Lidice

  
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One of the major memorial sites in the Czech Republic related to the horrors of WWII, when Nazi Germany occupied the country.
  
Lidice was a village burned down and erased from the map, and its population massacred or deported, all as an act of arbitrary reprisal following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.
  
The world was so shocked at this extreme form of terror that Lidice has become something of a worldwide symbol for such despicable acts of retribution directed against innocent people.  

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More background info: Lidice had been just a normal small village in rural Czechoslovakia that would never have found its place on the map of world history had it not been for the high-level assassination in Prague of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 and some very unfortunate and highly tenuous connection made to the village of Lidice afterwards.
 
For more on the background of this assassination and the fate of the assassins see under St Cyril and Methodius church crypt, Prague.
  
The wrath of the Nazi system in the wake of the assassinaion was tremendous. The assassins had escaped and no individual scapegoat could at first be identified, so the Nazis turned to collective punishment … as they so often did. Throughout the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" (as the Nazis called these de-facto occupied lands now) thousands of extra soldiers launched a comprehensive manhunt with endless searches of houses. Countless arrests were made. Hundreds were executed.
 
But that wasn't enough. Hitler himself had put out an order that said that if a village was found to have harboured or helped the assassins, the entire male population would be executed, the women sent to concentration camps, the children taken away, and the village itself should be erased from the face of the Earth. This is exactly what happened to Lidice.
 
The link established between Lidice and the assassination was as tenuous as can be. A letter was found in which one inhabitant boasted about having connections to the resistance – most likely a false claim anyway, made in order to cover up an extramarital affair he was having. But for the Nazis even the thinnest slither of "evidence" was enough. 
 
On 9 June 1942, the Nazis descended on the village, ordered the mayor to hand over all documents, including the village's register, then assembled all the men at a farm on the edge of the village where they were swiftly executed by shooting. None of them even heard as much as an explanation as to why they were being executed.
 
The women and children meanwhile were herded into the school building. From there the women were deported to Ravensbrück as "political prisoners", where ca. a quarter of them perished. The survivors later returned to the rebuilt village of Lidice. The children fared especially badly. A small handful of the very young who the Nazis deemed suitable for "Germanization" were handed over to SS families for "adoption". The rest were sent to Poland and gassed at the Chelmno death camp. Some of the children given to Nazi families were found after the war and returned to Lidice. In a way, even though they survived, their fate must have been the cruellest – to find that their "foster parents" were de facto the murderers of their real parents.
 
With the inhabitants gone, the Nazis burnt and razed every building of Lidice to the ground and bulldozed over the rubble so that the entire village would indeed be wiped off the face of the Earth without a trace. They even destroyed the village cemetery!
 
Only a few days later the assassins were denounced and found somewhere totally different, namely at St Cyril and Methodius church in Prague. Both assassins perished in the Nazis' assault on the site. But by then Lidice had already been erased.
 
The tragedy of Lidice shocked the outside world. Normally such crimes are committed in secrecy or at least covered up (see e.g. Oradour-sur-Glane). But the erasure of Lidice also stands out in that the perpetrators were quite open and unapologetic about it, and even celebrated the deed in Nazi propaganda. The atrocity of the burning down and bulldozing of the village was officially filmed to that end. That way, however, the crime was immediately lifted into public consciousness worldwide. (Parts of the film are shown at the new museum at the memorial site.)
 
There were other cases of such extreme scorched-earth reactions on the part of the Nazis, both within the Protectorate itself (see below) as well as in other parts of the occupied territories (cf. again Oradour-sur-Glane, but also Kirkenes or Warsaw, etc.). But probably because of the very fact that the destruction of Lidice was even turned into such a vile celebration of Nazi propaganda, it triggered an immediate counter-reaction. There was, for example, the "Lidice Shall Live!" movement in Great Britain, founded by Dr. Barnett Stross, who later also became involved in the development of the memorial.
 
After the end of WWII, a new Lidice village was built, so that Lidice as a place could indeed live on. The decision to rebuild was taken already in June 1945. The first buildings, all constructed in a cluster right next to the site of the old village, were erected from 1947 and the first returning women of Lidice moved in in 1949.
 
On the site of the erased former Lidice, a memorial was set up, called "Pamatnik Lidice" in Czech. This was expanded over time with a rose garden, various sculptures/monuments and a memorial avenue linking the new village with the site of the old one. The original museum about the tragedy was established at the site in 1962.
 
After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the memorial site saw substantial refurbishment. Most significantly, Lidice joined the trend that developed in the first decade of the 21st century of upgrading the site by means of a new, modern, multimedia-heavy museum exhibition to complement the more sedate, traditional memorial. It opened in 2006 and forms the core of the attraction for the dark tourist today. It is both educational and shocking, and has a few original artefacts on display.
 
Of the actual village hardly anything authentic remains, of course – except the uncovered foundations of the church and school and a few other such minimal traces.
 
 
What there is to see: quite a lot – spread out over a surprisingly vast area. At the heart of the whole complex is the memorial plaza at the north-eastern corner of the complex. This features a semi-circle of colonnades, in two wings left and right of a central main gate. To its south is a wide oval plaza with water fountains and flower troughs in it. Opposite the main gate is a smaller rotunda with a memorial hall, which these days is used for temporary exhibitions (see below).
 
The reliefs on the wall behind the colonnades are noteworthy. They depict quite drastically the horrors of the rounding up of the women and children for deportation as well as the execution of the men of Lidice on 9-10 June 1942. One stone-faced Nazi is shown finishing off one of his victims lying on the ground by means of a pistol shot in the neck. Gruesome.
 
The main focus of interest, however, has to be the memorial museum. This occupies a single-storey building to the east of the main plaza. In the foyer, a scale model/relief of Lidice sets the scene – together with a few further displays on the walls. They also have a historic fire engine from Lidice on display in an adjacent building.
 
The modern museum part kicks off with an introductory film screened in a separate cinema hall. The museum attendant will set it to your required language mode. The film features mostly rather sentimental footage of Lidice and its surroundings from happier days, but also some images of the village's destruction in June 1942.
 
The exhibition as such is very modern and you can instantly tell that it's the result of a recent revamping effort. It has none of the typical Eastern European characteristics of old. I've not seen the previous exhibition from the socialist days, but it is clear that the present approach to commodification must be a radical departure from the old ways. For starters, there's next to no glorification of the Soviet liberators any more – which was always a given at memorials in the Eastern Bloc (cf. e.g. Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen).
 
The exhibition's general approach is also decidedly dark – in a very literal sense as well: lighting is minimal and focused on certain points. The walls are bare grey concrete. It takes a while for your eyes to get accustomed to the gloom.
 
Content-wise, what you get is more predictable in that it retells the story of Lidice village and its destruction on 10 June 1942. The Nazi propaganda film made about the reprisal act, as well as footage of Heydrich's funeral, are also shown in excerpts.
 
There are only a few original artefacts on display, but one is quite a sizeable piece: namely the door of the village church. Projected onto a wall behind it (also visible through a narrow gap between the two wings of the door) is a large photo of the baroque splendour of the former church's interior. Other artefacts on display include an old village sign, and a few items of clothing that belonged to children from the village.
  
I found the interviews with survivors that are shown in the last section of the museum especially moving. Particularly harrowing were the interviews with some of those who as very young children were given to Nazi families for "adoption" (while the rest of the children were gassed at Chelmno).
 
The texts and labelling in the museum are mostly trilingual, in Czech, German and English (I noted that the German was often much better than the English). For the various films there were buttons enabling you to select the soundtrack/subtitle language. These offered at least the same three languages, some also had Russian and French in addition.
 
Opposite the main museum, there's an extra exhibition in the foyer of the education centre. This consists mainly of photo-and-text panels as well as thematic folders with laminated pages containing short summaries of various aspects of the Lidice tragedy and its aftermath. Here the texts are all consistently in the five languages Czech, English, German, French and Russian. There are even fewer artefacts in this exhibition, but they include, for instance, original ID cards from Ravensbrück.
 
There's another exhibition room in the circular memorial hall under the rotunda at the southern end of the memorial plaza, by the steps down to the path to the grounds where the old village stood. At the time of my visit in October 2012, this single room featured a temporary special exhibition about the Czech military at the outbreak of WWII and depicted how they had to improvise and make do with second-rate equipment … at least that's as much as I could gather, since the texts in this exhibition were all in Czech only.
 
Info panels and signposting around the site outdoors are, again, trilingual, in Czech, German and English. South of the main memorial plaza, a long path winds down past a few sites of the original Lidice village. Obviously there's next to nothing that survives of this. But the foundations of the church and school building have been    unearthed, as have parts of the farm where the execution of the male villagers had taken place. Next to this is the site of their mass grave. At the very far end, across a road, the path eventually leads all the way to the former cemetery, now basically a shrubbery with symbolic grave mounds and crosses.
 
Of the various monuments/sculptures erected at different points in the complex, the most dramatic of them all has to be the children's monument. This is a slightly larger-than-life-size group of 82 children (aged 1 to 16) cast in bronze, huddled closely together. 82 represents the number of Lidice village children gassed at Chelmno, but the monument is officially dedicated to all children who died in the war.
 
Stretching about half a mile (800 metres) or so to the west from the main memorial plaza, a wide avenue alongside the rose garden leads to the new village. At the far end of the memorial avenue is the Lidice Gallery. This is housed in what was built as the new village's community centre. Today it is home to the Lidice Collection. This art collection was initiated from 1966 by the "Lidice Shall Live!" movement's founder Dr. Barnett Stross. It contains pieces by artists from ca. 30 countries. Even wider-reaching internationally is the adjacent International Children's Exhibition of Art.
 
All in all, the Lidice memorial site is without question one of the most significant in the whole of the Czech Republic. While there is little that is authentic, the grim story of the place is well commodified in the new museum, which alone is worth the trip. Add to that the traces of the original village and some touching artwork, and you get a well-balanced whole. It does not quite have the impact of a site like Theresienstadt, but can be a wholly worthwhile day excursion from Prague all the same.
  
 
Location: ca. 12 miles (20 km) north-west of Prague, near the town of Kladno, Czech Republic.

Google maps locator: [50.1444,14.2004]
  
 
Access and costs: somewhat off the beaten track, but not too difficult to get to; fairly inexpensive.
 
Details: To get there by car from Prague, first make your way to the (well signposted) airport, then take the No. 7 road leading north-west towards Kladno. After about five to six miles (9-10 km) turn off into the 61 road towards Kladno to the west. Look out for signs saying "Pamatnik Lidice". After about a mile (1.5 km) you'll get to the side entrance of the Lidice memorial site, on the left side of the road, where there are just a few parking spaces right by the road. The approach road to the main parking lot branches off to the left 200 yards or so further down the main road.
 
There's also a bus connection from Prague's Vitezne namesti station (in Prague 6, metro station Dejvicka). Look for line "A" towards Kladno: it departs ca. every 20 minutes.
 
All outdoor part of the site can be accessed for free.  
 
Admission to the museum: 80 CZK (students, children under 15, disabled and senior citizens half price). The ticket is also valid for the Lidice Gallery at the other end of the central memorial lane towards the new village, so if you also want to go there, make sure you keep hold of your ticket.
 
Guided tours in English (which have to be pre-booked) cost 500 CZK.
 
Opening times: daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer (April to October), in the winter season the site closes an hour or two earlier.
 
Parking by the main memorial/museum costs an extra 30 CZK. There are also a few free parking spots by the old cemetery at the other end of the memorial complex down the valley. But these can quickly fill up on a busier day.
  
 
Time required: For the indoor parts and its exhibitions between an hour to an hour and a half should suffice. I spent ca. 45 minutes in the main museum, something like 20 minutes at the education centre's separate exhibition and just a few minutes at the memorial hall's temporary exhibition.
 
Walking the entire outdoor site could probably take another two hours or so under normal conditions. But on my first visit to Lidice the weather made it impossible for me to do an entire circuit of the place. There had been a wintry spell and the snow was just too deep and slippery, so I cut my visit short after seeing the exhibitions and the main monuments closer to the museum. The rudiments of the foundations of the former village's buildings as well as the old cemetery would have been covered under a layer of snow and thus invisible anyway. 
  
About a year later I therefore came back for a quick stopover, parked by the cemetery and walked around the lower parts of the memorial complex for ca. 40 minutes and took those non-wintry photos added to the gallery below.  
  
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: Lidice can be visited as a stopover en route to/from Prague, or be done as a day excursion from that city. Some 50 miles (80 km) south of Lidice, the Vojna memorial is another option for a feasible combination.
 
Lidice was not the only village destroyed in the reprisals of the Nazis after Heydrich's assassination. Ležáky, 75 miles (120 km) east of Prague, was also singled out by the Nazis after a radio transmitter was found there by means of which Czech resistance fighters had kept in touch with their organization in Great Britain. So the link here was a bit more substantial than in the case of Lidice. The result was the same anyway. On 24-25 June all inhabitants were murdered and the village's buildings reduced to rubble. Unlike Lidice, Ležáky was not rebuilt. Today only a set of memorials mark the location of the erased houses. Recently the site has been complemented by a small memorial museum too (open between March and October from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Mondays, admission 30CZK). [49.8318,15.8996]
 
 
Further afield still, some of the sites in the neighbouring countries Austria (esp. Mauthausen) or Germany (e.g. Flossenbürg, Dresden, Colditz, Bautzen, etc.) are also within a day's journey from Lidice and Prague.
  
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The very crown jewel of tourism in the Czech Republic is only a short drive away: Prague. The city is also the hub of the entire country and as such a good base for excursions into the surrounding lands.
 
 
 
  • Lidice 01 - main memorialLidice 01 - main memorial
  • Lidice 02 - reliefs on the inside wallLidice 02 - reliefs on the inside wall
  • Lidice 03 - drastic depiction of the massacreLidice 03 - drastic depiction of the massacre
  • Lidice 04 - museumLidice 04 - museum
  • Lidice 05 - historical filmLidice 05 - historical film
  • Lidice 06 - main exhibitionLidice 06 - main exhibition
  • Lidice 07 - additional exhibition in a separate memorial roomLidice 07 - additional exhibition in a separate memorial room
  • Lidice 08 - the trigger for it all was the assassination of Reinhard HeydrichLidice 08 - the trigger for it all was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
  • Lidice 09 - beforeLidice 09 - before
  • Lidice 10 - afterLidice 10 - after
  • Lidice 11 - aerial image of the new village of today with the old village superimposed in yellowLidice 11 - aerial image of the new village of today with the old village superimposed in yellow
  • Lidice 12 - card of one of the women sent to Ravensbrück concentration campLidice 12 - card of one of the women sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp
  • Lidice 13 - where the old village used to beLidice 13 - where the old village used to be
  • Lidice 14 - children memorialLidice 14 - children memorial
  • Lidice 15 - memento in the snowLidice 15 - memento in the snow
  • Lidice 16 - more memorialsLidice 16 - more memorials
  • Lidice 17 - not much left to seeLidice 17 - not much left to see
  • Lidice 18 - map of the siteLidice 18 - map of the site
  • Lidice 19 - old cemeteryLidice 19 - old cemetery
  • Lidice 20 - mother and child statueLidice 20 - mother and child statue
  • Lidice 21 - old church foundationsLidice 21 - old church foundations
  • Lidice 22 - farm building foundations and execution siteLidice 22 - farm building foundations and execution site
  • Lidice 23 - mass graveLidice 23 - mass grave
  • Lidice 24 - view across from down the valleyLidice 24 - view across from down the valley

  

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