A memorial honouring the escape of mostly Jewish children from the Nazis, organised by Sir Nicholas Winton, has been damaged in an apparently carefully planned attack.
The Valediction Memorial at Prague’s main railway station – representing trains used to transport 669 children from the Czech capital to Britain – was left with a long crack across the length of a symbolic window pane.
The vandalism appeared to be aimed at disfiguring the shrine’s most evocative feature, a train window engraved with handprints depicting adults and children forced to bid farewell in heartbreaking circumstances.
Jan Hunat, a Czech engraver who designed the engraved glass, said he believed it was struck from behind with a hammer after being carefully dislodged from its wooden frame with a chisel or screwdriver.
“One hundred per cent, this was planned,” he told the Guardian. “The person who did this has definitely gone prepared to do it. The glass is 18mm thick and there’s no way it could have been broken otherwise. On one of the hands, even the tips of the fingers are broken.”
Police are investigating, but have so far made no arrests. Tomas Kraus, secretary of the federation of Czech Jewish organisations, said a lack of surveillance cameras reduced the chances of finding the culprit.
The memorial was unveiled in 2017 in recognition of the sacrifice of parents who sent their children to safety knowing they would probably never see them again after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia.
Zuzana Marešová, 87, who left Prague with her two older sisters in July 1939 and who helped organise the memorial, said she suspected the attack was motivated by antisemitism, but added that it was impossible to prove. She vowed to ensure that the memorial would be restored, although it is now the property of Czech Railways, which is responsible for its upkeep.