On June 9, 1942, in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Hitler personally ordered the complete destruction of the Czech village of Lidice. All men and boys over the age of 16 were shot, and all but a handful of the women and children were deported to concentration camps.
After Slovakia declared its independence and became a client state of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler turned his sights towards the remaining Czech territories and forced the Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha to accept the occupation of the Czech rump state and its re-organisation into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, with Konstantin von Neurath as Reichsprotektor.
Konstantin von Neurath instituted strict press censorship and ordered a crackdown on protesting students and supervised the persecution of Jews. But as draconian as these measures were, the German occupation of Czechoslovakia was arguably less harsh than in other Slavic nations with Neurath notably trying to restrain the excesses of his police chief, Karl Hermann Frank.
The Butcher of Prague
But by September 1941, Hitler decided that Neurath’s rule was too lenient and stripped him of his day-to-day powers. The high ranking SS officer Reinhard Heydrich, notorious for having orchestrated the mass murder of the Polish intelligentsia during the first years of the war, was named as his deputy, assuming de facto control of the territory.
Within five days of his arrival in Prague, Heydrich proclaimed martial law and 142 people were executed. Their names appeared on posters throughout the occupied country. Most of them were the members of the resistance that had previously been captured. Thousands more were arrested and sent to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, where most of them were murdered.
By March 1942, further sweeps against Czech cultural and patriotic organisations, the military, and the intelligentsia had resulted in the practical paralysis of the London-based Czech resistance. And although small disorganised cells survived, only the communist resistance was able to function in a coordinated manner. Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was soon nicknamed the Butcher of Prague.
During that time, the Czech government-in-exile started to feel that it had to do something and Reinhard Heydrich was chosen as an assassination target. Codenamed “Operation Anthropoid”, the attack was to be carried out by two exiled Czechoslovak soldiers based in Britain, the Slovak Jozef Gabčík and the Czech Jan Kubiš, who were paradropped just east of Prague, in December 1941.
After reaching the Czech capital, Gabčík and Kubiš contacted several families and resistance organisations who helped them during the preparations for the assassination. But upon learning of the nature of the mission, resistance leaders begged the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to call off the attack, fearing the consequences of an attempt against Heydrich’s life. But Beneš personally insisted that Operation Anthropoid go forward.
On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, who set off to Berlin by car for a meeting with Hitler, was ambushed by Gabčík and Kubiš. Wounded in the attack, Heydrich died of his injuries a few days later. This was the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during the Second World War.
Infuriated by Heydrich’s death, Hitler ordered demanded the murder of 10,000 Czechs in retaliation. He was dissuaded by Heydrich’s deputy, Karl Hermann Frank, who argued that such action might interfere with long-term plans for the region. Instead, reprisals were focused on the town of Lidice, despite the fact that was no evidence that it had in any way aided Heydrich’s assassins.
On June 9, on the day of Heydrich’s state funeral in Berlin, German police and SS units, led by Horst Böhme, surrounded the town of Lidice and rounded up its 500 residents. All men and boys over the age of 16 were shot, and all but a handful of the women and children were deported to concentration camps to be gassed. The few children considered racially suitable for Germanisation were handed over to SS families. The village was then set on fire and the remains of the buildings destroyed with explosives.
The small village of Ležáky was also destroyed two weeks after Lidice, when Gestapo agents found a radio transmitter there that had belonged to an underground team who parachuted in with Kubiš and Gabčík.
Lidice lives on
The news of the destruction of Lidice spread rapidly around the world and the town soon became a symbol of the barbarity of German occupation policies and a rallying cry for opponents of the Nazi regime. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today.
About 340 Lidice citizens were murdered by the Nazis, including 88 children. After the war ended, 143 Lidice women returned home and after a two-year search 17 children were restored to their mothers.
In 1947, the foundation stone of a new Lidice was laid 300 meters away from the original site and in May 1948 work began on building the first houses. A modern village of 150 houses gradually arose with the enormous help of volunteers from all over the country as well as from abroad.
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