Eighty-eight Lidice children were separated from their mothers and deported from Czechoslovakia by the Nazi Main Race and Resettlement Authority to a transit camp in Łódź, Poland, at Gneisenaustraße 41. The children were put in a former textile factory, where two halls on the upper floor had been reserved for them.
There, they slept on a bare floor and covered themselves with what was available to them; they ate meagre food rations, and the older children looked after the younger ones—the youngest child was a mere 13 months old.
A nurse, Julia Makowska, gave evidence of the children’s maltreatment at the camp and attempted to provide better rations for them. A prisoner at the camp who could speak Czech and was a doctor, Jan Zielina, also testified to the children’s poor condition and malnutrition.
For the chief of the relocation headquarters, SS-Oberstrumbannführer Hermann Krumey, the children were an irritant. He repeatedly telegrammed Berlin, looking for a swift solution to the problem of the Lidice children that meant less work for him. His telegram sent to Gestapo Headquarters on the 22nd of June 1942 was fateful:
The Main Security Office – III B 4 –
For the attention of SS-Standartenführer Dr. Ehlich
Berlin – Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 8
Re: Deportation of 88 Czech children.
Previous records: without any note.
On the 13th of June 1942, after the known action, 88 Czech children came from the village of Lidice to Łódź without their parents. This transport had been announced by the chief of Prague Security Police and SD. The telegram was signed by the SS-Strumbannführer Fischer.
As I have received no layout of what is meant to happen to the children I am asking for complying orders. I informed IV B 4 about the coming of the children supposing that the special steps were to be made. In the meantime the Race and Resettlement Authority selected seven children suitable for Germanizing.
Krumey, in his own hand SS-Oberstrumbannführer
Finally, “special” steps were taken on those not fit for Germanization. A response to his telegram ran:
Łódź, July 2, 1942
“On the basis of a telegram from the Main Reich Security Office, 81 Czech children, who were temporarily transported to the camp Gneisenau 41, have been properly handed over in Łódź today on 2 July 1942.”
The Secret State Police
taken by: Stromberg, in his own hand SS-Hauptscharführer
This meant the final decision of the Main Reich Security Office in Berlin to hand the total of 81 children of Lidice over to the State Police department in Łódź. This order de facto meant to kill them all. The Gestapo never occupied themselves with matters of re-education or Germanizing children; this was a task for Nazi organizations like the Lebensborn or the Hitler Youth.
To lift their spirits, the Nazis encouraged the children to write postcards to their relatives. Although written in despair, they were still full of hope, gratitude, and anticipation of better times to come. All the postcards were mailed in Łódź on July the 4th 1942.
It is likely that the children met their fate with promises of good health, food, hot baths, and decent clothing. To assuage any fears they may have had, in all likelihood they walked along a well-lit corridor into a chamber reassuringly presented as a doctor’s waiting room, with posters and signs on the walls and even sweets on a table. However, once inside the converted van, the door was firmly shut and the engine was started, its exhaust outlet filling the inside of the van with lethal gas.
As the cries subsided, most likely the van was driven some four kilometres through forests to mass graves. There the children were buried alongside countless other victims. As the tide of the war turned, the Nazis exhumed and cremated the bodies in an effort to remove any trace of their crimes.
None of the above is incontrovertible, however. The nearest relatives have to closure is the circumstantial evidence provided by the testimony of Polish gardener Andrzej Miszak, who worked outside the Chełmno camp. As a witness at the Nuremberg Trials, he detailed an account of the “Czech children” arriving in lorries outside the extermination camp in the summer of 1942:
“I saw the SS men pull children out of the lorries, ranging from the youngest toddlers to maybe 14 years of age. The children were arrayed in quadruple file and led into the camp, which was surrounded by a fence about two metres high. I saw through the open gate how they led them to the mansion inside the camp… it may be that they arrived from Łódź. From the windows of my house, I saw clearly that the children (had] taken off their clothes and underwear and that they stood naked by the windows of the mansion inside the camp not far away.”