On the dreary morning of 27 May, 1942, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was on his way to work in Prague Castle when a pair of British-trained Czech suicidal bombers, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, attacked his car on a country road outside of town and assassinated him. Adolf Hitler’s initial reaction was to shoot 10,000 hostages, but he was dissuaded. In one of the few direct orders that could have been documented in a war crimes trial, he instead ordered the obliteration of this bucolic village northwest of Prague.
The SS arrived on the morning of 10 June and set up shop in the last farmhouse above the glen. They rounded up and shot all men 16 and older, 173 in all. The 184 adult women were deported to concentration camps. The children were offered to SS families for adoption–the 88 who failed to make the grade being immediately gassed in Chelmno. Today, a few housing foundations and memorials like this one are all that remain of the village. The SS burned and plowed Lidice into the ground.
Even by Nazi standards, Heydrich was a vicious and ruthless operator. He led the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) that terrorized and destroyed millions of his fellow Europeans. On 31 August, 1939, he masterminded the Gliewitz Incident that started off World War II. On 20 January, 1942, he chaired the Wahnsee Conference that set in motion the Jewish holocaust. As Hitler’s go-to guy, he knew no limits. Yet, scariest of all, there was no particular evidence in the man of anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry. It was all a matter of naked, staggeringly empty personal ambition.
Like millions of other innocents, these villagers unwittingly contributed more than their share to the war effort. But had the dreadful Heydrich survived, there is no telling how much more damage and suffering he would have caused the European continent.