10 June (the date of this post) is the anniversary of the Lidice massacre in what is now the Czech republic. If the previous two posts were about disinformation then in this case the facts are not denied. On 27 May 1942, members of the Czechoslovak resistance wounded Reinhard Heydrich, a top Nazi official in an ambush. Heydrich died a few days later. Hitler was incandescent and ordered the destruction of Lidice in revenge. There was, as far as I know, no particular reason to pick on Lidice though the Germans claimed that two families from the town of Lidice were in some way connected to the Czech resistance.
Over two days, June 9–10, German police and SS officials destroyed the town. The Germans shot 173 men (and boys over fifteen) as well as seven of the women. The rest of the women (including girls 16 and older) were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where many of them died. Lidice was burned the town to the ground and a further 20 townspeople were executed. Lidice was to be erased from the map of Europe.
Most of Lidice’s children were sent to Lodz, a city in German-occupied Poland. There, nine of the children were judged as sufficiently Germanic to be given new German names and taught to speak German. There were then placed with adoptive German parents. Many of the other children were sent to camps and killed outright.
The massacres at Lidice became well-known around the world. There were atrocities on a larger scale throughout the second world war but Lidice really caught the imagination of ordinary public as well as world leaders. Solidarity events were held and ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaigns were set up. In Britain there was a particularly strong response in the city of Stoke through the efforts of Barnett Stross, a doctor, local councillor and labour activist. There was also an evocative film produced in Wales by the wartime Crown Film Unit entitled ‘The village that died’. This was a reimagining of the events as though happening in a village in Wales. For many the film captured what was at stake in fighting the war.
Lidice was rebuilt after the war and a museum and memorial site were agreed. Many of the Lidice survivors worked at the memorial and so kept the story alive in Czechoslavakia (as was) and throughout the world.
There was a connection with my city, Coventry, as an official twinning arrangement with Lidice was set up in 1947. The city donated the first 1,000 roses for the memorial garden in Lidice and peace committees from other countries donated thousands more. (The rose grower and media personality Harry Wheatcroft was called in to design the rose garden and he produced a new variety: the Lidice Rose.)
There has never been a counter narrative about Lidice. Hitler did not seek to deny the massacre took place, but quite the opposite had the story broadcast around the world and produced pictures to back up the account. However, remembering Lidice is not entirely devoid of controversy. It was suggested by one Czech historian that a Jewish woman, who had been secretly living in Lidice, had been denounced by a neighbour – this happened before the massacre took place. This was rejected by Czech authorities and it led to the departure of Martina Lehmannová, director of the Lidice memorial, who felt that academic freedom was in danger if we could not discuss the past openly.
On a wider scale, questions have been asked about who and how we remember. For example, why were allied governments were so quick to take Lidice to their hearts and not the plight of Jews in the concentration camps? But that is another question. Enough to say on this day that ‘Lidice Shall Live’.
The story of the massacre told in many places including a particularly accessible account at the encyclopaedia produced by the United States Holocaust Museum [online]
Within the same site there is also a clip from the testimony of Maria Doležalová speaking at the war crimes trial
Maria Doležalová (her later married name was Marie Šupíková) recently died – see Radio Prague International for a pen portrait.
There are various blogs which recall the Lidice massacre including:
‘Lidice lives’ a blog by an academic by Elizabeth Černota Clark, at Texas State University School.
‘Cultural value’ blog site produced by academic colleagues at Staffordshire University, in Stoke.
There are photos of the village before and after the razing of the village on a web site produced by ‘Dobromysl’ (sorry I cannot provide more details of the site owners).
The controversy around academic freedom is covered in the Guardian newspaper
Tait, R. (2020) Czech village razed by Hitler at heart of row on truth and history, Guardian 24 March 2020
You can view the film ‘The Village that died’ for free at the British Film Instittute web site:
For more on Barnett Stross, who comes over as a remarkable man, go to a local history of Stoke web site (be sure to scroll down the page to see relevant pictures)
There is more on Harry Wheatcroft from his son at the Garden Trust web site: