Laying the Foundations of a New Lidice

The Society for the Restoration of Lidice was set up to ensure the plans for Lidice became reality, and it had strong British connections through some of its members’ historical wartime links within the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile and the Lidice Shall Live campaign. It was established by law in September 1946 and its activities were regulated by government directive. It was the administrative vehicle for managing the creation of the new village and caring for the needs of survivors returning home. Its aspirations were ambitious, but primarily the state wanted to provide Lidice women and children with as comfortable a living as possible.

The law went through the usual parliamentary procedure, but due to the symbolism of Lidice and the promises given and claims made by key figures, there was an emphasis placed on pushing ratification through so that formal building of the new Lidice could begin promptly. Nonetheless, it was September the 13th, 1946, before the Society for the Restoration of Lidice was formally set up with its registered office in Klimentská Street, Prague. And the subordination of the Company to the Ministry of the Interior was an absolute prerequisite in ensuring its successful foundation.

A government decree, adopted on October the 18th, 1946, set out in detail the statute of the Society for the renewal of Lidice. It described its principal aims and objectives:

“The purpose of the Society is primarily to build Lidice, to give a new home to Lidice women, returning from concentration camps, and their children within the community, as well as the inhabitants Lager, if they return, take care of the memory of the victims of Nazi atrocities… and to restore Lidice so that they become a permanent symbol of the union of all democratic forces that co-built international unity to overcome fascism.”

The Society’s breadth of responsibilities was vast for a fledgling association of volunteers charged with the unique challenges of supplying a duty of care for the victims of an atrocity and building back their community from scratch; and all this under the watchful eye of an inquisitive international community. Actually, the Society for the Restoration of Lidice had several fundamental goals and tasks: to supervise the construction of a new municipality; to provide aid to the returned citizens of Lidice; to develop and support contacts with foreign committees formed to help Lidice; to pay attention to the promotion of the Lidice monument; and to care for other destroyed villages. In December 1946, the Society officially started its work. Minister of the Interior and Chairman of the Society, Václav Nosek opened the first session of the executive with a speech. He announced that the new Lidice would present a symbolic warning to the world. In 1949, one could read in the newspaper, Rudé Právo that the new Lidice was:

“… growing again from its foundation to illustrate our constructive efforts by the bright red colour of its roofs and the raw smell of mortar and lime.”

“The world of the new, the future, was represented by the new Lidice; the world of the old, scarred by Fascism and Nazism, that was the old Lidice”

The new Lidice would not be allowed to become an uneventful, ordinary village that few people would visit. The press and the official writings would present the new Lidice as a model socialist housing development, the first of its kind in Czechoslovakia.

That is how the Košice and future Communist led Czechoslovak Governments would present Lidice. In June 1947, the Society for the Restoration of Lidice imparted their optimistic vision to journalists at the 5th Lidice Anniversary Event, which saw the laying of the village’s foundation stone. Employees of the Society and people at the relevant ministries expected the fast completion of the houses in the new village, which was to be enhanced by the construction of public facilities and the final landscaping of the memorial site. However, the rebuilding of Lidice proved to be a slow process. Many legal issues were protracted, including the purchase of land and probate proceedings. It took a long time for survivors to stop searching for missing Lidice friends and relatives, and reluctantly concede their death; and especially so in the case of children, as their mothers clung on to the hope that they would still be found. Another issue was the purchase and appropriation of plots of land that belonged to inhabitants of neighbouring villages, which were then meant exclusively for Lidice survivors.

Housing work could be held up for promotional purposes or more often because it was being done by young, inexperienced volunteers. Reconstruction of Lidice was declared a Construction Project of Youth, a mission enthusiastically taken up by the younger generations of all nationalities. During the First World Youth Festival held in Prague in 1947, seventeen thousand young people converged on the capital and many foreign delegates took part in the first stage of the Lidice building project. Young people built new roads, dug foundations for new family houses and restored the surroundings of the former village. Newspapers would run articles praising the help Lidice received from the young people of the nation and its student supporters from overseas. In the period from May the 8th, 1947 to October the 28th, 1948 – 600 young people from Czechoslovakia and abroad co-operated on the project. However, for all the goodwill shown by volunteers, their efforts replaced the work of experts and experienced artisans. Eventually, there were criticisms aimed at the poor state of the construction site and a recognition that the progress being achieved was inadequate for the expectations being expressed at home and abroad.

Václav Nosek at the Ministry of Interior responded. He considered the Society for the Restoration of Lidice ineffectual as the body to manage the building of the new village: the results were too inexpert and arriving too slowly. The Society could not exert enough influence to be able to make noteworthy progress. The government intervened and made changes in 1948. It delegated the Society’s supervisory powers over to the Regional National Committee in Prague. Specifically, responsibility for the quality and rate of construction of Lidice was brought directly under state control. Meanwhile the Society’s role became increasingly peripheral, focused on liaison work, with its wide network of contacts at home and abroad, and the promotional work it published.

The Society for the Restoration of Lidice had also managed the anniversary day of the Lidice tragedy. This was already becoming a truly important day, publicly commemorated every year. The task of programming this big and purposefully grand gathering was taken from the Society. It finished preparations for the manifestation marking the 5th anniversary in 1947 and then retired to a mere advisory role regarding the programme. Instead, the organising responsibilities were assumed by the Union of Freedom Fighters and the Czechoslovak Peace Defenders Committee, where the Lidice women were also represented.

With these organisations at the helm, an ideological narrative based around the village increasingly dominated the commemorative one from 1948 onwards. That it was the case is shown by a quote from the annual meeting in 1952:

“Dignified commemoration of the Lidice victims and strengthening of the fight for global peace. The fight against the perpetrators of the obliteration of Lidice, against neo-fascist and revanchist efforts, supported by the American imperialists, that pose a threat again to our freedom and independence; the fight for collective security, unification, a peaceful and democratic Germany; paying tribute to the 10th congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, the leading constituent of the National Front and the second fight for our liberation.” – Somehow, although listed first, the commemorative aspect of the event was swamped by an increasing emphasis on Communist unity in the fight against fascist expansion, in order to maintain world peace.

For more information about the creation of a new Lidice following its destruction at the hands of the Nazis, read The Path to Lidice – the definitive account of the Lidice Shall Live campaign.
Available now, online from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and in ebook formats – free with Amazon Unlimited.

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