Prague escaped damage during WWII, so what we see strolling along the lanes and in the town square are genuinely historic shops and churches and restaurants, rather than new versions made to look old. Just a short way from the famed Charles Bridge and the lovely Vltava River, a little-known monument memorializes Prague’s heroes of WWII. It’s in the crypt of a small church and is open to the public.
You may want to add a visit here to your Prague itinerary. Here’s the story.
Prague’s leaders chose to surrender to Hitler rather than lose their city during WWII. But some didn’t accept this and 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. After the Jews would come the citizens of Prague, according to the master plan. 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. Some of the resistance were killed in the church while some took a stand in the crypt. 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. Bullet holes pepper the walls. When you stand in the crypt, you feel how small and claustrophobic it is, just a musty basement in a neighborhood church. But the bravery that took place here was beyond measure.
Thank you notes lay scattered about, tributes 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 crypt of this church tells the story of 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.
Want to know more about Operation Anthropoid? The excellent 2016 movie Anthropoid is a gripping dramatization.