Lidice

Lidice

[li-dyi-tse; Eng. lee-duh-chey, lid-uh-see]
Lidice, village, NW Czech Republic, in Bohemia. In reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Germans "liquidated" (1942) Lidice by killing all the men, deporting all women and children, and razing the village to the ground. After World War II a new village was built near the site of old Lidice, which is now a national park and memorial.
Lidice (Liditz) is a village in the Czech Republic just north-west of Prague which, as part of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, was completely destroyed by the Germans in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich during World War II. On June 10, 1942, all 192 men over 16 years of age from the village were murdered on the spot by the Germans in a much publicized atrocity. The rest of the population were sent to Nazi concentration camps where many women and nearly all the children were killed.

History

The village is first mentioned in writing in 1318. After the industrialization of the area, many of its people worked in mines and factories in the neighbouring cities of Kladno and Slaný.

Heydrich's assassination

In 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was the deputy Reichsprotektor of the Nazi German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. This area of the former Czechoslovakia had been occupied by Germany since 1939.

On the morning of Wednesday May 27, 1942, Heydrich was being driven from his country villa at Panenské Břežany to his office at Prague Castle. When he reached the Holešovice area of Prague, his car was attacked by two Czechoslovak resistance fighters, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš. These men who had been trained in Great Britain had parachuted into Bohemia in December 1941 as part of Operation Anthropoid. After Gabčík's Sten gun failed, Kubiš threw a bomb at Heydrich's car. Heydrich was fatally injured by the explosion. Both the parachutists managed to escape the scene of the assassination and hide in places that had been prepared in advance. On June 4, 1942, after lingering for days, Heydrich died in Bulovka hospital in Prague from blood poisoning caused by pieces of upholstery entering his body when the bomb thrown at his car exploded. Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich, shocked and enraged by the assassination, ordered Kurt Daluege, Heydrich's replacement, to `wade through blood` to find Heydrich's killers. The Germans began a massive and bloody retaliation campaign targeting the entire Czech population.

The mourning speeches at Heydrich's funeral in Berlin were not yet over when on June 9, 1942 the decision was made to `make up for his death`. Karl Hermann Frank, Secretary of State for the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, reported from Berlin that the Führer had commanded the following concerning any village found to have harboured Heydrich's killers:

  1. Execute all adult men
  2. Transport all women to a concentration camp
  3. Gather the children suitable for Germanization, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways
  4. Burn down the village and level it entirely

Massacre

Horst Böhme, SS Commander of the C division of the Einsatzgruppe, acted on the commands immediately. Members of German security police (SS) surrounded the village of Lidice, blocking all avenues of escape. The Nazi regime chose this village because of its residents' known hostility to the occupation, and because Lidice was suspected of harboring local resistance partisans.

All men of the village were rounded up and taken to the farmstead of the Horák family on the edge of the village. Mattresses were taken from neighbouring houses where they were stood up against the wall of the Horáks' barn. Shooting of the men commenced at about 7 a.m. At first the men shot in groups of five, but Böhme thought the executions were proceeding too slowly and ordered that ten men be shot at a time. The dead were left lying where they fell and the newly brought out soon-to-be victims had to first walk past them and stand in front of them. The firing squad always took two steps back and the scene of horror repeated itself. The men were not blindfolded and were taken to the place of execution without bonds. This spectacle continued until the afternoon hours when there were 173 dead bodies lying in the Horák farm orchard. The next day, another nineteen men who were working in a mine, along with seven women, were sent to Prague, where they were also shot.

All the women and children of the village were taken first to Lidice village school. They were then taken to the nearby town of Kladno where they were detained in the grammar school for three days. The children were then forcibly separated from their mothers. 184 women of Lidice were loaded on trucks on June 12, 1942, driven to Kladno railway station and forced into a special passenger train guarded by a large escort. In the morning of June 14, 1942 the train halted in the railway siding where it was met by several dozen armed women warders with dogs. Under constant shouting and verbal abuse, the Lidice women had reached their destination at the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. On their arrival the Lidice women were first isolated in a special block. The women were involved in leather processing, road building, textile and ammunition factories. At the ammunition factory the slightest offense was punishable by standing and starving for many hours, or immersed in ice-cold water. Lack of hygiene, epidemics and contagious diseases spread and took most of the women. Some went mad and others were murdered.

Eighty-eight Lidice children were transported to the area of the former textile factory in Gneisenaustreet of Łódź. Their arrival was announced by a telegram from Horst Böhme's Prague office which ended with, the children are only bringing what they wear. No special care is desirable. The care was minimal. The children were not fed sufficiently and a few babies cared for by the older girls were constantly crying with hunger. The children slept on plain floors and covered themselves with coats if they had any brought from home. They suffered from a lack of hygiene and from illnesses. Under commands from the camp management, no medical care was given to the children. Shortly after their arrival in Łódź, officials from the Central Race and Settlement branch chose seven children at random for Germanization.

In late June Adolf Eichmann ordered the massacre of the remainder of the children. On July 1, 1942 the Lidice children were allowed to write postcards to their relatives. On July 2, 1942 all of the remaining 81 Lidice children were handed over to the Łódź Gestapo office, who in turn had them transported to the extermination camp at Chełmno 70 kilometres away, where they were gassed to death in Magirus gas trucks. It is almost certain they were killed on the day of their arrival. Out of the 105 Lidice children, 82 died in Chełmno, six died in the German Lebensborn orphanages and 17 returned back home.

The village of Lidice was set on fire and the remains of the buildings were bulldozed, every last remaining piece of evidence being destroyed. Even those buried in the town cemetery were not spared. Their remains were dug up and destroyed. A film was made of the entire process by Franz Treml. A collaborator with German intelligence, Treml had run a Zeiss-Ikon shop in Lucerna Palace in Prague. After the German occupation he became a filming adviser for the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Altogether, about 340 people from Lidice died because of the German reprisal (192 men, 60 women and 88 children).

A small Czech village called Ležáky was also destroyed two weeks after Lidice. Here both men and women were shot, and children were sent to concentration camps or 'Aryanized'.

The death toll resulting from the effort to avenge the death of Heydrich is estimated at 1,300. This count includes relatives of the partisans, their supporters, Czech elites suspected of disloyalty and random victims like those from Lidice.

Nazi propaganda had openly, and proudly, announced the events in Lidice, unlike other massacres in occupied Europe which were kept secret. The information was instantly picked up by Allied media. In September 1942, coal miners in Stoke-on-Trent in Great Britain founded the organisation Lidice Shall Live to raise funds for the rebuilding of the village after the war.

Soon after the razing of the village, several towns in various countries were named after it (such as San Jerónimo-Lídice in Mexico City, Barrio Lídice and its hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Lídice de Capira in Panama, and towns in Brazil), so that the name would live on in spite of Hitler's intentions. A neighbourhood in Crest Hill, Illinois, was also renamed from Stern Park to Lidice. Lidice also became a woman's name in several countries. A square in the English city of Coventry, itself devastated during World War II, is named after Lidice. An alley in downtown Santiago, Chile is also named after the town of Lidice.

Soon after the massacre Humphrey Jennings directed a movie about Lidice, The Silent Village, using amateur actors from a Welsh mining village. An American film was also made in 1943 called Hitler's Madman but it contained a number of inaccuracies in the story. A UK film which was more accurate was made later in the 1980/90s.

Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu composed his Memorial to Lidice (an 8-minute orchestral work full of grief and despair) in 1943 as a response to the massacre. The piece quotes from the Czech St Wenceslas Chorale, as well as, in the climax, the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

Lidice since 1945

Women from Lidice who survived imprisonment at Ravensbrück returned after the Second World War. They were re-housed in a new village of Lidice that was built overlooking the original site. The first part of the new village was completed in 1949.

Two men from Lidice were in Great Britain serving in the Royal Air Force at the time of the massacre. After 1945 Pilot Officer Josef Horák and Flight Lieutenant Josef Stříbný returned to Czechoslovakia to serve in the Czechoslovak Air Force. However, after the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 the new Communist government would not allow them to apply to be housed in the new Lidice because they had served in the forces of one of the western powers. Horák and his family returned to Britain and the RAF but was killed in a flying accident in December 1948.

A sculpture from the 1990s by academic sculptor Marie Uchytilová stands today overlooking the site of the old village of Lidice. Entitled "The Memorial to the Children Victims of the War" it comprises 82 bronze statues of children (42 girls and 40 boys) aged 1 to 16 to honour the children who were murdered at Chełmno in summer 1942. A cross with a crown of thorns marks the mass grave of the Lidice men. Overlooking the site is a "pious area" flanked by museum and a small exhibition hall. The pious area is linked to the new village by an avenue of linden trees. In 1955 a "Rosarium" of 29,000 rose bushes was created beside the avenue of lindens overlooking the site of the old village. In the 1990's the Rosarium was neglected, but after 2001 a new Rosarium with 21,000 bushes was designed and created.

References

  • Eduard Stehlík: Lidice, The Story of a Czech Village. 2004. ISBN 80-86758-14-1
  • Zena Irma Trinka: A little village called Lidice: Story of the return of the women and children of Lidice. International Book Publishers, Western Office, Lidgerwood, North Dakota, 1947.

See also

External links

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