Eighty years after Nazi massacre the global legacy of Lidice lives on
Exactly eight decades ago, on June 10, 1942, the Central Bohemian village of Lidice was annihilated by Nazi forces in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. About 340 men, women and children were murdered, the village flattened. Lidice became one of the best known examples of Nazi Germany’s brutality and its legacy survives in many forms to this day.
Two weeks after acting governor of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich was attacked by two undercover Czechoslovak soldiers in Prague, when an SS commando drove into the village of Lidice and began to systematically annihilate the entire settlement.
All of the males over the age of 15 were shot, while the vast majority of women and children would eventually be murdered in Nazi death camps. The village itself was levelled to the ground. Even the graveyard was destroyed.
The story of how Lidice came to suffer such a devastating fate has been recounted many times. It is a combination of Nazi frustration, bad luck and a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Karl Herman Frank, who was in charge of the crackdown following Heydrich’s killing.
But there is also a second story of Lidice, one that shows how much the savage action, propagated by the Nazis as a warning, resonated around the world, says historian Eduard Stehlik, the director of the Lidice Memorial.
“Three days after the attack, the US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said that when future generations ask why the allies fought this war then they will be told the story of Lidice. I think that was one of the first reactions. The destruction of the village resonated strongly both in North and South America.
“The same can also be said for Britain, where the first reports actually falsely stated that Lidice was a miners' village. While there were some miners living there it was mainly a settlement of metalworkers. Nevertheless, this initial report mobilised British miners, who formed the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ movement that collected donations already during the war to rebuild the village.”
A year later, the British made a film called The Silent Village, where the fate of Lidice is played out on a miner’s village in Wales. Several cities would also name streets and squares after the Czech settlement, with some villages even temporarily renaming themselves to Lidice altogether.
In South America, the word ‘Lidice’ would turn into a name given by some parents to their daughters, Dr Stehlik says.
“That is one of the most powerful reactions that I have come across. In some cases, it has even become a tradition and you have multiple generations of women who carry it even if they may not even know where the name originally comes from.
“We are actually working with a journalist now who is traveling across South America and tracking the footprint left by Lidice there. We weren’t aware of how large this legacy is. We plan to publish a book on this topic that he is writing within the next two years.”
There are very few survivors of the Lidice massacre still alive today. Most of them are children who were either too young to recall the events or still in their mothers wombs at the time. One of them told Dr Stehlik that as long as people still talk about Lidice, the village and its people remain alive.