In 2022, we commemorated the 80th anniversary of the extermination of the central Bohemian village of Lidice by the Nazis, an event that in its time shocked the world public with unprecedented brutality and still arouses strong emotions today. This war crime was meant by the Nazis as part of immediate revenge for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the acting Reich‘s Protector. Hitler’s response was well-known: the call to martial law, the destruction of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky, as well as the other repressions that cost the lives of many Czech patriots. What is less immediate but equally important were the political repercussions and far-reaching historical consequences of the event. It was the extermination of Lidice and the subsequent worldwide wave of solidarity, that were one of the important moving forces leading the British government (as well as the French government-in-exile) to abolish the Munich Agreement and fully accept Edvard Beneš's Czechoslovak government-in-exile. This also meant that the small country was noticed again with some weight and that in the post-war arrangement of Central Europe allies began to count with the restoration of the state of the Czechs and Slovaks. These original borders were at all not guaranteed during that summer of 1942. As Jan Masaryk wrote in one of his letters: "At the time of the Lidice events, I was in the USA and I was unable to make any progress in promoting our affairs, because I had already exhausted all possibilities here. Then Lidice came and I got a new taste for life. Czechoslovakia was on the map again."
What actually happened on that fateful 9th of June 1942? The Nazi response was immediate, and the merciless destruction of Lidice was approved by Hitler himself at Heydrich’s funeral in Berlin and was carried out by Karl Hermann Frank, Secretary of State in the Protectorate and chief of police. The official pretext, later proven to be knowingly false, was the interception of a love letter supposedly indicating a connection to the resistance network. By evening Lidice was surrounded by Wehrmacht units and the police had blocked the access roads. Residents were forced to surrender all municipal valuables and began to be taken from their homes shortly after midnight. Males over the age of fifteen were gathered and separated from women and children, who were taken towards Kladno in the morning of June 10th. The men were gradually brought to the wall of the barn of Horák's farm lined with mattresses and executed. In total, the Nazis murdered 173 men on the spot, including the priest and the elders. The buildings were then doused with gasoline and set on fire. In the following days, another 26 citizens were executed (those who were outside Lidice on the fateful night, or who had been detained earlier). 17 children were selected to be Germanized, the remaining 82 children were taken by the Nazis to the Chelmno concentration camp, where they were mercilessly gassed. 184 women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. 53 of them did not survive the atrocities of the prison. A total of 340 citizens of Lidice perished - 192 men, 60 women and 88 children. Intent on making Lidice an enduring symbol, the Nazis continued their efforts to erase all traces of the village. In the following weeks, they demolished the burned buildings, cut down trees, build a pond with rubble, exhumed the bodies, destroyed a cemetery, and re-routed the stream. The name of the village was to be erased from the maps forever...
Of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, the Lidice tragedy was just one small point in a long line of horrors. However, they chose this one to become an important point of their propaganda and media to officially and immediately inform about the destruction of Lidice. To understand this seemingly irrational disclosure, the context of the war campaign must be remembered. In mid-1942 Nazi power was at its peak – Rommel's Afrikakorps was achieving considerable success in Libya, and the Wehrmacht's June offensive on the Eastern Front was soon to target the Crimea, the Caucasus and Stalingrad. By the assassination of Heydrich, the often-overlooked Czechoslovaks managed to hit not only the protector, but also, symbolically, the overstretched self-confidence of the Nazi totalitarian regime. Although the Nazis managed to create an atmosphere of fear within the protectorate by publishing propaganda and controlling the narrative, from a global point of view they paradoxically achieved the opposite. Lidice immediately became a symbol of resistance and one of the very important unifying moments of the anti-Nazi struggle due to the rise of an international wave of solidarity. As the then Secretary of the U.S. Navy Frank Knox stated: "If future generations ask us what we are fighting for [in World War II], we shall tell them the story of Lidice."
Lidice in Music
Among the musicians, the singer Jarmila Novotná and the above-mentioned diplomat Jan Masaryk (as a pianist) were apparently the first to react. Even before the events in Lidice, in May 1942, they recorded an album of 15 Czech and Moravian folk songs for the RCA Victory Record Company, which they sensitively named Lidice songs soon after the tragedy. Thanks to the release of the album, this spontaneous musical reaction spread throughout the United States, as the singer recalls in her memoir, My life in Song. The Czech government-in-exile in London also had its own plans. They asked Bohuslav Martinů, then living in exile in New York, to create a musical monument to the tragic event. The composer began sketching immediately, but overcome with emotions, put the project on hold and instead used these initial sketches in his somber Largo from Symphony No. 1, which he completed in July 1942. New motivation came from a call from the American League of Composers to write short pieces responding to the events of the war, for which they approached renowned authors of the time (e.g. Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Darius Milhaud, etc.). Thanks to this challenge, Martinů returned to the idea of a monument and created his Památník Lidicím (Memorial to Lidice) - one of the first completed compositions dedicated to this event. In the memorial, he used a number of moving musical references including the "fate" theme from Beethoven's 5th symphony and fragments from the Old Bohemian chant of St. Wenceslas. The piece was completed in August 1943 and premiered on October 22, 1945 by The New York Philharmonic under the direction of Artur Rodzinski.
Another Czech composer to musically commemorate Lidice was Klement Slavický, who in 1945 composed the expressive Lidice Duet on the lyrics by the poet František Halas. According to available sources, an interesting feature of this interpretation-demanding composition is, that it was not premiered until 1960, i.e. 15 years after it was written. Among the foreign authors who responded to the Lidice events in the 1940s, it is worth mentioning the British composer, conductor and social activist Alan Bush, who composed the piece Lidice - for unaccompanied mixed chorus in 1947. The composition was performed for the first time by the Workers Association Choir under the composer’s direction as part of the 1st World Youth Festival, which took place in the summer of 1947 in Prague. From the end of the 1940s of the 20th century to the present, many other compositions were composed to pay tribute to Lidice, too many to summarize in this short article. However, we would like to mention at least those, that are the most well-known in the Czech lands - Odyssea lidického dítěte (The Odyssey of a Child of Lidice), written by Miloslav Ištvan for solo piano in 1963, the orchestral Balada o červnovém ránu - Lidice (Ballad of June Morning – Lidice) 1942 by Václav Lídl, completed in 1972, and an expressive melodramatic fresco for solos , a male and female choir, two narrators, percussion and orchestra on a poem by Karel Šiktans from 1973, which its author, Ostrava composer Milan Báchorek, called simply, Lidice.
Lidice in the Visual Arts
Musicians were among the first to respond to the tragedy, but artists from across the disciplines also responded to the annihilation of Lidice and its innocent inhabitants. In this article, we focused primarily on those works that are part of the Lidice Memorial and are accessible for public. Let's start with the architecture. In 1955, on the initiative of Barnett Stross, a member of the British Parliament and a member of the “Lidice Shall Live” association, the famous Rose Garden was built on the place of the tragedy. The original design was created by architects František Marek and Bohumil Kavka. Due to lack of funds, however, the rose garden was unfortunately neglected in the post-revolutionary period and gradually disappeared. It was restored again in 2001-2003 according to the design by Pavel Bulíř. At present day, 200 varieties of roses from across the world are planted here. The park also includes a fountain with a sculpture of a boy and a girl called Peace, created in 1955 by the sculptor Karel Hladík.
The Lidice Memorial and Museum was designed by architect František Marek in 1962 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the town’s destruction. In 1995, by order of the government of the Czech Republic, the building was named a National Cultural Monument. The Memorial has been undergoing major reorganization and gradual reconstruction since 2001. The current Lidice Memorial is a non-profit organization under the Ministry of Culture. Its mission is to restore the care of historical buildings and the site of the national cultural monument. The renovated Museum houses the award-winning multimedia exhibition And the innocent were guilty... The Lidice Gallery is located in the former Cultural House, also designed by Frantíšek Marek in the new Lidice. The permanent exhibition, Remember Lidice, is open to the public and comprises works by local and international artists. The collections of the Lidice Gallery contain paintings and works by important Czech and Czechoslovakian artists (e.g. František Gross, Jitka and Květa Válovy, Václav Kiml, Pravoslav Kotík, Jan Smetana, František Foltýn, Adolf Hoffmeister, Eva Kmentová, Olbram Zoubek, Rudolf Uher etc.), as well as the works by many international artists (e.g. Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell, Hans-Peter Alvermann, Sigmar Polke, Thomas Ruff, Renato Guttuso, Emilio Vedova, Marian Bogusz, Roman Opalka, Endre Nemes, Karin Sander etc.)
The sculptures are located in various important sites of the original village. Of note is Bedřich Stefan, who created the sculptures Mother with Child and Mourning Woman, Karel Lidický and his sculpture Woman Protecting Her Face from the Flame, or Marie Uchytilová with Jiří Václav Hampel and their famous sculpture Monument to Child Victims of War symbolizing the 82 children murdered in Chelmno , which was created continuously for more than 30 years. In the field of literature, we would like to mention at least the documentary publications Lidice: The Story of a Czech Village by Eduard Stehlík, They Would Shoot Me as a Boy by Jaroslava Skleničková, or the Fates of Lidice and Ležáky Children by the team of authors Jolana Macková, Ivan Ulrych and Přemysl Veverka. Of the film productions, it is necessary to mention at least the legendary British anti-war documentary The Silent Village directed by Humphrey Jennings from 1943, the excellent Czechoslovak documentary Lidice directed by Pavel Háš from 1965, and the feature film Lidice directed by Petr Nikolaev in 2011.
In conclusion, we would like to present a selection of the most important commemorative events that took place on the 80th anniversary of the extermination of Lidice. As part of the Commemorative Act organized by the Lidice Memorial, a national display of children's choirs called Light for Lidice and a Thanksgiving Concert for Lidice took place, at which a number of renowned Czech artists performed. The act of worship was concluded with a joint prayer. Before that, directly on the day of the anniversary, June 9th, commemorative events took place overseas. Of interest was a commemorative evening for the 80th anniversary of the extermination of Lidice, which was organized in the United States by the Czech Centre New York. As part of the event, the documentary In the Shadow of Memory directed by Jerri Zbiral (daughter of Lidice survivor) and her husband Alan Teller was screened. As part of the evening, the authors of this article also performed live - Katelyn Bouska performed the Odyssey of the child of Lidice by Miloslav Ištvan, after which, together with Štěpán Filípek, they performed the world premiere of Filípek's new composition called Lidice women. On Sunday, June 12, Bouska and Filípek continued the commemorations with the presentation of a workshop and recital entitled like this article, Repercussions of the Lidice Tragedy in Art, which was organized by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington D.C.