Bohuslav Martinu's Memorial to Lidice: Remembering a Czech Town Obliterated by the Nazis

Apr 23, 2017

On June 10th, 1942, Nazis swept in and obliterated the village outside of Prague. They killed the men, sent the women and most of the children to concentration camps, and burnt or leveled the entire town—even the cemetery.

Why? The week before, elite forces had assassinated one of the chief architects of the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” So Hitler then ordered the extermination of the little village, which just happened to be near that attack. Its name was Lidice.

Bohuslav Martinu composed this Memorial to Lidice in 1943. He was living in Connecticut, but was from Czechoslovakia. Living in Paris, his star was on the rise. But with the Germans advancing, he fled for the United States.

The Memorial to Lidice crashes two different tonalities together, and the tension never leaves. But Martinu was also fond of old Czech or Bohemian tunes throughout his life, and a hymn to Wenceslaus, the martyred patron saint of Bohemia, appears. We also hear the so-called “fate” motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

There’s a new village called Lidice now - near the old one. Statues and children’s art competitions remind us of what happened here. And so does this music of Bohuslav Martinu, the Memorial to Lidice.

In this video, The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Martinu's Memorial to Lidice with Christoph Eschenbach conducting. The video images are hard to watch. We must never forget the people of Lidice.