Shock and Strong Reactions in the US to the Lidice Atrocity – 1942

News of the Lidice atrocity provoked a wave of strong reactions and moral indignation across the United States. Czechoslovak Foreign Minister and Vice President-in-exile, Jan Masaryk, was the first statesman to speak out publicly about the devastation that had taken place when he spoke from his home in Washington on Friday, June 12th, to the United Press. Masaryk proclaimed that Nazi Germany’s wiping out of Lidice would serve only to harden the resolve of Czechoslovakia and the other United Nations to smash the Nazi leaders who had led the “German people down the black road towards destruction.”

Masaryk articulated the sentiments of the rest of the civilized world as he ridiculed Hitler’s boast that the village would “Die Forever,” for in determining to see Lidice wiped out, he had secured its longevity. He said:

Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister And Vice President-In-Exile
Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister and Vice President-in-exile

“In their cruel and inhuman way, the Nazi marauders have immortalized the name of Lidice and the names of each and every one of its heroes who now lie silenced. Wherever and whenever freemen continue to fight, they will remember the name and learn to say: ‘Leed-eat-say.’ Lidice stands today not as a symbol of the power and the might of the German terror but as a flaming sword around which all fighters for freedom will rally.

“The Czech people will never forget Lidice nor forgive what has taken place there. Fighting in the darkness of night from one end of their country to the other, the Czech people will not permit this outrage to discourage them. As long as there is one Czech left on earth, he will carry on his lips and in his heart the word ‘Lidice’.”

As in Britain, there had been initial calls for vengeance from the Canadians, not least from celebrated writer Dorothy Thompson. There were also suggestions that all American towns with Germanic names should be re-christened, though Clifton Fadiman of the WWB realised it would be silly to change German names on a map or a menu merely because the US was at war with the Third Reich.

He thought, “…that would smack of churlishness and emotional immaturity.” Besides, he said, “… some great German people are having towns or streets named after them in the US; kindliness and friendliness are in some of the fine old German words on the bill of fare.”

Instead, a suggestion was made that they should look over the map of the United States and find towns or streets bearing German-sounding names with neutral or unpalatable associations. Then, as an answer to the Nazis’ brag that they had “extinguished” the name of Lidice, the offending name should be supplanted by the name of the martyred village.

The suggestion that some German-named towns in the USA should be renamed “Lidice” was publicly endorsed on the 13th of June by Masaryk, who was in Boston to attend a United Nations benefit rally at Boston Garden the following day. Referring to the New York editorial that had produced the proposal, Masaryk said, “I think it is a good idea.” He added that Boston or some other town might want to sponsor the reconstruction of Lidice, for he recalled that in the First World War, a number of United States communities sponsored the restoration of war-torn Belgian towns.

In terms of a full-scale public response from the US, it was the Minister of the Navy, William F. Knox, who was the first to make his views unequivocally known. Like Dr Stross, who had spoken in less auspicious surroundings across the Atlantic the day before, Secretary Knox gave the pledge that the Allies would fight until “the Nazi butchers” were swept from the face of the earth “even as they obliterated Lidice.”

Minister Of The Us Navy, William Frank Knox
Minister of the US Navy, William Frank Knox

Knox was speaking as President Roosevelt’s representative to 15,000 people at the same United Nations rally at the old Boston Garden Arena. It was Sunday, the 14th of June. In the presence of Jan Masaryk, he declared that the Czecho-Slovakian mining town, which the Germans razed, would rise again and that Nazi ideas of degradation and enslavement would be crushed. He stressed that, although the force of arms would crush the Nazi system, the German people, for the sake of their consciences and their skins, owed it to themselves to repudiate the Nazis.

“Before mankind takes them back into the family of nations,” he added, “it is their job to convince the world that the whole polluted system is abhorrent to them and will never rise again on their soil. Then, and only then, can the German people take their rightful place in the post-war world erected by the nations united to defeat bandits.

“If future generations ask us what we fought for in this war, we will tell them a story about Lidice… And here is our answer to the Nazis. You did not exterminate Lidice – you gave them an eternally lasting life. You have given them a name that will live forever in the hearts and minds of free people everywhere. You have made them a symbol of the struggle for freedom – the war call of millions who value freedom more than their lives. We will not stop this struggle unless these butchers are exterminated from the face of the earth, just as the Nazis exterminated Lidice. 

“But there is a difference. Lidice is alive and rising again. Nazi ideas of degradation and enslavement of the human soul will be crushed.“

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