Ležáky – the lesser known Czech village annihilated by the Nazis
Exactly 80 years ago, Nazi forces annihilated the village of Ležáky. A smaller settlement than Lidice, Ležáky have always been in the shadow of the first Bohemian settlement that fell victim to Nazi wrath following the successful killing of acting governor Reinhard Heydrich. But its tragic story is more closely intertwined with the Nazi hunt for the covert Czechoslovak troops that made Operation Anthropoid possible.
Located in Eastern Bohemia, Ležáky and its surroundings served as a base for members of the Silver A group of Czechoslovak soldiers that had been parachuted into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia at the end of 1941. Historian Vojtěch Kyncl says that the area of the settlement was of high importance to the covert team of troops who landed in the Protectorate at the end of 1941.
“Silver A was active in the Ležáky settlement for more or less six months. It not only served as a hideout, but also as a location for the secret ‘Libuše’ radio station, which served as the central communications line with Britain. It was through Libuše that the order was received to carry out the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.”
In their subsequent hunt for the perpetrators after Heydrich’s killing, the Nazis were at first unable to make significant progress in penetrating the web of soldier-agents sent from London. However, after the betrayal of one of the group’s members, Karel Čurda, the Gestapo acquired basic information about the families that cooperated with the undercover soldiers. Vojtěch Kyncl explains how this impacted Ležáky.
“The first signals that the whole resistance organisation had been exposed and was being broken down came from the nearby city of Pardubice. On June 20, the city’s local resistance members were arrested. A day later, the tentacles of the Gestapo had already reached Ležáky, where the local miller, Jindřich Švanda, was taken into custody and, thereafter, the other residents of the mill were taken as well.”
Then, on the morning of June 24, the Gestapo arrived with units of the order police (Ordnungspolizei). They surrounded the village and loaded the inhabitants on trucks. The whole village was subsequently set aflame and its residents transported to the Gestapo headquarters in Pardubice.
Anna Štichauerová was 7-years-old at that time and staying in a Pardubice guesthouse. She described what she saw when the Nazi convoy arrived at the guesthouse to the Memory of Nations project.
“On June 24, 1942, a long convoy of trucks arrived at the guesthouse. We went on the road to take a look at those trucks. It was really bad since we could hear women and children crying inside the trucks. Then a man came from Chrudim, riding a horse and shouting: ‘the village of Ležáky is burning!’”
Historian Vojtěch Kyncl says that all 33 adult residents of Ležáky were executed in Pardubice that night.
“The bodies were transported to the local crematorium where they were burned. Those children who were not deemed fit for Germanisation were held in a textile factory in Lodz, Poland, for three weeks after which they were transported to the nearby Chelmno extermination camp and then murdered in gas vans. Those children that were deemed suitable were sent to be Germanised.”
Only two of the 13 children were deemed fit for Germanisation. One of the survivors, Jarmila Doležalová (nee Šťulíková), told Hospodářské Noviny in 2007 that she still felt uprooted. Raised in a German family before being returned to Czechoslovakia in 1946, she was teased in school for speaking German.
Ležáky was never rebuilt. A memorial, marking each house with a stone cross stands on the location today. However, commemorations and educational events are organised by the associated Ležáky memorial organisation throughout the year.