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The Lessons Of Lidice

Lidice Memorial

Lidice Memorial

In the village, anything that didn’t burn was blown up and bulldozed. Even the cemetery was dug up, to ensure that no trace of the village remained.

When the war ended, 143 women returned home to resettle in the area. After a two-year search, the 17 children subjected to Germanization were located and restored to whatever family members had survived. In 1947, foundations were laid for a new Lidice adjacent to where old Lidice had stood. Simultaneously, steps were taken by Czech authorities to create a fitting memorial for the town that had fallen victim to Nazi cruelty.

Some Jewish angles that emerge from Lidice:

We ere told that in 1947 a Jewish artist in Israel by the name of Achiam Shoshany “was invited to Prague where he won the Grand Prix in the competition for the rebuilding of the martyred town of Lidice in the Czech Republic.”

On my visit to Lidice I did not come across his name. An inquiry with the Czech Embassy in Israel yielded no results. I then turned to Achiam’s widow, who lives in Paris, for an explanation. She confirmed that indeed Achiam won first prize, but the Czech president vetoed the use of his model for Lidice.

There is a distinct possibility that the competition coincided with the change in regimes, and communist officials did not favor cooperation with representatives of Israel. Perhaps. If the model is preserved and can be found, it might solidify the relationship between the two countries whose histories have much in common.

Another Jewish angle is that the Nazi Party’s top echelon could not be satisfied by taking revenge on Czechs alone for the assassination of one of its shining stars. And so “as a fitting memorial to Heydrich…Himmler on July 19 ordered all Jews…to be deported by the end of the year. The ghettos and labor camps were to be wiped out.”

The Germans exacted savage revenge on the Jews of Poland as well. What became known as “Einsatz Reinhard” swept up 250,000 Jews in the course of the summer of 1942.

The executions at the Horan farm in Lidice are a testament to how even healthy, able-bodied masculine men can, in certain situations, be rendered powerless to resist, even though they know they are about to be killed. I haven’t yet found the right terminology for this phenomenon, but there we have it, among the Czech men in Lidice as among the Jews in Ponar or Babi Yar or on the banks of the Danube in Budapest. This was not a matter of people being driven like sheep to slaughter.

The memory of Lidice is one thing Czechs and Jews share in common. The betrayal of the Czechs by the Allies in the 1930s is another. The Allies time and again turned a blind eye to Hitler’s broken promises of “this is the last demand of mine” – inaction that led to the demise of Czechoslovakia and to the great war that engulfed the globe.

Today the Allies seem to be playing the same gambit with Iran, repeatedly accepting its assurances, delaying strong action against it though fully aware it is on the way to acquiring nuclear weapons – the first target of which, the Iranians openly proclaim, will be Israel.

No doubt Israelis and Jews all over the world wish Lidice well on the seventieth anniversary of its dark night. We also hope today’s allied powers will be cognizant of the lessons of the past so that the world can move toward an era of genuine goodwill and peace.

Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel; taught at City University of New York, Haifa University and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker.

About the Author: Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel. He has taught at City University of New York, Haifa University, and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and, at the request of David Ben-Gurion, founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker.


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