The five finalists are Sitting Ducks by Lisa Blower; Potters: A Division of Labour by John Lancaster; A Ray of Light: Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice and the North Staffordshire Miners by Russell Phillips; Arnold Bennett’s Grand Babylon Hotel edited by Rando Saloman and What Must Happen by Jeffrey Wainwright.
Broadcaster and journalist Samira Ahmed will present the winner with a £500 cheque at a ceremony at Keele University on 1st September. Following the prize presentation, Samira will deliver a lecture entitled “What Arnold Bennett can tell us about Brexit Britain”, as part of a two-day celebration of the author.
In March, my wife and I spent a week in the Czech Republic on holiday. Whilst there, we visited Lidice, and I think I now understand Sir Barnett Stross a little more. It always puzzled me slightly that he kept close ties to Czechoslovakia, even after the communists took over. He had no sympathy for the communist regime, and used his position as chair of the British-Czechoslovakia Society to highlight their human rights abuses. Yet his connection to what could be considered an enemy country caused some controversy, and may have harmed his political career.
Visiting Lidice had a big impact on me, and I think I now understand, at least a little more. Seeing the area, and videos of some survivors, brought home the enormity of what had happened there. I suspect Stross never believed he had done enough, either for the dead or the survivors. In the face of such an outrageous atrocity, there are two basic reactions. Either you metaphorically throw your hands up in the air, despairing that nothing is enough to put things right. Or, you do as much as you can, and keep doing more. It will never be enough, but you can always do more.
I believe Stross had the second reaction. I doubt he ever felt that he’d done enough, and so he was always looking for ways to do more.
If you’d like to do a little to help revive the memory of Lidice, Stross, and the miners, please support my thunderclap. Click on “Support with Facebook”, “Support with Twitter”, or “Support with Tumblr” to support using your preferred social media account. It will cost nothing, but will help to spread awareness on the 75th anniversary of the Lidice massacre.
I’ve set up a Thunderclap to help raise awareness of the Lidice atrocity, and the work of the North Staffordshire miners to rebuild the village. To encourage people to support it, I’ve set up a Rafflecopter giveaway.
One winner will win a copy of A Ray of Light, in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.
Four runners-up will each win an ebook copy of A Ray of Light.
The Arnold Bennett Literary Prize has announced the short list for its inaugural year, and I’m proud to say that A Ray of Light is one of the ten books on the list. The winner will be announced in September.
This new prize is administered by the Arnold Bennett Society in partnership with the Sentinel newspaper. This is its first year, and it will be awarded every year from now on.
A Ray of Light tells the story of Lidice, a Czech village that was completely destroyed in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. North Staffordshire’s miners raised the equivalent of over £1million to rebuild the village.
In March 2013, I was at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent with my son. We were asked if we’d like to see a film about the Czech village of Lidice, destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Hitler had ordered that Lidice was to be utterly destroyed. He wanted the memory of the village to die along with its inhabitants. The miners of North Staffordshire in Great Britain, however, had other ideas. Led by a local doctor named Barnett Stross, they organised a fund-raising campaign to pay for a new village to be built once the war was won.
During the Cold War, relations with Czechoslovakia became strained, and the story was largely forgotten. The story that should be widely known, and I’m pleased to be able to do my part in spreading awareness.
“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coal face. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness” — Dr Barnett Stross
This is the inspiring true story of what happens when ordinary people unite to make a stand against evil.
Lidice was a peaceful and vibrant community in Czechoslovakia with a rich mining heritage. But an act of Nazi revenge saw this village wiped from existence in a horrifying chapter of European history.
Disaster struck for Lidice in 1942 when the prominent Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated. Described by Hitler as “the man with an iron heart”, Heydrich was one of the key architects of the Holocaust.
His death, after an attack by members of the Czech resistance, left Hitler furious and desperate for vengeance. Looking for a scapegoat to blame for Heydrich’s death, he settled on the village of Lidice, which had been falsely linked to the assassination.
In a brutal act which shocked the world, Lidice was completely destroyed. The men were shot while the women and children were rounded up and sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps.
Hitler was determined that by the time he had finished, no one would even remember Lidice, let alone live there. What he hadn’t reckoned on was the efforts of a group of campaigners in Britain, who resolved to make sure Lidice would never be forgotten.
A Ray of Light tells the tale of Lidice’s downfall and what happened next. Would the village simply be allowed to become a footnote in history, or would it rise from the ashes and forge a new future?
This book is a compelling testament to the power of friendship and solidarity, and how empathy and compassion can help rebuild the world.
Last night, my wife and I went to see the Lidice Shall Live! festival at the Victoria Hall theatre in Stoke on Trent. The festival marked the destruction of Lidice, and celebrated the part of North Staffordshire miners in rebuilding the village. It was an appropriate venue – Sir Barnett Stross started the Lidice Shall Live movement in the Victoria Hall in 1942.
Before the show started, we were each given a number. It was explained that the show would start in the foyer, and we would be called into the theatre by number, just as death camp inmates would have been. Our numbers weren’t consecutive, leading us to consider what we would do if we were split up. That simple question helped us to understand a little more of what the survivors of Lidice suffered. If we were split up, we might have to be apart for an hour or two. Still, it made us think about how different that question would be in different circumstances.
The show itself was very good. It started in the foyer, with the actors playing people from Lidice going about their ordinary lives. News came of Heydrich’s death, and then soldiers started to arrive, leading the people to worry about what was happening. A particularly poignant moment was a mother telling her daughter to get dressed because they had to go to the school. Knowing the story, we knew exactly what was happening, even though they didn’t. As we were led into the theatre, we passed actors relating personal stories of Lidice survivors. It was heart-rending stuff.
The main performance was a series of dances. Each was performed by local children, with a particular theme. They were all performed well, with a great deal of energy and emotion. At the end of the second dance, the children briefly came together in a way that was reminiscent of the children’s memorial at Lidice. I was very pleased that the final dance had themes of community, solidarity, togetherness, and hope. It was good to see it end on a note of hope.
I’m really pleased that the people of Stoke on Trent have begun to remember how they helped the people of Lidice. The atrocity of Lidice should never be forgotten, nor should the miners who gave so much to help unknown strangers in a foreign land.
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the destruction of Lidice. Last year, the Unearthed project created a sculpture to raise awareness of, and remember, both the atrocity and the incredible generosity of North Staffordshire’s miners.
The story of Lidice is one that should be shared far and wide. If you don’t know it, see this blog post. If you do know it, tell others. Don’t let the atrocity be forgotten – it’s when we forget that we allow such things to happen again. But also, don’t let the miners’ generosity be forgotten – it can, and should, inspire future generations to be the best they can be.
On Saturday, my family and I joined 150-200 others at the unveiling of the new Unearthed sculpture, outside the Victoria Hall in Stoke on Trent, where the Lidice Shall Live campaign began in 1942.
It was a great event, featuring an aerial dance by EveryBODY Dance, a performance by Stoke Men’s Choir, and a poem about the story of Lidice, performed by the 6th form student that wrote it.
I was pleased to note that the mayor of Lidice had sent a representative, especially when she added her own personal thoughts to the official message from the mayor.
The sculpture itself is very impressive. Not only is it physically large and imposing, but the use of tags (based on miners’ tags) is a wonderfully inspired idea. They illustrate the people standing together, just as they did in 1942.
The Unearthed project has built a remarkable and important sculpture. They have also put a great deal of time, energy, and effort into spreading the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent. The sculpture has 2,000 tags, each one representing a person that has promised to tell the story to at least two others. That’s at least six thousand people that now know the story.
It’s an amazing story which should be shared far and wide. If you don’t know it, see my previous blog post. If you do know it, tell others. Don’t let the atrocity be forgotten – it’s when we forget that we allow such things to happen again. But also, don’t let the miners’ generosity be forgotten – it can, and should, inspire future generations to be the best they can be.
Earlier this month, I saw a film put on by the Unearthed Project at the Potteries Museum. The project aims to improve awareness of the Lidice massacre and the tremendous generosity of Stoke on Trent’s miners in helping to rebuild the village of Lidice. As part of the project, I promised to tell the story to at least two people. This blog post is part of my fulfilment of that promise.
On the 27th of May 1942, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was being driven to his office at Prague Castle. In Prague, his car was attacked by two men. Both men fired on the car, and when it stopped, one of them threw a modified anti-tank grenade into the car, which wounded both Heydrich and Kubiš, the thrower. Both Czechs managed to get away, leaving Heydrich and his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, wounded. A state of emergency was declared in Prague and a massive search was undertaken for Heydrich’s attackers. Eight days later on the 4th of June, Heydrich died of septicaemia.
Destruction of Lidice
By the time of Heydrich’s funeral on the 9th of June, Heydrich’s killers had still not been found, but the village of Lidice was suspected of helping Czech resistance members. Hitler had decreed that the village should be literally wiped from the face of the Earth. Members of the Ordnungspolizei and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) surrounded the village and took the men out of the village to a local farm, where they were shot. A few of the children were chosen for “Germanisation”, and adopted by SS families, to be brought up as Germans. The others were initially sent to Łódź, then later to an extermination camp. The women were taken to concentration camps, where they were forced to work.
The village was burned down, then the remains of the buildings were blown up and bulldozed. The remains in the town cemetery were dug up and destroyed. The village was completely razed, and the rubble cleared away, leaving nothing to indicate that Lidice had existed. The destruction was filmed, and the events were announced to the rest of the world.
Towns in various countries were named after Lidice to commemorate it, and to ensure the name lived on, in defiance of Hitler’s intention to remove all memory of Lidice. In the UK, Dr Barnett Stross, the MP for Stoke on Trent, and Arthur Baddely, President of the North Staffs Miners union, founded the “Lidice Shall Live” campaign. This campaign aimed to raise funds to pay for Lidice to be rebuilt, and was launched in September 1942. The miners of Stoke on Trent pledged to give a day’s pay every week, and by the end of 1945, they had raised over £32,000 (the equivalent of £1,000,000 in 2013).
The rebuilding of Lidice started in 1947. As a mark of gratitude to the people of Stoke on Trent, a road in the new village was named after Dr Barnett Stross.
Remembering the Story
The story of Lidice and the miners’ fund raising seems to be largely forgotten, and so the Unearthed project aims to improve awareness of the story and the link between Stoke on Trent and Lidice. A memorial sculpture is to be included in the new bus station currently being constructed at Hanley, in Stoke on Trent. This sculpture will have miner’s tags, each one stamped with a code that identifies a member of the public that has promised to share the story with at least two other people. If you’re willing to share this story with two other people, please make your promise at the project’s website and claim your tag.