10.6.04

Lidice and the Reprisals

No, it's not the name of a band. I'm back on the Heydrich thing again. When we left our story, Heydrich had just died of shrapnel wounds from Kubiš's hand grenade. (Everyone, including Scott, loves the bit about the horsehair in the spleen. Horsehair in the Spleen. Now that's a great name for a band.)

Needless to say, the Nazis were pissed that Heydrich was assassinated. Many were pissed at Heydrich for getting himself killed. The Reichsprotektor had ignored Berlin's insistence that he have an armed escort at all times and that his car (a convertible, not a Humvee) be outfitted with armor (which probably would have saved his life).

Hitler said of Heydrich 'That a man as irreplaceable as Heydrich should expose himself to unnecessary danger, I can only condemn as stupid and idiotic.' The Fuehrer fairly flew off the handle and ordered the immediate ('this very night') arrest of 10,000 intelligentsia and the execution of the 100 most important.

On hearing of the attack on Heydrich, Himmler cried. Tears. Himmler. He told other high-ranking SS officers that, if they were as cavalier about their own security as Heydrich had been, 'you are a sitting target for the lunatic who is lying in wait for you...' Not only was Himmler a sensitive Nazi capable of weeping, he also believed in Divine Providence: 'We cannot leave everything to the Good Lord and make him our personal security guard.' Huh.

MacDonald has Goebbels on record as saying he would arrest '500 Berlin Jews, and I will warn the leaders of the Jewish community that, for every Jewish plot and every Jewish attempt at rebellion, 100 to 150 Jews who are in our hands will be shot.' Shortly after the attack, the Nazis killed several hundred Jews in Sachsenhausen.

The Nazis feared that the absence of a firm response to the assassination would encourage more such attacks. Prague was put under curfew at 9 p.m. on 27 May. German and Czech troops conducted house-to-house searches, arresting 541 people. Of these, 430 were later released. (Does this sound familiar to anyone? -ed.) I'll follow up on the search for the assassins in another entry.

But the Nazis wanted blood, and lots of it. MacDonald writes:

On 9 June a special train left Prague marked 'AaH' (Attentat auf Heydrich or Assassination of Heydrich) carrying 1000 Czech Jews to their deaths in the SS extermination factories. It was followed by two more transports from the ghetto at Terezin. ... For the Nazis, however, the murder of Jews was almost routine. Something more was required ...

That something was Lidice, a small village near Kladno. MacDonald's research turns up several possible indications why Lidice was chosen, but the ultimate reason for the decision remains murky. Then again, this is barbarism we're talking about.

Anyway, the Gestapo concluded the assassins were hiding in Lidice. Although two searches failed to turn up any, shall we say, agents of Nazi destruction, that didn't prevent the Nazis from staying the course. Hitler wanted Lidice destroyed.

On 10 June, the village men were shot. The women and children (except a few particularly blond ones) were shipped to concentration camps. Gestapo figures were: 199 men, 195 women and 95 children. The houses were set on fire and the remaining wall bulldozed. (The exhibition at the army museum has a film of Nazis strolling through the burning village. It looks for all the world like a Laibach video.)

The Lidice Memorial has a good website where you can learn more about the massacre. You might also want to read this recent Radio Prague report.

And then there's this op-ed piece, published in the Scotsman: 'Czech heroes unleashed Hitler's terrible revenge'. The dek muses 'Would they have gone through with this mission if they had known the sequel?'

The author, Lord Douglas-Hamilton, a Conservative MSP for Lothians, says they would have. He's probably right. Records indicate that Gabčík and Kubiš had their mission blinders on, and nothing short of Beneš calling off the mission would have stopped them. As noted below, the Czech resistance didn't want the assassination to go forward. If the people of Lidice had known ... but of course they couldn't have.

On the other hand, Heydrich's victim would doubtless have taken certain satisfaction in seeing him writhe in pain, or at least in his grave. The assassination was a psychological and strategic blow to the Nazis. There is some debate over whether it actually shortened the war and reduced the overall suffering.

As Douglas-Hamilton notes, Havel said of the assassination in 1992:

It was one of the most significant acts of resistance on a pan-European scale. It was an act which had a significant influence on the decision to recognise our government in exile. It was an act which had much to do with the fact that we finished the war as a victorious state and not as a defeated one.

He's right about the significance, but he's got it backwards on the government in exile, as we've already seen. The last sentence is loaded: Beneš was aware that anything short of total Nazi capitulation would result in the end of an independent Czechoslovakia. After what happened in Munich in 1938, he knew that Bohemia, Moravia and the rest would most likely become part of Germany in a negotiated settlement. Unless he could prove that the Czechs really, really, really didn't like the Nazis. The assassination did that, sorta. But it did prove that the Nazis really didn't like the Czechs, and the massacre at Lidice didn't help the Nazis' approval ratings in the Protectorate.

Is 'victorious' an odd word? Discuss.

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