úterý 27. srpna 2013

Story of bike - unknown chapter of assasination of Heydrich

Story of a bicycle

written by Judita Matyášová
published on 17th June 2011
Friday magazine of Czech daily Lidové noviny

Everyone seems to know the story of the bicycle which was exhibited in the shop window at Wenceslas Square after the assassination of Deputy Reichsprotektor, Reinhard Heydrich. It was very important proof in this case. But whom did it really belong to, and what was its story? When I spoke with Edith Holzner (88) for the first time she told me: "My story? Its not so interesting, but may be you might be interested in story of bike, of that bike, which was found after assasination of Heydrich? So it was bike of my sister Lýdie. Would you like to hear it?"

Edith (in black) together with her Czech friends in Denmark


The two girls did not know each other. They may have caught a glimpse of one another first in the Terezin and later in Mauthausen. It was October 24, 1942, half a year after the Heydrich assassination. The day of their execution.

Her name was Lýdie and, if she had survived it all, she might have remembered it this way:
“I am waiting in the room, everyone is at the table, only my Dad went outside for a minute. There are fourteen candles on my birthday cake and, finally, I am going to get what I have wished for: a bike. My Dad bought it a couple of weeks ago, but it has been hidden in the closet. It should have been a surprise, but I had seen it. He had argued about it with my uncle. He wanted to buy it at the Premier Company in Cheb, but there was no way he was going to go all the way there when he it was possible to buy it here in Teplice at the Krčmář shop.”

The Holzner family lived in Teplice, on Dubská Street. The father, named Franz, came from Toužim, and the mother, Frieda (née Grünhutová), came from Tachov. They had met at a dance in 1919 and married the very same year. They had no honeymoon, as Franz had to start work in the shop and there was no time for travelling. Their first daughter, Lýdie, was born on September 3, 1921. Four years later, another daughter, Edith, was born. Lydie was a black-haired beauty who always caught the boys’ eyes. When she was sixteen, she started attending  dance classes and never lacked for suitors. For the boy she liked the most, she embroidered a handkerchief for the final ball. He had come to Teplice from Prague and had stayed in a German family all summer long in order to improve his German. Similarly, Lýdie had been in Chrudim the previous year in order to improve her Czech - this was quite a normal thing to do in those days. But this time it was a bit different.

Aťa had fallen in love with Lýdie and, when the summer was over, he could not forget her. He had been attending business secondary school in Prague and had been dreaming about finding work somewhere abroad, maybe in Norway. His dad worked for the railroad company, and thus travelling on trains was easier for Aťa than for others. He came to see Lýdie every Sunday. Sometimes she went for a walk with him but, at other times, she “forgot” about him for a bit. Aťa would wait for hours with her mother in the kitchen and would even eat the spinach he hated out of love. When Lýdie, full of laughter, would return from a trip, her mother would chide her: “Aťa came because of you, waited here all day but had to go to catch the train already,” Edith Holznerová, Lýdia’s sister recalls. Simply put - a summer love which lasted for him, but for her it was more of a closed chapter.

Aťa Moravec

Lýdie would remember that year not only because of love, but also because of pain. Her dad had died, and the women were now alone. Her mother was a homemaker and Lýdie had to find a job. Her little sister could not yet go to work; she was only thirteen. For holidays, they went to Tachov to stay with their grandfather. They stayed in his house in the town square, where they saw everything first-hand, much of it unpleasant and even freightening. People were standing in the square shouting “Sieg heil!” and throwing stones into their windows. All their mother could do was to watch everything change from minute to minute with terror. “Never before had anyone shown me that I am bad because I am Jewish, until that moment,” Edith recalls. They had to leave Sudetenland.

They found a place in Prague, at number 28 in Fochova Street (today, 24 Vinohradská Street), a short walk from the radio station. Lýdia commuted to work on her bike across the Wenceslas Square. The traffic was busy, compared to the Teplice quiet. Otherwise, she enjoyed Prague. She could go to posh cafés, see the latest films, go dancing, do anything. However, all this ended only a couple of months later. The first bans came -- and then more and more. All Jews were affected.

In early 1939, their mother told Edith to leave. All the way for Palestine. That is why she started attending Zionistic courses. Edith had never been interested in Zionism, but there was no time to lose. It was a way to get out of the occupied country. Eventually, the plan changed and the girl was to go to then-neutral Denmark. In October, Lýdie and her mother walked her to the Masaryk train station. At midnight, they waved their goodbyes. Their destinies parted forever. All that remain are letters in a box which Edith treasures in her flat in Swedish Helsingborg. Letters that kept coming until 1942, when the last one arrived from Terezin.

Lýdie started work as a nurse in a hospital; thoughts of Aťa, the summer love from Teplice, kept fading. There was someone else. Eleven years older, Doctor Jiří Bondy (also called Jirka). His father Alex was a doctor and his brother Karel also studied medicine. There was no honeymoon. Jews were not allowed to leave their permanent addresses, not even temporarily. So they did not even go for a trip outside Prague. The rules and bans mounted. There seemed to be a new one every day: Jews are not allowed to control their financial affairs, they are not allowed to move, not allowed to buy jam or onions. There was also the obligation to hand over private possessions. Lýdie and her mother quickly had to hide everything of value. It was imminent that they would have to hand over even the bike. But where to put it? For some time, it was hidden at her colleague’s - Marie Šebestová -- then at her sister’s. But then Lýdie found a better solution. “They could trust only people they had known from before, and that was Aťa’s family, the Moravcovi family. Aťa’s mother, Marie Moravcová, worked as a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross and was involved significantly with partisan activities,” the archivist Vojtěch Šustek from the Prague Archive explains. However, the Moravcovi flat in Biskupcova Street in Prague quarter Žižkov was small, so Mrs. Moravcová kept the bike across the street in the garage company Merkur, where a married couple named Janečkovi worked.
Lýdie in centre of Prague

In the meantime, Lýdie’s mother had to leave Fochova Street (the street had been renamed Schwerin Street during the war) because of the anti-Jewish rulings. She moved in with Lýdie and her husband. It was now crowded in the large Bondy family flat, where Jiří’s father had his practice. Other family members joined them. In the end, there were thirteen people living there.

Time passes. It is the end of April 1942, and Aťa hands over Lýdie’s bike to parachutist Jozef Gabčík. And then the clock ticks until, on May 27th, the moment comes when the clock on Libeň’s church strikes half past ten in the morning. The Deputy Reichsprotektor passes by in his car…

The other girl was called Jindřiška. This is her story - yes, it might have gone something like this: “Today they let us go home earlier, because classes were cancelled. It is half past ten and I can go home. Mother will probably wait with lunch until my sisters get home. My brother Vašek is probably still in the workshop and so is Dad. I cross the brook, walk a couple of blocks and I am home. When I open the door, I can hear my mother whispering something. I keep silent and peek into the living room. A man is there. And Mother is treating his face. He is injured. “Go outside quickly and sort something out. Honza has left his bike outside.”

Jan Kubiš (also called Honza) and Jozef Gabčík arrived at the Prague quarter Libeň curve on bicycles. Lýdie’s bike stayed behind after the assassination. Jan Kubiš took the other one, a man’s bike, and rode to Lower Libeň. He leaned it against the wall of the Baťa shop. He had blood on his face and the bike had to be hidden away. He put it up against the shop window and walked quickly to the flat of Novákovi, who had helped him on several previous occassions. “It probably was not the best solution to send Jindřiška to get the bike. Less dangerous would have been to leave it on the spot. But you can understand it completely - due to the stressful situtation,” comments Šustek, who has just prepared an edition of 520 documents of the Nazi police dealing with the Heydrich assassination.

There were two women hanging out in the street, nearby Baťa shop. You could say they were two local gossips. Libeň was more of a small village where the life had been passing more slowly than in the busy centre of the capital. And you do not see a blood-spattered man with a bike very often. When, ten minutes later, a girl appeared and wanted to take the bike with her, it seemed suspicious to the women. “The women asked Jindřiška where is she taking it, and she told them it was her dad’s, and he had an accident. But the women were curious and asked what had happened to him. Jindřiška answered that she did not know. That may have made them a bit uncertain and made them think. After the war, the women claimed they had thought she wanted to steal the bike,” researcher Jaroslav Čvančara describes the events shortly after the assassination. When Jindříška came back home, it was clear it was necassary to act fast. Get rid of the bike and pretend to do everything else as before.

In the meantime, the curious women set off for a slow walk up the hill up to Upper Libeň. At the crossroads V Holešoviškách, they saw a crowd of people. What a day! What has happened now? The jigsaw puzzle of events started to come together. It must have been the assassin with the bike! They left for home, frightful thoughts racing in their heads. The very next day, the newspapers screamed in capital letters “ASSASSINATION OF DEPUTY REICHSPROTEKTOR. WHO CAN GIVE EVIDENCE ABOUT THE ASSASSINS? WHO SAW THE ASSASSINS AT THE CRIME SCENE? TO WHOM DO THE OBJECTS BELOW BELONG: A WOMAN’S BICYCLE, A COAT, HATS AND BAGS?” A warning followed: “Those who have the information and do not willingly give evidence to the police will be shot along with their families according to the regulation of the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, a declaration of emergency on May 27, 1942.”  Every day, the front pages listed the names of the people who had been shot. Real names, real people. Everyone who keeps silent is quilty. Four days of hesitation, four days in which on the radio a voice booms about giving information and threatens.

One of the women cannot bear it. She sits down and writes an anonymous letter. “The pressure was great. You cannot say they were normal informers. If they had been, they would have reported it the following day when a reward of ten million crowns was promised. They feared for their lives - and they had a reason to fear!” the archivist Vojtěch Šustek says. The whole of Libeň was on its feet. It is two o’ clock in the morning and occupants of the Libeň blocks of flats and workers’ houses cannot sleep. There is noise and screaming everywhere. Armed Germans are going from door to door and search, shoot at the windows. They know. The girl who took the bike could not be far away. It was not even ten minutes from the moment of the assassin leaving the bike behind and her coming to fetch it. She must be somewhere here. The loop closes in. All girls aged fourteen to twenty have to get into trucks. “The fourteen-year-old Jindřiška Nováková was very brave. She knew how much she was risking when her parents had been involved in the resistance movement. And on the night between the second and third of June, she was one of about 260 girls which the Gestapo took to Pečkův Palace. Young girls were divided into groups and each had to show how she walks with a bike, while both informers were watching them form afar. Jindřiška was in the narrowest selection, down to twenty girls, yet she did not waver. The women either did not recognize her, or did not want to recognize her, as they realized there was life at stake,” Šustek explains. But, there was no escape. The stories joined by the bike were about to connect tragically.

In the summer of 1942, Jindřiška was arrested, along with her parents and her three siblings.  Marie Moravcová should have been arrested, too. When the Gestapo came to take her, she took a poison pill and died almost immediately. Her husband Vlastimil and son Aťa were not as lucky and ended up in the hands of the Gestapo. The Germans now learned to whom the bike belonged. His summer love, to whom who he used to go in Teplice on Sundays, Lýdie, and her husband Jirka, his parents and other relatives - everyone who lived in the Bondy family flat in the Eliška Krásnohorská Street - were arrested. 

Their journey takes them to the Small Fortress in Terezin. Jiří Bondy dies there on June 21, 1942. The others are taken to Mauthausen. There, they are shot on October 24, one by one.

The story of the two girls whose destiny was joined by a bike, finished.

Two bicycles:

The woman’s bike belonging to Lýdie Holznerová-Bondyová was exhibited the day following the assassination in the shop window of the Baťa company on Wenceslas Square. The photograph was published in all newspapers. The only indication was the number and brand: Moto-Velo, J. Krčmář - Teplice. It was not possible to find out who bought the bike, as the son of the shop-owner Krčmář told the Gestapo the customer book had been lost. Even the geologist from Berlin who took samples from the tires in order to find out where in Prague it had been ridden did not help. The bike’s destiny stops in Pečkův Palác, in the evidence warehouse.

The man’s bike which Jan Kubiš rode away from the assassination site and leaned against the shop window in Libeň, where it was picked up by Jindřiška and taken into the Novákovi flat, was returned to Smržovi family, who were part of the resistance movement. When the Gestapo arrested them, they were “only” interested in people. The Smržovi family was executed. The bike was lost.

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