Military history

THE DEATH OF HEYDRICH AND THE END OF LIDICE

Midway through the war there was one act of retribution against the gangster masters of the New Order for their slaughtering of the conquered people. Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Security Police and the S.D., deputy chief of the Gestapo, this long-nosed, icy-eyed thirty-eight-year-old policeman of diabolical cast, the genius of the “final solution,” Hangman Heydrich, as he became known in the occupied lands, met a violent end.

Restless for further power and secretly intriguing to oust his chief, Himmler, he had got himself appointed, in addition to his other offices, Acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Poor old Neurath, the Protector, was packed off on indefinite sick leave by Hitler in September 1941, and Heydrich replaced him in the ancient seat of the Bohemian kings at Hradschin Castle in Prague. But not for long.

On the morning of May 29, 1942, as he was driving in his open Mercedes sports car from his country villa to the Castle in Prague a bomb of British make was tossed at him, blowing the car to pieces and shattering his spine. It had been hurled by two Czechs, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabeik, of the free Czechoslovak army in England, who had been parachuted from an R.A.F. plane. Well equipped for their assignment, they got away under a smoke screen and were given refuge by the priests of the Karl Borromaeus Church in Prague.

Heydrich expired of his wounds on June 4 and a veritable hecatomb followed as the Germans took savage revenge, after the manner of the old Teutonic rites, for the death of their hero. According to one Gestapo report, 1,331 Czechs, including 201 women, were immediately executed.91 The actual assassins, along with 120 members of the Czech resistance who were hiding in the Karl Borromaeus Church, were besieged there by the S.S. and killed to the last man.* It was the Jews, however, who suffered the most for this act of defiance against the master race. Three thousand of them were removed from the “privileged” ghetto of Theresienstadt and shipped to the East for extermination. On the day of the bombing Goebbels had 500 of the few remaining Jews at large in Berlin arrested and on the day of Heydrich’s death 152 of them were executed as a “reprisal.”

But of all the consequences of Heydrich’s death the fate of the little village of Lidice near the mining town of Kladno not far from Prague will perhaps be longest remembered by the civilized world. For no other reason except to serve as an example to a conquered people who dared to take the life of one of their inquisitors a terrible savagery was carried out in this peaceful little rural place.

On the morning of June 9, 1942, ten truckloads of German Security Police under the command of Captain Max Rostock* arrived at Lidice and surrounded the village. No one was allowed to leave though anyone who lived there and happened to be away could return. A boy of twelve, panicking, tried to steal away. He was shot down and killed. A peasant woman ran toward the outlying fields. She was shot in the back and killed. The entire male population of the village was locked up in the barns, stables and cellar of a farmer named Horak, who was also the mayor.

The next day, from dawn until 4 P.M., they were taken into the garden behind the barn, in batches of ten, and shot by firing squads of the Security Police. A total of 172 men and boys, over sixteen, were executed there. An additional nineteen male residents, who were working in the Kladno mines during the massacre, were later picked up and dispatched in Prague.

Seven women who were rounded up at Lidice were taken to Prague and shot. All the rest of the women of the village, who numbered 195, were transported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp in Germany, where seven were gassed, three “disappeared” and forty-two died of ill treatment. Four of the Lidice women who were about to give birth were first taken to a maternity hospital in Prague where their newly born infants were murdered and they themselves then shipped to Ravensbrueck.

There remained for the Germans the disposal of the children of Lidice, whose fathers were now dead, whose mothers were imprisoned. It must be said that the Germans did not shoot them too, not even the male children. They were carted off to a concentration camp at Gneisenau. There were ninety in all and from these seven, who were less than a year old, were selected by the Nazis, after a suitable examination by Himmler’s “racial experts,” to be sent to Germany to be brought up as Germans under German names. Later, the others were similarly disposed of.

“Every trace of them has been lost,” the Czechoslovak government, which filed an official report on Lidice for the Nuremberg tribunal, concluded.

Happily, some of them, at least, were later found. I remember in the autumn of 1945 reading the pitiful appeals in the then Allied-controlled German newspapers from the surviving mothers of Lidice asking the German people to help them locate their children and send them “home.”

Actually Lidice itself had been wiped off the face of the earth. As soon as the men had been massacred and the women and children carted off, the Security Police had burned down the village, dynamited the ruins and leveled it off.

Lidice, though it became the most widely known example of Nazi savagery of this kind, was not the only village in the German-occupied lands to suffer such a barbaric end. There was one other in Czechoslovakia, Lezhaky, and several more in Poland, Russia, Greece and Yugoslavia. Even in the West, where the New Order was relatively less murderous, the example of Lidice was repeated by the Germans though in most cases, such as that of Televaag in Norway, the men, women and children were merely deported to separate concentration camps after every building in the village had been razed to the ground.

But on June 10, 1944, two years to a day after the massacre of Lidice, a terrible toll of life was taken at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges. A detachment of the S.S. division Das Reich, which had already earned a reputation for terror—if not for fighting—in Russia, surrounded the French town and ordered the inhabitants to gather in the central square. There the people were told by the commandant that explosives were reported to have been hidden in the village and that a search and the checking of identity cards would be made. Whereupon the entire population of 652 persons was locked up. The men were herded into barns, the women and children into the church. The entire village was then set on fire. The German soldiers next set upon the inhabitants. The men in the barns who were not burned to death were machine-gunned and killed. The women and children in the church were also peppered with machine-gun fire and those who were not killed were burned to death when the German soldiers set fire to the church. Three days later the Bishop of Limoges found the charred bodies of fifteen children in a heap behind the burned-out altar.

Nine years later, in 1953, a French military court established that 642 inhabitants—245 women, 207 children and 190 men—had perished in the massacre at Oradour. Ten survived. Though badly burned they had simulated death and thus escaped it.*

Oradour, like Lidice, was never rebuilt. Its ruins remain a monument to Hitler’s New Order in Europe. The gutted church stands out against the peaceful countryside as a reminder of the beautiful June day, just before the harvest, when the village and its inhabitants suddenly ceased to exist. Where once a window stood is a little sign: “Madame Rouffance, the only survivor from the church, escaped through this window.” In front there is a small figure of Christ affixed to a rusty iron cross.

Such, as has been sketched in this chapter, were the beginnings of Hitler’s New Order; such was the debut of the Nazi Gangster Empire in Europe. Fortunately for mankind it was destroyed in its infancy—not by any revolt of the German people against such a reversion to barbarism but by the defeat of German arms and the consequent fall of the Third Reich, the story of which now remains to be told.

* As early as September 18, 1941, Hitler had specifically ordered that Leningrad was to be “wiped off the face of the earth.” After being surrounded it was to be “razed to the ground” by bombardment and bombing and its population (three millions) was to be destroyed with it.

* Neither the extermination of masses of Soviet prisoners of war nor the exploitation of Russian slave labor was a secret to the Kremlin. As early as November 1941, Molotov had made a formal diplomatic protest against the “extermination” of Russian POWs, and in April of the following year he made another protest against the German slave labor program.

* A year before, it will be remembered, Goering had told Ciano that “this year between twenty and thirty million persons will die of hunger in Russia” and that “perhaps it is well that it should be so.” Already, he said, Russian prisoners of war had begun “to eat each other.”.

 In a directive of Goering’s Economic Staff, East, on May 23, 1941, the destruction of the Russian industrial areas was ordered. The workers and their families in these regions were to be left to starve. “Any attempt to save the population there,” the directive stated, “from death by starvation by importing [food] surpluses from the black-soil zone [of Russia]” was prohibited.

* At the official rate of exchange (2.5 Reichsmarks to the dollar) this would amount to 40 billion dollars. But I have used the unofficial rate of four Reichsmarks to the dollar. In terms of purchasing power it is more accurate.

* According to Alexander Dallin in his exhaustive study of German rule in Russia, Germany could have obtained more from Russia in normal trade. (See Dallin, German Rule in Russia.)

* Albert Speer, Minister for Armament and War Production, admitted at Nuremberg that 40 per cent of all prisoners of war were employed in 1944 in the production of weapons and munitions and in subsidiary industries.20

 A captured record shows Field Marshal Milch of the Air Force in 1943 demanding 50,000 more Russian war prisoners to be added to the 30,000 already manning antiaircraft artillery. “It is amusing,” Milch laughed, “that Russians must work the guns.”21

* The entire slave labor program was put in charge of Fritz Sauckel, who was given the title of Plenipotentiary General for the Allocation of Labor. A second-string Nazi, he had been Gauleiter and Governor of Thuringia. A pig-eyed little man, rude and tough, he was, as Goebbels mentioned in his diary, “one of the dullest of the dull.” In the dock at Nuremberg, he struck this writer as being a complete nonentity, the sort of German who in other times might have been a butcher in a small-town meat market. One of his first directives laid it down that the foreign workers were “to be treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure.”24 He admitted at Nuremberg that of all the millions of foreign workers “not even 200,000 came voluntarily.” However at the trial he denied all responsibility for their ill-treatment. He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged in the Nuremberg jail on the night of October 15–16, 1946.

* Besides obtaining thousands of slave laborers, both civilians and prisoners of war for its factories in Germany, the Krupp firm also built a large fuse factory at the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where Jews were worked to exhaustion and then gassed to death.

Baron Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, the chairman of the board, was indicted as a major war criminal at Nuremberg (along with Goering, et al.) but because of his “physical and mental condition” (he had had a stroke and had faded into senility), he was not tried. He died on January 16, 1950. An effort was made by the prosecution to try in his stead his son, Alfried, who had acquired sole ownership of the company in 1943, but the tribunal denied this.

Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was subsequently tried before a Nuremberg military tribunal (a purely American court) along with nine directors of the firm in the United States v. Alfried Krupp et al. case. On July 31, 1948, he was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment and confiscation of all his property. He was released from Landsberg prison (where Hitler had served his sentence in 1924) on February 4, 1951, in a general amnesty issued by John J. McCloy, the U.S. High Commissioner. Not only was the confiscation of his corporate property annulled but his personal fortune of some $10,000,000 was returned to him. The Allied governments had ordered the breakup of the vast Krupp empire but Alfried Krupp, who took over the active management of the firm after his release from prison, evaded the order and at the time of writing (1959) announced, with the approval of the Bonn government, that not only would the company not be broken up but that it was acquiring new industries.

* Himmler’s directive of February 20, 1942, was directed especially against Russian slave workers. It ordered “special treatment” also for “severe violations against discipline, including work refusal or loafing at work.” In such cases

special treatment is requested. Special treatment is hanging. It should not take place in the immediate vicinity of the camp. A certain number [however] should attend the special treatment.27

The term “special treatment” was a common one in Himmler’s files and in Nazi parlance during the war. It meant just what Himmler in this directive said it meant.

* Mueller was never apprehended after the war. He was last seen in Hitler’s bunker in Berlin on April 29, 1945. Some of his surviving colleagues believe he is now in the service of the Soviet secret police, of which he was a great admirer.

* On July 20, 1942, Keitel had drafted the order.

1. Soviet prisoners of war are to be branded with a special and durable mark.

2. The brand is to consist of an acute angle of about 45 degrees with a one-centimetre length of side, pointing downward on the left buttock, at about a hand’s width from the rectum.36

* General Dostler was condemned to death by the U.S. military tribunal in Rome on October 12, 1945.

 Kaltenbrunner was hanged at Nuremberg jail on the night of October 15–16, 1946.

* I.e., they were told they were being resettled elsewhere.

* There was a special reason for this.

 Ohlendorf was tried at Nuremberg by a U.S. military tribunal along with twenty-one others in the “Einsatzgruppen Case.” Fourteen of them were condemned to death. Only four, Ohlendorf and three other group commanders, were executed—on June 8, 1951, at Landsberg prison, some three and a half years after being sentenced. The death penalties for the others were commuted.

* On August 31, Himmler had ordered an Einsatz detachment to execute a hundred inmates of the Minsk prison, so that he could see how it was done. According to Bach-Zalewski, a high officer in the S.S. who was present, Himmler almost swooned when he saw the effect of the first volley from the firing squad. A few minutes later, when the shots failed to kill two Jewish women outright, the S.S. Fuehrer became hysterical. One result of this experience was an order from Himmler that henceforth the women and children should not be shot but dispatched in the gas vans.50 (See above, p. 960.)

* The number of Soviet Communist party functionaries slain by the Einsatzgruppen has never even been estimated, as far as I know. Most S.D. reports lumped them together with the Jews. In one report of Group A, dated October 15, 1941, some 3,387 “Communists” are listed among the 121,817 executed, the rest being Jews. But the same report often lists the two together.

 Pohl was condemned to death in the so-called “Concentration Camp Case” by a U.S. military tribunal on November 3, 1947, and hanged in Landsberg prison on June 8, 1951, along with Ohlendorf and others.

* The emphasis is this writer’s. A faulty translation of the last line, rendering the German word Endloesung as “desired solution” instead of “final solution” in the English copy of the document, led Justice Jackson, who did not know German, to allow Goering under cross-examination to get away with his contention that he never used the sinister term. (See n. 54.) “The first time I learned of these terrible exterminations,” Goering exclaimed at one point, “was right here in Nuremberg.”

 See above, p. 661.

* Lammers was sentenced in April 1949 to twenty years’ imprisonment by a U.S. military tribunal at Nuremberg, chiefly because of his responsibility in the anti-Jewish decrees. But as in the case of most of the other convicted Nazis whose sentences were greatly reduced by the American authorities, his term was commuted in 1951 to ten years and he was released from Landsberg prison at the end of that year, after serving a total of six years from the date of his first imprisonment. It might be noted here that most Germans, at least so far as their sentiment was represented in the West German parliament, did not approve of even the relatively mild sentences meted out to Hitler’s accomplices. A number of them handed over by the Allies to German custody were not even prosecuted—even when they were accused of mass murder—and some of them quickly found employment in the Bonn government.

* Kogon estimates the number at 7,125,000 out of a total of 7,820,000 inmates, but the figure undoubtedly is too high. (Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell, p. 227.)

 The camp commander, Franz Ziereis, put the total number at 65,000.56

 Born in 1900, the son of a small shopkeeper in Baden-Baden, Hoess was pressured by his pious Catholic father to become a priest. Instead he joined the Nazi Party in 1922. The next year he was implicated in the murder of a school teacher who allegedly had denounced Leo Schlageter, a German saboteur in the Ruhr who was executed by the French and became a Nazi martyr. Hoess received a life sentence.

He was released in a general amnesty in 1928, joined the S.S. two years later and in 1934 became a member of the Death’s Head group of the S.S., whose principal job was the guarding of the concentration camps. His first job in this unit was at Dachau. Thus he spent almost his entire adult life first as a prisoner and then as a jailer. He freely—and even exaggeratedly—testified to his killings both on the stand at Nuremberg and in affidavits for the prosecution. Turned over later to the Poles, he was sentenced to death and in March 1947 hanged at Auschwitz, the scene of his greatest crimes.

* A task which because of the large numbers involved and because of, at the end, armed resistance, could not be completed (as we shall see) until 1943.

* Usually “heart disease” was written down. Kogon, himself in Buchenwald for eight years, gives samples: “… Patient died after prolonged suffering on—at—o’clock. Cause of death: cardiac weakness complicated by pneumonia.” (Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell, p. 218.) Such formalities were dispensed with at Auschwitz when the massive gassings began. Often the day’s dead were not even counted.

* They were inevitably and regularly dispatched in the gas chambers and replaced by new teams who continued to meet the same fate. The S.S. wanted no survivors to tell tales.

* There was testimony at the Nuremberg trials that the ashes were sometimes sold as fertilizer. One Danzig firm, according to a document offered by the Russian prosecution, constructed an electrically heated tank for making soap out of human fat. Its “recipe” called for “12 pounds of human fat, 10 quarts of water, and 8 ounces to a pound of caustic soda … all boiled for two or three hours and then cooled.”59

* Sometimes they were pulled out before the victims were slain. A secret report of the German warden of the prison at Minsk disclosed that after he had commandeered the services of a Jewish dentist all the Jews “had their gold bridgework, crowns and fillings pulled or broken out. This happens always one to two hours before the special action.” The warden noted that of 516 German and Russian Jews executed at his prison during a six-week period in the spring of 1943, some 336 had the gold yanked from their teeth.65

* Dr. Funk was sentenced to life imprisonment at Nuremberg.

* John Hersey’s novel The Wall, based on the Jewish records, is an epic story of the uprising.

 But not Stroop. He was caught after the war, sentenced to death by an American court at Dachau on March 22, 1947, for the shooting of hostages in Greece, and then extradited to Poland, where he was tried for the slaughter of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. He was again sentenced to death and hanged at the scene of the crime on September 8, 1951.

* Eichmann, according to one of his henchmen, said just before the German collapse that “he would leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”70 Probably he never leaped into the grave, laughing or otherwise. He escaped from an American internment camp in 1945. (NOTE: As this book went on press, the government of Israel announced that it had apprehended Eichmann.)

* Not even Germany’s most famous surgeon, Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch, though he eventually became an anti-Nazi and conspired with the resistance. Sauerbruch sat through a lecture at the Berlin Military Medical Academy in May of 1943 given by two of the most notorious of the doctor-killers, Karl Gebhardt and Fritz Fischer, on the subject of gas gangrene experiments on prisoners. Sauerbruch ‘s only argument on this occasion was that surgery was better than sulfanilamide! Professor Gebhardt was sentenced to death at the so-called “Doctors’ Trial” and hanged on June 2, 1948. Dr. Fischer was given life imprisonment.

* And in which he was condemned to death, and hanged.

* Germany had annexed Alsace after the fall of France in 1940 and the Germans had taken over the University of Strasbourg.

 Professor Dr. Hirt disappeared. As he left Strasbourg he was heard boasting that no one would ever take him alive. Apparently no one has—alive or dead.

* Frau Koch, whose power of life and death over the inmates of Buchenwald was complete, and whose very whim could bring terrible punishment to a prisoner, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the “Buchenwald Trial,” but her sentence was commuted to four years, and she was soon released. On January 15, 1951, a German court sentenced her to life imprisonment for murder. Her husband was sentenced to death by an S.S. court during the war for “excesses” but was given the option of serving on the Russian front. Before he could do this, however, Prince Waldeck, the leader of the S.S. in the district, had him executed. Princess Mafalda, daughter of the King and Queen of Italy and wife of Prince Philip of Hesse, was among those who died at Buchenwald.

* Professor Holzloehner may have had a guilty conscience. Picked up by the British he committed suicide after his first interrogation.

* According to Schellenberg, who was there, the Gestapo never learned that the actual assassins were among the dead in the church. (Schellenberg, The Labyrinth, p. 292.)

* Hanged in Prague in August 1951.

 UNRRA reported on April 2, 1947, that seventeen of them had been found in Bavaria and sent back to their mothers in Czechoslovakia.

* Twenty members of the S.S. detachment were sentenced to death by this court but only two were executed, the remaining eighteen having their sentences commuted to prison terms of from five to twelve years. The commander of the Das Reich Division, S.S. Lieutenant General Heinz Lammerding was condemned to death in absentia. So far as I know he was never found. The actual commander of the detachment at Oradour, Major Otto Dickmann, was killed in action in Normandy a few days later.

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