A Christmas message from the survivors of Lidice in 1945

With Christmas just round the corner, we break our chronological journey through the archives this week to go back to Christmas 1945. We’re in Kročehlavy, a suburb of the industrial town of Kladno near Prague. This was home to the survivors of one of the horrors of the wartime occupation, the murder in June 1942 of all the men and most of the children from the nearby village of Lidice. Only one Lidice family had survived the massacre intact: Josef Horák was one of two young pilots from the village who had fled at the beginning of the occupation, and he spent the war serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force. After the liberation he moved straight back to Czechoslovakia with his English wife Wynne and their two small children. The family was a symbol of a new life for Lidice, and over Christmas 1945 Czechoslovak Radio arranged a radio bridge to Britain from a Christmas party in the Horáks’ living room. Here is a slightly edited version of that broadcast.

Presenter: “Hello Britain. We want you to join us at a very special Christmas party, which is being given here in Kročehlavy, close to the martyred village of Lidice. In this house lives Josef Horák, one of the only two men who survived Lidice and who served during the war as Squadron Leader in the RAF. Josef Horák and his English wife and their two baby sons, Vašek and Josef are giving this party for the other Lidice children. And here, in their sitting room, everything is ready for the fun to begin. There’s a wonderful Christmas tree in the corner, the walls are hung with branches of fir tree and mistletoe. In the next room the table is already laid. In the kitchen over there is a really huge plum pudding, specially flown over from London by friends in the RAF. Is everybody here now, Mr Horák?”

Josef Horák: “Yes, I think they are all here. You know, we are a bit afraid of this Christmas. We all live together here in Kročehlavy, so as not to feel so lonely, especially the women whose children have still not been found. We all try to help each other.”

Child’s voice (Iva): “Pojďte se podívat na stromeček a na dárky [Come and look at the tree and the presents]!”

Presenter: “Iva wants to play with her toys. Alright Iva, let’s go over to the Christmas tree.

[Children laugh and sing the children’s song “Kolo, kolo mlýnský“]

Presenter: “Well, those children who are not playing “Kolo, kolo mlýnský” are now floating their little boats of light. This is one of our old Czech customs… Which boat will arrive safely on the other shore?”

[Children shouting and laughing]

Presenter: “Well, those little boats of light are safe now, and so are ours, let us hope.”

Wynne Horák: “What is it, Vašek dear?”

Vašek: “Mummy, look at my boat!”

Presenter: “This is baby Horák speaking…”

Wynne Horák: “Yes, dear, it’s a beautiful boat. But come over here dear. We want you to say a few words into the microphone.”

Vašek: “What is a microphone?”

Wynne Horák: “If you speak into it, people who are not in this room can hear you."

Vašek: “Can many people hear me?”

Wynne Horák: “Very many. All the people in the great, wide world!”

Vašek: “Merry Christmas to you, the big, wide world!”

Presenter: “… and everlasting peace!”

[Children sing the Czech carol “Nesem vám noviny”]

Presenter: “And with this carol, Lidice sends Christmas greetings to all the freedom-loving peoples of the world.”

This story was not to have a happy ending. With the Communist take-over just over two years later, the Horák family was ostracized because of its links with the West and bullied into leaving the country again. Josef Horák died in a flying accident in 1949, having rejoined the Royal Air Force, but his widow Wynne and their younger son Josef are both alive and well and living in the English county of Wiltshire, where I wish them all the best for Christmas 2008.