Dear fellow travellers
This Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the Czech Resistance's successful attempt on the life of senior Nazi administrator Reinhard Heydrich. It was an event which had terrible repercussions; the Germans retaliated with ruthless force. Those repercussions were felt most awfully in the Czech village of Lidice, but there were also implications for the Orthodox Church in the Nazi-occupied territories of Bohemia and Moravia.
Heydrich was ambushed by members of the Czech Resistance on his regular drive to work. The spot itself is unremarkable, on a tight curve in a road about three kilometres north-east of the centre of Prague. Heydrich was mortally wounded, and taken to the nearby Bulovka Hospital where he died the following week.
The attack was planned far from Prague at a commando training centre at Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland. The training centre was in the rather unlikely setting of a Victorian country house. A memorial to the Czech and Slovak soldiers who trained there was unveiled in Arisaig in 2011.
Following the attack on Heydrich, the Scottish-trained operatives fled from the scene, very uncertain whether their target's injuries would prove fatal. They eventually sought refuge in the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. This was the principal Orthodox church in Czechoslovakia; its hierarchy had been consistently critical of the Nazis and had strong links with Czech partisans, both within the country and in Britain. On 18 June, German soldiers stormed the church, killing the Czechs sheltering inside. Several priests, the bishop and other members of the Orthodox community were later executed by firing squad.
Even before the showdown at the Orthodox Cathedral in Prague, Nazi squads had wrought terrible vengeance in the region. About 150 innocent Czechs were summarily murdered in the days just after the attack on Heydrich. But the Bohemian village of Lidice particularly suffered. Although the village had partisan links, there is no evidence that anyone in Lidice had any connection with those involved in the Heydrich assassination.
But the Nazis were looking for revenge. At sunrise on a Wednesday morning a fortnight after the attack on Heydrich, German soldiers arrived in Lidice, which is about 20 kilometres north-west of Prague. By late afternoon, every single adult male in the village was dead. 173 men were murdered. The women and children were shipped away to labour camps and death camps. Of the 105 children who were in Lidice on that summer morning in 1942, only 17 survived the Second World War. The farms and buildings in the village were razed to the ground as the Nazis attempted to erase Lidice from the map of Bohemia.
Against all the odds, Lidice survived. A handful of the deported women and some of the children returned in the years after the war and a new village was built not far from the site of the 1942 atrocity. There is now a very beautiful memorial complex which recalls the fate of the original village, the centrepiece of which is a sculpture in honour of the lost children of Lidice. This is not a place which features in mainstream guidebooks, nor does Lidice attract large numbers of tourists. But there is a special link between Lidice and the working class communities in England where miners contributed towards the rebuilding of the village after its ruthless destruction by German death squads. The 'Lidice shall live' campaign was a fine piece of international solidarity to support an innocent community which was wantonly destroyed.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)