US town of Crest Hill commemorates Lidice massacre

Memorial in Crest Hill

Eighty years ago, the Nazis massacred the village of Lidice, hoping to wipe it off the face of the Earth. But it had quite the opposite effect. Various places around the world adopted the name Lidice, so that it would never be forgotten. One of them is the town of Crest Hill near Chicago, which has its own Lidice neighbourhood.

Lidice Memorial Park in Crest Hill | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

As the tones of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country pour from loudspeakers, three men in Sokol uniforms carry the American and Czech flags to a stone plaque. It reads that it stands in memory of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice and its citizens who were massacred by the Nazis on June 10, 1942.

The annual Lidice commemoration was held in Crest Hill earlier this week on the occasion of a visit of the Czech Senate delegation. It was only two days after the Lidice horror, when a local real estate entrepreneur Dominic Romano named part of the town where he owned land Lidice.

Destruction of Lidice | Photo: ČT24

A month later, in July 1942, thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the atrocity and installed a memorial dedicated to Lidice. Local Czech-American resident, as Vera Wilt, says it was an act of defiance:

Tina Oberlin,  John Přitasil and Vera Wilt | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

“In think when Hitler said he would wipe the name Lidice off the face of the earth, Americans and other people around the world took it as a challenge and said: No it is not!

“It was a gut reaction, it came from the heart, not from the mind. They just thought: We can’t allow that to happen. We will build the monument.”

The original memorial in Crest Hill has since been replaced by a new one, but it still stands in a small park in a residential neighbourhood that has carried the name of Lidice for 80 years.

The story has touched not only Americans of Czech descent, but all Crest Hill locals, including Tina Oberlin:

Lidice Memorial Park in Crest Hill | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

“I grew up just a few doors down and I would come up here as a child to play and ride my bike. And every year when they held a memorial service, I would just watch it. Even though I didn't speak the language, I always understood the meaning.  It was just obvious to me, even as a child.

“Flash forward several decades, I became part of the City Hall, and when the Mayor asked me to help I just jumped in with both my feet because it meant so much to me.”

The memorial is looked after by the local Czech-Americans and the land on which it stands belongs to the Czech-Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids.

John Pritasil, president of the Czechoslovak American Congress, says the legacy of Lidice is still immensely important to the community:

“The whole of point of the monument was that people wouldn’t forget. Because, as they say, those who forget are doomed to repeat history. We see that happening now in Ukraine.

Lidice Memorial Park in Crest Hill | Photo: Jan Kaliba,  Czech Radio

“The Czech community always remembered. We were brought up with it, we learned about Lidice in school and we took it upon ourselves to make sure to pass the story on.”

A full-scale anniversary commemoration is planned in Crest Hill this Sunday, exactly 80 years since the neighbourhood was named after Lidice. A similar commemoration is also being planned in Phillips, Wisconsin, where another Lidice memorial was erected during the war.