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80 years since the Lidice massacre: the tragedy of women survivors lives on the radio

“Something terrible must have happened to be welcomed like this,” noted the survivors of the Ravensbrück concentration camp on their return to Czechoslovakia in early June 1945. When they crossed the Czech border, after a long death march, they were indeed greeted by a military band . She paid homage to them, to those who would henceforth be called “the women of Lidice”.




Lidice |  Photo: VHU

After surviving the concentration camp hell, these 143 women had only one desire: to find their husbands and children, from whom they were separated on June 10, 1942 in the early morning, when SS units invaded the village of Lidice. They did not know that on the same day their village had been completely destroyed, their husbands shot and their children mostly murdered.

Of the 500 inhabitants of Lidice, 340 people perished. The massacre was committed by the Nazis to punish the Czech civilian population, after the assassination of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, perpetrated by resistance fighters at the end of May 1942 in Prague. Historian and director of the Lidice Memorial, Eduard Stehlík explains:




Eduard Stehlik |  Photo: Ondřej Tomšů, Radio Prague Int.

“The objective of the Nazis was to produce a shock. That’s why they spread the information about the destruction of the village all over the world. The message was clear: if anyone else opposed them from now on, they would be treated just as brutally. But the news had the opposite effect and caused a wave of emotion and solidarity with the inhabitants of Lidice. Personally, I believe that the Nazis committed this crime because, fifteen days after the attack on Heydrich, they still had no relevant clues. »

But why did you choose this village located near Kladno, not far from Prague? What would have played a role in this tragic story was a letter related to a complicated case of adultery.

After the attack on Heydrich

This text, which arrives in the hands of the Gestapo, however puts the Germans on the trail of two pilots from Lidice, engaged in the Czechoslovak armed forces in England. Without further clues, the Nazis think they have got their hands on the two men responsible for the attack on Heydrich who could have found refuge in Lidice, with their families. Eduard Stehlík recounts the following:




Telegram on the destruction of Lidice |  Photo: e-Sbírky, National Museum, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

“The report published by the Nazis speaks of adult men from Lidice who were shot, of women deported to concentration camps and of children placed with adoptive families for re-education. But this information was not correct. The reality was even worse. Not only men, but also boys over the age of 15 were murdered on the spot. Women were to be imprisoned for life. With regard to the fate of the children of Lidice, this is where the lie is the most monstrous. There was no rehabilitation. Of the 105 children in Lidice, only 17 were found after the war. 82 of them were gassed in Chelmno, Poland. It was a mass killing. Fifteen days later, the Nazis similarly wiped out another Czech village, Ležáky. But this crime passed relatively under silence at the time. »




The children of Lidice |  Photo repro: Osudy lidických dětí

As the Germans use the Lidice massacre for their propaganda, the news arouses emotion around the world. Eduard Stehlik:




The Silent Village

“Three days after the massacre, US Navy Secretary Frank Knox said, ‘When our children ask us why we fought this war, we will tell them about Lidice.’ The impact was enormous throughout the American continent and in Great Britain. The first report on Lidice said it was a mining village, which was not correct. Its inhabitants worked mainly in the metallurgical factories of Kladno. Nevertheless, Lidice’s story moved British miners. They founded the movement ‘Lidice Shall Live’ which raised funds for the construction of the new village of Lidice. Very quickly, the world of cinema reacted. In Great Britain, the documentary film entitled ‘The Silent Village’ was shot, where the inhabitants of Lidice are represented by the miners of a village in Wales. »

My name is Lydice

The mobilization in favor of the survivors of Lidice, the one that made it possible to build the new village, was initiated by the British doctor and politician Barnett Stross. He regularly visited Lidice until his death in 1967 and had a rose garden planted between the new village and the Lidice Memorial, built on the very site of the tragedy.




The village of Lidice in Brazil |  Photo: Památník Lidice

Several towns and villages in Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, the United States and Israel have decided to take the name of the martyr village and the tragedy of Lidice is commemorated there every year in June. In addition, just over 500 women, mostly from Latin American countries, bear the first name of Lidice.

The Lidice tragedy continues to inspire artists from all walks of life. On June 7, Czech Radio broadcast a new radio play entitled “Lidické ženy” (Women from Lidice). Its author Jakub Čermák explains why this topic captivated him:




Jakub Cermak |  Photo: Hana Slívová, ČRo

“I remember that the story of Lidice, which has become almost mythical in our country, was quite distant from me when I was a student. I knew her, but she didn’t really touch me. That changed when I read the testimonies of women survivors in the press. What caught my attention were certain facts or details somewhat overshadowed by the events of June 10, 1942. In Czechia, we are used to talking about the massacre itself, the execution of the men of Lidice and the deportation of women. But little is said about the “after” massacre. A question seemed crucial to me, namely how can one live after having gone through such an experience. »

The women’s community of Lidice is at the heart of the piece:

“Obviously, what is extremely moving is the fate of the children of Lidice, sought after after the war by their mothers. They were believed to be alive, when, unfortunately, the majority of them perished. It happened that several children returned to Lidice, but it turned out later that they were not the ones we were looking for. So they were returned to their parents in Germany. These children are also the victims of the massacre. »




The women of Lidice |  Photo: Milada Cábová, Paměť národa

“Another trauma is linked to the male survivors. They were three to survive the tragedy: the two pilots engaged in Great Britain and a man who spent the war in prison. But the community of female survivors rejected them, probably because it was too painful for them to see them alive when their husbands had been killed. These three men fell somewhat into oblivion after the war also because they broke the image of Lidice as it was presented by the communist regime. »

The trauma remains palpable

In June 2022, there is only one woman survivor still alive, as well as nine “children of Lidice”, eight of whom have no memory of the old destroyed village. Playwright Jakub Čermák believes that the trauma of the massacre, transmitted from generation to generation, remains present in the new village of Lidice:




Lidice Memorial |  Photo: Radio Prague Int.

“For example, the inhabitants of Lidice recently opposed the project to install, within the grounds of the Memorial, a commemorative plaque in tribute to these two British RAF pilots who escaped the massacre. The current mayor of the village, herself a descendant of the survivors, once said that when her children were small, she wondered if they had enough blond hair and enough blue eyes to be able to survive if such a situation arose. to reproduce. Furthermore, a historian from the Lidice Memorial told me that many female survivors refused to talk about the massacre. As a result, the history of some families is not documented. »

Commemorations are planned this weekend, in the Czech Republic and abroad, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the destruction of Lidice. The public can discover the vanished village on site, thanks to a virtual visit, or on the Memorial site, at https://www.lidice-memorial.cz/.




Lidice Memorial |  Photo: Radio Prague Int.


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