We ended the last series of From the Archives at one of the darkest moments in Czech history, when on June 10 1942 the Nazis destroyed the village of Lidice. This was a cruel and arbitrary retribution for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the so-called Reichsprotektor of occupied Bohemia and Moravia. Many people had given shelter to the Czechoslovak patriots parachuted from London to carry out the assassination, and the Nazis took extreme measures to cow the Czech nation into submission.
They started with huge gatherings on Prague’s Old Town Square, at which Czechs were expected to demonstrate their loyalty to the Reich. The first of these was on June 2 1942, and one of those who spoke was the collaborationist Prime Minister, Jaroslav Krejčí, whose words held a thinly concealed threat.
“Those of you who think it is enough just to express a few words of loyalty to the Reich and then go back to your old indifference are mistaken. The government will set up new bodies to control thoroughly just how well orders are respected. Anyone who fails to the interests of our nation and our obligations to the Reich, will be punished as he deserves.”
To reinforce the message, the Gestapo began arresting and executing Czechs in huge numbers, reading out the long lists every day in their radio broadcasts. The massacre in Lidice came a few days later, and over the coming weeks the number of people executed ran into thousands. For the rest of the war the Protectorate was effectively under direct Gestapo control.
But these atrocities also served to reinforce the solidarity felt in the free world with the fate of the Czechs. A huge demonstration held in London in support of Czechoslovakia to mark the fourth anniversary of the German occupation in March 1943 was broadcast by the BBC, to remind the Czechs that they were not forgotten.
“London calls Prague! Londýn zdraví Prahu! We are now going to give a pledge, which will be broadcast from this hall to the Czechoslovak people and to the rest of Europe, over the heads of the enemy. This is the pledge [at this point all join in]: ‘Together we shall fight in a world at war. Let us build together a world of peace.’ Londýn zdraví Prahu!”
That pledge was delivered on March 13 1943 two days before the fourth anniversary of the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. Next week we shall be hearing from the Czech pilots who were fighting at the time in Britain’s Royal Air Force.
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