Lidice is always an emotional day. Most students have never heard of the town murdered by the Nazis on June 10, 1942. Tomorrow is the 77th anniversary of the massacre. Because the numbers are so (relatively) small, the loss is much more comprehensible.
Following Heydrich’s assassination by Czech paratroopers, Hitler imposed collective punishment on Bohemia and Moravia. Lidice was chosen because it was small and close to Prague, so that people in the capital would feel it. The men were shot, the women sent to concentration camp, and 80% of the children were murdered in Chelmno extermination camp. The remaining children who were young and Aryan looking were given to German couples to adopt.
The letters and postcards from the doomed children to their families begging for aid are heartbreaking. They were posted from the Lodz ghetto two days before the children were sent to the gas vans. By the time their grandparents, aunts and uncles received them, the children were already dead. No information was given their relatives concerning the children’s murder.
The former site of the town is nothing more than green, mowed grass, sloping down to the stream and then up again the other side. The only structures besides individual memorials are a few fragments of foundations of farm houses. After the town was burned, the Nazis dynamited all the buildings and bulldozed the rubble until nothing of the town was left. As one student noted, if a bus dropped you off in the middle of it, you’d have no idea that there was ever a town here at all.
Afterwards, I took the students out to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Prague. I figured we could use a break, and Cukrakavalimonada has a light, fresh menu that appealed to both vegetarians and meat eaters alike. They also make wonderful lemonades and very tasty desserts and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate actually tastes like the melted chocolate and mixed it with hot milk, as opposed to pouring hot water over some powder.
For dessert, I had the Hraběnčiny řezy, which roughly translates to “The Countess Slice.” “Slices,” or “Schnitten” in German, are layered desserts that are served as pieces, as opposed to cut from a torte or cake. The bottom layer was a simple biscuit dough cake, followed by a layer of chopped and cooked apples, and then the top is covered with layer of meringue and sliced almonds. It was very good.
I had promised all the students I would take them to see the astronomical clock in action, and one still hadn’t seen it. With only 20 minutes, though, we would have to race from the restaurant in Malastrana to Old Town Square. It didn’t help that the Charles Bridge was more crowded than I had ever seen it. With the nice weather we’ve been having, everyone was out for a stroll. I just bulldozed my way through crowds, cutting off small children and tourists, but in the end, I got the student to the clock with three minutes to spare.
After doing some administrative work for my program, I went off to a coffee shop in the neighborhood to read my novel. I was startled by hearing some Hebrew as some Israelis came in, talked, and then left. I think I only met three Israelis in my week and a half in Berlin, but I’ve heard Hebrew every day here in Prague. Waiting at the Crazy Burrito place for dinner (ok, it’s official name is “Burrito Loco”), I heard some Hebrew and met an archaeology professor from Bar Ilan and his wife, who’s a biologist at the Weizmann Institute.
I’ve been curious what the students think of Prague. They agree that it can be a very pretty city, but many of them found the number of tourists off putting. One was surprised by how many souvenir shops there were. If you’re on the main tourist drag it can seem that everyone here is a tourist. The strange this is that we’re still not in height of the season yet. Some of the students also thought that Prague felt a little dirty or seedy, which it certainly can be.
One problem is that I think I bias the students against the city in my perpetual warnings about property crime. Except, there really is a lot of it here and I want my students to be safe. It’s a really hard line to walk between telling them to exercise caution and scaring them from enjoying the city. I’m still not sure how to strike that balance.
Tomorrow, we’re off to Vienna.