LEST WE FORGET: LIDICE
Yesterday, June 10, marked the anniversary of one of the most infamous atrocities perpetrated—and proudly publicized—by the Nazi regime in its “Protectorate” of Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia). The atrocities in Lidice were triggered when Hitler’s Deputy Reich-Protector for the region, Reinhard Heydrich was wounded in an assassination attempt made in Prague on May 27th, 1942. Heydrich had earlier served as the chair of the Wannsee Conference responsible for planning the extermination of the Jews in German-occupied territories. When Heydrich died early the next month in his hospital bed, the infuriated führer ordered Heinrich Himmler to make a public example of those responsible and to exact a severe retribution against any who may have harbored the British trained Czech and Slovak agents.
Himmler’s investigation falsely linked the assassins to the towns of Lidice and Ležáky, villages known for their anti-German sentiment and suspected of harboring resistance fighters. In the early morning of June 10th, the German army field police and Sicherheitsdienst surrounded Lidice, rounded up all of the male residents over the age of sixteen, and marched them over to the Horák family farm. There they were dispatched by firing squads in groups of five and ten, until 173 men of the village lay dead.
The women of the town, who were detained in a local grammar school, were separated from their children, packed onto trucks, and deported by train to the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrück. Most of them died there from the combination of grueling physical labor, physical and emotional abuse, malnutrition, and disease. All but a handful of the children singled out for Aryan adoption met a similar fate in the Chelmno Nazi death camp. In order to eradicate all memory of the town’s existence, the Germans burned and reduced the village to ash and rubble, going so far as to disinter the graveyard. A similarly horrific fate awaited the residents of Ležáky.
The atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in Lidice were not unique to occupied Czechoslovakia. However, by proudly publicizing this particular “punitive action,” the Nazis provoked an indignant and defiant response in the rest of the free world. The Wolfsonian library holds a rare sheet of commemorative stickers produced in the U.S. in the immediate wake of the atrocity.
A poster designed by Ben Shahn that also references the Lidice massacre can also be found in the Wolfsonian’s works on paper department. Unlike the sole victim depicted in Shahn’s powerful indictment of Nazi brutality, the actual male residents were neither shackled nor blindfolded as they faced the German firing squads. They had been forced to witness the executions, to line up in front of their neighbors’ corpses, and to look their murders in the eye!
Soon after the publicized total destruction of the village, several Latin American towns were rechristened Lidice. The neighborhood of Stern Park in Crest-Hill, Illinois and a square in Coventry, England were also renamed to honor the victims. In September 1942, British coal miners founded the Lidice Shall Live foundation dedicated to raising funds to rebuild the village. After the war, a few of the women and children who survived concentration camp internment were repatriated to the site. A new village was built and in the 1990s a memorial was erected there to commemorate the “children victims of the war.” Designed by Marie Uchytilová, the bronze statue depicts the 82 boys and girls of Lidice murdered at Chelmno in the summer of 1942.