If you were a man over the age of 16: grouped and lined in front of a farmhouse’s back brick wall where mattresses stood, then shot, a child under the age of 16: gassed to death in the back of a truck at Chemlno near Poland, and a woman: depended upon age. It seemed in this situation the ideal candidate for life was a girl aged 2 months over 16.
On June 10, 1942 the German army made an example of a small Czech village known as Lidice in Prague. They separated the men and women and stripped the children of their mothers sending them to the school’s gymnasium. Then, depending on your age and sex, you were either executed or deported to a concentration camp. What happened next was appalling. The town was destroyed, but not simply by explosives. Everything gold or valuable was collected, every pet killed, and every tree chopped down. The town was obliterated and then documented for PR purposes showing what joining the ally forces will result. The entire audacity of this action is terrifying enough alone, but what makes it even more inhumane is the fact that these people weren’t in violation of any Nazi Germany law. They weren’t Jewish, they were a simple Czech mining and farming village. Two boys native to Lidice left to join the Czech rebellion training squad in the UK that held credit for executing Hitler’s right hand man, SS leader Reinhard Heydrich. Apparently, this was enough motive for Nazi’s to make an example of Lidice.
Today, all that stands of the village is a beautifully green rolling hill landscape with foundation remains of the church and the farm house. A statue of the 88 children that were executed so intensively for absolutely no reason also contributes to the memorial site. I was impressed at how calming and green the site is and also how many trees have already sprung to life since they had to be replanted after the war. Serenity and Sadness both embody the town remains. It amazes me the level of hardship humanity is both able to endure, but also inflict. Many have said that “living life on the edge” is fun and exhilarating, but facts such as these make me rethink that saying: living life on the edge is only worth it when the life you live is entirely yours to control.
Mrs. Skleničková: Living Through Death.
After visiting the grounds of Lidice, our photography class had the opportunity to meet the youngest survivor of tragedy. At the age of 2 months over 16, Jaroslava Skleničková was sent to a concentration camp along with her mother and older sister. Once they arrived at Ravensbrück, Mrs. Skleničková’s mother asked where they were, after being told it was a labor camp, her mother responded, “Why? We haven’t done anything wrong.” This statement alone only conveyed a small fraction of the brutality of the Nazi Germany forces, but impacted me enough to understand the fear many people had during this period.
Mrs. Skleničková explained several of her memories during her life at the camp. She has published her own memoir entitled If I Had Been a Boy, I Would have Been Shot.. about her experience. She told us about the several different jobs she went through and the intense work ethic forced upon herself and the other enslaved woman. During the duration of one of her jobs in the kitchen, Mrs. Skleničková learned polish and befriended several polish women. This must have been the most crucial point in her life; these women became a powerful significance for her survival at the camp. After successfully smuggling stolen sugar from the SS kitchen as request of the polish women, Mrs. Skleničková’s fate was sealed. She began to have health troubles with an existing illness that rarely affected Mrs. Skleničková. Because of intense lifting and constant work, she no longer could walk. The SS doctor gave her a note stating she may only work during the day, not outside, and without lifting. After bragging to one of the polish women about her exemption, the woman recognized this as a ticket to the gas chambers and helped her to remove the note from her file to save her life.Today, Lidice has been rebuilt about a half a mile down the road from the original village site (now a memorial). Each survivor was granted a house in the new town. Both Mrs. Skleničková and her sister have retired here with their husbands. When we asked why she came back, she responded, “This is where I’m from”. Our translator then explained it’s different here than from in the U.S. Czechs are more rooted in life than the nomadic stereotype of an American. This woman struck me as amazing. At the age of 87, her voice is not to be mistaken with the word meek. She is strong and direct and conveys her story quite well. I admire her courage, not just for what she has been through, but also for being brave enough to share such personal experiences with strangers. At the end of our time with Mrs. Skleničková told us that in any disaster no matter what it may be, she would save her photos of friends and family first, because things can be replaced, but moments in a human life can not.When the Russians began advancing closer and closer, Ravensbrück’s brother camp began work constructing a gas chamber. The men slowed the process as best they could without risking their lives.Once completed, however, flaws in the construction caused it to be rebuilt, buying time for the prisoners. When it was indeed finished for the second time, prisoners from both camps were being gassed and killed at a rate of 300 people per day. The camp at this point was overflowing (about 40,000 women prisoners) due to transfers from camps already seized by ally forces. Though as time passed, the Russians grew closer and eventually freed Mrs. Skleničková and the other surviving women prisoners along with her mother and sister.