Friday, June 7, 2013

Lidice Lives

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On the 18th of June in 1942, several paratroopers were killed at Kostel Svatého Cyrila a Metodeje (Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius) for their assistance in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi Governor of Bohemia and Moravia and fifth in command under the Nazi Third Reich. Two Czech paratroopers had trained under the British secret service while living in exile in England, and returned to the Czech Republic to carry out an assassination plan against notably cruel Heydrich, "the man with the iron heart."

On the 27th of May in 1942, Czech paratroopers Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík made an attempt to assassinate the darkest man of the Nazi party and the brain behind the Holocaust, Reinhard Heydrich. The attack took place as Heydrich commuted from his home in the countryside to the city of Prague in an unarmed car. Waiting on the corner, the two paratroopers prepared their attack as the car slowed for the hairpin turn. After Gabčík took aim with a Sten sub-machine gun and it failed to fire, Kubiš threw a bomb at the rear of the automobile.

Heydrich sustained serious injuries from the attack, was taken to the hospital, and eventually died due to blood poisoning on June 4th, 1942. The two assassins escaped, one on bike and one on foot, and hid in nearby safe houses owned by members of the underground Czech resistance. They then relocated to the crypts beneath the Greek Orthodox Church, where they hid for multiple weeks until a traitor revealed their location. Over 800 members of the SS and Gestapo surrounded the church, and used tear gas, bullets, and high pressured blasts of water in order to drive the men out of the crypt. After a lengthy drawn out battle, the paratroopers in the crypt took their own lives.

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Before the whereabouts of the paratroopers were discovered, an elaborate funeral was held for Heydrich, and Hitler demanded repercussions. Over 13,000 Czech people were arrested, deported, and imprisoned. Also due to false intelligence, attacks were ordered on several small Czech towns like Lidice, believed to have been the hometown of the assassins.

The small village of Lidice, located just northwest of Prague, was completely destroyed on June 10th in 1942 in reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. All men over sixteen were led to a wall lined with mattresses, not blindfolded or tied, and there they were murdered "without a word of explanation." The women were sent to a concentration camp. And the children: 98 were deported to concentration camps, of which 82 children were sent to gas chambers. 9 children were selected for the process of "Germanization" and adopted by German families, 7 children were placed in a orphanage. Of 105 children in the village of Lidice, 88 lost their lives, and only 17 returned to the village after the conclusion of the war and Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic.

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The town was completely destroyed. Today, there stands a museum and a memory--both reminders of what occurred there. Strange enough, hardship and death and destruction and terrible cruelty occured here in 1942, but today there are rolling hills of bright, green grass. The place is ironically beautiful. Beautiful in the way that the memory is being preserved, how members of Lidice returned to houses rebuilt for them by the government and allied powers after the war, how the history is being passed on, how Lidice lives.

We met with a survivor from Lidice after touring the museum and remnants of the previous site of Lidice. Jaroslava Skleničková published the book, "If I Had Been a Boy, I Would Have Been Shot" and spoke with our class of her experience working in a concentration camp after being forced to leave Lidice with the other women. Her testimony was remarkable, and she conquered great hardship. She has returned to Lidice with her husband in her retirement, and she continues to keep the history of Lidice alive.

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