A Lidice Witness

We organized a discussion with one of the child survivors of the Lidice extermination, Mr. Václav Zelenka. He presented his life story in the context all the horrific events in Lidice and the subsequent consequences. It was truly a profound and unique opportunity to meet with one of the surviving children of the Lidice massacre. He gave us a full account of his dramatic experience (he spoke Czech and we had an interpreter present) starting with his memories as a young child growing up in Lidice, and his incredible story of survival.

The destiny of Lidice children is the saddest part of the Lidice tragedy. The children were separated from their mothers in the gymnasium of the Grammar school in Kladno. The children were moved by train to Lodz where they had lived for 3 weeks in a collection camp. The youngest child was only 1 year and six days old the oldest boys were under the age of 15, girls were under the age of 16. On June 2 their destiny was decided. Few children had secretly received correspondence lists so that they could write to their relatives. Afterwards there was a command for their movement to the extermination camp in Chelmn.

The victims were taken to a castle and were told that they would continue their journey. They had to undress; they only could keep underwear, a towel and a soap so that they could take a shower before the journey. Afterwards they were taken to a truck that was specifically modified for 80-90 people, where they were killed by exhaust gas in 8 minutes. This is where the trace of Lidice child- ren ends. Václav Zelenka was one of the lucky 9 children who were transported into Germany for adoption by German families. When after the was the Czechoslovak authorities search for the survived children, Václav Zelenka was found as the last child in May 1947. Out of the 105 children 82 died in Chelmn 6 died in the infantile home, 17 returned back home

Lessons learnt:

The memorial and the whole “genius loci” is another prove that in Czech Republic and the former Czechoslovakia it is the personal stories of individual persons in a local context that have the biggest resonance in the collective memory and the way we reflect the recent or more distant past. It is a good example of how we commemorate the totalitarian regimes. The Czechs have difficulty feeling deep connections to historical or political events or discourses if they are presented on general or large scale level or as abstract concepts. The closest to the Czech heart and the easiest to access are the concrete stories and experiences of individual people. In other words it is hard for us to relate to a historical event or period unless it is channeled through a personal story with a human face.

From an international perspective, it is important to note that the most frequent visitors come from Germany. German schools and other educational institutions organize regularly trip excursions for their pupils and students.