The Virgin and Child in the battle against Hitler
Last week I promised some recordings from Radio Prague in the early 1990s, but I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a break in our chronological journey through the archives, to play a recording that has special relevance this week. On Monday Pope Benedict visited the town of Stará Boleslav just outside Prague, famous for its links with the early days of Christianity in the Czech Lands. During his stay he prayed at an extremely rare medieval icon of the Virgin and Child, cast in metal and said to date back to the days of Princess Ludmila in the 10th century. The icon, known as the “Palladium” traditionally protects the Czech nation from danger.
On September 10 1938, just three weeks before Hitler marched into the Sudetenland, the Palladium was paraded through the centre of Prague. Tens of thousands of people joined the procession, which took place on the same day as a speech by President Edvard Beneš, in which he tried to offer reconciliation with the Sudeten German minority, who by now had become whipped up by Nazi propaganda. Here is a unique recording of a British journalist - whose name is given in the archive as W. Robinson - capturing the atmosphere of that moment 71 years ago:
“… In spite of everything, people go about their ordinary lives and occupations, merely laying in extra supplies of food. One sometimes sees somebody walking about with a grey cylindrical tin hung about him. He’s been getting a new gas mask. But nobody stares or thinks it remarkable. Occasionally an office is short-handed because some of the staff have been called to the colours. But there is no panic, no violent explosion of hate, only a deep gnawing anxiety. If we have to fight, we could not desire as brothers in arms a people more determined, more reliable, more sympathetic in spirit to ourselves, or more like ourselves in their language of reasonable argument and their love of democracy and freedom.”
The episode featured today was first broadcast on October 1, 2009.