Published: 14th October 2012 12:00 AM |
Hitler ordered it razed off the world map, but the world refused. That’s the reason why the village of Lidice in Czech Republic still remains, though time has moved on since the Fuhrer expressed his desire 70 years ago.
Lidice is located 22 km outside the capital Prague, In the 1930s, it had 495 inhabitants people occupying 102 houses. Today, ghosts roam the village that time refused to forget, of men, women and children massacred by the Germans after the resistance assassinated a senior Nazi official. The ancient village with its little farmhouses, cottages and a church is no more; in its place are a galaxy of memorials, including a museum where a multi-media exhibition narrates the story behind the transformation. The serene, lush-green valley lies in the silence of remembrance.
After the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Hitler sent one of his close associates Reinhart Heydrich, as the Reichsprotektor in 1941. Heydrich was tasked with the job of Germanizing Czeckoslovakia and crush the Czech resistance. Reinhart’s brutality inspired Czech patriots living in exile to plan his liquidation. Accordingly, on the night of May 26, 1942, a plane took off from a London airfield for Prague with two paratroopers on board. On May 27, they totally wounded Reinhart. He died on June 4.
The Nazi reprisal to Reinhart’s killing was monstrous. Martial law was imposed in Czeckoslovakia. Within a month, over 1,400 Czechs were executed. But that wasn’t good enough for Hitler. After Reinhart’s funeral in Berlin, the Fuhrer ordered that the Czechs should be taught a further lesson. Hitler ordered that one small village in Czechoslovakia be chosen to totally disappear from the world. Lidice was selected, based on hazy intelligence report that some of the partisans had roots there.
German soldiers arrived in Lidice on June 9 and over the next few days shot all men; sent children to gas chambers with the exception of a few selected for Germanization; and forced out the women to a concentration camp where many died from torture, starvation and diseases. The destruction didn’t end there. After getting rid of the people of Lidice, came the turn of the now-masterless pets. Buildings were burnt, trees uprooted and all vegetation was obliterated so as to banish any sign of life that once existed in Lidice. Even the dead were not spared; Lidice cemetery was destroyed. What remained was an empty space with notices that forbid entry. Only three of Lidice’s male inhabitants survived; two were fighting in the RAF in England during the war, and the third, Frantisek Sajdl who was deputy mayor was in prison in Prague for murdering his son.
Shocked by this fascist act, the world responded with a pledge to keep Lidice alive. Towns and villages, streets and squares in various countries were renamed Lidice; parents gave the name to new born girls; a new Czechoslovakian tank was named after it; “Lidice Lives” committee was created in America; and in Britain “Lidice Shall Live” movement was initiated to rebuild the destroyed land. Renowned filmmaker Humphrey Jennings made a documentary on Lidice, American poet Edna Millay wrote a verse play on the massacre while Czech composer Bohuslav Martin dedicated one of his famous creations, the Memorial, to the lost parish. A name unheard of earlier started ringing a bell worldwide.
Visitors have been regularly coming to Lidice to experience first hand one of the worst unhealed scars inflicted on the psyche of a nation. The Lidice museum collection comprises explicit photographs, documents, personal interviews and footages of the film shot by the Nazi authorities to capture entire extermination of Lidice. They walk through the verdant valley that has now occupied the site of the old village, but there is a dark heaviness in the air. On the mass grave of the murdered men, now stands a cross with crown of thorns. Some visitors are so moved that they even close their ears, as if to shut out the echoes of gun shots and the cries of helpless victims. The bronze statues of 82 children of Lidice—sculpted by famous Czech artist Marie Uchytilova in memory of their memory—is a reminder of innocence brutally lost. In the beautiful rose garden, which is planted with thousands of plants received as gifts from different parts of the world, peace seemed to have collected, though in perfumed sorrow. Its colours contrast with the village’s sombre past with the inspiring present as a new avenue line with linden trees lined leads to New Lidice.
Life was renewed in 1945, when some 150 survivors—all women and children—returned to Lidice. Just as history cannot be changed, life, too, can never be stopped.
Getting There: Singapore Airlines flies from India via Singapore to Munich. From there by train to Prague (www.raileurope.co.in). Prague tour operators offer half-day Lidice Memorial tour with English-speaking guides.
Stay: Hotel Jalta (www.hoteljalta.com) in Prague, close to main railway station