Freelance writer from Cornwall
Reinhard Heydrich, senior SS officer, ‘Reichsprotektor’ of Bohemia and Moravia and one of the architects of the Holocaust (he chaired the notorious Wannsee Conference in 1942) was assassinated by Czech secret agents Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik on May 27, 1942. They were trained by the Special Operations Executive and dropped into Czechoslovakia as part of Operation Anthropoid, tasked specifically with killing Heydrich.. When their Sten gun jammed they tossed a specially-made anti-tank grenade at his staff car while he travelled to his headquarters at Prague’s Hradcany Castle. Heydrich was seriously wounded and, despite the care of Sr. Sauerbruch, Hitler’s personal surgeon, died of blood poisoning some days later. The reprisals were huge in their scale and viciousness.
The villages of Lidice and Lezaky were completely wiped off the map along with their inhabitants. Purges, mass arrests and executions all over Czechoslovakia accounted for some 5000 deaths in total. After the war Lidice was rebuilt, it’s total destruction having been filmed and shown in Nazi propaganda newsreels. Lidice became a monument to the inhuman nature of Nazism and a symbol of resurgence and resilience, Lezaky was almost forgotten. While Lidice was rebuilt and repopulated, all that remains of Lezaky is a memorial to those who lived and died there.
Lezaky was targeted for reprisals partly because of its proximity to Lidice, but also because Nazi security chiefs believed both villages were secretly supporting Czech resistance fighters, providing them with shelter, food and general assistance. The reprisals for Heydrich’s assassination would have been enormous in any case, but Lidice and Lezaky where where the axe fell most cruelly. Both villages were razed to the ground and their inhabitants murdered on the spot or in concentration camps. A tiny minority survived, some of whom returned after the war.
There were two SOE teams dropped near Lidice and Lezaky in late 1941. The first was ‘Anthropoid’ whose members were tasked with Heydrich’s assassination. The other was codenamed ‘Silver A.’ ‘Silver A’ was a long-term operation whose members were tasked with building and developing a new resistance network in the area. Heydrich’s death would see both teams annihilated, along with other resisters, the two villages and many Czech civilians,
After Heydrich’s death the Nazi security services subjected Czechoslavakia, especially the area around Prague itself, to a thorough search and reprisal operation. Anybody suspected of even the most tenuous links to Resistance activity or resisters themselves was at risk. Dawn raids, prisoners tortured for information, a reward of 20,000 Czech Crowns for information leading to the capture of the assassins. ‘Silver A’ were wiped out during the dragnet while Kubis and Gabcik were betrayed by one of their own, fellow agent Karel Curda. They were caught at St. Michael’s Church in Prague where a memorial still stands today.
During the dragnet a radio transmitter belonging to the ‘Silver A’ team was discovered in Lezaky. That discovery, along with the death of Heydrich and long-running Nazi suspicions around the two villages, caused their destruction. The Nazi suspicions about Lidice were false, Lidice wasn’t a hotbed of Resistance activity. The reprisals were real enough. The SS made an example of the village while Propaganda Corps cameras rolled, recording the demolition (though not the massacre of Lidice’s population) to be screened in newsreels throughout Occupied Europe.The Nazis still weren’t satisfied. Once the villages had been wrecked and their populations disposed of, slave labourers were brought in to ensure even the ruins were entirely levelled
So why was Lidice rebuilt and Lezaky seldom remembered? The destruction of Lidice headlined Nazi newsreels and propaganda within Occupied Europe while Lezaky was barely mentioned. The casualties at Lidice were in the thousands, Lezaky’s dead numbered a few dozen. Compared to Lidice and the massacre in France at Ourador-Sur-Glane in June, 1944, Lezaky was barely noticeable. Certainly of no significance to the Nazis whose troops committed far worse crimes every day.
Lidice was a major Nazi reprisal. Lezaky, by SS standards, an everyday occurrence. Events like the Lezaky massacre aren’t overlooked because they’re not bad. They’re no less horrendous because fewer people died. merely overshadowed by crimes that were even worse.