Lidice: a Czech tragedy’s enduring legacy, as marked in Mexico and embodied in girls’ names

Annual commemoration, photo: Archive of Edna Gómez Ruiz

June 10 marks the anniversary of the Lidice massacre, ordered by Hitler in retaliation for the assassination of Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovak paratroopers. The atrocity struck a particularly deep chord in Mexico, among the first countries to pay tribute to the 340 innocent victims, where many girls were named ‘Lídice’ in their memory.

Annual commemoration,  photo: Archive of Edna Gómez Ruiz
San Jerónimo Lídice,  photo: Archive of the Lidice Memorial

In August 1942, the village of San Jerónimo Aculo, today part of Mexico City, changed the last word in its name to “Lídice” to commemorate a massacre half a world away. Over the years, a square, theatre and school in the district, as well as a choir, have also been named after the Bohemian village, which the Nazis intended to wipe off the map for eternity, says Edna Gómez Ruiz, president of the T. G. Masaryk Association in Mexico.

“Mexico is a country that has always shown solidarity with just causes, and respect for life and dignity. That is why we wanted the name Lidice to survive in the borough of La Magdalena Contreras… officially renaming it on August 30, 1942 as San Jerónimo Lídice. The local primary school also bears the name of the Czech village. Mexico was the first country in Latin America to adopt the name in this way.”

Mural called Fields of Light and Death,  photo: Archive of Edna Gómez Ruiz

Edna Gómez, who has led the Lídice Choir for 36 years, says symbols of this solidarity appeared in the heart of the neighbourhood decades apart. In 1975, for example, the mayor commissioned a sculpture for the Lídice plaza, the site of an annual commemoration. In 2002, on the 60th anniversary of the tragedy, a mural called Fields of Light and Death (Campos de Luz y Muerte) was unveiled. Its creator, Ariosto Otero, says it reflects a mixture of the two cultures.

“Lidice is a memory that will never fade. Even with the passage of time, the suffering of a people struck down not because of a pandemic but because of human brutality still remains.”

Pavel Horešovský  (right),  photo: Archive of Edna Gómez Ruiz

In 1984, Pavel Horešovský, who was born a few weeks before the massacre, was invited for an official visit by the Mexico City district to share his experience. His father was among the 184 men killed by the Nazis, his mother interned in Ravensbrück concentration camp during the war. That same year, then Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Lubomír Štrougal, also visited San Jerónimo Lídice.

Ever since, the mayors of the district’s demarcation line have gathered for annual commemorations. Fernando Mercado Guaida, who extended that initial invitation, says Lídice is “living proof that tyrants, no matter how powerful”, can never suppress the collective effort to rescue memory and overcome adversity.

An even more striking – and decidedly more personal tribute – is embodied in the girls named after the Bohemian village. Among them is Lídice Fragoso, whose father and mother were so moved by the story, they agreed to call their first-born daughter by that name.

“I carry the name of Lidice, a Czechoslovakian town destroyed by a man’s revenge, with pride. This village had the courage, the will, the strength and the unity to rise again. It is an example for humanity today, to face changes with resilience that will make us better.”