For an important part of my business life, I was involved in the art and craft of memorialization and with a wide range of projects around the country designed to help us remember people, events and places from our past. As I consider all this, and on this particular summer day in 2013, I have in front of me a photograph of what is one of the saddest, but most evocative examples of that craft I can think of. It links together in a bonding of fine bronze which speaks of the eternities to come, 82 children, who forfeited their young and innocent lives 71 years ago in the cauldron of a war they had no part in. The monument stands today overlooking a place in the Czech Republic where the ancient town of Lidice had stood since the 14th century. Their story is important enough that it should not be allowed to become forgotten.
If you were to line up the “elite” of Hitler’s killing machine; the very masters of the murderous plan which was christened “The Final Solution”, and which succeeded in bringing about the cold-hearted, calculated, and wholesale execution of close to ten million European civilians in the name of “national cleansing” during World War II, a man named Reinhard Heydrich would stand at the head of such a lineup. A Jew-hating, stone-hearted and arrogant Nazi zealot who prided himself on inventing the efficient killing system (actually known as the “Reinhard Plan”) which saw its zenith at Treblinka, Chelmno and Sobibor, he was dispatched by Heinrich Himmler to what is today The Czech Republic as Hitler’s “Reich Protector” of Bohemia/Moravia. On May 27th, 1942, two Czech patriots – trained in England and parachuted into their occupied homeland - carried out a somewhat flawed assassination attempt on Heydrich as he motored through the outskirts of Prague in his open Mercedes. When several days later, their target died from his wounds, Hitler ordered that 13,000 Czechs, including women and children should be killed in reprisal. In the search for the two Allied shooters, 36,000 homes were searched by a team of 21,000 SS men before the two were found and shot.
Although the village of Lidice (Liditz in German) was innocent of any connection with the assassins, it was arbitrarily selected for destruction by Himmler. The town’s men, numbering at least 192, were lined up and shot in groups. 60 women, including four whose pregnancies were first, and violently terminated, were carted away to be killed elsewhere. Saddest of all, the 82 children, (42 girls and 40 boys), ranging in age from 1 to 16 were taken to the killing camp at Chelmno where they were summarily executed. A few children deemed acceptable for “Germanization” were given to Nazi SS families, their eventual stories lost to history.
Once the people were gone, the town was burned and blown into dust by explosives. Every domestic animal and pet, and even the bodies in the town’s cemetery were disinterred and burned, so that no sign of Lidice was left. Two weeks later, the nearby town of Ležāky was also destroyed bringing to at least 1350 the number of Czech civilians who paid with their lives for the assassination of Hitler’s favorite protégé, Reinhard Heydrich.
Rather than keep the massacre under wraps, which had been the case in similar outrages across Europe, the Nazis encouraged the worldwide publicity of the Lidice affair, “trumpeting” the power of their mastery over occupied lands and peoples. It had an opposite effect, and monuments and memorial gardens sprang up in places as distant as England, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Bulgaria and the United States, where a Lidice monument remains today a proud and central image in the town of Phillips, Wisconsin, home to a once largely- immigrant Czech population.
There is, I devoutly believe, no greater manifestation of pure Evil than the murder of innocent children, so recently introduced to life on planet earth, and the bronze masterpiece created by Marie Uchytilová overlooking the place where Lidice once stood holds the power to break my heart and bring tears to my eyes.