The free connection shut down a few minutes into my update of this blog. I'm hoping this time works better. I have 14 minutes to type all of the following.
I have very mixed feelings about our hotel in Prague. On the one hand, it's very conveniently located: just 4 minutes walk from the Charles Bridge and the Old Town Square. It has air conditioning in a city where you really need it (and we certainly did). And the breakfast buffet was very nice. On the other hand, I fear it has bed bugs.
The morning after we arrived I noticed a large red welt on my lower shin. It was much larger than a mosquito bite, though thankfully did not itch. I wore socks the next night, but I still found my ankles and lower shins covered in small red spots (which thankfully also did not itch). I asked the students if they were experiencing anything similar and all said yes. I don't think I'll stay here again.
We checked out of the hotel but left our luggage in storage. Our train didn't leave until 8pm that night. We took the subway to the end of the line and then I searched for the bus to Lidice. I went to the bus ticket office, standing a meter behind a man in front of me who smelled as if he and bath water were no longer on speaking terms. The clerk was happy to sell me tickets for the bus, but couldn't explain where to find it. I went stop by stop until I finally found the right one. Unfortunately, they wouldn't accept the tickets I purchased, so I had to buy them again.
Lidice is/was a small town about 30 minutes by bus from Prague. When Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, was assassinated by Czechs in 1942, the Nazis retaliated by imposing "collective punishment" on Lidice. All the men and boys over 15 were separated from their families and shot. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Of the nearly 100 children in the town, less than a dozen of the youngest were sent to an orphanage. The rest were sent to the Lodz ghetto. There they were allowed to write letters to surviving relatives begging for clothes and food before they were again put on a transport, this time to the extermination camp at Chelmno, where they were all gassed on arrival. The town's church was then dynamited and the rest of the town was burned to the ground.
On the hill overlooking the town's site there is now a museum. We watched a short film on the history of the town before the war and then entered the exhibit on the town's destruction. The letters by the children before they were murdered were particularly heart breaking. The exhibit ends with a long video testimony of surviving children and mothers. Many of the children were adopted by German families and could no longer speak Czech at the end of the war.
From there we walked down to the memorial. The area is amazingly green and quiet. The overall impression is a quiet, tree-lined contemplative space, with many song birds. The first memorial is that of the children who were murdered. Each child has been individually rendered, modeled on a child who was murdered. That also brought several of us to tears. From there, we walked a short distance to the site where the men of the town were shot and buried in a mass grave.
After that we walked up to the top of the hill to catch the bus back to Prague. One of the students bought a kinder egg in the shop and spent the time waiting for the bus by assembling the toy inside. Unfortunately, she didn't care for the toy but no one was willing to take it from her. Eventually, the bus came and we headed back to Prague. The students were free for the rest of the day. One went up to the Castle and the rest just hung around the old town. I went across to Malastrana and ate a late lunch (it was nearly 2 pm when we got back) at Cukrakavalimonada. I really like this cafe. I had the elderflower lemonade and then the pasta primavera (I'm trying to get over my vegetable withdrawal after not eating any in Germany). For dessert, I had a slice of strawberry cheesecake and a large, thick hot chocolate.
I spent the rest of the afternoon just walking about and checking on our travel plans. I met some of the students in the late afternoon and took them to an ice cream parlor for a late snack. Then it was back to the hotel, grab our luggage and then head to the station for our sleeper train to Warsaw. I bought a sandwich for the train (no dining car), and then we boarded. I was in a car with beds, while the students were in the neighboring car in couchettes. For the rest of the train trip, see the next blog entry.