June 10th, 2009 Headsman
On this date in 1942, the Germans visited upon the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice one of the most notorious butcheries of World War II: the physical destruction of the town, and the execution of most of the adult population, in revenge for the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich.
Heydrich had power of life and death in Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia, and did not scruple to use it.
“The Hangman of Prague” was no mere functionary, but a Nazi grand wizard from way back, who’d had a hand in the Third Reich’s most terrifying greatest hits — the Night of the Long Knives, Kristallnacht. Just four months before this date, Heydrich had chaired the Wannsee Conference.* (Watch Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich ride herd over a gaggle of bureaucrats to get the Final Solution up and running in Conspiracy.)
So he was a natural target for the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile and their British handlers, made more so by his lordly disdain for common-sense security safeguards.
Zipping along a predictable route in an open car, he was a sitting duck for a hit squad, who gave the Nazi bastard a mortal shrapnel wound from a grenade that had him lingering painfully at death’s door for several days before he finally died of blood poisoning.
For this effrontery, Czechoslovakians would pay a dreadful price.
But the Reich also exacted collective reprisals to make plain that the entire “protectorate” could be considered hostage against such plots in the future.
Special transports of Jews marked “Attentat auf Heydrich” were shipped to the camps, and 152 were executed on the day Heydrich succumbed. But then, the Nazis were brutalizing Jews anyway. Something more headline-grabbing would be needed.
On this date, German troops stormed it, summarily executed all the men and boys** old enough to bear arms and a fair number of women, deported the others, and then physically destroyed and buried the town.
Lidice was intended as a demonstration — boldly published to the world as proof against a repeat,† it became the byword of Nazi cruelty towards subject nations. Though not by quantitative standards the greatest crime of the occupation, not even the greatest crime in reprisal for Heydrich, its three syllables distill all the evil of Hitler’s conquest for Czechoslovakia.
Lidice did live, and does yet, as an emblem par excellence those terrible years.
Less alive: Heydrich’s right-hand man Karl Hermann Frank, who was hanged in Prague after the war for engineering this monstrous crime. Those survivors of Lidice able to make the trip enjoyed priority seating.
* Heydrich’s aide at the Wannsee Conference, and taker of cleaned-up minutes, was Mr. Banality of Evil himself, Adolf Eichmann.
** Only three men of Lidice survived the destruction: two who were in England at that time, and one who was imprisoned in Prague for killing his son. The sentence for this crime, it turned out, was life.
† An effective proof — the calculated wholesale slaughter apparently did cool both the conquered populace and the enemies of Germany on enthusiasm for further assassinations.
Also on this date
- 1902: Hirsh Lekert, Jewish assassin
- 1944: Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
- 1896: Amelia Dyer, baby farmer
- 1876: Kenneth Brown, father of Edith Cowan
- 1692: Bridget Bishop, the first Salem witch hanging
- 1358: Guillaume Cale, leader of the Jacquerie
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Children,Chosen by Lot,Cycle of Violence,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1940s, 1942, adolf eichmann, cinema, fascism, june 10, kenneth branagh, lidice, lidice massacre, naziism, operation anthropoid, prague, reinhard heydrich, stamps, wannsee conference, world war ii