The Tragedy of Lidice

Anthony Head describes the ways in which an atrocity has been commemorated, sixty years on.

Lidice was once as infamous as Guernica or Auschwitz. Today few outside the Czech Republic recognise the name. Lidice (pronounced liditseh), a few kilometres west of Prague, is today a quiet and leafy village of wide streets and spacious homes. Adjacent to it lies an undulating valley of meadows and trees, with a few stone ruins of a farmhouse and church, and a striking bronze sculpture of children. This is the site of the original village, and what happened here  on June 10th, 1942, appalled the world.

The events that led to the tragedy were set in motion in Munich on September 30th, 1938. Within a week, Hitler had occupied the Sudetenland, and six months later German tanks rolled into Prague. Hitler initially declared the Czech provinces autonomous within the German Reich, and at first the Czech puppet governments found room to collude with nascent resistance groups. But they could not rein in the powers of the Staatssekretar of the Protectorate, the sadistic Sudeten German leader Karl Hermann Frank. Within weeks, transportations to the camps began. When large gatherings and strikes took place across the country on October 27th, 1939, Frank crushed them. Three weeks later, he shut the universities and had nine youth leaders shot.

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