Berlin, Germany · June 9, 1942

On this date in 1942, with the full leadership of the Third Reich in atten­dance, Nazi “martyr” Rein­hard Hey­drich was eulo­gized in one of the most elab­o­rate fune­rals ever staged in Berlin. (Hey­drich had been added by Adolf Hitler to the “honor­ary list of the Fallen of the Nazi Move­ment.”) The cere­mony in Hitler’s New Reich Chan­cel­lery was stage-managed and filmed by Joseph Goeb­bels, Nazi Min­is­ter of Public Enlighten­ment and Pro­pa­ganda. Two weeks earlier, in an British-inspired assas­si­nation plot code­named Opera­tion Anthro­poid, two Czech resis­tance fighters, Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Jan Kubiš, had suc­ceeded in mor­tally wounding the 38‑year-old Acting Reichs­protek­tor (Reich Pro­tector) of Bohemia and Moravia, part of dismem­bered Czecho­slovakia (today an area lying within the Czech Republic, or Czechia [short‑form name]). Both men had received awards for mili­tary valour, Gabčík the French Croix de Guerre for action during the Battle of France (May 10–June 25, 1940), Kubiš the Czech War Cross.

The day following the funeral one of the most infamous epi­sodes of Nazi retri­bu­tion occurred in a Czech hamlet 48 miles north­west of the capital, Prague. Prodded by Hitler, the Nazis chose to take revenge on Lidice (popu­la­tion just over 500) because the villagers were sus­pected of har­boring local resis­tance fighters, and two fami­lies who lived there had sons serving with Czech exile forces in England. So in the pre­dawn hours of June 10 ten truck­loads of German Army field police and SD (Sicher­heits­dienst, the Nazi Party’s intel­li­gence agency) sur­rounded Lidice and near­by Ležáky, where a radio trans­mitter Gabčík and Kubiš had used was found. In Ležáky all 33 adult inhab­i­tants were killed. In Lidice every man and boy over 16 years—192 in all—was stood against a barn wall and shot or burned alive in a nearby barn (26) to speed up the killing. Some 200 Lidice women were deported to the notori­ous women’s Ravens­brueck con­cen­tration camp in North­ern Ger­many, where most died. Ninety young chil­dren were poi­soned by exhaust fumes in spe­cially adapted vehi­cles in the Chełmno death camp in Poland. A small number, having been “racially sepa­rated” from the rest, were deliv­ered to SS families because they were viewed as fit for “Germanization.”

Meanwhile, the SS (Schutzstaffel, the Nazi Party’s so-called “protection squad”) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staats­polizei, or Secret State Police) hunted down and mur­dered Czech resis­tance mem­bers and any­one sus­pected of being involved in or approving of Hey­drich’s death, nearly wiping out the Czech under­ground. Excluding those murdered in Lidice and Ležáky, 3,188 Czechs were arrested and of those, 1,327 were sen­tenced to death. News­papers and loud­speakers broad­cast the names of people who had been exe­cuted each day. In addi­tion, 3,000 Jews were deported from the Czech ghetto at There­sien­stadt (present-day Terezín) and sent to their deaths. In Berlin, 500 Jews were arrested, with 152 exe­cuted as a repri­sal on the day Hey­drich died, June 4. In a diary entry two days earlier Goeb­bels wrote: “As a result of the Hey­drich assas­si­nation, a whole range of incrimi­nated Jews have been shot in Sach­sen­hausen,” the prin­ci­pal SS con­cen­tra­tion camp for the Berlin area. (Quoted in Gerwarth; see below.) As for Lidice itself, it was com­pletely leveled, its grave­yard disin­terred, and grain scattered over the spot where the vil­lage had stood. Even the name Lidice (German, Liditz) was removed from German maps.

Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942) is widely recog­nized as one of the great vil­lains of Nazi Ger­many, a nation that had a sur­plus of loath­some indi­vid­uals. Robert Ger­warth’s bio­graphy of Rein­hard Hey­drich, titled Hitler’s Hang­man: The Life of Hey­drich—“hang­man” being one of three monikers Hey­drich wore with pride—exa­mines Hey­drich’s years as a ruthless, amoral, and cynically efficient acolyte in Hein­rich Himm­ler’s SS, where he directed the Gestapo, the Sipo (Security Police), and the Reich Security Head (Main) Office (RSHA); his role as a leading planner of the “Final Solu­tion” and the Holo­caust of Euro­pean Jewry; and his eight months as Reich Pro­tec­tor of Bohe­mia and Mora­via, an auto­no­mous Nazi-admin­is­tered terri­tory in what is today’s Czech Republic. Up till his fatal en­coun­ter with two Czech nation­alists, Hey­drich was widely viewed as the most dan­ger­ous man in Germany. Ger­warth explains why in this author­i­ta­tive bio­graphy of evil incarnate.—Norm Haskett

Reinhard Heydrich’s Assassination and the Blood Sacrifice of Lidice

Reinhard Heydrich assassin and Czech patriot Jan Kubiš, 1913–1942Reinhard Heydrich assassin and Czech patriot Jozef Gabčík, 1912–1942

Left: Staff Sergeant Jan Kubiš (1913–1942), one of nine Czecho­slovak British-trained para­troopers dropped into Czecho­slo­va­kia as part of Opera­tion Anthro­poid, the daring and suc­cess­ful assas­si­na­tion of SS-Ober­gruppen­fuehrer Rein­hard Hey­drich (1904–1942), Reich Pro­tector of Bohemia and Moravia. On June 18, 1942, two weeks after Hey­drich’s death, Kubiš was wounded in a six-hour gun battle with German troops in the crypt of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. He died shortly after being taken to a hospital.

Right: Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík (1912–1942) was a Slovak soldier in Czecho­slo­va­kia’s army-in-exile in England. Using an anti­tank grenade, Kubiš and Gabčík way­laid Hey­drich on May 27, 1942, as he com­muted in his Mer­cedes-Benz convertible between his home and office in Prague Castle. Gabčík, seriously wounded by a grenade in the same church fire­fight, committed suicide along­side other Czech and Slovak freedom fighters to avoid capture. On Septem­ber 1, 1942, the spir­i­tual leader of Prague’s Ortho­dox com­munity and three priests who had sheltered Hey­drich’s assas­sins were sen­tenced to death and killed three days later. Over the next few weeks, 236 more indi­vid­uals impli­cated in Oper­a­tion Anthro­poid were taken to Maut­hausen concentration camp in Austria and murdered.

Massacred men and boys of Czech hamlet Lidice, June 10, 1942Czech hamlet Lidice burning, June 1942

Left: Men massacred in the sleepy Czech mining vil­lage of Lidice, June 10, 1942. Taken by a German soldier, this photo­graph was ini­tially kept by the Gestapo. Hours earlier all male vil­lagers were rounded up and taken to a farm on the edge of the vil­lage that belonged to the Horák family, whose son Josef served in the Czecho­slo­vak army-in-exile in Britain. Mat­tresses were taken from neigh­boring houses and placed against the Horák barn. There 192 Lidice resi­dents were exe­cuted, ten at a time, in cold blood. The mas­sacre came to sym­bo­lize German occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Right: The Lidice tragedy was filmed by those who actually carried out the bru­tal crime. German author­ities glee­fully reported Lidice’s de­struc­tion in news­reels and propa­ganda speeches. To the Allies, Lidice became the sym­bol of the German policy of Schreck­lich­keit (terror). The film was entered into evi­dence at the post­war Nuremberg trials of Nazi German leaders in 1945–1946.

Czech hamlet Lidice leveled, June 1942Lidice Memorial site

Left: Having rid the village of its inhabi­tants, the Nazis destroyed the vil­lage it­self, first setting the houses on fire and then razing them to the ground with plas­tic explo­sives. They didn’t just stop there but pro­ceeded to destroy the vil­lage church and ceme­tery. After removing 84,000 square yards of rubble, they leveled the ruins, plowed them over, and planted grain. In 1943 all that remained of Lidice was an empty field cordoned off by signs forbidding entry

Right: Instead of consigning Lidice to eter­nal obli­vion, Lidice came to sym­bolize the German occu­pa­tion of Czecho­slo­va­kia. The New York Times news­paper asked its readers how the atro­city should be remem­bered. Around the world, in the U.S., Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Brazil for instance, towns adopted the name Lidice in memory of the vanished village, and many women born at that time were named Lidice. Over­looking the site of the old vil­lage of Lidice today is a museum and a small exhi­bition hall, and in front of the museum is a bronze memo­rial to the chil­dren killed in the Chełmno death camp in Poland. After the war ended, only 153 women and 17 children returned to Lidice.

Lidice: The Town Hitler Ordered to “Die Forever”