The answer you may have read is “random chance” – a pin dropped in a map. But the truth is, it was chosen because of illicit sex.
Heydrich’s eventual death – eight days after the May 27th attempted assassination – buoyed the spirits of the assassins, hunkered down in a church crypt in central Prague. Within a week, they had drafted a confessional note (aimed to draw all the blame onto themselves) and suicide beckoned.
Early in the morning of June 10th, 1942, the men (defined as aged 15 up) of the village of Lidice were put in front of a firing squad. Especially for the task, a Schutzpolizei (state police) unit had travelled 300km from Halle an der Salle – Heydrich’s birthplace. They murdered the 173 men of Lidice.
Nine men who happened not to be in the village on the fatal night – mainly because of night shifts – and two boys who were discovered to have recently turned 15 were also executed in Prague. The women of Lidice were transported … to Ravensbrück concentration camp on June 13, 1942.
Some of the 104 children of Lidice were considered sufficiently Aryan-looking and were sent for “proper upbringing” in German families. This is Věnceslava (pronounced veyn-ses-lah-vah): blond, pretty and Aryan-looking.
Or so I would have thought (even thinking in such terms of race, one’s soul feels sullied). Věnceslava was murdered by the exhaust fumes of specially modified trucks. So were 81 other children from Lidice. If you go to Lidice you will see these children. You may even see your own child amongst them:
This (left) is a pre-war photograph of Marie Šupíková. I snapped this copy (below), of a 1942 school photo inside the Lidice museum, long before I knew Marie was in it. She’s aged ten. Can you spot her?
I needed help (thanks to this link): Marie is back row, third from the left.
Seventeen of Lidice’s 104 children returned to Lidice after the war. Marie Šupíková was one of them. Her brother, father and grandparents had been murdered. Her mother had survived but Marie – “Germanised” from 1942-45 – couldn’t remember enough Czech to talk to her, initially. Today, aged 81, Marie Šupíková travels the world with her story: educating, inspiring, humbling.
But why Lidice?
Was Lidice destroyed because of what people did there? Or because it was too Jewish, too Czech or too in the way?
[Above: Lidice before and after June 1942. The memorial cross, plus the trees in the foreground, arrived after the war.]
Once they had finished the living, the Nazis brought in conscripted workers to pull up the headstones and tombs of Lidice’s graveyard.
They removed even the foundations of every building.
But they realised there was still life in Lidice. That’s when they uprooted the trees.
On June 3, 1942, a letter arrived in the afternoon mail at a factory in Slaný (now near the German border). It was addressed to a worker, Anna Maruščáková, who was off sick. Neither Anna nor the letter’s author, Václav Říha, ever lived in Lidice. The factory owner opened the letter:
“Dear Annie, Excuse me for writing you so late, but maybe you’ll understand, because you know that I have many worries. What I wanted to do, I have done. On the fatal day, I slept somewhere in Čabárna. I’m fine, I’ll see you this week, and then we will never see each other again…”
Václav gave the impression he was involved in patriotic resistance activities because he sought a heroic exit from his extramarital affair with Annie. As a direct result of that letter, both he and Anna Maruščáková were arrested. Václav would have been asked, “Tell us about the Czech paratroopers who have been dropped from Britain?” The problem was he (and Anna) knew nothing about the Czech resistance.
What would you do if the Gestapo promised you death in a camp if you failed to cooperate? Well, if you had heard of a couple of Czech pilots from the region who were thought to be in Britain’s RAF, what harm could it do to mention their names? They’re outside of Nazi-occupied territory and, as pilots, they’re unlikely to be dropped into it (and they never were). So the Gestapo were told enough to lead them to the pre-war residences of Lt. Horák and Lt. Stříbrný – in Lidice.
‘Enhanced interrogation techniques’, then, as now, make people lie; you would say anything to end the pain.
Although it soon became evident that this was a false lead, the fate of Lidice had been decided.
And Anna Maruščáková and Václav Říha were executed in Mauthausen on October 24, 1942.
Special thanks to Tomáš Jakl and Zdeněk Špitálník, of Prague’s Military History Institute (MHI), for their time and revelatory insight. The best source available in English is this 96-page pdf produced by the world’s foremost experts at the MHI:
Thanks also to the staff at the Lidice Memorial museum (http://www.lidicememorial.cz/default_en.aspx)
See A Chance Kill