A Hideous Reprisal

It was on this day, 9 June 1942, that Adolph Hitler ordered bloody reprisals against the Czechs as a response to the Czech anti-Nazi resistance. The very next day, 10 June 1942, Nazi troops utterly erased the 630 year old Czech village of Lidice from the face of the earth. Every man, woman, and child in the village was either killed, sent to a labor camp, or – for the very young children who were ajudged to have the right traits – sent to be “Arayanized” and incorporated into the Nazi’s “New World Order.” The entire village was looted and plundered, and burned to the ground or razed with heavy machinery. The task being undertaken with Nazi fervor, there was soon barely a trace of the village. Later the terrain was graded level and overplanted with grain. Lidice had truly been erased completely.

With a Teutonic obsession for record-keeping, the action was documented in detailed reports and expense ledgers. Additionally, and perhaps most astonishingly, a documentary film was made of the atrocity. It seems that the Nazis had not yet envisioned the possibility that they might someday be held accountable.

Lidice (pronounced LEE-dee-tseh in Czech and most commonly LIH-dih-chee in English) and its 340 inhabitants were obliterated in reprisal for the assassination of the Nazi administrator of the German-occupied Czech region, Reinhard Heydrich, a few day before. Czech resistance fighters – “terrorists,” according to the Nazi point of view – had ambushed Heydrich’s car and gravely wounded him. He died of an infection a few days later. The death of Heydrich so enraged Hitler that he demanded that Kurt Daluege, Heydrich’s successor, “wade through blood” to find the assassins. Daluege proceeded to do precisely that.

Though there were many reprisals throughout the Czech region, Lidice was singled out for complete destruction because it was known to be especially hostile to the German occupation, and it was thought to harbor resistance fighters. The Nazi High Command felt that such a total obliteration of a village would set an example and act as insurance for the good behavior of other Czech towns and villages. So confident were they in this strategy that they proudly and widely broadcast the news of the horrendous slaughter and inhuman enormity in the assurance that such a dreadful object lesson would deter future resistance activity. This calculation and conclusion are just the sort that tyrants routinely make.

Tyrants are rarely correct in such a judgment, though. Far from quelling resistance, horrors such as that perpetrated at Lidice often fire resolve among the complacent and spur more determined resistance.

Because the Nazis broadcast their atrocity, it was quickly known throughout the world. The allied powers immediately recognized the propaganda value of the destruction of Lidice: no one could now deny that Hitler’s Germany was brutal, barbaric, and beastly. Within days of the crime, Lidice became a household word throughout the world. Almost immediately towns and neighborhoods across the globe adopted the name of Lidice as their own: Lidice, Illinois; Lidice, Panama; Lidice, Brazil; the barrio of Lidice, Caracas, Venezuela; the barrio of Geronimo-Lidice, Mexico City; barrios in Lima, Peru; Regla, Cuba. Dozens of monuments and memorials were also created throughout the Americas, and, later, across Europe. Thousands of newborn girls were christened Lidice as well. Far from serving as a means of stifling resistance, the destruction of Lidice served to rally opponents of brutal totalitarianism around the globe.

Yet the Nazi grip on Europe would endure almost three more years after Lidice’s demise. Despite the world’s reaction to what happened at Lidice, and despite the fact that there was still a resistance movement in Czech region, the Nazi High Command still favored the tactic of disproportionate reprisal to try to intimidate resistance. Thus it was that an even greater carnage occurred exactly two years to the day after the eradication of Lidice.

On 10 June 1944, the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane was subjected to the same fate as Lidice. The men were rounded up into some large barns just outside the village and machine-gunned through the legs. Once so debilitated, the gravely wounded were covered with kindling and the barns set afire. The women and children had been gathered in the village church where explosives had been laid. After detonation, the few survivors were machine-gunned. In all, more than 640 people were slaughtered, and, as with Lidice, the town was razed.

These were not the only cases of such horror being perpetrated upon entire towns during the Nazi grip on Europe. Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe saw many others. But Lidice and Oradour are perhaps the most widely known. And, tragically, incomprehensibly, such atrocities are not a unique property of the Nazis. Other wars and other nations have seen recent examples of the same gruesome strategy, the same diabolical tactics, even though such actions not only fail to achieve the desired goal of halting resistance, they often increase resistance.

Much as one might wish that such uncivilized violence belong to past ages, it has not yet disappeared. Nations and cultures which surely should know better still yield to the urge to win by force that which they cannot win by persuasion. It is a melancholy reflection to note that while humans can wipe a Lidice or an Oradour from the face of the earth, humanity has not yet grown to a point where we can erase barbarity from the face of mankind.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Man’s inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn.

— Burns

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