Laura on Pilgrimage

Laura is a sophomore journalism major with minors in art history, photography and human rights. She is participating in the Spring Break Human Rights Pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.

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Gestapo Headquarters and a town wiped out

Well, we finally woke up this morning to the sun shining in Prague. It was a treat to see the city in the sunlight, especially considering we leave tomorrow morning for Vienna. While it has not been unbearably cold here, the sunlight did warm the day up significantly!

EEUROPE%2026%20-%20Version%202.jpgOur first stop of the morning was to the famous Prague Castle. This is the huge cathedral and castle complex that you see in most books about Prague. The highlight of the castle was most definitely the St. Vitus Cathedral (photo at left). The sun was shining through the stained glass, making the inside sparkle with all sorts of colors. I have been in Notre Dame, Chartres and a few other historical cathedrals, but I think St. Vitus is by far the most beautiful. The attention paid to detail was remarkable!

After leaving St. Vitus, we had a slightly different stop on our agenda. Our next visit was to the former Gestapo Headquarters in Prague. The building is now some sort of governmental building in Prague, but the S.S. used to hold their offices there. The basement of the building has a small museum-type area, but unfortunately, I doubt it is somewhere that your typical tourist would frequent. It features documents explaining who the S.S. were, what they did, etc. In addition, the torture rooms that the Gestapo used are still preserved and intact. It was a terrifying experience to see these dark torture rooms with wooden cots, bars on the small window and a tiny peephole. It literally was like something out of a horror movie.

EEUROPE%2096%20-%20Version%202.jpgWe also had the pleasure of meeting Miloslavic Sara (photo at right), a delightful older man who had the unfortunate experience of being held by the S.S. as a 17-year-old. Milo, as he’s called, said he hadn’t spoken English in 20 years, but he was thrilled to tell his story – and we were even luckier to hear it!

EEUROPE%20145%20-%20Version%202.jpgOur last stop of the day was a small town outside of Prague called Lidice (photo at left). In 1942, troops were sent to Lidice in retaliation for Heydrich’s assassination. The entire population of the town was taken to a farm in the village. Women and children were then taken to the local school, from which they were transported. The men remained. The men were executed, 10 at a time, until finally 173 dead bodies were lying against the barn wall. 184 of the women were sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, and 88 of the children to Lodz. Seven children were chosen for Germanization and were adopted out to German families. Adolf Eichmann later ordered for the murder of the remaining children; however, the children were sent to Chelmno instead, where 82 died.

After eliminating the residents of Lidice, the town was destroyed – buildings were bombed and bulldozed. Even the dead were not spared, as the remains in the town’s cemetery were dug up and later destroyed. The entire event was filmed by the Nazis. Now, Lidice houses a small museum and walking paths through the site where the carnage occurred. There is a moving children’s memorial and several statues that decorate the grounds. The base of the church is preserved as well. The entire site was phenomenally beautiful in spite of what occurred less than 70 years prior.

Every day, I feel like I am delving a bit deeper and slowly making myself more vulnerable – in a good way. Every place I have visited, every experience I have had, every person I have talked to thus far has had something meaningful to say, and the more I hear and see, the more inclined I am not only to learn more, but also to share my experiences with others.

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