Travel Back in Time “To The Day of Lilacs”
Even 70 years after U.S. Gen. George S. Patton‘s Third Army liberated the city of Pilsen from Nazi occupation on May, 6 1945, the city, in what is now the Czech Republic, still celebrates the historic event the first week of May.
The annual Liberation Festival draws thousands of people from around the world each spring.
Darrell Hancock, of Kingwood, received the opportunity of a lifetime when he was granted press credentials allowing him to photograph the 70th anniversary Liberation Festival in May 2015.
“It was an astonishing experience,” Hancock said. “It’s something that I had never experienced before and may never again. The celebration lasts for several days. The two big events were a re-enactment of the liberation and a very long parade: the Convoy of Freedom. It was about two miles long; and all along the path, Czech people were lined up waving American flags and cheering. This is the third generation, at least, since the liberation and they’re still celebrating it.”
On Saturday, Nov. 19, from 6-9 p.m., the Czech Center Museum Houston will host a reception and grand opening for “Day of the Lilacs: A Celebration of the Liberation of Pilsen by the United States Army, May 6, 1945.” The photography exhibit will remain open through January 2017 and features the photographs Hancock took at the festival.
During the grand opening, Hancock will deliver a lecture discussing the historical context of the liberation, the lasting effects on the Czech population and his personal experience witnessing the celebration.
“In the lecture, I will explain what they did and explore how that joy of liberation managed to stay alive for seven decades,” Hancock said. “The interesting thing is that the liberation was militarily insignificant. The war was going to end anyway in just two more days. There was a strong argument not to do anything in Czechoslovakia and just wait. But Patton desperately wanted to go in.
“It was not a bloody liberation. There was relatively little resistance, but an enormous reaction. Entire towns turned out and they put lilac blossoms on the U.S. tanks and trucks. Lilacs, which were in bloom at that time, became a symbol of liberation.”
Day of the Lilacs will be Hancock’s first photography exhibit.
From photos of living American veterans of the liberation to Czech re-enactors of U.S. soldiers liberating Pilsen, Hancock is excited to share his experience of the Liberation Festival with others through his exhibit.
Hancock’s journey to Pilsen was inspired by his father and made possible with the help of the Czech Center Museum of Houston.
“My father served during World War II; and one of my goals is to go to all 11 countries he served in overseas,” Hancock said. “Czechoslovakia was the last country he served in. My father was not at the front of the liberation force; but he was right behind it. My wife and I wanted to go visit what is now the Czech Republic in May 2015 when Pilsen was having the 70th anniversary of their Liberation Festival.”
Hancock’s love of photography began at the age of 10 when he received his first camera. Although he still considers himself just an advanced amateur photographer, Hancock wanted an opportunity to photograph the Liberation Festival from close range.
He reached out to the Czech Center Museum of Houston’s founder, CEO and Chairman Effie Rosene, who wrote to authorities in Pilsen to acquire the credentials he needed.
“When he told me his cause, it struck a bell,” Rosene said. “It’s an incredible story; one that’s re-enacted and relived every year. It’s a story of interest not only for Czech people, but for anyone interested in history.”
The exhibit is free, but donations are welcome.