Events

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"this most savage single act of repression": the Washington Post reports the Lidice massacre, June 1942

Today, in a world in which the West knows only limited wars, and in which many journalists and commentators lack both military experience and historical perspective, it is common to see terms such as "war crimes" and "atrocities" and "massacres" tossed around with abandon. It can therefore be salutary to be reminded of what real crimes against humanity were like: specifically, the sort that inspired the laws and conventions so often and and casually invoked today.

One example, whose anniversary I mark every year, may suffice.


"this most savage single act of repression in the history of German occupation of continental Europe"

In revenge for the assassination of Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovak paratroopers, the Nazis exacted a terrible price, taking--all told, it is estimated--some 5,000 lives.

The most notorious reprisal occurred on the night of 9-10 June 1942, when German forces wiped out the Czech village of Lidice, near Prague, which, they wrongly charged, had sheltered the parachutists. Of the 503 inhabitants, 173 adult males and several women were shot, and some 200 women were deported to concentration camps (143 survived). A handful of the nearly 100 children were given to “Aryan” families to be Germanized, and the rest were deported and later gassed at Chełmno (17 adoptees could be located by 1947). The entire town was then burned and obliterated, a process estimated to have consumed some 20,000 man-hours of labor by 100 workers, and lasting until July 3. (read the rest)

The crime was so horrible that Churchill planned to bomb three German villages into oblivion as retaliation; only the resistance of his cabinet prevented him from carrying out this desire. (UK National Archives document release)

The Nazis were determined to erase Lidice from memory as well as the earth, but plazas, districts, and towns around the world were renamed Lidice in order to deny Hitler that victory. Shortly after the end of the war, in June 1945, the Czechoslovak government decided to rebuild the village. The cornerstone was laid in 1947. 

Among the things that were so striking about Lidice was not just the brutality, but the fact that the Nazis openly proclaimed their actions (in contrast, for example, to the murder of the Jews, which was to be kept secret). The news was therefore almost instantly public knowledge.

Here, for example, is how the Washington Post covered the story only a day after the assault. Note that it received prominent billing second only to emerging reports of the epochal Battle of Midway:



Czech Town of 1200 Wiped Out to Avenge Death of Heydrich

Community Razed, Men Slaughtered

Women and Children Sent to Other Areas; Population Accused of Harboring Killers

By the Associated Press

London. June 10.--German vengeance squads utterly wiped out Lidice, a Czech village of 1200 persons today, killing all the men and deporting the women and children on the ground that the population harbored the two assassins of Reinhard Heydrich, the late German ruler of Bohemia-Moravia.

  Completing this most savage single act of repression in the history of the German occupation of continental Europe, Gestapo and German soldiery razed the village, leaving nothing but rubble: the German-controlled radio announced from Prague. Then the Nazis removed the name of the village from their records.

  Lidice is--or was--a village of coal miners and woodworkers a few miles west of the Czech capital and not far from where Heydrich "the hangman" was fatally wounded by two patriots while driving along a winding road two weeks ago.

Assassins Still at Large

   The assassins, who leaped upon Heydrich's car with automatic pistol and bomb, have not been caught.
  Shortly after Prague and Berlin radios had announced the fate of Lidice "as the hiding place of the Heydrich murderers," German authorities in Prague disclosed that 25 more Czechs had been executed today in the capital and 6 in Brunn for a total of 306--exclusive of the Lidice dead--to be slain since the attack on Heydrich.
  In London, authorities of the Allied and exiled governments estimated that nearly 300,000 persons had been shot or hanged in all Europe since the beginning of the German conquest.
  Only yesterday, during Heydrich's elaborate funeral rites in Berlin, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler vowed complete revenge on his killers. The slaughter of Lidice was his macabre sequel.
  The Prague broadcasts did not give the number of men of the village who were shot. It said the women had been sent to a concentration camp and the children to "educational centers."

"Other Hostile Acts" Charged

  Besides being accused of hiding Heydrich's slayers, the population of the village was accused in the broadcast of having "committed other hostile acts, such as keeping an illegal dump of ammunition and arms and maintaining an illegal transmitter."
  Meanwhile, it was apparent from German advices received today in Switzerland that a new wave of

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punitive measures was on the way, not only in Czecho-Slovakia but in other occupied countries.
  Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, all Poland and Yugoslavia probably will be the first to feel the chill of this new terror campaign, it was indicated.
  Of the approximately half-million Europeans already believed dead by the hand of the Nazi executioner, approximately 5 per cent were wiped out in mass "reprisal" killings of hostages. The remainder, including many women, were executed on various charges, such as sabotage, plotting, and aiding the enemy.

Increased Resistance Seen

  The Norwegian, Belgian and Netherlands governments and the Free French Committee here said the increased tempo of executions in the last few weeks indicated resistance to the Germans was increasing in direct ratio to the shootings.
  The governments, in estimating the number killed, did not consider "the countless thousands who have died in concentration camps or from ill treatment and hunger as a result of the 'New Order.'"
  The Yugoslav government estimated 350,000 killed in Yugoslavia, alone, and the Polish government said 90,000 Poles had been executed. They attributed the stupendous totals to German massacres of "entire villages in their attempts to wipe out guerilla [sic] activity."
  Incomplete totals picked up from German broadcasts tell a grim story of their own, with the best compilations showing nearly 7000 shootings and hangings reported by the Germans themselves.
  A majority of the executions were never broadcast. Some were published in local papers which never reached London. One Czecho-Slovak official said:

Germans Don't Tell All

  "A vast number of those killed was never made public at all, but we hear of them eventually via underground routes. For example, last November the Germans said nine students were executed as a result of riots in Prague, but we know of 120 who were killed."
  In Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Czecho-Slovakia, and lately in France, the list of those shot reveals the Gestapo is following a definite pattern of wiping out "intellectual" leaders. Teachers are frequent victims in Norway, while professors, students and "liberal" officials have fallen in other countries.

[There follows a brief tabulation of executions announced by the Germans vs. estimated real figures established by the Allies.]


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