Sunday, June 11, 2017


I meant to post a photo of the breakfast buffet at the hotel yesterday, but the one I took was too blurry.  Here's a better one:
 Visiting Lidice always raises strong emotions, both for the students and myself.  For the students, it’s the shock of the intimacy of violence carried out on a fully comprehensible and human scale.  For me, it’s usually been the frustration and fear of not finding the bus to take us to the memorial.

Last time was the worst.  We wandered around the square block of bus stops trying, unsuccessfully, to find our bus.  I even went back into the station to ask and they went online.  Finally, we found out that when they extended the metro a few months before, they had moved all the airport buses to a new bus stop.  Even though our bus didn’t stop at the airport, it drove past it, which meant it was moved. 

This time was the easiest.  We went right to the proper stop and the bus came right on schedule.  There was plenty of room for the students to sit.  I think I finally have this problem solved (until they move the bus stop again).

I had arranged our visit with the staff in advance, so we had no difficulties there either.  The only thing was that they used the documentary with the short intro in German, rather than the one in English.  The staff person spoke no English, which made communication difficult, so I used German with her.  I think that’s why they may have used that version.  Luckily, the narration is only for the first minute.  For the rest of the film, I simply gave context to the images, which contrast the small, mostly rural life of this small town near Prague with the larger events of the time.

The actual museum is quite small.  There’s a short film on Reinhard Heydrich and his plans to transform Bohemia and Moravia by ridding it of all Slavs and Czechs.  The film clip of his funeral following his assassination in May 1942 uses Wagner’s “Death of Siegfried” from Götterdämerung.  Next is Hitler’s order for the destruction of Lidice:  all the men are to be killed, all the women sent to concentration camp, and children capable of being Aryanized are to be given to SS families.  It makes no mention of the other children’s fate.

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the massacre.  SS troops arrived at 7 am, taking the women and children away.  All men and boys, 15 years and older, 173 all together, were taken behind the farm house and shot.  11 men who were away working at the time were tracked down and killed a few days later.  Of the 203 women sent to Ravensbrück, 143 survived to liberation.  Of the 105 children, only 23 were selected for Germanization (6 of whom died in the SS orphanages) and the remaining 82 were sent first to the Łódź Ghetto.  They were not permitted to take any luggage, but only what they had already on their bodies.  There they wrote letters home.  Two days after the letters were posted, they were taken to the Chelmno Death Camp and gassed in mobile killing vans.  The letters home are heart breaking.  It’s hard not to cry hearing a child’s voice read in Czech (the English is on the screen), “Dear Grandma, please send me clothes.  We’ve been here two weeks and we have nothing to wear” or “Dear Auntie, please send me some bread, even if it’s just the old crusts you feed to the rabbits.” By the time the letters arrived, the children were already dead.

The museum ends with a video of surviving women and children describing their experiences during and after the war, including reunions between a few of the mothers and their children who no longer spoke Czech.

From there we walked the short distance to the memorial.  After killing or deporting all the inhabitants, the Nazis burned the fields and town, blew up the church, and the river was redirected to flow through the town.  All that remains are the basement walls of a very few buildings.  The church perimeter is marked in stone. 

The most striking and moving memorial is to the murdered children.  Each of the 82 children is separately rendered.  I’m always fascinated by the various offerings people leave.  Not just the candles and the wreaths, but the toys and stuffed animals that are heaped up in front of it.

Further down the road is the mass grave to the murdered men.  As yesterday was the 75th anniversary, the space was ringed with wreaths from various embassies, including the United States and Israel.

 We walked as far as the site of the church and talked for a bit about the space of the memorial.  Students are usually struck by the strong contrast between the beauty of the space and the horror of the events.  When we visited Terezin yesterday, the abandoned nature of the town created an eerie atmosphere that complimented the horror of the events of the past.  At Lidice, by contrast, we were standing in a lush green park under a sunny blue sky.

Students also talked about how comprehensible this massacre was, how it was graspable in very human ways.  Some of the students come from very small towns, not much different than Lidice in size and rural nature.  They talked about this could have been there town.

That was pretty much it for Prague.  I got them back to the city and helped those of whom who wanted to go souvenir shopping in the city center find the right stop.  I then headed out to Malastrana.  There’s a café I really like near Kampa Island called Cukrkávalimonáda.  I love this place and try to eat here at least once on the trip.  They often have dishes with fresh veggies that I’m often missing.  Today was no different.

I started out with a wonderful gazpacho.  This time of year, I eat a lot of tomatoes (hopefully, the tomatoes I planted before I left are surviving my absence), and I miss that here.  This was rich and tomato-full, and cool on a hot day.  

For my main course, I ordered the pesto made with mint, basil, and almond, and shaved parmesan.  It was very good.  I also had the elderberry lemonade to drink.

Finally, I scoped out the pastry case when I arrived in order to decide what to order.  
 I chose the Hrabĕnčiny řezy, which turned out to be a Czech apple cake.  The very bottom layer is a simple biscuit cake, with a layer of cooked chopped apples on top of that. What makes it particularly unusual is the top layer: thin strips of meringue with sliced almonds. After baking it is dusted with powdered sugar.  It was very good.

After such a large meal, I decided I needed to walk some of the calories off.  I headed around the corner to check out the John Lennon Wall, and then strolled through Kampa Island, watching out for tour groups and stag parties.   
 I found a very nice view of the Charles Bridge, and then made my way across it through the Old Town.   
 My goal was the Lucerna Pasaz and the David Černy statue of King Wenceslas. 

They also had an exhibit on contemporary political cartoons, and I was disturbed by how many of them contained rather vicious anti-immigrant and anti-refugee images.

 By now I was getting tired, so I took the subway back to our hotel stop.  The hotel we’ve been staying at is fine, but it’s a rather long schlep from the I. P. Pavlova metro stop (named after the experimental psychologist who worked with dogs, food, and bells) to our hotel.   
 Later this afternoon, I went out looking for the hotel the other group we ran into yesterday was staying at to see if perhaps we might stay there ourselves next time.  I picked up one of their cards.

I’m trying to spend out the last of my koruna.  I went to a restaurant with good reviews this evening and ordered their crispy duck.  The duck was very well cooked and the skin was crispy, but I couldn’t help notice that everyone inside eating the duck and the schnitzel was a tourist, while all the Czechs sat outside drinking beer.
Time to go upstairs and start packing.  If I’ve worked it out right, I have just enough korunas left to tip the maid and buy tomorrow’s International New York Times before we get on the train.

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