Rusty unfinished memorial in Lidice to be replaced by a park

La seconde vie de Lidice

On June 10, 1942, the village of Lidice West of Prague was razed to the ground by the Nazis in revenge for the assassination of the German Reich's protector Reinhardt Heidrich in the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. To remember this horrific event from WW II, the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia decided to erect a memorial in Lidice at the end of the 1970s. Giant iron-and-concrete construction started in the mid 1980s, and some 30 million crowns were invested. After 1989, the construction of the memorial, strongly marked by Communist ideology, was stopped, but its ruins have been spoiling Lidice's appearance ever since. Now the Ministry of Culture has given the green light to finally pull down the rusty construction and replace it with a park. Jan Velinger spoke to Radio Prague's David Vaughan, who has done extensive research on Lidice and its tragic history.

Since the late 1980s the site at Lidice has been the site of the memorial by the Communists, but never completed; you visited the site many times, what kind of an impression did it make on you, what does it actually look like out there?

"Well, it's very weird, because the first impression you get of Lidice when you approach it from the road is of a corrugated iron rusting fence, and a pile of twisted steel. It's very strange...what happened was that in the 1980s the Communists had a very grand idea of building this huge memorial, which would house a conference center and all sorts of different things, utterly unsuitable for the site. There was already a memorial there, much smaller, much more moving really, with a rose garden. The site of the village was in the valley with a meadow, and really, just in itself it was very powerful, it still is very powerful... What happened after the fall of Communism, was obviously, there was no money to complete such a crazy megalomania project, and so what happened was that this half built torso of the memorial was left uncompleted, and the memorial was left to continue to, decay."

Would you consider it almost a kind of godsend that the Communists never did complete this colossal memorial...when one envisions Socialist Realism, that sort of thing, that it's at least easier to get rid of now, now that it's dilapidated...

"Yes, I mean I think it's a very good thing that they never completed it, I mean from the start the Communists used Lidice and the Lidice tragedy for political purposes very cynically. Way back in the 1940s, even before they came to power they were already using it as a way of pointing not at Nazi atrocities but to what they described as Imperialist atrocity, which lumped in the whole of the West. I think only now are we beginning to look again at the meaning of Lidice through fresh eyes and I think that the demolition of this half built monstrosity is a good symbol of a new time."

In your own way you've done a lot of work on Lidice in the past, in the media, and you've just premiered a new film called "The Second Life of Lidice" at the One World Festival. That premiere was on Monday night: tell me, how did it go, Lidice has become a very important part of your own life.

"The film "The Second Life of Lidice" came from an idea I had because I had found out that a film had been made in Wales in 1942; some of our listeners may remember a programme I made a couple years ago about it, which was a recreation of the Lidice tragedy, in Britain, in a Welsh mining village, in a very similar village to Lidice, and this film was virtually forgotten, even though it was by the fantastic British director Humphrey Jennings, who is a legend in British documentary film making. I tired basically to revive the memory of this film as a way of coming back to the original message of Lidice, which had been so distorted by the years of Communism. We tried to put together a film that would tell, I suppose, the human story of Lidice, stripped of all the ideological baggage."