Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lidice and the Power of Nothing

Lois and I and our friends Greg and Martha Cukor just spent a fabulous two weeks in St. Petersburg (the one in Russia) and in Prague, in the Czech Republic.  Greg is now known as Grishka, and I actually learned the Cyrillic alphabet (it's gone now).

From ballet at the old Mariinsky theatre to the Hermitage museum to Catherine the Great's summer palace to the old city of Novgorod to the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square in Prague, the blur of four-star experiences was becoming a bit overwhelming.  But then something happened.  On the way from Prague to the old fortress town of Terezin, we stopped at a little dot on the map called Lidice.

It used to be a farming village with a little more than 400 inhabitants.  Then it got caught up in World War II.  To make a long story short, there was a fellow named Heydrich, who was a very important Nazi.  If you want to know how important, read Laurent Binet's HHhH.

Some Czech soldiers parachuted in from England and killed Heydrich in Prague.  As a reprisal, the Germans showed up in Lidice one day, killed all the men, took away the women and children, burned the town, and then blew up anything still standing with explosives.

To paraphrase Tacitus, they made a desert and called it peace.  Or at least they tried to communicate the idea that they were very angry.  At any rate, Lidice was no more.

We got there pretty early in the morning.  It was a beautiful summer day as we walked through the colonnade to the plaza that looked down a slope to where the village had stood.  It was basically a large field of grass with a few statues, punctuated by trees, all strongly reminiscent of a Civil War battlefield in the United States.  I started to have that memorial feeling.  People died here, in this peaceful, grassy place, and it was important.

Lois wandered down for a closer look at the group statue of the children.  The rest of us went to the museum.  There wasn't much there.  But surely never has so much been done with so little.  I think the thing that did us all in was a group picture of the students and teachers at the local school, apparently taken eight days before the reprisal.

The Civil War battlefields still resonate, at least for me, communicating what happened there.  But let's face it, the Civil War is ancient history.  Lidice is within living memory, and what happened here still has raw power, despite the peaceful setting.

When we got back to the car, I said one word to our driver, Mirek:  "Tough."  He didn't have much English, but his look said he knew what I was going through.

We rode off to Terezin, which was a concentration camp where many people died.  I'm afraid I didn't give it justice.  I was still back in Lidice, on a beautiful summer morning.

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