David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

The 20th Century in Miniature


Someone called Frank Lampl has just died, and his life is a short history of the twentieth century. The son of a landowner, he was born in 1926 in Brno, in Czechoslovakia. He was still a teenager when the Germans deported him to Auschwitz. From there, he was sent to Dachau, to be a slave laborer in the BMW factory nearby. (Incidentally, the makers of that admired German car have not made reparations.) Lampl was the only member of his family to survive. In old age, he might cry out in his sleep “Are you still alive?”

Taking over post-war Czechoslovakia, the Communists defined him as a “bourgeois undesirable,” and condemned him to more slave labor in the uranium mines of Jachymov. After Stalin’s death, he worked in construction as a laborer and then a foreman, until in the Prague Spring of 1968 he escaped to England with just one suitcase. There he joined Bovis, a construction firm, and over the years he became managing director and chairman. By the time he had finished, Bovis had grown into one of the largest international construction companies with a presence in 40 countries. (Incidentally again, Mrs. Thatcher became a friend of his; she could spot a great man and she gave him a knighthood.)

At any point he might have become just another of the anonymous millions who were murdered. Who knows what contributions they too might have made to the stock of human achievements?

Preparation for mass murder now comes from a different direction. The moment Hosni Mubarak was thrown out of the Egyptian presidency, Sheikh Qaradawi, probably the most influential Muslim preacher today, addressed an enormous crowd in Cairo. He has often called for the extermination of Jews, and in present circumstances, he told the crowd, the hope is to conquer Israel as soon as possible. The rulers in Tehran and their jihadist cronies in Hamas and Hezbollah are winding themselves up to that same end of racism and blood-lust. So will successors who escape as Frank Lampl did then be representative of the twenty-first century?


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