Lidice Memorial in Crest Hill 2022
US town of Crest Hill commemorates Lidice massacre
Eighty years ago, the Nazis massacred the village of Lidice, hoping to wipe it off the face of the Earth. But it had quite the opposite effect. Various places around the world adopted the name Lidice, so that it would never be forgotten. One of them is the town of Crest Hill near Chicago, which has its own Lidice neighborhood.
As the tones of Bedřich Smetana’s My Country pour from loudspeakers, three men in Sokol uniforms carry the American and Czech flags to a stone plaque. It reads that it stands in memory of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice and its
citizens who were massacred by the Nazis on June 10, 1942.
The annual Lidice commemoration was held in Crest Hill earlier this week on the occasion of a visit of the Czech Senate delegation. It was only two days after the Lidice horror, when a local real estate entrepreneur Dominic Romano named
part of the town where he owned land Lidice.
A month later, in July 1942, thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the atrocity and installed a memorial dedicated to Lidice. Local Czech-American resident, as Vera Wilt, says it was an act of defiance:
“I think when Hitler said he would wipe the name Lidice off the face of the earth, Americans and other people around the world took it as a challenge and said: No it is not!
"It was a gut reaction, it came from the heart, not from the mind. They justthought: We can’t allow that to happen. We will build the monument.”
The original memorial in Crest Hill has since been replaced by a new one, but it still stands in a small park in a residential neighborhood that has carried the name of Lidice for 80 years.
The story has touched not only Americans of Czech descent, but all Crest Hill locals, including Tina Oberlin:
“I grew up just a few doors down and I would come up here as a child to play and ride my bike. And every year when they held a memorial service, I would just watch it. Even though I didn't speak the language, I always understood the meaning. It was just obvious to me, even as a child.
“Flash forward several decades, I became part of the City Hall, and when the Mayor asked me to help I just jumped in with both my feet because it meant so much to me.”
The memorial is looked after by the local Czech-Americans and the land on which it stands belongs to the Czech-Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids.
John Pritasil, president of the Czechoslovak American Congress, says the legacy of Lidice is still immensely important to the community:
“The whole of point of the monument was that people wouldn’t forget. Because, as they say, those who forget are doomed to repeat history. We see that happening now in Ukraine.
“The Czech community always remembered. We were brought up with it, we learned about Lidice in school and we took it upon ourselves to make sure to pass the story on.”
A full-scale anniversary commemoration is planned in Crest Hill this Sunday, exactly 80 years since the neighborhood was named after Lidice. A similar commemoration is also being planned in Phillips, Wisconsin, where another Lidice memorial was erected during the war.
Lidice: The Story of a Village and the Lidice Memorial, Phillips, Wisconsin
The Lidice Memorial in Sokol Park, Phillips, Wisconsin, is a monument built during the summer of 1944 and dedicated on August 27, 1944. It was dedicated to liberty, humanity and justice to all people of the world in remembrance of a small Bohemian village in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. The monument stands on the corner of Fifield and Ash Streets in Sokol Park, off of Highway 13 north.
Many immigrants of Slavic origin came to America during the time of Austro-Hungarian rule. They came seeking better lives free from serfdom, strict military conscription laws, and to find religious freedom. After the fall of the empire in 1918, Czechoslovakia became a country and Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks continued to emigrate from the homeland. Many of the men found work in coal mines and steel mills in the eastern part of the USA. The women often became domestics, ran boarding houses or found factory work. Families that eventually settled in Price County, purchased cheap, cut-over, timber land and through their hard labor, made it suitable for farming. Some worked in logging camps to supplement their incomes and some set up small businesses or trade shops within the city or in the near-by lumber town of Lugerville, and other areas of Price County.
The Czech/Slovak community in the Phillips area was close-knit and together they built schools and churches. They were able to purchase a former school building for Sokol (gymnastic) activities and the Zapadni Ceska Bratrska Jednota meetings. The Z.C.B.J. was a fraternal association of Czech Americans, founded in 1897, that also provided life insurance to its members. (The name translates into English as the "Western Bohemian Fraternal Association" and was later opened to other nationalities. It is known today as Western Fraternal Life Association.) Social events included dances, card parties, theatre productions and through these contacts they offered one another assistance and support.
In the late 1930s, Nazi Germany began to overrun Europe and Czechoslovakia was not spared. Adolph Hitler assigned SS-
Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich as the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. A ruthless, bloodthirsty killer, he was the principle author of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” and was deeply enmeshed in planning the Holocaust: the plan to eradicate the entire Jewish population in Europe and part of Russia.
Hitler assigned Heydrich to break the back of the resistance movement and immediately upon his arrival in Prague, mass murders became common place. His activities and notoriety made him the target of a highly secret mission planned by the Czechoslovak Army in exile, based in London, England. “Operation Anthropoid” was considered a success when Heydrich died as the result of wounds sustained in the assassination attempt, 9 days after the plan was executed.
The assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was the most significant event in Czechoslovak World War II history. This man was much feared in all of Europe, even within his own Nazi Party.
In retaliation for the assassination, while seeking those who may have helped with the plot, Lidice was targeted when misinformation led the Gestapo to the village with little regard that the citizens were innocent of any connection to the assassination.
By direct order of the Führer, the village was surrounded late night, June 9, 1942. The next day, all men in the village 16 and over, were shot dead; Men not in the village at the time, were killed later. No one escaped. The women and children were separated and women were sent to concentration camps.
Eighty-two of the 105 Lidice children were gassed in July, at Chelmno, Poland. Six children died by other means, and 17 were spared due to having Aryan features, deeming them fit for Germanization.
The village was burned, dynamited and bulldozed to oblivion. The cemetery was desecrated, with some 400 graves dug up and mutilated. When the Nazis were finished, only a bare plain remained. The village was erased from German maps and even the small river running through the village was diverted.
Some of the 17 surviving children were adopted, some were still in orphanages, but at the war’s end the 17 were found and brought back to remnants of family. Of 203 Lidice women over age 16, 143 returned. Sixty of the women and 192 men died.
The Nazi atrocity was widely publicized according to plan and was meant to terrorize all who dared to go against the Third Reich. The entire world reacted with shock and horror as the destruction of village and acts of terror were revealed. The news was broadcast via radio, newspapers, and newsreels were shown at theatres world-wide. Hitler had the massacre filmed and it was shown all over Nazi-held territories; it was meant to quell further resistance. (Copies of the film were left behind at the end of the war and were used at the Nuremberg Trials to seal the fate of the perpetrators.)
The Czech/Slovak community in Price County was stunned by the news. They felt a special kinship to the small village as they shared common surnames and some had friends there. A memorial was designed by Vaclav Hajny, a Czech immigrant and commercial artist whose father once lived in the village. Hajny designed a small, temporary monument and a memorial service was held in June, 1943. His larger design included the name LIDICE forged in iron by a local blacksmith, placed at the top of the monument, and three rods in graduated sizes portraying the Czechs, Moravians, and Slovaks leaning into the United Nations (the red granite pillar) for support.
The evergreen spray on the face of the monument symbolized everlasting life for the victims and the rising sun to the right symbolized hope that Lidice would rise again. A mason, Karel Novy, sculpted the monument and additional manpower came from members of the Sokol and Z.C.B.J. Each year, for many years, a memorial service was held at the monument site until the old immigrant faction diminished. The property was deeded to the City of Phillips by the CzechoSlovak Hall Association in 1974.
In 1984, there was a renewal of the memorial service, and the Phillips Czechoslovakian Community Festival was founded. Currently, memorial services serve as a prelude to the festival weekend, each third full weekend in June.
The intention of Hitler's infamous order was to bury Lidice forever. Rather, the atrocity made the small Bohemian village immortal.
Editor's Note: Toni Brendel is an author with a personal connection to the history of Lidice. Her essay was based on interviews with two surviving Lidice "children" during a visit to the memorial site in 2011.
She also wishes to acknowledge the staff at the Lidice Memorial in the Czech Republic, and the use of resource books that were gifted to her by them. Eduard Stehlik's LIDICE: The Story of a Czech Village and his most recent work, Memories of Lidice, are invaluable resources. Major Eduard Stehlik, PhD is a military career man who researched central and regional archives and libraries to bring the most accurate information recorded to the public. His work is gratefully acknowledged by Ms. Brendel.
She is the author of a brochure, Lidice Lives in Phillips, Wisconsin and numerous books, including:
Lidice Remembered Around the World
Slovak American Touches
Slovak Recipes (with Sidonka Wadina)
Twenty Five Years of Ethnic Pride
Volume I and Volume II, Phillips Czechoslovak Community (with Therese Trojak)