Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Debate: Lidice Massacre

30th January 2012

Dr Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this Adjournment debate so near to Holocaust memorial day. I visited Lidice in 2007, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mrs James), where we saw, not only at the memorial garden, but in the museum, a film called “The Silent Village”, which depicts what happened. It was made in 1943, as a result of the remarkable co-operation between the South Wales Miners Federation and the Government’s Crown Film Unit. The film tells the story that my hon. Friend is now outlining. I use it for teaching purposes, to tell the story of what happened all over Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Would my hon. Friend commend that film for educational purposes today?

Robert Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, because “The Silent Village” is indeed an extremely powerful film and I would recommend that it be viewed.

In all, only 170 of Lidice’s population of around 510 people survived the war. Similar reprisals were carried out across a large area of what was Czechoslovakia. It is estimated that in total around 1,300 people were killed. However, unlike with other Nazi murders, there was no attempt to hide what had taken place.

Almost as soon as the news reached Britain, Barnett Stross, a doctor and city councillor in Stoke-on-Trent, enlisted the help of local coal miners. Together they set to work on founding the “Lidice Shall Live” movement, a name created by Stross in response to Adolf Hitler’s order that “Lidice shall die for ever”. Stross invited the Czech President, the Soviet ambassador and the president of the miners federation to a launch event, which was attended by around 3,000 people. In the months ahead, donations were collected from miners and other workers to rebuild Lidice. In Barnett Stross’s words:

“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coalface. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness”.

The link between Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent carried on after the war ended, with Barnett Stross elected in 1945 as Member of Parliament for the area now largely represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), although parts are also in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley).

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and on representing the views of his constituents in Fenton and elsewhere. I agree with him about the heroic role played by Sir Barnett Stross. Does he agree that it is hugely important that Stoke-on-Trent pupils understand the heroic part that the city played in world war two, not only because of Sir Reginald Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, but because of this story of internationalism and solidarity in a city that has, unfortunately, in the past been plagued by fascism and the British National party. This is a story of hope.

Robert Flello: I agree with my hon. Friend. Stoke-on-Trent is a city that has much to offer and fantastic potential. We need only to look back at its history and at the wonderful things that its people have achieved to see that its future is assured. It can rightly be proud of the positive things that it has done, although it needs to learn lessons about some of the negative things that have plagued it in recent years.

In 1947, Lidice began to be rebuilt, with the help of the £32,000 raised by people from the potteries. That is the equivalent of about £1 million in today’s money, which is not a bad feat for an impoverished community in north Staffordshire. In 1955, Barnett Stross led an initiative to construct the world’s largest rose garden, with 23,000 roses donated by numerous countries around the world. The rose garden formed a bridge between the site of the old Lidice and the new Lidice. In 1966, Barnett Stross initiated the new Lidice art collection.

Stross made numerous visits to the rebuilt Lidice, ultimately being awarded the highest state award possible by the Czechoslovak Government, as well as a British knighthood in 1964. Sadly, as we approach the 70th anniversary of the Lidice massacre, the events of June 1942 and the links between Stoke-on-Trent and Lidice have been largely forgotten. Unfortunately, few of my constituents were aware of the “Lidice Shall Live” campaign, or of the critical role that the people of their city played in helping the surviving residents of Lidice to return to their newly rebuilt village.

I am therefore delighted that, following initial work by Alan and Cheryl Gerard, a group of my constituents, businesses and councillors have come together to ensure that the tale of Lidice will live on. On Friday, the “Let Lidice Live” campaign was launched in Stoke-on-Trent, involving a partnership between that group, Staffordshire university and Stoke-on-Trent city council. Through the formalisation of links between Stoke-on-Trent and Lidice, a series of events to mark the 70th anniversary in both countries, and the continuation of the highly successful international children’s exhibition of fine arts, the campaign seeks to ensure that the story of the massacre, and of the heroic response, will live on, not just this year, but for years to come. It is worth noting that the children’s exhibition of fine arts, which was established in 1967 as a national event, became an international one in 1973 and has gone on to become well known among children and teachers, not only in the UK but all over the world.

Dr Francis: On the theme of art, education and internationalism, is my hon. Friend aware of the work of the Josef Herman Trust? The film, “The Silent Village”, was made in the village of Cwmgiedd, near Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley. Josef Herman was a Polish artist who came to Ystradgynlais fleeing anti-Semitism in the late 1930s. Today, the secretary of the trust is one of the children who played a part in the film. I pay tribute to Betty Rae Watkins, who is now encouraging children to become engaged in art and, through that, to learn about the holocaust and about one of its survivors, the great Polish artist, Josef Herman.

Robert Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting on record the fantastic work that has been done there.

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