A new book tells the human stories behind the Lidice massacre

23-02-2004

A new book has gone on sale in both a Czech and an English version, that tells the deeply moving story of the little village of Lidice, just outside Prague. Over the years a great deal has been written about the village, which the Nazis singled out in June 1942 to wipe off the map in revenge for the assassination of the man they had put in charge of occupied Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich. But this new book is unusual.

On the day after the massacre, German radio made the chilling announcement that all the men of Lidice had been shot, the women taken to concentration camps, the children removed for "suitable re-education" and the buildings of the village torn down. The Nazis were clinically thorough. When the women who survived Ravensbruck returned in 1945, they found nothing but a cornfield, where the village had stood. Only seventeen of the children ever returned.

Eduard StehlikEduard Stehlik "Lidice - the story of a Czech village" was written by the historian Eduard Stehlik, and tells the story of Lidice from the point of view of the lives of the ordinary people who lived there:

"I think the only way people can understand the barbarism of what happened here is if they can see what the village was really like, who lived here and how they lived. Instead of just a figure of 173 men shot, you give each one of them a name, you know that the first man shot was Mr Brejcha, you know how old he was, where he worked, what kind of daily worries he had. Up to now, no-one had done this, but we owed it to Lidice."

Anna NesporovaAnna Nesporova One of the most astonishing things about the book is the huge number of photographs and other documents from the village that Eduard Stehlik has managed to amass, despite the total destruction of the village. For the first time, you can piece together a detailed picture of Lidice life, from services in the old Church of St Martin, led by Father Stemberka, to life in the three village pubs, the oldest of which had been in the same family for over two hundred years. Some objects illustrated in the book, such as old house signs, were found on the site, but there are also numerous photographs that happened to be with relatives outside the village on the fateful night from the 9th to the 10th of June 1942.

"My most amazing find was around 30 photographs, taken by a Czech policeman just after the destruction. The Germans had ordered local police to guard the site on pain of death, and one of these policemen, at great risk to himself, secretly smuggled a camera onto the site. He must have felt that these horrors need to be recorded for further generations."

As well as showing outsiders what happened, the book is an important document for the seventeen women from the old Lidice still alive today, like Anna Nesporova, who lost eighteen members of her immediate family:

"The book must have been so much work, but it's beautiful. When I look at the book, it brings back my whole childhood, going right back to when I was small, when I used to run around the village with my friends."

23-02-2004