Amidst the Echoes:
The Story of Lidice, Czech Republic
Text and photographs by Jessica Miles
While studying abroad this past June in Prague, Czech Republic, I traveled outside the city to gain a better understanding of the effects of Nazism on the country. I arrived in Lidice on a hazy Saturday afternoon overlooking the stunning green countryside, but would soon learn of the horrific past behind the village.
On June 10, 1942, one hundred seventy-three village men were shot in Lidice, Czech Republic. The women and children were either gassed at Chelmno in Poland or sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. The Nazis then leveled the village, burning the church, the cemetery, and the homes of the 503 residents. In the aftermath of the Lidice invasion only 143 women and 17 children survived.
This story lurked in my mind as I traveled outside of Prague on a weekend trip that highlighted the impact of the Nazi regime on the Czech people. I began in Lidice, a small mining village northwest of Prague that became the focus of Nazi retribution. Days after a vague link was found between the assassination of Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich and a Lidice family, the Nazis invaded the village.
The assassination attempt was made on May 27, 1942, by two Czech soldiers launching a grenade at Heydrich’s vehicle causing an explosion and severe injury to Heydrich. He died eight days later. It was never proven whether the Horák family of Lidice was connected to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. However, the rage caused by the incident was released on the village on June 10, 1942, when the men were executed and the women and children were removed from Lidice. In all, 340 of the 503 villagers were executed including 82 children who suffocated in an adapted truck filled with exhaust gas.
Today, visiting the grounds of Lidice is a somber experience. The grim hills surrounding Lidice are accompanied by the echoes of what was once a tiny village with a population of five hundred and is now a series of hills and valleys surrounded by beautiful foliage. Although there are no villagers left in Lidice, the rebuilding of the village less than a mile from the original location in 1948 represents the immense hope the villagers sought and the significance of preserving the land where Lidice once stood.
Peering through the swaying trees within the hills is the Children’s War Victims Monument. Created in 1969 by sculptor Marie Uchytilová, these three-dimensional bronze figures commemorate the 82 children of Lidice who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. The poignant figures stand isolated and helpless in nothing but wrinkled shirts, trousers and dresses as they overlook the valley of what was once their home.
The nearby Lidice Museum, dedicated to the lives of the Lidice families and the village itself, is a startling revelation of that fateful day. The octagonal-shaped structure hugs the crescent-shaped museum and stands amidst a stone courtyard. The exhibition portrays a prison-like atmosphere, dreadfully quiet and eerily cold. The concrete dividers, the open space, the dim lighting, and the historical visions projected on the walls of the exhibition create a bleak, yet intimate connection with the residents of Lidice and the torture they endured.
A timeline throughout the exhibition details the horrific acts that took place, as well as the aftermath of the Nazi raid. On each wall is a glimpse into what would become the future of the village, including actual footage of German tanks demolishing Lidice. Photos of the families before the invasion depict ordinary life, while visions of torment and death drape the walls as the story progresses. One wall even gives the children a voice; letters to their mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers are shown, conveying confusion, desperation, and even hope.
Around the final corner of the exhibition adult survivors tell their stories and the impact of that day on their lives in a moving film that brings the reality of the Lidice raid to the present. Their stories represent what is left of the Lidice inhabitants, as they struggle to find peace with their past. One survivor describes being ripped away from her mother by a German soldier and sent away on a bus, only to be stripped of everything but her undergarments. Another recalls the horror of being separated from her family as they were beaten before her eyes. And after escaping from what should have been his last days, a man remembers searching for his mother in the aftermath of the attack. She was never found.
The stories told in the words of the survivors paired with the vivid imagery of the invasion bring light to the importance of remembering Lidice beyond the attack. It is a story about the relentless hope and prolonged strength of the survivors and their quest to restore the village of Lidice and recreate the tranquil way of life that once existed. The Lidice Museum exhibition is an extraordinary portrayal of life before and after the Nazi invasion, as it is here that the villagers are given an individual identity, a name, and a legacy.
Jessica Miles is a Bread and Circus Magazine contributing writer.
(c) 2009 Jessica Miles
NEW VOICES is a Bread and Circus Magazine feature in which emerging writers share their views on aspects of contemporary culture.