81 years since Lidice massacre: the village whose name became known across the globe

Lidice massacre in 1942

Hundreds of villages in the European military theatre of World War II became the target of Nazi massacres, where entire populations of inhabitants were systematically murdered and the villages razed to the ground. But perhaps none became more famous than the Czech village of Lidice.

Memorial to the murdered children of Lidice | Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

Oradour-sur-Glane in France, Khatyn in Belarus (then part of the Soviet Union), and several other settlements became well-known symbols of Nazi brutality during World War II. By one historian’s count (Per Anders Rudling of Lund University in Sweden), 629 villages were destroyed by the Nazis in Belarus alone.

These massacres were usually in retaliation for acts of resistance – whether truly or falsely linked to the village in question – to try to quell further dissent through fear. In the territory of the former Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe, these operations were also supposed to pave the way for Hitler’s planned repopulation of Eastern Europe with German settlers.

But perhaps none of these became more famous than Lidice, the village in central Bohemia that on 10 June, 1942, became the object of Nazi retaliation after being falsely linked to the assassination of Heydrich. Just after midnight on June 10, most of the village’s 500 or so residents were rounded up. The men were separated from the women and children, taken to a farmhouse, and shot. All but two of the men from the village over 15 years of age lost their lives (the two who survived were pilots fighting with Britain's Royal Air Force).

The women and children were sent to a makeshift detention centre in a school in Kladno, from where the majority were deported to concentration camps; the women to Ravensbrück, where 60 of them died, and the children to the Chełmno extermination camp in Poland, where they were gassed to death in trucks by exhaust fumes. Of Lidice's 105 children, only 17 survived the war. Approximately 340 people in total were murdered.

A small number of the children were deemed to be suitable for Aryanisation and were sent to Germany to live with pro-Nazi German families to be “re-educated”. After the war, the Czechoslovak government made efforts to find these children and repatriate them, but it took more than two years to find all of them and bring them home. The 143 women and 17 children who survived the war returned to their destroyed hometown and founded a new community, 300 metres from the original location.

Partly due to the fact that the Nazis filmed and took photographs of the event and its aftermath, which they proudly shared with the world through radio broadcasts and propaganda newsreels, the massacre at Lidice became one of the best-known Nazi atrocities, particularly in English-speaking countries. The footage struck a chord in the West and there was a public outpouring of solidarity, with towns in the US and other countries renaming their municipalities after the destroyed settlement, communities across the globe, including the British town of Stoke-on-Trent, raising money to rebuild the village after the war, and countless poems, films, and pieces of music made to commemorate the atrocity.

Although far from the only village to meet such a fate, Lidice went down in history as a symbol of Nazi brutality and strengthened the Allies’ resolve in their fight against the Third Reich.


For more information about Lidice, you can refer to some of our previous articles on the subject. See below.

Author: Anna Fodor
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