The Innocent Little Village That Ceased To Exist
Since Prague belongs to the part of Europe that I specialize in I was pretty excited about the opportunity to spend a month here and learn more about it. I’ve been here before so I’ve already seen most of the main sites – the Astronomical Clock, Powder Tower, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, etc. With my free time this time around I’d be able to branch out and learn a little more about some lesser-known facets of the city’s, and country’s rich and turbulent history.
In each city that we visit on Remote Year we have the opportunity to participate in various, pre-organized themed events, activities and tours. The ones I took part in while in Prague revolved around the theme of conflict. You don’t have to go back very far in history to uncover some of the darkest days the country has seen.
One of the tours I did followed a somewhat different but very interesting and effective format – we started by watching a movie that was based on an events that happened in and around Prague. It also filmed in the city. The movie screening was followed by a walk around the city to visit some of the locations that were featured. The following day we went out of town to visit the main site that the film was based on.
The movie in question was the recently released Anthropoid, which is based on the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution and the Reich’s third in command after Hitler and Himmler. While the attempt to assassinate Heydrich was not immediately successful he died in hospital a week later as a result of his injuries.
Nazi intelligence falsely linked two of the assassins to the village of Lidice, situated some 20km outside of Prague. They immediately moved in on the village and killed all of the men and boys 16 years of age and older. The women were sent to concentration camps, primarily to Ravensbruek, to the north of Berlin. With the exception of a handful of children who were selected for re-education (ethnic cleansing) with German families based on their appearance – they could pass for being German – the rest of the children were poisoned by exhaust gas.
A total of 340 Lidice citizens were murdered but this was only part of the story. The Nazis razed the village to the ground. Not only was every building completely destroyed but the remains were covered with earth and a new landscape was sculpted. Trees were uprooted and planted in new locations and the lake was drained, with new one being dug out in a different spot. The aim was clear – to wipe the village completely off the map. This was all meticulously recorded by the Nazis, both on paper and on film. They spread the news of their act with one clear intention – don’t mess with the SS.
Contrary to what they had tried to achieve, the reaction of much of the world was one of outrage. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today. When the war was over and after a 2-year search, 17 children were re-united with their mothers.
A decision was made by the Czechoslovakian government to rebuild the village a few hundred metres from the original one. The old site was preserved as a memorial, including the common grave of the Lidice men.
Back in Prague and back to our tour, after watching a private screening of Anthropoid we set out on a walking tour to visit some of the sites where the real life events took place, including the apartment where the 2 hitman stayed while planning Operation Anthropoid, the Gestapo Headquarters in Prague, and the church where the final showdown took place. There are still bullet holes covering part of the church and a memorial plaque adorns the wall.
The next day we travelled to Lidice to visit both the memorial that comprises the former village, as well as the current village. We also had the extreme honor and privilege of meeting one of the 17 children who survived. She’s 85 years old now and she told us her version of the story.
The more I travel through this part of Europe, the more I discover stories and remnants of these terrible times in our history. It was crushing to listen to a first-hand account of this relatively unknown story.
*Special thanks to the Naked Tour Guide for organizing and executing this incredibly moving and emotional experience.