't so bad, but the main point of its old style was a daily meeting with the people who were a part of the story, the Lidice women. Now the Lidice women have almost died out or are ill and are unable to go to the museum everyday to meet people there. And of course we have a new generation, a coming generation, who have not experienced wartime. Therefore I made a proposal to renovate the museum into something of a modern museum."
The film has been shown in the Cymgiedd School ever since it was first produced, to remind local children of their village's involvement in informing people of the Lidice tragedy and their remarkable connection with the small Czech town. But in recent years, the links between the two villages have been renewed and now, over 60 years after the tragedy, Arwel Michael was one of the first people to visit the recently opened museum. He gave me his impressions of the exhibition.
The new museum shares one aim at least with what Jennings' film achieved back in 1943; making events relevant to the general public. Although the multimedia exhibits are intended to appeal specifically to the younger generation, Arwel Michael believes that modern society as a whole has a lot to learn from the Lidice museum.
Many of the Lidice women who remember the night of June the 9th 1942 have now passed away and those who remain are now elderly, some too frail to recount the tragedy. However, there are still some who well remember the tragic events. One such lady is Wynne Plocka, formerly Horak. She is English, but was married to Josef Horak, one of two airmen from Lidice, who had fled to England at the beginning of the occupation. She recalls returning to the site of the former village of Lidice in 1945.
"Just an empty field, just a wooden cross. And only women, mourners. That was the most terrible thing. Apart from Josef Stribrny and Josef Horak, no men, absolutely no men at all. No children. And then just a few children came back, three or four. But now history is being amended and the true story is coming out, and the fantastic work Mr. Stingl and Mr. Vaughan have done on the museum is really out of this world. Before it was just a room with photographs and now it can actually bring home to people the terrible tragedy that occurred."