1864: Doctor Edmond-Désiré Couty de la Pommerais, poisoner 1725: John Gow and his pirate crew

1942: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

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.

The 1964 Czechoslovakian film Atentat (“Assassination”) chronicles the plot to kill Heydrich and its aftermath.

For this effrontery, Czechoslovakians would pay a dreadful price.

Naturally, the Nazis mercilessly hunted down and slaughtered those with any connection to the plot.

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.

Enter Lidice.

After gaudy funerals for the slain Reichsprotektor, the Reich settled upon the small town of Lidice north of Prague — trumping up a few connections to resistance to “justify” collective punishment.

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

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

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16 thoughts on “1942: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich”

  1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    And the Germans wonder why they were bombed back into the Stone Age.

  2. Fiz says:

    I quite agree, Kevin. It makes me so angry when people ask why the Jews did not fight back. They did in Auschwitz, in the ghettoes and in partisan groups, but they paid a high price for it when they were caught, and it’s easy to be wise after the event.

  3. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    I once had a young German question me on the “immorality” of Bombing cities (both Japan and Germany) during the second World War. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I told him to compare the actions of the Japanese, German, American and British armies whenever they controlled land and people. “Each time your country unfurled its flag”, I told him “Murder and subjugation would soon follow. Not so with us.” At this he could only look at me. I finally said : ” There is a reason why German troops fled to the West as the Russians were sweeping in from the East. Study your history before beginning a conversation, will you?” And with that he walked away.

    I have always found it amazing how often people will pontificate about things they know nothing about.

  4. TED CORDUA says:

    have a post card depicting lidice church with embossed ‘lidice’-postage-us.1cent.cancelled-
    handwritten in slavic dated dec.7,1942 with
    description of the events that occurred in lidice
    . at that time.

  5. TED CORDUA says:

    HAVE POSTCARD DATED DEC.9,1942 WRITTEN
    IN SLAVIC DEPICTIING SHOWING THE CHUCH &
    FARM BUILDINGS WITH LIDICE EMBOSSED ON
    THE CARD WITH DETAILS OF OF THE MASACRE.
    I GOT THE CARD FROM RESIDENT OF SLOAKIA
    NOW DECEASED.IT IS WRITTEN IN SLOVAK.
    PLEASE ADVISE?

  6. critic1 says:

    Lol and this is supposed to be a objective or neutral report?
    It is filled with hate language and distortions; for exampla, the connection between the assassins and the village are not mentioned, the general acceptance of retaliation in case of partisan attacks, the circumstances of the Heydrich assassination which shed a very good light on the characters of both the assassins (cowards that fled the scene while bot Heydrich and his driver even pursued them).
    The propaganda language of this article neglects many important facts and only picks the ones which it finds fitting. Paltry…

  7. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Why, Critic 1, you must be a German, and not a bright one at that. First, the machine gun of one of the “cowards” jammed, and wouldn’t fire at all, and second, what would you expect the two “cowards” to do once the attack was commenced, and they had done all they could do? Should they have waited for the German Army to show up? That wouldn’t be very bright, now would it?

    I believe these two men established their bravery by committing to this assassination in the first place. They fully understood their chances of survival were very small after the act was completed. So I would say they are brave souls indeed.

    You Germans need to get over the fact that you lost the war! You did start the damn thing, now didn’t you? And are you defending that monster Heydrich? Heydrich was an evil man, and if their is any eternal justice (and there is) he is, even as we speak, roasting in hell, and that’s where he belongs; along with Adolf, and the rest of the crew.

  8. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Third line from the bottom, make that “there” and not “their”…

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