Czechs mark 70th anniversary of the destruction of Lidice

Lidice memorial, photo: CTK

On Sunday Czechs marked the 70th anniversary one of the biggest tragedies in the country’s history the extermination of Lidice village, the Nazis’ brutal revenge for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia. The unprecedented massacre of civilians, followed just two weeks later by the razing to the ground of a second village, Ležáky, opened the eyes of the international community to the true nature of the regime and to this day remains one of the most powerful mementos of WWII.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
Politicians, cultural figures and church dignitaries on Sunday gathered at the mass grave of the 173 men and boys aged over 16 who were rounded up and executed in cold blood by the Nazi regime on the fateful day of June 10th, 1942. The town’s women and children were taken to concentration camps and Lidice was burnt to the ground in what was to serve as exemplary punishment for those who would oppose the Nazi regime. In a short speech at the ceremony Prime Minister Petr Nečas said the Czech act of resistance was a turning point in the fight against Nazism.

“Long before the international community learned about the horrors of Nazi extermination camps the tragedy of Lidice alerted the world to the true nature of this evil regime.”

The attempt to wipe an entire village from the map was unsuccessful – villages and streets in different parts of the world were renamed Lidice in a show of solidarity and many newborns were given the name within the “Lidice shall live” movement launched by dr. Barnett Stross in Great Britain. To this day the name Lidice rings a bell in many parts of the world and Czech officials have stressed the importance of keeping that message alive. Cardinal Dominik Duka:

Lidice memorial, photo: CTK
“Lidice stirred the conscience of many people and roused them to fight the Nazi evil. It should keep us vigilant in this day as well.”

Among the accompanying events marking the 70 th anniversary of the Lidice tragedy was a concert of children’s choirs called “A Light for Lidice”, attended among others by a choir from the Britain’s Stoke-on-Trent which raised 1 million pounds to help reconstruct the village of Lidice after the war.

An international exhibition of children’s drawings was displayed in the seat of the European Parliament in Brussels last week. It shows the best of 26,000 children’s drawings from 67 countries who took part in the annual drawing competition organized by Lidice in memory of the 88 children killed in the massacre. The exhibition elicited plenty of interest among MEPS. German MEP Knut Fleckenstein says the Lidice tragedy is well known in his country.

Lidice massacre
“The name Lidice is well-known in Germany. I think about 12 years ago there was a documentary film on TV that showed us in very brutal detail what the Germans did there.”

On the eve of this year’s commemorative event came an apology from German President Joachim Gauck, who in a letter to President Vaclav Klaus expressed deep sorrow and shame over the war atrocities committed in Lidice and Ležáky. Mr. Klaus said he considered the letter a strong statement and a positive gesture. Prime Minister Petr Nečas likewise welcomed Germany’s acknowledgment of its responsibility for these tragic events.

“I am happy to see many German delegations here today –delegations representing various towns and associations. The growing number of contacts between Czechs and Germans, between our towns and cities, show that relations are now thriving and I am glad of it.”

Other events commemorating the destruction of Lidice and Ležáky are in the pipeline. A special issue of postage stamps has been released marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre. On June 14th a commemorative event will take place in the former Ravensbrück concentration camp, to which the women from Lidice were transported. And, on June 22, the 24th year of the Ravensbrück – Lidice – Ležáky relay run will start from that location.