The village that died and lives again

On 27th May 1942, Czechoslovak soldiers sent by the Government-in-exile in London attacked Acting Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich and wounded him. Heydrich died of the injury on 4th June.

Destruction of Lidice, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-020-26A / CC-BY-SA

Destruction of Lidice, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-020-26A / CC-BY-SA

The Nazi leadership was furious. The Nazis had no clue as to where to find the assassins yet. They decided to carry out an act of terror to frighten the Czechs. Actual ruler of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Karl Hermann Frank (one of the leaders of the German minority in prewar Czechoslovakia) proposed to Hitler that the village of Lidice be destroyed, all adult men shot and women and children taken to concentration camps. Hitler approved it on 9th June.

The choice of Lidice was rather coincidental. However, the deadly machinery was quickly set into motion. In the evening of the same day, 9th June, the SS and German police surrounded the doomed village. After midnight, they moved. Village inhabitants were taken from their houses. Men older than 15 were gathered at Horák’s farmhouse. Women and children were herded taken to nearby Kladno.

At 7 a.m., a firing squad started to execute the men, first five, later ten men at a time. After several hours, 173 bodies were lying in front at Horák’s barn. Later on, more men from Lidice were executed who were not at home on 10th June. Only three adult men from Lidice survived the war. Two of them were in exile and served with the Royal Air Force. The fate of the third, František Seidl is rather unbelievable but well evidenced. He was arrested before the war for murder and somehow the Nazis overlooked him. He learned of the massacre only after his release from prison. Consequently, he asked to be shot, too, but the Nazis refused. In 2011 a film “Lidice” follows this story.

The Nazis then set Lidice on fire. The ruins were later demolished by explosives so that no trace of the village remained.

The Lidice Memorial, photo: CC-PD

The Lidice Memorial, photo: CC-PD

The women (including those who were not at Lidice on 10th June) were transported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Sixty of them died before the end of the war.

The cruelty of the Nazis did not spare the children from Lidice. Out of 105 children, 82 were transported to Chelmno extermination camp. All of those were killed in gas vans in early July 1942 on the order of Adolf Eichmann. Six more died in German orphanages. The remaining 17 were sent to German families for Germanisation. After the war they were eventually found and returned.

In total, 340 inhabitants of Lidice were murdered (192 men out of 195, 60 women out of 213 and 88 children out of 105).

The destruction of Lidice bears one difference from other otherwise similar massacres done by the Nazis during World War II including the destruction of Ležáky only two weeks later. The Nazis shocked all the world by announcing their barbarous deed through all propaganda channels.

The response of the international community was immediate and intense. Lidice became synonymous for Nazi cruelty. There were many expressions of solidarity with the Czech nation. For instance, girls were given first name Lidice, streets or even towns were named after the ill-fated village as well. Films, poems even plays were composed in the following months. Furthermore, the Czechoslovak Government-in-exile was officially acknowledged by the Allied governments in the wake of the massacre. An organisation “Lidice Shall Live” was founded by British miners to raise funds for renewal of the village.

Memorial to the murdered children of Lidice, photo: CC-PD

Memorial to the murdered children of Lidice, photo: CC-PD

After the war, building of new Lidice was a political priority. The first part was completed in 1949 close to the place where the village originally stood and the surviving women moved in. Nowadays, about 150 family houses stand in Lidice.

The original site of the village has also become a memorial of the massacre. There is a museum dedicated to the events of 1942. Perhaps the most moving part of the Lidice memorial is a complex of 82 bronze statues of Lidice children murdered in Chelmno. The statues are based on contemporary photographs. Unfortunately, author of the statues Marie Uchytilová did not live to see her lifework completed.

The Lidice Memorial has a well-structured webpage covering both history of the village as well as more practical info for visitors, photographs. It is available in Czech, English and German at www.lidice-memorial.cz.

The Memorial is to the west of Prague, close to Kladno and close to highway R7. Another option is to take a bus either from Zličín (end of metro line B) or from Dejvická (end of metro line A). The bus can reach Lidice in about 20 minutes.

Author: Pavel Janecek

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