Being too young in 1914, my Scottish grandfather missed fighting in the WW1 conflict and being too old in 1939, missed most of the fiercest fighting, though he did do active service.
This remembrance day, as I’m reminded of war, I think about the other Czech side of my family too. For they were as affected, perhaps more so by war, than my Scottish ancestry. I want to tell you of a little story this evening….
As half Czech, my grandfather lived in Prague during WW2. Fighting for the Czechoslovak army, he lived under Nazi curfew every night from 8pm. Streets deserted.
They lived in basic flat in Prague city centre, the city very much under German control. The family would visit the bread shop every day queuing for rationed food. For whatever reason one day, the shop stayed shut. That night in Summer 1943, my aunt, a young girl at the time and hungry lifted the money off the sideboard which was for the bread and headed OUT the flat into the dark nighttime streets around 10pm. Something not permitted. My grandfather noticed the open door, the missing money and put “two and two” together and ran out in terror to the closed bread shop. There was my aunt, a little girl on the steps beside the shuttered windows crying. The shop was closed.
Grandpa lifted her into his arms and started running back the 2 streets back to their family flat, as Nazi snipers took potshots at them. Bullets strayed by on to the cobbled streets but all thankfully missed. The family got home, switched off the lights and all hid under the bed, expecting trouble.
But none came.
This story is lifted from a diary passed from my grandfather, to my dad, to me all in Czech which i try to translate.
I would end by saying, had one of those bullets hit my grandather, my dad wouldnt have been born in 1947, I wouldn’t have been born. There would be no Blantyre Project.
Another thing I’m mindful of on remembrance is just exactly what soldiers were fighting for. For freedom. For democracy. For human rights.
During WW2, my grandparents and indeed any Czech citizen had to endure the invading German army into their country and cities. This wasnt only dangerous to their way of life, it was especially problematic if you had family who were opposed to those German ideals, or were of race that Germans didnt approve of. We all know what i’m talking about here, and having the right piece of paper on you in 1941-43 in Prague could be a matter of life and death.
At the latter part of 1941, German troops were rounding up people in Prague of Jewish descent and taking them to concentration camps.
This peice of paper is my grandfather’s 1941 certificate that he “was of Aryan ancestory” and therefore at the time a pass to “go about your business“. It reads “Confirmation – Rokycany District Court in Section 1, this court certifies that the records you look for in year 1885 are already shredded /destroyed, so we can no longer today find out who was the legitimate father of Anna Zickerova, born 4th November 1855 in Vranove, Czechoslovakia. This is a certified statement as evidence to prove your Aryan origin. District Court in Rokycany – 24th December 1941“.
The letter was a reply to my grandfather’s attempt at tracing who HIS grandmother’s father was.
The Nazi’s didn’t just round up Jewish people. They rounded up people whose parents, or grandparents were Jewish too!!
My grandfather was a school teacher. Pictured here in 1935 in Czechoslovakia.
Britain did have it difficult during war, but I for one am constantly reminded through my own heritage of the utter devastation and genocide which happened at the same time in mainland Europe.