Heydrich’s Death, Lidice, Lezaky and the Czech Resistance

Heydrich’s Death, Lidice, Lezaky and the Czech Resistance

We made a serious mistake by killing Heydrich in Bohemian territory; the reprisals were too awful.

—  Charles Novacek, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

Seventy years later historians still debate the Czech resistance’s assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich during World War II. Was it the right thing to do or wasn’t it? The assassination was truly one of the war’s most daring missions. The Nazis not only

Sculpture of executed children of Lidice

lost a capable leader, but some say the assassination also raised the Czech’s status in London. It gave them leverage in getting the British and the French to revoke the Munich Agreement and agree to return Czechoslovakia to its borders before Munich. In her new book Prague Spring, Madeleine Albright cites the opinions of Czech leaders and gives her own judgment calling it “both a courageous choice and the right one.”

Others say Heydrich’s death came at a terrible cost. His assassination spurred an orgy of revenge, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people. Instead of inspiring a wider uprising or encouraging the Czech resistance movement, the reprisals frightened the occupied country and increased pressure on the resistance.

What created this controversy? On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heidrich, Deputy Reich Protektor of Bohemia and Moravia was attacked in Prague by Czech agents trained in England and flown to Czechoslovakia to assassinate him. Heydrich survived several days after the assassination attempt. He died seventy years ago today on June 4, 1942 from blood poisoning created by fragments of auto upholstery, steel and his own uniform.

Hitler was enraged by Heydrich’s death and launched a call for revenge. Karl Frank, a high-ranking Nazi decided to make an example of Lidice to show their strength. The Nazis staged an  elaborate state funeral on June 9, 1942 in Berlin where Hitler called Heydrich “the man with the iron heart.” The Gestapo and SS hunted down and murdered Czech agents, resistance members and anyone suspected of being involved

                         Lidice farm

in Heydrich’s death. There were rumors that people in the town of Lidice had aided the assassins. The Gestapo had intercepted a suspicious note that included the name Lidice. Lidice was about twenty miles northwest of Prague with a population of 503 in 1942.  Hitler ordered the small Czech mining village of Lidice liquidated. The Nazis took away everything of value – cattle were herded away, orchards were dug up. Grain was planted over the flattened soil. Graves were desecrated. And the name Lidice was removed from all German maps.

In the early morning of June 10, 1942, an SS task force surrounded Lidice and rounded up all of the inhabitants. Women and children were sent to Kladno and separated.

British poster of Lidice massace, Public Domain

The 184 women were then sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp and the 88 children were sent to Lodz, Poland. Some children were selected for Germanization, others were sent to Chelmno and gassed. The 173 men of Lidice and older boys were taken to a farm, lined up against a barn wall and shot without blindfolds in groups of ten by a firing squad. Nineteen men who lived in Lidice but who were at work in factories were rounded up later and shot.

Then the entire village of Lidice was destroyed building by building with explosives.  It was completely leveled without a trace remaining. Nazi cameras shot silent film footage of the destruction in Lidice. Later the film was used against them as evidence at the Nuremberg trials.

From Lidice the Nazis moved two weeks later to Lezaky near Pardubice. This action was due to a tip from one of the group of men who had parachuted into the country to assist with the Heydrich assassination. Karel Curda turned traitor and informed the Gestapo of the activities of the resistance group Silver A. Silver A was organized to maintain radio contact with London and support the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich. Their radio transmitter was moved frequently for reasons of safety – for some reason by April of 1942 the transmitter was given a hiding place near the home of one of its members in Lezaky.

Lezaky was a small settlement of eight houses and a mill on a river. On June 24, 1942, the Nazis surrounded the settlement, gathered all the inhabitants and took them to Pardubice where they were later executed. Two children were selected for the Germanization program and sent to Germany. The houses were looted and burned.

The SS with the help of traitor Karel Curda eventually tracked down Heydrich’s assassins, Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik and other parachutists in what is now known as the St. Cyril and Methodius Church in Prague. Kubis died from wounds after a gunfight and Gabcik committed suicide afterwards rather than be captured.

In 1947 the Czech government began to rebuild Lidice 150 meters away from its former site.

On June 19, 1955 a rose garden opened in the Park of Peace and Friendship, a Lidice Museum opened in 1962 and a sculpture of 82 Lidice children overlooking the original village was built in their honor.

The settlement of Lezaky was never rebuilt.

Movies of interest:

New movie about Lidice – http://www.filmlidice.cz/en/

One Reply to “Heydrich’s Death, Lidice, Lezaky and the Czech Resistance”

  1. The sadest place i have ever visited , even the horrows of Auschwitz for me did not compare to the destuction of this little village and its inhabitents.

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