Passing the legacy of Lidice on to a younger generation


Every year at this time the Czech Republic commemorates one of the most horrific atrocities committed on Czech territory during World War II. On 10th June 1942, at the height of the German occupation, the quiet village of Lidice, some 20 kilometres west of Prague, was razed to the ground, all the men were shot and all but a handful of the children were sent to Poland where they were gassed. 143 of the women of the village survived in the Ravensbruck concentration camp and when they came home they found nothing but an open field where the village had stood. Internationally Lidice became a symbol of the war crimes committed by Nazi Germany. David Vaughan attended this year's memorial ceremony on Saturday.

Today only 16 of the women of Lidice who came back from Ravensbruck are still alive. As a Czech army band played and wreathes were laid at the site where 173 men from the village were shot, they sat on chairs in a row just on the edge of the grave. Since I first began attending the ceremony several years ago, the number of surviving Lidice women has dwindled by about a half. Perhaps because of a growing awareness that soon no direct witnesses will be left to pass on memories of what happened, public interest in keeping the legacy of Lidice alive is on the rise.

The famous rose garden on the edge of the site of the old village has been replanted, and now the little museum on the site is being renovated and extended, with the focus on educating younger visitors.

Pavla Nesporova is in her 20s and lives in Britain. Her grandmother, now 85, is one of the Lidice survivors. So what is that makes Pavla always come home for the commemoration every year?

"Well, it's memories brought up from the past - not my memories but hers. Unfortunately she is not able to attend now, as she's getting too old, but coming here brings back for me all the memories when she was around, sitting on the bench, and all that she told me, all the places we've been around here walking. She's told me about where it all happened, where her house was, where the Horak family farm was as well. It's difficult to imagine something you have not been through. However, I deeply feel it and probably because I grew up with the story, it is painful for me as well to think of it and to attend. But of course I always will!"

And every year when I come back there are fewer of the Lidice women sitting there. Your grandmother is now in her mid-80s. Do you feel a sense of obligation to pass on the message of what happened in Lidice to future generations?

"Absolutely. I certainly do. I would hate to think that someone would forget what happened here, and it would be an embarrassment if we didn't pass it on to future generations. Once I have my own children I want to make sure they know it all, and if I ever have a daughter I would like to call her after my grandmother Anicka."

Is it not strange having your own personal family history and mourning mixed with something which is also very public and in a way symbolic of the nation?

"I suppose we're used to it and it's understandable because it was such an atrocity and a horror that other people can't just pass by not noticing. So we do understand that other people want to join and pay their respects."