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The story behind the Story of Lenka

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

How I started to write my book

Ore Mountains, Kraslice, © Stanislav Meinl

I was born in 1980, in Kraslice, a small town in the Czech Republic bordering Germany, where everyone knew their neighbours. There was no harm in talking to strangers. Or at least I thought so.

Once, when I was about six years old, I was playing outside with my friends. After we became bored playing hide and seek, someone had the idea of inventing a new game called, ‘what was it like here before?’

Graslitz - Klingenthal Border in 1938

We walked outside of our playground, situated in the middle of the concrete jungle of flats, and randomly asked passersby what they like about Kraslice and if a lot has changed since they had grown up. Most people answered in the same way: they liked Kraslice very much but they couldn’t tell much about what had changed since they had grown up. They moved into the town when they were already adults. Until we had met an old yet well-groomed man, dressed in a suit wearing a hat, which was quite unusual for us.

He kindly smiled at the snotty children that we were and told us that Kraslice used to be a very different town back then.

“All schools were German and the town used to be called Graslitz,” he explained. “But it all changed after...”

We looked at him with open mouths. Living just three kilometres from the German border but under the Communist regime, Germany was something as unattainable as the USA or the North Pole. Every one of us knew we were safely guarded by the border’s police guards, protecting us from possible enemies. How could there be German schools before?

The nice man apologised, he had some important errands to do and left us standing there with unanswered questions.

Kraslice - Klingenthal Border in 1970's

Some days later, I attended an event at the national committee city hall, where I promised to become a proud Pionýr (Jiskra), serving my socialist country.

I remember the encounter with the old well-groomed man and the great impression he made on me. I think it is partly thanks to him that I have written the Story of Lenka. At a later age, when the Iron Curtain fell and the Cold War was officially over, I decided to research the history of my region. I have had the chance to do a one-year school exchange in Germany, where I learned German decently which enabled me to read additional books and old documents. Later on, I learned French and English, which opened the door even wider to my research about the war and post-war period. I have read testimonies from Sudeten Germans about the expulsion, about the towns which were razed to the grounds to prevent them from coming back, about the work camp built in Kraslice for war prisoners and about the women concentration subcamp in Zwodau.

renovated half-timbered house built in 1737 and renovated in 2021, Kraslice
Hrázděnka, Kraslice, Czech Republic © Stanislav Meinl

I have read about the total chaos which swept the whole of Europe right after the Second World War ended, about the fear of Russian liberators with a preference for the German occupation. What I have learned is that ‘good versus evil’ war stories were just pure inventions serving their purpose.

All this brought me to write the Story of Lenka book, a narrative fiction in which a young girl discovers the hidden past of her grandmother, who lived during the Second World War.

This book is my tribute to Kraslice and its surroundings, to its existing and formal population and of course to its bright future. I wish you all a great reading.

Monika Fourneaux, Story of Lenka, 18 October 2021

Reference Sources:

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