The Lidice Rose Garden of Peace and Friendship was opened on the 19th of June 1955. People flocked to the village from far and wide to see the spectacle. Dignitaries were present from around the world, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, as well as other leaders from both sides of the Iron Curtain, including the Soviet Union, Italy, Hungary, East and West Germany, the USA, and Poland. Dr Barnett Stross led a large British delegation, which included Harold Naylor, the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent; William Isaac Thomson, Deputy Mayor of Coventry; as well as other civic leaders and delegations of miners from around the country.
It was a hot and cloudless day. The villagers and organisers made an early start so that as the first guests began to arrive at 8.30am they found the preparations for what would be an impressive ceremony just being completed. The flags of the thirty-five contributing countries fluttered in the light breeze, while the gathering crowds were directed to their places by scores of young boys and girls, many of them students, dressed in the blue berets and overalls of volunteer marshals.
The next day, the Czech newspaper Rudé Právo published an article about the inauguration. It described how the many dignitaries and friends from visiting nations laid flowers at the common grave of the executed Lidice men.
These representations included the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Cllr Harold Naylor, and Miss Helene Walker, representing the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union, who placed a wreath for Britain, before an introductory address delivered by Prof. Hromádka at the open space of the Rose Garden. This was followed by the main speech, presented by Deputy Mayor Helena Leflerová.
Then came the turn of the representatives of the foreign delegations, mentioning names such as Stalingrad, Coventry, Warsaw, Oradour, Marzabotto, and Hiroshima… Finally, in his address, Dr Barnett Stross declared the garden a symbol to the world of all who had suffered through war, remarking:
“So, the Garden of Peace and Friendship is opening today. When we expressed this idea in the UK for the first time, we had a British rose garden in mind, with the participation of other nations. Today, we witness our dream come true: there are rose plants growing in front of us, having come from many countries all over the world.
“There are good reasons for this garden to flower in Lidice. We know very well that the Nazis obliterated hundreds of villages and towns in Poland, France, and the Soviet Union during the war, and that their innocent inhabitants were slaughtered mercilessly. Lidice symbolises all of them and belongs to the world of all who suffered the hardships of war.
“It is not directed against the rearmament of this people or that people, but against all weapons of mass murder of all kinds everywhere,” he said.
Professor Hromádka invited Dr Stross to open the rose garden, but instead, Stross passed the ceremonial scissors over to one of the Lidice women, Helena Leflerová, whose husband, father, and other male relatives were lost to the atrocity and who herself had survived a number of years in concentration camps. Helena, now chair of the Lidice MNV (Místní Národní Výbor, literally “Local National Committee”) proceeded to cut the ribbon.
The strip was held by two of the Lidice children intended by the Nazis for re-education in German families: Václav Zelenka and Veronika Hanfová, later married as Rýmonová. At the cutting of the ribbon, Dr Barnett Stross declared:
“A new Lidice has risen from the ashes. It is a symbol of the common need for all peoples of the world to live together in friendship and peace. If Lidice dies again, our civilization will also perish.”
The number of Czechoslovak visitors and tourists from abroad to Lidice dramatically increased following the opening of the rose garden. Not only did the visitors admire the beauty of the rose varieties and the landscaping, but they also had a place to commemorate the victims of the Lidice tragedy. More contacts were made, networking expanded, and more working relationships and friendships were founded, so that during 1956 the garden was extended to 34 hectares with additional donated roses from the UK, Europe, Asia, and America.
Altogether, a combined international effort from 35 different countries contributed 30,000 roses to the project.