On a more somber note, we also visited two sites of mass murder that took place during WWII. A town called Lidice, and a concentration camp for Roma (commonly called Gypsies) named Lety.
Lidice was burned to the ground, all the men killed, and most of the women and children sent to concentration camps, except those who were deemed ethnically suitable to be Germanized. All this because they were suspected of harboring two Czechs who had been trained by British special forces to Assassinate Heydrich, one of Hitler’s high ranking officers who presided over Bohemia during WWII. The intention was to make an example of the town, in order to warn others who considered rebelling. During it’s time, the Allied Powers used it as a symbol to rally behind, on why we must protect the innocent victims from Germany. Because of this, there are remnants of the tragedy found in the obscure places in the United States, for instance the town outside of Chicago that was renamed Lidice in honor of the Victims. Despite all this, I had never heard of Lidice before studying in Europe.
The actual visit was powerful, the former town has been left empty and desolate, a reminder of those lost. With a museum and a memorial built near the edge.
We were lucky enough to be accompanied on this trip by Torben Jørgensen, who specializes in Holocaust and Genocide Research, and (teaches a class on it) at DIS, as well as being a favorite among students for just being supremely interesting. I’m not the first, and I’m sure I won’t be the last to blog about what a great experience it is to have him as a teacher and friend.
Later we continued to Lety, where a concentration camp specifically for Roma had been situated. It’s here that you begin to find some of the more complicated nuances of who perpetrated the crimes of the war. The Roma people have a long history of being persecuted for their migratory lifestyle and struggle to fit into mainstream society, and Lety was actually originally run by Czechs, before Germans took the camp over during the war. Furthermore the Roma Victim’s memorial is denigrated by the fact that a pig farm now lies on the land that used to be a concentration camp, leaving only a small, and fairly recent memorial off to the edge.
Torben explained that sadly, this may have to do with the fact that Roma are still heavily persecuted in Europe, often continuing to live on the outskirts of society. He also explained that “Atrocities will not be remembered unless the victims push for remembrance,” drawing light to the fact that history in some ways is a coping mechanism, for dealing with the darker sides of what humanity is capable of. As human beings, we may want to forget things that have damaged us, but we must also realize the importance of remembering to cultivate empathy, understanding, and hopefully move towards a “better” world.