Today, June 10 is the anniversary of one of the worst atrocities in modern Czech history.
On the morning of Wednesday, 10 June 1942, the village of Lidice, about 20 km North-West of Prague, was destroyed in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the highest-ranking Nazi official in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
Women who refused to leave their husbands were also shot, and men who happened to be away from the village were later found and killed.
Meanwhile, the Gestapo and SS hunted down and murdered Czech agents, resistance members, and anyone suspected of being involved in Heydrich’s death, totaling over 1000 persons. In addition, 3000 Jews were deported from the ghetto at Theresienstadt for extermination. In Berlin, 500 Jews were arrested, with 152 executed as a reprisal on the day of Heydrich’s death.
As a further reprisal, Hitler ordered the small Czech mining village of Lidice to be liquidated on the fake charge that it had aided the assassins.
The world first learned about Lidice via a brutally detached Nazi radio announcement broadcast the day after the attack:
“All male inhabitants have been shot. The women have been transferred to a concentration camp. The children have been taken to educational centers. All houses of Lidice have been leveled to the ground, and the name of this community has been obliterated.”
All 172 men and boys over age 16 in the village were shot. The women were sent to concentration camps, 53 of whom did not survive them. The children from Lidice, 82 of them, were gassed to death in a mobile gas chamber at a deportation camp.
The village was then destroyed building by building with explosives, then completely leveled until not a trace remained, with seeds being planted over the flattened soil. The name was then removed from all German maps.
The Nazis even dug up the town’s cemetery. They dumped massacre victims into a mass grave dug by prisoners from Terezin, a nearby concentration camp, and gleefully filmed the aftermath of the annihilation. This footage would soon become Nazi propaganda designed to quell further resistance.
After the liberation, 17 of those who survived the razing of their village as children and 143 of those who survived as adult women gradually came back to the village.
But the Nazi intention to wipe the little Czech village off the face of the Earth did not succeed. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village.
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.
The old site was preserved as a memorial including the common grave of the Lidice men, a monument and museum, and between it and the new village a “Garden of Peace and Friendship” was opened on June 19, 1955, where thousands of rose-bushes from various parts of the world were planted.
Today, Lidice—a small town of about 540 residents, rebuilt alongside a memorial and museum commemorating the tragedy—stands in defiance of the Nazis’ attempted extermination: 82 larger-than-life bronze statues, each representing a lost child of Lidice, greet visitors.