Neither Experiment Nor Museum
Basket of Figs, May, 2007
Every once in a while I get the urge to clean out my garage. It doesn’t happen too often but it came upon me the other day and I went through a bunch of boxes, transferring their contents to trash bags, if I deemed the contents no longer needed, and putting stuff I wanted to save into plastic containers.
I came across a number of issues of Saturday Evening Post from the 1960’s. I lived through that era. Those days were not the “Good Old Days,” but I was struck with the difference in the way things were viewed then than now.
I browsed through the June 25,1960, issue with great interest. The front cover was by John Falter, a painting of Peachtree Street in Atlanta, prominently featuring a yellow convertible, open, with the top down, and four headlights in the front, and fins in the back. It was stopped at an intersection with people crossing. There was also a red Model A Ford pickup in the opposite lane. Trolley busses passed in both directions. On the back cover Kodak offered for $19.95 a “Brownie Starmeter” with a “sensitive ‘electic eye’ “ that was “built right in!” so that perfect pictures could be obtained every time.
But it was an article on Nazi atrocities that made the greatest impression on me. It was a story about two young men who had parachuted into Czechoslovakia in 1942 in order to kill the S.S. Gen. Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was a brutal Nazi thug who ruled Czechoslovakia with clubs and brutality. The Nazis tried to project the myth of superman invincibility, and the Czech intelligence service thought that the execution of Heydrich would help in the propaganda war and stiffen resistance not only in Czechoslovakia but also in other parts of Europe. In 1942 it was not at all clear that Hitler and the Nazis could be stopped.
The two Czech heroes, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabchik, tossed their grenade close enough to mortally wound Heydrich and he would die several days later from his wounds. The Nazis were furious. Kubis and Gabchik were hidden by relatives for a number of days, but were finally betrayed by Sgt. Karel Curda who hoped to gain money and protect his family from the Nazis. He was executed by the restored Czech government in 1946.
The Nazis vowed revenge. The whole village of Lidice, a few miles outside Prague, would pay for the crime of hiding and aiding Kubis and Gabdhik. I quote from the Post article.
All the men and boys were taken from their houses, lined up against the wall of a barn and shot. All the women and children were piled into trucks and driven off to concentration camps. Then the Nazis razed the village to the ground.
The 173 boys and men were buried in a pit. Those returning from work in the mines were arrested and shot. One escaped to the woods, but he, too, was arrested and shot. One man was in the hospital with a broken leg, but he recovered in October. He was then shot. Most of the women died in the concentration camps. Eighty-two children were killed; a few were adopted by German families and were located by the Red Cross after the war.
The world reacted against the Nazis over the horror of Lidice. A Mexican village and an American town took the name of Lidice. People resolved that Nazism must be destroyed. Allied crews painted “Lidice” on the turrets of their tanks and “Lidice” was chalked on the blockbusting bombs dropped from the skies by Allied bombers.
The article in the Post, written almost twenty years after the tragedy at Lidice did not agonize over why the Nazis hated us so much. There was no trashing of the American military or the military of our allies. The moans of the morally bankrupt, “We have done things just as bad,” were absent. It was a day when America and the West could feel horror at cruelty and war on civilians. But we have become soft, perhaps, as we read every day of bombs in buses, shopping centers, mosques, and airliners. Will we have our Lidice? I wonder.