Lidice - Destruction of the Village 1942
Heydrich’s first step was to displace Baron von Neurath as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. Baron von Neurath, a former diplomat of the old school, was elderly, ailing and far too easy-
But on 27 May 1942, Czech agents, Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis from Britain intercepted Heydrich’s car as it slowed down to take a corner in the Prague suburb of Holesovice, a grenade wrecked the car, and Heydrich was taken to the Bulovka hospital, which was only half a mile away. Hitler was informed by Karl Hermann Frank, the Sudeten German Secretary of State, of the attack on Heydrich, by telephone. Hitler was outraged to hear that Heydrich was travelling unescorted in an open car. Hitler ordered reprisals and appointed Karl Frank as the Interim Reichsprotektor and offered a reward of one million Reichsmarks for the capture, or information which resulted in the capture of the attackers. Hitler also ordered the instant execution of 30,000 Czechs.Karl Frank in his discussions with Hitler, put forward the view that an execution of that many people would seriously deplete the labour force in the Protectorate, and Hitler amended his demands to the arrest of 10,000 hostages.
On 27 May 1942, Heinrich Himmler sent to Frank a priority message which ordered Frank to target intellectuals and to execute 100 of them immediately. During the next few days over 3,000 Czechs were arrested of which 1,357 were executed, while 657 died during police interrogations, over 2,000 killed. .
Despite an early positive prognosis of Heydrich’ condition in the Bulovka hospital, his health deteriorated. He was in great pain and with a very high temperature, that even experimental sulphanomide drugs failed to arrest the blood poisoning, resulted from his wounds. At 04.30 on 4 June 1942 Reinhard Heydrich died, at the age of thirty-
Lidice, seems to have been selected because it appeared in the files of the security services. Two men from there, Josef Horak and Josef Stribny, had left Czechoslovakia in 1939 and were known to be serving in the RAF. Obviously, they must have been dropped by parachute and, having killed Heydrich, they were no doubt hiding in Lidice. Besides, the name had come up again quite recently, in connection with a note intercepted by the Gestapo. As it turned out this was actually a different village entirely, with the same name, but by the time the Germans had discovered this, the orders had gone out, and the arrangements were in place. Berlin was demanding immediate action, and it was too late to change. Two Gestapo agents were hastily sent to Lidice that night to arrange for the incriminating evidence to be found the next morning.
Until June 1942, Lidice was a pleasant little village, of no particular distinction, a village like thousands of other Bohemian villages, situated in the open rolling countryside about ten miles from Prague. A stream ran down the shallow valley, spreading out into a small lake above the mill, and beside the stream, colour-
On the afternoon of 4 June 1942, at about half-
But that assumption proved to be false. Karl Frank telephoned the BdS (Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienst) in Prague, Horst Böhme, and instructed him to carry out the destruction of Lidice. By 22.00 hours on 9 June 1942, Gestapo agents from Prague were joined in Kladno by two companies of police troops and a squad of security police under the command of SS-
When the doors of the school were unlocked at 05.00 hours the next morning, the women came out to find their village a shambles, the streets strewn with the broken remnants of their belongings. They were bundled into a row of waiting trucks and driven away. One woman, looking out through a gap in the canvas cover of the truck, could see the backs of the men, lined up in the courtyard of the Horak farm. It was the last that any of them saw of the men of Lidice. The special extermination squad that had arrived in Lidice from Prague, had propped up a line of mattresses against the wall of the barn to prevent ricochets, and then they brought out the men and boys, ten at a time, lined them up, and shot them – 173 in all. From 10.00 hours until 15.00 hours the destruction went on, until every living being had been liquidated. Even the dogs in the kennels were shot. Some of the men were not even residents of Lidice, they merely happened to be visiting friends there that evening. There were also, some residents of Lidice who were away working late shifts in the mines and factories of Kladno. But they too were not spared, they were collected and shot later. The eventual total is thought to have been 192 murdered.
The work of wiping Lidice off the map went on with professional efficiency under the eyes of Karl Frank himself, and the new Reichsprotektor Kurt Daluge, who had come out from Prague, to see for themselves. While the extermination squad dealt with the men and boys, other squads of Germans went round with cans of petrol setting fire to the buildings. After them came engineers with explosive charges to blow-
Karl Frank and Kurt Daluge had even arranged for a film unit to make a permanent record of the destruction of Lidice, and the camera-
Meanwhile, the rest of the population of Lidice – 198 women and 98 children-
The prospect of separation from their children brought a universal outcry of protest from the crowd of distraught and bedraggled women, whereupon the guards raised their rifles and fired a volley into the air. Silence was restored, the officers went on to say that if any difficulties were made, they would all be shot there and then. SS men pushed through the crowd, dragging the terrified children away from their mothers and bundling them into waiting trucks.
Having separated the children, the women were herded into cattle-
After the war ended, the search for the lost children of Lidice was taken up by the Allied Military Government. German prisoners were questioned, records searched. Posters were put up all over Germany: ‘The Women of Lidice are Asking you – Where are our Children?’ But it was two years before any of them were found, and more years still before the documents came to light which revealed what really happened. Of the 99 children who had been carried away from Kladno in June 1942, eight who were under one year old, had been taken to a hospital in Prague, to be raised as Germans. The rest were transported to Lodz in Poland, where the Race and Resettlement Office selected nine others as suitable to be raised as Germans, within German families. These seventeen children all survived the war, and eventually returned to their Czech homeland. The other eighty-
The Nazi authorities made no attempt to hide the destruction of Lidice by their hands. On the contrary, they broadcast their triumph over Lidice to the world. A few days after the outrage the German radio announced that ‘the inhabitants of the village of Lidice, near Kladno, had been found to be implicated in the killing of Reichsprotektor Heydrich and were moreover, in the active service of the enemy abroad. As a consequence all the men have been shot, the women taken to concentration camps, and the children placed in suitable educational institutions. Houses and buildings have been razed to the ground, and the name of the village wiped out. ‘
When the facts were known, a cry of outrage went up all over the world. Funds were raised and committees formed, pledged to remember and restore the destroyed village – pledges that were subsequently redeemed. Memorials were erected in many countries, thus the Nazis aim of wiping the name of Lidice from the map, failed completely
R.Cowdery and P. Vodenka, , Reinhard Heydrich Assassination,USM Inc, Lakeville 1994
R. Livingstone, The Destruction of Lidice – A Final Lesson, History of the Second World War, Volume 3, Purnell, London 1966.
C. MacDonald & J. Kaplan, Prague in the Shadow of the Swastika, Quartet Books Ltd, London 1995.
R.Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Holmes and Meier, New York 1985
K. Gorczyca, Z.Lorek, Day after day in the extermination camp Kulmhof, March 2005
Photograph – Bundesarchiv
© Holocaust Historical Society 2014