On 10 June 1942, following the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi official in what is now the Czech Republic, Adolf Hitler ordered immediate reprisals against the local population. Nazi troops immediately moved into the village of Lidice and rounded up all 173 of the men who were over 16 years of age. By the afternoon, all of them had been executed.
The 203 women were rounded up and, after the forced abortion of four pregnant women, were transported to various concentration camps. 105 children were taken and separated from their mothers. On 2 July, 82 of these children were taken to an extermination camp and murdered.
The village of Lidice was set on fire and the remains destroyed so as that no evidence of Lidice having ever existed could be found, with the entire attack filmed by the SS. In all, only 170 of Lidice’s population of around 510 survived the war, with only 17 of them children. Similar reprisals were carried out across a large area of Czechoslovakia, and it is estimated that in total around 1,300 people were killed in total – unlike other Nazi massacres, there was no attempt to hide that this had taken place.
Almost as soon as this news reached Britain, Barnet Stross, a doctor and City Councillor in Stoke-on-Trent, set to work on founding the 'Lidice Shall Live' movement, the name created by Stross in response to Adolf Hitler’s order that 'Lidice Shall Die Forever'.
Stross invited the Czech president, Soviet ambassador and President of the Miners' Federation to a launch event, which was attended by 3,000 people. In the months ahead, donations were collected from miners and workers to rebuild Lidice. In Stross's words:
“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coal face. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness”.
When the decision was taken by the Czechoslovak government to rebuild Lidice, the equivalent of £1m in today’s money was provided by the 'Lidice Shall Live' movement.
This evening I have managed to secure an adjournment debate in Parliament on the massacre at Lidice and the importance that stories such as these are passed down to future generations. Not only is it important that we understand the consequences of hatred and prejudice, but also the good that can be done by those who are unwilling to sit by and allow it to take place.
I am therefore delighted that a group of my constituents, businesses and councillors have come together to ensure that the tale of Lidice will live on. On Friday, the ‘Let Lidice Live’ campaign was launched in Stoke-on-Trent, a partnership between this group, Staffordshire University and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Through the formalisation of links between Stoke-on-Trent and Lidice, a series of events to mark the seventieth anniversary in both countries, and the continuation of the highly successful International Children’s Exhibition of Fine Arts, this campaign seeks to ensure that the story of the massacre will live on, not just this year, but for years to come.
As time goes by and we lose first-hand accounts of Nazi atrocities, events such as Holocaust Memorial Day become even more important. At times, however, it can feel that the sheer scale of the slaughter in the Second World War can be too horrifying to comprehend and that as a result individual stories are lost.
Lidice provides a glimmer of light among one of the darkest periods of human history, with the generosity of the British people and the defiance of the residents of the village ensuring that Lidice, indeed, did live.
Robert Flello is the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South