Lidice

Ok, first of all I’d like to happily report that the very next day a nice Czech man came to repair our washer. He came right when he said he would and things are up and running again, thankfully. We are off to Cesky Krumlov this weekend for what is usually our favorite excursion of the whole trip. More on that in another blog. Now…

Warning: This is a very sad blog. I found this to be a very sad place. If you are not in a good place to read this tragic true story, please move on.

Lidice Sign

 

Lidice, Czech Republic. This is/was a small town just outside of Prague.

In 1941 Hitler put a man named Reinhard Heydrich in charge of rooting out all resistance, beginning the racial census of the Czech people in preparation for the their assimilation, deportation or annihilation, and beginning the forced concentration of Czech Jews at the Terezin Concentration Camp. Note: Terezin was not a death camp because it did not have a gas chamber. That did not mean, though, that people were not intentionally put to death.

At this same time, there was a group of Czech paratroopers training in England as part of The Resistance. A team of those paratroopers were sent to assassinate Heydrich. They were only able to wound him, but he did later die of his wounds. They eventually hunted those parachutists down and found them in a Catholic church in Prague and they were either killed of killed themselves swallowing cyanide pills. But Hitler did not stop there.

In a show of power and horrific determination, he ordered the obliteration of the town of Lidice. The people of this small farming town of about 600 people never knew it was coming. You would think the Nazis would have killed everyone or sent them to camps, right. Well, they were even more efficient than that. They first brought all the men to the largest farmhouse in town and shot every one of them. The youngest wasn’t even 15 years old. Then they took all the women, approximately 15 years and up, and sent them to a work concentration camp where many died. The children were brutally separated from their families. Of all 98 children of Lidice, 9 were arian-looking enough to be adopted into german families. some were sent to an orphanage, most were sent to Chelmno, a concentration camp. They were all sent with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many didn’t even have shoes on. Some children wrote letters to whomever they heard might still be alive begging for some food and shoes or anything at all. Not that it did much good.

What Happened To The People of Lidice

Still the Nazis were not done. They blew up every structure and carted away most of the rubble What was left they used to fill in the earth. They dug up every dead body in the cemetery, burned to bodies and crushed and grave markers. Then they dug up every tree, roots and all, and burned them. They left no sign that anything had ever lived on the brown ground once known as Lidice. They did this as a warning to anyone stupid enough to cross them, that their vengeance would stop at literally nothing. The Nazis did this to nearly 50 towns during the war, equally as thoroughly as they did in Lidice.

What would make them pick Lidice. Well, they were never able to verify for sure why they picked Lidice. There are theories that a young man from Lidice wrote a letter to a woman, possibly to impress her, claiming he was part of The Resistance, and that letter found it’s way into Nazi hands. Another theory is that another Czech soldier who happened to be from Lidice was also being trained in England.  In the end we may never really know why they picked Lidice any more than we will ever understand the tenacity of pure, unbridled hatred.

Just over a handful of the children lived to see the outside of the orphanage. Most died. One was actually adopted out. None of those who left Lidice alive were allowed to speak Czech again. They were severely punished if they were caught trying to speak their native tongue. The few that survived and were eventually reunited with a family member or person from the town, had to relearn Czech. There was a mother and daughter who saw each other again just before the mother died, but they could not communicate without a translator.

As for the women sent to the camp, many died as well. Some were worked or beaten to death. Some were gassed. If the Nazi couldn’t gas them in a chamber, they gassed them another way. They put them into trucks and hooked up the exhaust to them. One guide said that the average time to die in a gas chamber was ten minutes. He asked if that sounded like a long time. Of course, that sounds like an eternity. He said then, to be gassed in a truck took an average of 45 minutes to die. You could hear a pin drop.

Now once the Czech government was back in control after the war, they sponsored a competition for leading architects to design homes to build a new Lidice next to the original town site. The homes are lovely and well kept, but few survivors ever lived there, although some of their family now do. A museum was erected on the edge of the site of the original Lidice, and is very well done. They have mostly photographs, video and a few artifacts they found on site. You could fit everything in the museum into a small backpack and yet it is one of the most powerful, impressive museums I’ve ever visited. The lights are very dim, around 7 different videos are playing, some with sound, some without, and it is laid out with respect and in a way that accurately conveys the mood of the subject matter. We meandered each by ourselves, as if we needed some space to take it all in.

Blurry picture of the moody Museum at LIdice

I walked the grounds of what was once Lidice with a knot in my stomach. It makes me more certain than ever that I have never known pain, horror or sadness on this level. I can’t imagine that such hatred could exist or that it could sustain in so many people for such an extended period of time. Further, it is hard to believe that there are those who still maintain that this never happened.

Lidice Children's Monument

Since then I keep wondering about people everywhere who harbor this kind of hatred, and I worry about how much power they may have now or may yet have.

Hitler Stamp

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