I received an e-mail from my friend Mike today. He writes:
"I'm on a one man crusade not to let the horrific happenings of 10 June 1942 be forgotten. The media isn't interested ('We don't publish poetry in our editorial pages,' said one snooty local newspaper editor), and most other Americans have forgotten the little village of Lidice.
It seems that today her words are all the more important. I hope you'll take the time to read, weep, and remember."
Here is an article by Franklin W. Adams of the Writers' War Board, taken from the October 17, 1942 issue of the Saturday Review of Literature:
Among the many projects of the Writers’ War Board, the focus-point of a group of American writers, thousands in number, is the effort to make clear to all citizens of the United Nations the meaning of the word “Lidice.” When that meaning is understood by every American, we never will stop short of total victory.
On June 10, 1942, the German Government announced with pride that its specially selected murderers had destroyed the small village of Lidice, Czecho-Slovakia; killed every man and fifty-two women, driven the surviving women to concentration camps, and forced the children into so-called educational institutions. Lidice. They said, was now forever blotted out from memory. They did this because of an unproved suspicion that the village had sheltered the murderers of Heydrich the Hangman.
Two days after the news of Lidice reached America, the Writers’ War Board, at its regular meeting, resolved to do everything it could to keep the name and memory of Lidice from ever being forgotten. One thing was to ask Edna St. Vincent Millay to write a poem about Lidice. She answered with a long, dramatic narrative poem,, “The Murder of Lidice,” part of which is herewith published, by special arrangement with Life, which is publishing a large extract from the poem in its current issue. The radio version, substantially the same as that to be published by Harper’s on October 25, at a price well within popular reach ($.60), is to have its premiere on the evening of October 19, over the National Broadcasting Company network. It will be obvious that the verses were written more with a view to being heard than being read.
The ceremonies will be presided over by Mr. Alexander Woollcott. Well-known actors and actresses will be featured.
And here is the poem:
The Murder of Lidice
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
It was all of six hundred years ago,
It was seven and if a day,
That a village was built which you may know
By the name of Lidice.
Not a stick, not a stake and stone remain
To mark where the fair Danubian plain
Was rich in cattle and rich in grain
In far Bohemia,
In a village called Lidice.
(At least, that is what they say)
But all of the villagers worked as one
(As ever since then these folks have done)
To build them a village to sit in the sun
As long as the Danube River should run
Through far Bohemia:
And they named it Lidice…
They built them a church and they built them a mill.
And on the fair Danubian plain,
For to shrive their souls and to grind their grain,
And to feed them wholesomely.. .
And close together like swallows’ nests
They built their houses on the low crests
Of the banks of the river that turned the mill.
And each man helped his neighbor to lay
The stones of his house, and to lift its beams;
Till strong in its timbers and tight in its seams
A village arose called Lidice…
How did the year turn, how did it run,
In a village like Lidice?
First came Spring, with planting and sowing;
Then came Summer, with haying and hoeing;
Then came Autumn, and the Harvest Home
And always in Winter, with its brief bright day,
Toward the end of the quiet afternoon.
(Children at school, but cominging home soon.
With crisp young voices loud and gay;
Husband at Kladno, miles away.
But home for supper, expected soon)
Toward the end of the Winter afternoon…
The wise, kind hands and contented face
Of a woman at the window, making lace…
A peaceful place … a happy place…
How did the year turn–how did it run
In the year of nineteen-forty-one?–
In a village called Lidice?
First came Spring, with planting and sowing;
Then came Summer, with haying and hoeing:
Then came Autumn, and the Harvest Home…
Then came Heydrich the Hangman, the Hun…
“Mirko, the Rakos barns are full;
It’s time to harvest the sugar beets.”
“Hush with your clack while a man eats!
I’ll think of the harvest and sugar beets
When the evening meal is done.
I’ve much on my mind, wife–I heard say
From the metal-workers in Kladno today
That Heydrich the Hangman comes our way–
God’s curse on him!”
“Husband, the things you say!
Heydrich’s but Hitler’s tool.”
What do you take me for,–a fool?
God’s curse on him, anyway.
“Cross yourself, Mirko!” “I did.” “And pray.”
“I’ll pray when my supper’s done.”
Husband…why is your face so grey?”
My face is grey from fear.
Heydrich the Hangman died today
Of his wounds, the men in Kladno say.”
Good riddance to wicked rubbish, I say…
No man was he, but a ravening beast…
Do they know who killed him?”
“Not yet, they say:
Though they’ve smoked him out for many a day…
But they claim we hid him here.”
“Here? Here in Lidice?”
“Here in Lidice.”
“If I knew where they hid, I’d not give them away”
“Yes… All of the village feels that way.
But heavy’s the price we’ll have to pay,
If they’re not found, I fear.
How it will turn I could not learn…
But my face with fear is grey.”
An officer walked in Wilson Street,
A German officer jaunty and smart;
A sabre-cut on his cheek he bore,
And tailored well were the clothes he wore,
His uniform dapper and smart.
And he hummed a waltz, as he strolled toward
A group of men by a high bill-board.
And he smiled and softly stopped in his tracks
As he studied the stooped and troubled backs
Of poor men reading the word ‘Reward!”
(REWARD! … REWARD! … REWARD! … REWARD!
TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND CROWNS IN GOLD!
FOR INFORMATION LEADING TOWARD
THE CAPTURE OF THE COWARDLY AND RUTHLESS KILLERS
OF REINHARD HEYDRICH!
HEYDRICH THE PURE IN HEART!)
He looked at their backs and smiled, and thought,
“Heydrich’s killer’s as good as caught!”
For well he knew what money can do
To a poor man’s mind (and a rich man’s, too–
For the more a man owns the more he owes,
And the more he must have, and so it goes).
They marched them out to the public square.
Two hundred men in a row;
And every step of the distance there,
Each stone in the road, each man did know–
And every alley in doorway where
As a carefree boy, not long ago,
With boys of his age he would hide and run
And shout, in the days when everyone
Was safe, and free,–and school was out…
Not very long ago…
And he felt on his face the soft June air,
And thought, “This cannot be so!”
The friendly houses, the little inn
Where times without number he had been
Of an evening, and talked with his neighbors there
Of planting and politics– (not a chair
At any table he had not sat in)
And welcomed the newcomer coming in
With nod of greeting, of “Look, who’s here!”–
Spoken friendly across the rim
Of a mug of Pilsen beer…
And the men he had greeted with loving shout,
And talked about football with, and about
The crops. and how to keep Hitler out…
Were lined up with him here…
And one man thought of the sunny row
In his garden, where he had left his hoe;
And one man thought of the walnut trees
He had climbed, and the day he broke his arm,
But it had not hurt, as his mind hurt now–
How happy his boyhood, how free from harm!
And one who was dying opened his eyes,
For he smelled smoke, and stared at the skies
Cloudy and lurid with smoke and flame;
From every building it billowed; it came
From every roof, and out it burst
From every window,–none was the first;
From every window about him burst
The terrible shape of flame,
And clawed at the sky, and leapt to the ground,
And ran through the village with a crackling sound
And a sudden roar where a roof fell in
And he thought of his mother, left alone
In the house, not able to rise from her chair;
And he got to his elbows, and tried to crawl
To his home, across the blood in the square,
But at every step did slip and fall,
For the slippery blood was everywhere.
Oh, many a faithful dog that day
Stood by his master’s body at bay.
And tugged at the sleeve of an arm outflung;
Or laid his paws on his master’s breast,
With panting jaws and whimpering cries,
Gazing into his glazing eyes
And licking his face with loving tongue;
Nor would from his dead friend depart,
Till they kicked in his ribs and crushed his heart…
The women and children out to the Square
They marched, that there they might plainly see
How mighty a state is Germany–
That can drag from his bed unawake, unaware,
Unarmed, a man, to be murdered where
His wife and children must watch and see;
Then carted them off in truck and cart
Into Germany, into Germany,–
The wives to be slaves of German men;
The children to start life over again,
In German schools, to German rules,–
As butchers’ apprentices,
And hail and salute the master mind
Of the world’s chief butcher of human-kind…
They knocked on the door where a young wife bore
Her first, her last man-child;
She heard them coming down Wilson Street,
She heard from the square the machine-gun shots
That told her her man was dead;
And she bit and tied in a slippery knot
The cord of the fine man-child he’d got,
And slung him under the bed…
She rose on trembling arms to greet
The men who entered Wilson Street;
‘There’s nobody here but me!” she cried;
And her eyes were bright and hot in her head…
“I’m far too sick of the fever,” she said,
“Into Germany, into Germany
For to be marched or led…”
But the baby wailed from under the bed–
And they by the heels with a harsh shout
Did drag him out–but the baby bled–
So against the wall they banged his head,
While the mother clawed at their clothes and screamed,
And screamed and screamed, till they shot her dead.
Now, not a stake was left on a stone,
Nor the frame of a window-sill
Where a woman could lean in the dusk alone,
Her arms aware of the warmth of the stone,–
In Lidice, in Lidice–
Yet they say that it stands there still!
Yes, those who have been there solidly say
That every night when the moon is right,
That during the tenth of June all day,
And thin and strange when the sun sets
And the moon comes out, Ste. Margaret’s–
Spire and nave and people at prayer
Are plainly seen and you can pass
Your hand through the beautiful colored glass
And draw it back… and no blood there!
And they say that men of an evening meet
And talk together in Wilson Street
And draw deep breaths of the air…
Though Wilson Street with the rest of the town
Burned down on the tenth of June, burned down,
And there is nothing there…
The Germans say there is nothing there.
Good people, all from our graves we call
To you, so happy and free;
Whether ye live in a village small
Or in a city with buildings tall,
Or the sandy lonesome beach of the sea,
Or the woody hills, or the flat prairie;
Hear us speak; oh, dear what we say;
We are the people of Lidice.
Hear us speak; oh, hear what we say.
Who and where soever ye be…
Unless you would die as we!
Dead mouths of men once happy as you,
As happy as you and as free,
Till they entered our country and slaughtered and slew,
And made us do what we hated to do,
And then–oh, never forget the day!–
On the tenth of June in ‘42
They murdered the village of Lidice!
Dead men, dead men,
Up through the ashes of Lidice
Telling you not to be caught as they
All in the morning of a June day
Were caught, and shot and put out of the way…
(At least, that is what they say)
Telling you not to eat or drink
One morsel of food, one swallow of drink
Before you think, before you think
What is the best way
To keep your country from the foe you hate–
Keep it from sloping bit by bit
Down to what is the death of it–
The whole world holds in its arms today
The murdered Village of Lidice,
Like the murdered body of a little child
Happy and innocent, caught at play,
The murdered body, stained and defiled,
Tortured and mangled, of a helpless child,–
And moans of vengeance frightful to hear
From the throat of a world, must reach his ear.
The maniac killer who still runs wild,
Where he sits, wah his long and cruel thumbs,
Eating pastries, rolling the crumbs
Into bullets (for the day is always near
For another threat, another fear,
Another killing of the gentle and mild)
But a moaning whine of vengeance comes,
Sacred vengeance awful and dear;
From the throat of a world that has been too near
And seen too much, at last too much–
Whines of vengeance sacred and dear,
For the murdered body of a helpless child–
And terrible sobs unreconciled!
Careless America, crooning a tune!–
Catch him! Catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!
Think a moment: are we immune?
Oh, my country, so foolish and dear,
Scornful America. crooning a tune,
Think. Think: are we immune?–
Catch him, catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!
Ask yourself, ask yourself: What have we done?–
Who, after all. are we?–
That we should sit at ease in the sun,
The only country, the only one,
Unmolested and free?
Catch him! Catch him! Do not wait!
Or will you wait, and share the fate
Of the village of Lidice?
Or will you wait, and let him destroy
The Village of Lidice, Illinois?
Oh, catch him! Catch him, and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!