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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Family Memories

Two of the stories my grandmother, who died in her nineties, would tell me were the horrific massacres of Lidice and  Ležáky. Those who know the history of the Third Reich will recognize the name of Reihard Heydrich, one of the most egotistic and violent of all theSS-Obergruppenführers.

He had been appointed Reichsprotektor over Bohemia and Moravia, from where some of my ancestors came. I know we shall these times again, when tyrannies try to exterminate target groups.

I shall let Wiki tell the rest of the stories.

On the morning of 27 May 1942, Heydrich was being driven from his country villa atPanenské Břežany to his office at Prague Castle. When he reached the Kobylisy area of Prague, his car was attacked (on behalf of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile) by the Slovak and Czech soldiers Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš.[2] These men, who had been part of a team trained in Great Britain, parachuted into Bohemia in December 1941 as part of Operation Anthropoid. After Gabčík's Sten gun jammed, Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to shoot Gabčík, Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade at Heydrich's car.[4] The explosion wounded Heydrich and Kubiš.[5] Heydrich sent his driver, Klein, to chase Gabčík on foot. In the ensuing firefight, Gabčík shot Klein in the leg, below the knee. Both Kubiš and Gabčík managed to escape the scene.[6] On 4 June Heydrich died in Bulovka Hospital in Prague from septicaemia caused by pieces of upholstery entering his body when the bomb exploded.[7]
Late in the afternoon of 27 May, SS-Gruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank proclaimed a state of emergency and a curfew in Prague.[8] Anyone who helped the attackers was to be executed along with their entire family.[8] A massive search involving 21,000 men began. A total of 36,000 houses were checked.[8] By 4 June 157 people had been executed as a result of the reprisals, but the assassins had not been found and no information was forthcoming.[8]
The mourning speeches at Heydrich's funeral in Berlin were not yet over, when on 9 June, the decision was made to "make up for his death". Karl Hermann Frank, Secretary of State for the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, reported from Berlin that the Führer had commanded the following concerning any village found to have harboured Heydrich's killers:[9]
  1. Execute all adult men
  2. Transport all women to a concentration camp
  3. Gather the children suitable for Germanisation, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways
  4. Burn down the village and level it entirely

Horst Böhme, the SiPo chief for the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, immediately acted on the orders.[1] Members of the Ordnungspolizei[10] and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) surrounded the village of Lidice, blocking all avenues of escape. The Nazi regime chose this village because its residents were suspected of harbouring local resistance partisans and were falsely associated with aiding "Operation Anthropoid" team members.[11]

Post-war memorial ceremony to honour victims
All men of the village were rounded up and taken to the farm of the Horák family on the edge of the village. Mattresses were taken from neighbouring houses where they were stood up against the wall of the Horáks' barn.[9] The shooting of the men commenced at about 7.00 am. At first the men were shot in groups of five, but Böhme thought the executions were proceeding too slowly and ordered that ten men be shot at a time. The dead were left lying where they fell. This continued until the afternoon hours when there were 173 dead.[8] Another 11 men who were not in the village that day were arrested and murdered soon afterwards as were eight men and seven women already under arrest because they had relations serving with the Czech army in exile in the United Kingdom.[9]
A total of 203 women and 105 children were first taken to Lidice village school. They were then taken to the nearby town of Kladno and detained in the grammar school for three days. The children were separated from their mothers. Four women were pregnant and were sent to the same hospital where Heydrich died. They were forced to undergo abortions and then sent to different concentration camps. On 12 June 1942, 184 women of Lidice were loaded on trucks, driven to Kladno railway station and forced into a special passenger train guarded by an escort. On the morning of 14 June 1942, the train halted on a railway siding at the concentration camp atRavensbrück. On their arrival the Lidice women were first isolated in a special block. The women were forced to work in leather processing, road building, textile and ammunition factories.
Eighty-eight Lidice children were transported to the area of the former textile factory in Gneisenau Street in Łódź. Their arrival was announced by a telegram from Horst Böhme's Prague office which ended with: the children are only bringing what they wear. No special care is desirable.[citation needed] The care was minimal. They suffered from a lack of hygiene and from illnesses. By order of the camp management, no medical care was given to the children. Shortly after their arrival in Łódź, officials from the Central Race and Settlement branch chose seven children for Germanisation.[12] The few children considered racially suitable for Germanisation were handed over to SS families.[9]
The furore over Lidice caused some hesitation over the fate of the remaining children.[12] However, in late June Adolf Eichmann ordered the massacre of the remainder of the children. On 2 July 1942, all of the remaining 81 Lidice children were handed over to the Łódź Gestapo office, who in turn had them transported to the extermination camp atChełmno 70 kilometres (43 miles) away, where they were gassed to death in Magirus gas vans. Out of the 105 Lidice children, 82 died in Chełmno, six died in the GermanLebensborn orphanages and 17 returned home.

Destruction of Lidice
The village of Lidice was set on fire and the remains of the buildings destroyed with explosives. Even those buried in the town cemetery were not spared. Their remains were dug up and destroyed.[2] A film was made of the entire process by Franz Treml. A collaborator with German intelligence, Treml had run a Zeiss-Ikon shop in Lucerna Palace in Prague. After the Nazi occupation he became a filming adviser for the Nazi Party.
All together, about 340 people from Lidice died because of the German reprisal (192 men, 60 women and 88 children). Only 153 women and 17 children returned after the war.[8] All the animals in the village—pets and beasts of burden—were slaughtered as well.
The small Czech village of Ležáky was also destroyed two weeks after Lidice. Gestapo agents found a radio transmitter there of an underground team who parachuted in with Kubiš and Gabčík.[13] There both men and women of the village were shot, and the children were sent to concentration camps or 'Aryanised'. The death toll resulting from the effort to avenge the death of Heydrich is estimated at over 1,300.[13] This count includes relatives of the partisans, their supporters, Czech elites suspected of disloyalty and random victims like those from Lidice.

British poster commemorating Lidice
Nazi propaganda had openly, and proudly, announced the events in Lidice, unlike other massacres in occupied Europe which were kept secret. The information was instantly picked up by Allied media.
I never asked my grandmother why she told me the stories of Lidice and Lezaky. It is possible we lost family there, or in the revenge killings.

Her father was part of the government in exile.
He is mentioned in the wiki article on the Pittsburg Agreement-

Hynek Dostál (1871 - 1943)

Dostál was the editor of the Hlas newspaper of St. Louis and the editor of the journal of the Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, the first Czech Catholic newspaper in the United States.

(Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president, originally had a plan for a federal government involving staying in the Austro-Hungarian empire, but when it became clear the empire was breaking up permanently, he supported independence.)

I say what my Grandmother Ludmilla would say, "Do not forget Lidice."

This bronze plaque has my Great-Grandfather's signature, as it is a copy of the first Czech constitution.