The US town of Crest Hill commemorates the Lidice massacre

Lidice Memorial Park at Crest Hill |  Photo: Jan Kaliba, Czech Radio

As the tones of My Country by Bedřich Smetana come out of the loudspeakers, three men in Sokol uniforms carry the American and Czech flags on a stone slab. It reads that it is in memory of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice and its citizens who were massacred by the Nazis on June 10, 1942.

Lidice’s annual commemoration was held at Crest Hill earlier this week on the occasion of a visit by the Czech Senate delegation. It was only two days after the Lidice horror that a local property entrepreneur, Dominic Romano, named a part of town where he owned land as Lidice.

Destruction of Lidice |  Photo: CT24

A month later, in July 1942, thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against the atrocities and set up a memorial dedicated to Lidice. A local Czech-American resident, like Vera Wilt, says it was an act of defiance:

Tina Oberlin, John Přitasil and Vera Wilt |  Photo: Jan Kaliba, Czech Radio

“Thinking that when Hitler said he would wipe the name of Lidice off the face of the earth, Americans and other people around the world took it as a challenge and said: No, that’s not not the case !

“It was a knee-jerk reaction, it came from the heart, not from the mind. They just thought: We can’t allow this to happen. We will build the monument.

The original Crest Hill memorial has since been replaced with a new one, but it still stands in a small park in a residential area that has been named Lidice for 80 years.

The story touched not just Czech Americans, but all residents of Crest Hill, including Tina Oberlin:

Lidice Memorial Park at Crest Hill |  Photo: Jan Kaliba, Czech Radio

“I grew up a few doors down and used to come here as a kid to play and ride my bike. And every year when they had a memorial service, I watched it. Even though I didn’t speak the language, I I always understood the meaning. It was obvious to me, even as a child.

“Flash forward several decades, I became a member of city hall, and when the mayor asked me to help him, I jumped in with both feet because it meant so much to me.”

The memorial is maintained by local Czech Americans and the land it stands on is owned by the Czechoslovakian Museum in Cedar Rapids.

John Pritasil, President of the Czechoslovak American Congress, says Lidice’s legacy is still extremely important to the community:

“The interest of the monument was that people would not forget. Because, as they say, those who forget are doomed to repeat history. This is what is happening now in Ukraine.

Lidice Memorial Park at Crest Hill |  Photo: Jan Kaliba, Czech Radio

“The Czech community has always remembered that. We were brought up with it, we discovered Lidice at school and we took it upon ourselves to ensure that the story was passed on.

A large-scale anniversary commemoration is planned for Crest Hill this Sunday, exactly 80 years since the neighborhood was named after Lidice. A similar commemoration is also planned in Phillips, Wisconsin, where another Lidice memorial was erected during the war.

Berta D. Wells