The Day I Met A Holocaust Survivor.

Remembering, Rocking Dog


Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day and with all the TV and radio coverage it made me think of my own personal and very precious memory of meeting a Holocaust survivor.

In the summer of 1991 Andy and I saw a small advert in a newspaper for an apartment to rent in the centre of Prague. Cheap flights booked we headed out minus children to the capital city of Czechoslovakia (in 1993 the Czech Republic was formed). Our living accommodation was reminiscent of a crackly black and white spy movie. With 1960’s Formica kitchen and a bathroom situated off the kitchen separated by a curtain it wasn’t luxurious, however, it was clean and a brilliant base to discover the city.

We found Prague to be beautiful with amazing Art Nouveau buildings, The Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, tube system and other architectural gems. Shopping was definitely one of the highlights, with tins of Caviar, Russian hats, Soviet tin space toys and political Matryoshka dolls being sold out of the boot of clapped out Trabant’s. Other retail browsing was done in a departmental store where you had to pass through a turnstile to look at aspirational western goods. These products included Levi jeans (so similar to the legendary Levi advert!) and Sindy dolls. There were shops selling a sparse array of vegetables, whilst others sold a handful of light bulbs or gloves. Soup kitchens to feed the workers provided rather grim soup and coarse bread for about 16 pence. Eating in Prague in 1991 was not a gastronomic experience with fruit and vegetables being particularly poor. However, we were only there for five days and not a lifetime, the lovely beer and wines rather compensated.

Having booked the trip rather last minute ( We were in the middle of a house build, with two jobs, and two lively children) we really hadn’t researched where to visit (no internet and no wonderful Top 10 DK guides). We visited the Tourist Information desk and were given a number of Must- Do’s including a pettrifyingly scary flight over the city in an old Cessna biplane. The other recommendation was to make a pilgrimage to Lidice.

So, one beautifully sunny August day we found ourselves on a public bus heading ten miles out of Prague to the new village of Lidice. Having done history at school the terrible fate of Lidice wasn’t something I had covered.

This is a very short potted history of what happened to this Czech village. On May 27th 1942 there was an assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich (the Butcher of Prague) who was Acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich died as a result of septicaemia a week later. Hitler sought revenge and raided 500 towns and villages attempting to find the two assassins and collaborators. In addition he ordered the total obliteration of a village. Lidice was chosen as it was suspected of harbouring local resistance partisans. Therefore on June 9th 1942 173 Lidice men were rounded up and shot. A further 11 men who weren’t in the village at the time were also later shot. Meanwhile 203 women and 105 children were assembled at the local school. On 12th June the women were taken by train to Ravensbruck concentration camp and were forced to work in road building, leather processing and in ammunition and textile factories. The majority of the children were gassed in Magirus gas vans at Chelmno. Seven children who were considered racially suitable were sent for Germanisation and handed over to SS families.

With all the villagers dealt with, pets killed, bodies dug from graveyards, and homes ransacked for valuables, the village was razed to the ground and bulldozed. The Nazis proudly proclaimed that the little village of Lidice, its residents and its very name were now blotted from memory.

Following the wars end only 17 children were to return “home”, whilst 153 women were liberated. Though Lidice was supposed to be eradicated from maps, many countries very quickly after the atrocities named towns, squares and roads after Lidice. Many girls were named Lidice and numerous memorial statues were erected throughout the world. In September 1942 coal miners from Stoke on Trent set up a fundraising organisation, “Lidice Shall Live” to raise funds for rebuilding the village. The first phase of housebuilding was completed in 1949 and survivors were able to live in the new Lidice.

On the site of the old village a Rose Garden with 29,000 roses from 32 countries was established. Whilst in 1967 The International Exhibition of Fine Art, Lidice was begun. It recognised the need to commemorate the lost generation of Lidice (together with other child war deaths worldwide) and invites on an annual basis submission of artwork from across the globe ( there are often 70 contributing countries ).

Back to 1991. Andy and I arrive at Lidice in truly gorgeous sunshine and I remember very little of the roses, but I do remember large sunny fields with corn and wild flowers gently swaying in the breeze. I also remember a building with photographs featuring all the men that had been shot on that fateful day. It was very moving.

Then we moved to the building that housed the annual Exhibition of Fine Art. We were looking at a range of wonderful art of all mediums and enjoying the diversity and quality of sculpture, painting, collage etc.. when we were approached by a very small elderly lady. She appeared frail and had rasping asthmatic breathing. In very broken English and with much emotion she told us that she had survived the concentration camp and rolled up her sleeve to expose her tattoo’d number. With ever increasing emotion she told us that her two children had died in the concentration camp ( presumably Chelmno ) and that her husband had been one of those 173 Lidice men that had been shot. By now I was finding it incredibly difficult to digest all that she was telling us. Finally she took us to a large oil painting of old Lidice. Pulling over a chair she took off her slipper and clambered up onto the chair. Using her slipper she pointed out the house she had lived in before everything changed that fateful day in June 1942. By now she was very tearful and her breathing increasingly laboured and we hugged. She offered us apples, which i’m ashamed to say I didn’t accept, I simply felt I wouldn’t have been able to say the word thank you as my heart felt as if it was in my mouth and with my breathing having stopped. Outside the building I wept. It was such a short meeting but one I have never forgotten. I consider it to have been a great privilege to have had those few short poignant moments. It is one thing to read accounts in books but quite another to meet a person having lived through such a momentous and terrible period in history.

We left Prague with some of those Soviet tin toys, hand made puppets, a chance meeting with a Scottish football manager and of most importance, memories of that truly amazing Holocaust survivor.

4 Thoughts on “The Day I Met A Holocaust Survivor.

  1. Barbara Cursley on February 5, 2015 at 9:51 am said:

    Hello Liz,
    Daughter, Caroline and I visited Prague in mid-nineties. As well as the interest in the city we took a trip to Terezin. Hana Greenfield, a survivor was our guide. After 30 years of research Hana found the information of her mother’s death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Like you found in 1991 it was a harrowing and emotional visit.
    Hana Greenfield has written a memoir entitled Fragments of Memory.
    Best wishes, Barbara

  2. Thank you Barbara,

    We, our children and grandchildren will be the last generation to have the smallest opportunity to meet these survivors. Very thought provoking.

  3. Pingback: 250th Blog - Thank you For Being On The Journey! - Rocking Dog

  4. Pingback: Q: " How Do You Think Up Things To Blog About?' - Rocking Dog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation