In A Nutshell
The Nazis enjoyed inflicting the ultimate torture on Jewish parents, watching their children being taken from them to be abused and die. In Lodz, Poland, children under 10 were voluntarily given up by the residents for extermination, supposedly to save others (who were later killed anyway). But the children’s names and faces are mostly forgotten now. Marie Uchytilova did not want the children of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, to be forgotten that way. On the site where the village originally stood, she created a haunting sculpture to honor the memories of the 82 Lidice children who were gassed to death by the Nazis at Chelmno in 1942 in retaliation for the assassination of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich.
The Whole Bushel
As dramatized in the movie Sophie’s Choice, the Nazis often made a sick game of having the Jews choose which of their own to kill. The Nazis also enjoyed inflicting the ultimate torture on Jewish parents, watching their children being taken from them to be abused and die.
In the Lodz ghetto in Poland, about 160,000 Jews were isolated from the rest of the city by a barbed-wire fence. Many of them were used as forced labor to produce goods—including German army uniforms—in the approximately 100 factories inside the ghetto’s borders. With little food, no running water or sewage system, and extreme overcrowding, over 30,000 Jews perished from the horrendous conditions alone.
The chairman of the ghetto’s Jewish council, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, believed that he could save the residents if he could make them produce as much as possible at the factories. Rumkowski hoped that being useful to the Nazis would spare the ghetto’s people until they could be liberated.
He was wrong. The Nazis tasked him with choosing whom to deport from the ghetto for certain death. He chose the sick, the old, and children younger than 10—all those who couldn’t work and prove their value to the Nazis.
On September 4, 1942, Rumkowski gave a speech to his people asking for their cooperation. “They demand what is most dear to [us],” he said. “Children and old people. [ . . . ] In my old age, I am forced to stretch out my hands and to beg: ‘Brothers and sisters, give them to me! Fathers and mothers, give me your children. [ . . . ] Give me these sick people, and perhaps it will be possible to save the healthy in their place.’ [ . . . ] Common sense requires us to know that those must be saved who can be saved and who have a chance of being saved and not those whom there is no chance to save in any case.”
The sick, the old, and the children were deported to Chelmno to be gassed in vans. The healthy, including Rumkowski, were mostly deported and murdered over the next couple years. Their survival strategy had not worked.
The names and faces of so many of those children have been forgotten by the public over the years, replaced by a cold, clinical number to record their deaths. Marie Uchytilova wanted the children of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, to be commemorated more appropriately.
On the site where the village originally stood, she created a haunting sculpture to honor the memories of the 82 children of Lidice who were gassed to death at Chelmno by the Nazis during World War II. Eighty-two bronze statues, 42 girls and 40 boys, forever remind us of how the innocent were massacred in 1942.
The children and their families were destroyed in retaliation for the assassination of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, a ruthless, hated authority in Czechoslovakia. In a mission code-named Operation Anthropoid, two Czechs, who were trained by the British, ambushed Heydrich in May 1942 as he was driving his car to work. He died about a week later from the septicemia related to his injuries.
Hitler immediately ordered mass killings in Czechoslovakia to avenge Heydrich’s death. Hitler also wanted severe reprisals to be carried out against any village that had harbored the assassins. To the residents of the implicated villages, four things would happen: The adult men would be killed, the adult women would be taken to concentration camps, the children who looked Aryan would be “Germanized” (i.e., raised by German families) and the remaining children killed, and the village would be destroyed.
Even though there was no real evidence that Lidice had harbored the fugitive assassins, the Nazis targeted the village in June 1942 because one local family had a son in the Czech army in England. The Nazis made good on their threat. The men were shot and the women deported, with any pregnancies forcibly aborted. Even the village graves were dug up and the previously interred bones destroyed. The rest of the village was leveled.
The children were dumped in an unused factory in Lodz. From there, certain children were chosen for Germanization. The remaining children, 82 in all, were taken to the Chelmno extermination camp and gassed. Only 17 of the 105 children who were rounded up that day ever returned alive to see Lidice again. The fate of six appears to be unknown. The remaining 82 will inhabit the village forever as haunting bronze statues with their frightened, sad faces waiting for the parents who will never return to them.