Orwell Diaries 1938-1942


[The Germans announce over the wireless that as the inhabitant of a Czech village called Ladice° (about 1200 inhabitants) were guilty of harbouring the assassins of Heydrich they have shot all the males in the village, sent all the women to concentration camps, sent all the children to be “re-educated”, razed the whole village to the ground and changed its name. I am keeping a copy of the announcement, as recorded in the BBC morning report.]

From the BBC monitoring report: –


Heydrich Revenge: Village Wiped Out: All Men Shot: ANNOUNCEMENT

It is officially announced: The search and investigation for the murderers of S.S. Obergruppenfuehrer Gen. Heydrich [1] has established unimpeachable indications (sic) that the population of the locality of Lidice, near Kladno, supported and gave assistance to the circle (sic) of perpetrators in question. In spite of the interrogation of the local inhabitants, the pertinent means of evidence were secured without the help of the population. The attitude of the inhabitants to the outrage thus manifested, is manifested also by other acts hostile to the Reich, by the discoveries of printed matter hostile to the Reich, of dumps of arms and ammunition, of an illegal wireless transmitter, of huge quantities of controlled goods, as well as by the fact that inhabitants of the locality are in active enemy service abroad. Since the inhabitants of this village (sic) have flagrantly violated the laws which have been issued, by their activity and by the support given to the murderers of S.S. Obergruppenfuehrer Heydrich, the male adults have been shot, the women have been sent to a concentration camp and the children have been handed over to the appropriate educational authorities. The buildings of the locality have been levelled to the ground, and the name of the community has been obliterated.

(Note: This is an identical repetition, in German, of an announcement made in Czech, from Prague at 19.00, when reception was very bad).

It does not particularly surprise me that people do this kind of thing, nor even that they announce that they are doing them. What does impress me, however, is that other people’s reaction to such happenings is governed solely by the political fashion of the moment. Thus before the war the pinks believed any and every horror story that came out of Germany or China. Now the pinks no longer believe in German or Japanese atrocities and automatically write off all horror stories as “propaganda”. In a little while you will be jeered at if you suggest that they story of Lidice could possibly be true. And yet there the facts are, announced by the Germans themselves and recorded on gramophone discs which no doubt will still be available. Cf. the long list of atrocities from 1914 onwards [German atrocities in Belgium, Bolshevik atrocities, Turkish atrocities, British atrocities in India, American atrocities in Nicaragua, Nazi atrocities, Italian atrocities in Abyssinia and Cyrenaica, red and white atrocities in Spain, Japanese atrocities in China [2] – – – ] in every case believed in or disbelieved in according to  political predilection, with utter non-interest in the facts and with complete willingness to alter one’s beliefs as soon as the political scene alters.



Atrocities (post 1918)

Date                      Believed in by the Right                                                                Believed in by the Left

1920                       Turkish atrocities (Smyrna)                                          Turkish atrocities (Smyrna)

1920                       Sinn Fein atrocities                                                          Black and Tan atrocities

(circa)                    Bolshevik atrocities                                                         British atrocities in India (Amritsar)

1923                                                                                                                       French atrocities (the Ruhr)

1928                                                                                                                       American atrocities (Nicaragua)

1933                       Bolshevik atrocities (White Sea canal etc.)

1934 – 9                                                                                                                German atrocities

1935                                                                                                                       Italian atrocities (Abyssinia)

1936-9                   Red atrocities in Spain                                                    Fascist atrocities in Spain

1937                       Bolshevik atrocities (the purges)                                               Japanese atrocities [3]

1939                       German atrocities                                                            British atrocities (Isle of Man etc) [4]

et seq.

1941                       Japanese atrocities

et seq.


[1] Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), head of the Reich Main Security Office (the Gestapo, criminal police, and SS Security Service), deputy to Heinrich Himmler, leading organiser of the Nazi ‘final solution,’ was appointed ‘Protector of Bohemia and Moravia’ in September 1941. On 27 May 1942, he was wounded by Czech patriots trained in England and died on 4 June. In reprisal, the village of Lidice was ‘exterminated.’ The population had been about 2,000, very few survived. Humphrey Jennings made a deeply moving film of the incident, as if it had occurred in the Welsh village of Ystradgynlais (The Silent Village, 1943), as part of the British government’s propaganda towards the defeat of Nazism. A copy of the pamphlet describing the film is in Orwell’s collection of pamphlets, now in the British Library. Throughout his manuscript, Orwell spells the village ‘Ladice.’

[2] Orwell had written to Hsiao Ch’ien on 14 January 1942 asking for ‘one talk on the ordinary atrocity lines’ in connection with the Japanese invasion of China. This was broadcast on 26 February 1942.

[3] The manuscript and typewritten versions differ slightly. Thus, as well as the White Sea Canal, Orwell includes the Ukraine famine, and as well as Abyssinia he includes Cyrenaica, and Nanking is specifically listed as a Japanese atrocity. Against British atrocities he includes the SS Dunera.

Under the Government Regulation 18B, because of exaggerated fears that amongst those who had come to Britain as refugees, especially from Nazi Germany, there were concealed spies and saboteurs, thousands of innocent people were interned on the Isle of Man. Although bitterly ironic, this hardly amounted to an atrocity in the grim scale of such horrors. The deporting of Jews on the S.S. Dunera to Australia on similar grounds was also misconceived, and led to treatment that was cruel as well as stupid.