January 23, 1920 - September 20, 2006
One of the last survivors of the Lidice massacre who worked to ensure
that the victims were not forgotten
ANNA NESPOROVA was one of the few survivors of the massacre by the
Nazis of almost the entire population of the Czech village of Lidice in
1942, as a reprisal for the murder by Czechoslovak patriots of Reinhard
Heydrich, the brutal Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
She had had a very ordinary childhood in a typical Czech village, but
the courage that she showed in unthinkable circumstances was anything
but ordinary. After the war she devoted years to making sure that
Lidice was not forgotten, but it was only after the fall of communism
that the full story came to be told of the close link between Anna's
family, the Lidice tragedy and Britain.
Anna Horakova was born in 1920 into a farming family. Lidice was a
village of just over 600 inhabitants, dominated by its Baroque parish
church. After leaving school her older brother, Josef, went to military
academy and joined the Czechoslovak Air Force.
Soon after Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by Germany in March 1939,
her brother and his friend, Josef Stribrny, made their way to France
and then to Britain, where, like many other patriots, they joined the
RAF. Josef Horak served in the Czechoslovak 311 Bomber Squadron, first
as a rear gunner, then as a pilot.
When the fanatical Heydrich, specialist in Nazi terror and architect of
the "Final Solution", was assassinated by Czechoslovak patriots
parachuted from London in May 1942, several thousand Czechs were
selected arbitrarily for execution, and the village of Lidice was
singled out for complete destruction. False claims were made that Horak
and Stribrny had been involved in the assassination plot.
The men of the village - 173 in all - were shot against the old
stone wall of the barn alongside Anna's family's farmhouse, the
women were sent to Ravensbrück, and 81 children were packed on trains
to Chelmno, in Poland, where they were gassed. A few of the younger
Lidice children survived, considered sufficiently Aryan for adoption in
By the time of the destruction of the village on June 10, 1942, all
Anna's Lidice relatives had already been arrested and brought to
Prague. Because of their links with Britain, the entire Horak and
Stribrny families had been singled out for execution. This included
Anna's husband, Vaclav Kohlicek, who was shot on June 16. Anna was
spared because she was nine months pregnant. The reason was not
humanitarian, but pragmatic. The Germans had already had difficulties
making soldiers take part in such firing squads, and did not want to
shoot their own men for disobeying orders.
Anna was taken to a Gestapo-run nursing home in Prague, where she gave
birth a few days later. Throughout her labour she did not call for a
doctor. Later, she would always say that she could not bear the thought
that the first face her child would see would be that of an SS man.
Two weeks after her daughter Venceslava was born, Anna was told that
she would be taken for questioning that would last about an hour. She
was sent straight to the women's concentration camp at Ravensbrück
and never saw Venceslava again. The child's fate is unknown, and it
is very unlikely that she survived. Anna spent three years in the camp.
In the chaos at the end of the war, she managed to break away from the
death march from Ravensbrück. Together with her mother-in-law, who had
also survived the camp, she undertook the long journey home on foot. At
that stage she still had no idea that Lidice had been wiped off the
She found nothing but a field of rye where the village had stood, so
thorough had the Nazis been in removing all traces of Lidice. Sixty of
the Lidice women did not return home, and it was several years before
the last of the children who had been adopted by German families
Anna's brother Josef, his English wife, Wynne, and their two
children, Vaclav and Josef, moved back to Czechoslovakia immediately
after the war. They were the only intact Lidice family. Josef rejoined
the Czechoslovak Air Force and Wynne brought up the children in Kladno,
where the surviving women and children of Lidice were living.
By this time the communists were gaining an ever-stronger foothold in
Czechoslovakia. The authorities now decided that, unlike the other
survivors of the 1942 massacre, the two men who had fought in Britain
would not be given a house in the new Lidice. Immediately after the
communist takeover in February 1948, and just three years after coming
home as a hero, Josef was sacked from his post in the armed forces.
Wynne and the children returned to England, and Josef followed soon
afterwards. One of the last things he told his sister before smuggling
himself across the border for the second time in less than a decade was
that she should join the Communist Party to protect the family from a
repeat of the events of six years before. Reluctantly, Anna joined.
Josef rejoined the RAF. Tragically, he died in an air crash a year
later. Anna was not allowed to go to his funeral. She arranged to send
earth from Lidice to scatter on his grave, but when she arrived at the
airport in Prague, she was subjected to prolonged questioning about her
brother - by now considered a traitor - and sent home. For decades
the two halves of the family were divided. Wynne brought up Josef and
Vaclav in Swindon, where she lives to this day.
Anna was given a house in the new Lidice. Much of the money for the new
village, built close to the old Lidice, came from funds raised by the
influential "Lidice Shall Live" movement that had been set up in
Britain in 1942. Having lost her parents, grandparents, aunts and
uncles, husband and daughter - and now her brother - she married
again and raised a second family.
But she also put untiring energy into keeping the memory of Lidice
alive. For many years she worked at the Lidice museum and memorial. She
felt an obligation to tell her story and would never refuse to talk to
visitors who came to visit Lidice from all over the world. Even in her
eighties she would often recount details for three hours at a time,
always standing to show her respect for those who were killed.
The communist regime would use the "Lidice Women", as the survivors
became known, for propaganda purposes, and Anna was delighted when the
fall of communism swept the anti-imperialist rhetoric away and meant
that she could once again contact Wynne and her family in England. The
two sides of the family have been close ever since, although Wynne's
surviving son, Josef, today speaks no more than a few words of Czech.
Anna's granddaughter, Pavla, who has chosen to live in Britain, acts
as family interpreter.
Anna was renowned for her hospitality, notably when ten visitors from
South Wales turned up at a moment's notice. They were from the
village of Cwmgiedd, where a film, The Silent Village, re-enacting the
Lidice massacre had been made by the British documentary film-maker
Humphrey Jennings in the months following the massacre. Anna promptly
invited them to a lunch of pork, dumplings and beer.
Her second marriage was dissolved. Anna Nesporova is survived by one
son; another son predeceased her.
Anna Nesporova, survivor of the 1942 Lidice massacre, was born on
January 23, 1920. She died on September 20, 2006, aged 86.
Yes, Charlene. Amazing. Thanks for posting.