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SMITH: Memorials stand as grim reminder of history

Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

LIDICE, Czech Republic — The emotionally crushing and depressing story of the history of this village remains a reminder of Nazi brutality and inhumanity. However, it is also a testimony to the fact that, no matter the atrocities of one man or one regime, their heinous and cruel crimes cannot snuff out the resiliency and will of the people forever.

Brutal and unrelenting power has its sway for a while, but not even the massacre of an entire community — especially when wrath is turned on women and children — stifles resistance without reprieve. Men sponsoring evil get the back of the hand of history, leaving an indelible legacy of scorn and rebuke. Surely, hell awaits those responsible for these deeds.

Disregard for human life hovers heavily over all societies of the world, historically. A little more than a half century ago, the Nazis were perpetrating ruthless crimes indiscriminately against any man or any community that got in their way.

The horror that was Lidice’s resulted from the fact that the Nazis had erroneously linked Czech resistance to the village. It was identified as one that harbored local resistance partisans aiding “Operation Anthropoid.” Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been trained in Great Britain for the operation parachuted into Prague in May of 1942 and assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, who had been named Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich was the principal architect of the Holocaust. He became known as the “Butcher of Prague.” He was, perhaps, Hitler’s favorite subordinate. Hitler called him a man with an “iron heart.” Heydrich’s murderous record certainly supports the accolade.

The Czech nationals who attacked Heydrich knew his daily route to work and the fact that he arrogantly rode in the back seat of an open car. When his chauffeured car slowed to make a hairpin curve, a sten submachine gun misfired, but an anti-tank grenade, tossed into the car, accomplished the mission. Heydrich died a week later from septicemia, caused by pieces of upholstery entering his body when the bomb went off.

Retaliation was brutal. All Lidice’s adult men (teenaged boys and older) were lined up and shot on a nearby farm. A total of 340 people from Lidice died: 192 men, 60 women and 88 children. It’s the deaths of children which causes a nauseating reaction, even decades later. At Chelmo, a concentration camp, 82 were gassed to death. Six died in German orphanages, and 17 returned home after the war.

The story of a young girl, Jaroslava Sklenickova, who survived the ordeal was recorded in a book, entitled “If I Had Been a Boy, I Would Have Been Shot.” She recalled a happy childhood that turned into a horrific nightmare for her, her sister, and her mother who were thrust into the degrading environment of a concentration camp, where survival was challenging at best — and minimal, at worst.

Heydrich and his henchmen had established a regime of fear, but it intensified with his assassination. Hitler was incensed at the loss of his lieutenant and lamented Heydrich’s foolishness of exposing himself in the open car, allowing for an easy target by the assassins.

On a hillside where the village once was located (the Nazis leveled the town), there is a memorial to the children who were gassed at Chelmo. The innocence of youth and the brutality of man collide in the scene, giving rise to the question of how man can be so cruel. For the Nazis, life had no value, not even that of the animals of Lidice. They slaughtered every pet and beast of burden in the village. These memorials grimly remind us that history repeats itself.