Steffen felt the villagers’ hatred as they peeked out of dark windows when he walked by, and knew they despised his presence. He hoped the terrors of war would stay away from Lidice after he met Julia.
Hey, German, she called him.
Fredrick was making regular rounds in the distance, and his black helmet bobbed up and down like a crow strutting around a cornfield. The radio crackled.
“Steffen, the order has come that this village is going to be targeted.”
“Targeted for what?”
“For extermination. Commander Heydrich was killed. A message the SS found hinted that the assassins had a link here.”
“What about the people?”
Fredrick remained silent.
“They can’t just kill them,” Steffen said.
“I heard the orders came from the Führer himself. The woman and children will be sent to Ravensbruck. The men killed.”
He stopped talking when Julia walked toward him. “What’s keeping you?”
“Nothing, you look beautiful.”
“You just love me because you’re lonely.”
“That is not true. It’s because you’re the prettiest girl in Czechoslovakia.”
“What about Germany?”
“Yes.” He wanted to warn her, but if she told the others, he would be killed or worse. He had seen what the SS can do.
“Can you leave here tonight? It’s going to be dangerous to stay here.”
“No. I can’t leave without telling anyone.”
“Don’t go to the town center later.”
He ran away.
A man gave instructions to bring all the residents to the center of town.
The soldiers forced the woman and children to board a truck. Julia was with them, and she was crying.
“No,” he said. He paced while the misery spread. Children called for their fathers while mothers sobbed.
A line formed to enter the trucks. He would never see her again if he didn’t do something now. He saw her blonde hair start to flutter when the wind increased. The line shuffled forward.
Blonde hair. Lebensborn.
“Major,” he yelled.
“Yes, what is it?”
“That woman with blonde hair is pregnant.” He pointed at Julia.
“Good job. Now she can have the baby in Ravensbruck.”
“I wanted to ask about her going into a Lebensborn home. She has blonde hair and blue eyes.”
The Major thought for a while. “You there.” He pointed at a soldier sitting on a stump. “Get that blonde hair girl and bring her here.”
The soldier dragged her over while she struggled to get free. “Send her back to the medical unit in Prague. Tell them that she is for the Lebensborn program.”
He forced her into the jeep.
“Steffen, where are they taking me?” Julia yelled out.
“To a safe place.”
“Why?” The jeep started forward.
“To have a baby.”
“I’m not pregnant.” The jeep drove away. He saw her look back once and hoped they wouldn’t find that out for a few months.
He heard gunshots and laughter coming from the barn. He ran toward it.
He saw Fredrick pointing his rifle at the villagers lined up in a garden at the back of the barn.
“No,” Steffen yelled, and he knocked Fredrick to the ground. The others threw him against the wall.
“Fredrick, help me stop them.”
He didn’t, and he heard the shots as they dragged him out.
The major shook his head. “It must be because you’re going to be a father. Instead of shooting you, I’m sending you to the Russian front.”
Before they took him away, he saw the soldiers burn every building until nothing was left. Lidice vanished.
Four years later
Steffen limped to where Julia’s house used to stand, reached down, and picked up a clump of purple heather. It felt soft in his hand, and filled the space left by losing two of his fingers. He put it up to his nose and hoped to smell traces of Julia.
The wind changed directions, and he heard a soft voice. A blonde-haired boy ran to him, “Mister, you want to see the garden my mother planted?”
“Steffen, leave that man alone.” It made him stop. He knew that voice. He looked up. The face looked older and the eyes emptier, but she was beautiful.
“Steffen, this is your son.”
He fell to his knees. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I tried to stop them. I’m sorry.”
She reached down and touched his face. “You saved my life.”
“But how?” he pointed at the boy.
“It turns out that I was pregnant.” Julia smiled. “They put me in the program, but I was able to get my baby back when the war ended.
The boy ran over and asked, “Are you okay, mister?”
“I’m wonderful.” He looked into her eyes.
Julia smiled and helped him up, then held his hand while they walked toward the center of Lidice, where a field of wildflowers had started to bloom.
On the orders of K. H. Frank, 173 Lidice men were shot on that fateful day in the garden of the Horak farm. The women and children were taken to the gymnasium of Kladno grammar school. Three days later, the children were taken from their mothers and, except for those selected for re-education in German families and babies under one year of age, were poisoned by exhaust gas in specially adapted vehicles in the Nazi extermination camp at Chełmno upon Nerr in Poland. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, which usually meant quick or lingering death for the inmates.
Having rid the village of its inhabitants, the Nazis began to destroy the village itself, first setting the houses on fire and then razing them to the ground with plastic explosives. They did not stop at that but proceeded to destroy the church and even the last place of rest – the cemetery. In 1943 all that remained was an empty space. Until the end of the war, the sight was marked by notices forbidding entry.
The news of the destruction of Lidice spread rapidly around the world. But the Nazi intention to wipe the little Czech village off the face of the Earth did not succeed. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today. Lidice continued to live in the minds of people all over the world, and after the war, the Czechoslovak government’s decision to build it again was declared at a peace demonstration on June 10, 1945, at Lidice, which was attended by Lidice women who had survived. 340 Lidice citizens were murdered by the Nazis, 143 Lidice women returned home after the war ended, and after a two-year search, 17 children were restored to their mothers.
Meet the Author
William Falo lives with his family, including a papillon named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter at @williamfalo and Instagram at @william.falo