Pay respects to the heroes of World War II

Pay respects to the heroes of World War II

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

Just a short way from the famed Charles Bridge and the lovely Vltava River in Prague is a little-known monument memorializes Prague’s heroes of WWII. This monument, open to the public, is in the crypt of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church. While exploring Prague, check out this piece of history that tells a great story.

Prague’s leaders chose to surrender to Hitler rather than lose their city during WWII, but some didn’t accept this. Instead, they organized a resistance movement. The group was small and suffered from a lack of radios and contact with the Allies, but they claimed one amazing feat – the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the third most powerful Nazi leader.

Heydrich, General of Police, was in charge of Prague. He was ruthless in pursuit of disloyal townspeople. He earned the nickname, “The Butcher of Prague,” due to relentless arrests and murders of the locals. He was also a leading architect of “The Final Solution,” recommending that all Jews be killed. Taking Heydrich out would be a serious blow to the Nazi cause and would possibly save many lives in Prague.

The assassination plot, code-named Operation Anthropoid, called for Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, two young Czechs in exile in England, to parachute back into Prague and shoot Heydrich. On June 4, 1942, Gabcik jumped in front of Heydrich’s open-top limousine and pointed his Sten Gun, but the gun jammed. Kubis went into action with the backup plan and threw a grenade at the car. He missed Heydrich but hit a corner of the car. The paratroopers ran away through the smoke, thinking they had failed.

Then, Heydrich died from his wounds. Gabcik and Kubis hid in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church with others who assisted in the assassination. Resistance members were tortured until they gave up the location.

The Germans invaded the church and a long battle ensued. Intending to take the paratroopers alive, the Germans tried to shoot their way into the crypt. When that failed, they flooded the crypt from city fire hoses to flush out the men. At that point, the paratroopers knew they couldn’t escape, so rather than be captured, they committed suicide.

The crypt today shows clear signs of the battle with bullet holes peppering the walls. Though standing in it is small, musty and claustrophobic, the bravery that took place here was beyond measure.

Thank you notes lay scattered about as a tribute to these young men who gave themselves in hopes of saving others. Groups of school children and tourists come here to learn about this story of Czech resistance to evil.

The tiny museum outside the crypt tells the story of Operation Anthropoid. On display are items like Jan Kubis’ shoe and one of the guns used in the battle.

The vault of this church honors the seven men who held off the German war machine in a local church for six hours. The paratroopers and those who aided and hid them gave their lives to cut off a leader who randomly and methodically killed innocents.

It’s well worth a visit and their courage leaves you with much to mull over.

Want to know more about Operation Anthropoid? Watch the 2016 movie Anthropoid.

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