On 27 May 1942, a high-ranking German Nazi official and the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia - Reinhard Heydrich, was being driven from his country villa to his office at Prague when he was ambushed by British-trained Czech soldiers. A fatal grenade attack left him severely wounded and he died eight days later. Reinhard Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust and one of the darkest figure within the Nazi elite. Adolf Hitler himself described him as “the man with the iron heart”. Getting rid of Heydrich was a long-premeditated plot.
To avenge the death of Heydrich, the Germans launched a terrifying retaliation. Over the next few days, more than 36,000 houses in 5,000 towns and villages were searched, arresting some 3,000 people. Within a week, 157 people were executed, but the most tragic victims of the German reprisal were the residents of an ordinary agricultural village named Lidice, located some 20 km to the west of Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Initially, Hitler ordered the arrest and execution of 10,000 randomly selected Czechs, but the idea was dropped because Czech territory was an important industrial zone for the German military and indiscriminate killing could reduce the productivity of the region. The Gestapo, upon mounting pressure to nab the assassins, desperately needed a scapegoat and the village of Lidice was chosen. A false Gestapo report stated that Lidice was the assailants' suspected hiding place because several Czech army officers, then in England, had come from there.
On 9 June, 1942, on the day of Heydrich funeral, German forces surrounded the village of Lidice, blocking all avenues of escape. All men of the village were rounded up and gunned down while the women and children were taken to extermination camps to be gassed. The few children considered racially suitable for “Germanisation” were handed over to SS families.
The village of Lidice was set on fire and the remains of the buildings destroyed with explosives. Even those buried in the town cemetery were not spared. Their remains were dug up and destroyed. All the animals in the village were slaughtered as well. At the end 340 people from Lidice died because of the German reprisal - 192 men, 60 women and 88 children. Only 153 women and 17 children returned after the war.
Today, Lidice is a quiet town with a few stone ruins of a farmhouse and church, and a striking bronze sculpture of children. The sculpture entitled "The Memorial to the Children Victims of the War" and comprising of 82 bronze statues of children, was erected by artist Marie Uchytilová in the 1990s. It stands overlooking the site of the old village of Lidice.
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