Saturday, June 18, 2016

18 June 1942: Heydrich Assassins Killed in Prague Church

Following the assassination of the "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, the members of the Czechoslovak paratroop teams went to ground as the Nazis frantically searched for the killers. By mid-June, the Germans were getting desperate: neither the manhunt nor the vicious reprisals, such as the destruction of the village of Lidice, had succeeded in bringing forth the necessary information.

Realizing that the terror might be having the opposite of the intended effect, the more shrewd among the authorities made a final offer, guaranteeing immunity for anyone who came forward by a final deadline of 18 June. A flood of statements came in, including one that identified the assassins by name. The anonymous author was one of the paratroopers, Karel Čurda. Still the Nazis could not find the killers. On 16 June, Čurda went in person to Gestapo headquarters and turned himself in. Although he did not know the hiding place of the assassins, he did reveal the existence of safe houses that had aided the paratroopers. Under torture, the confessions of one of the adolescent residents mentioned the Orthodox cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in downtown Prague. Early on the morning of the 18th, the Nazis surrounded the church. In the course of a lengthy battle, all seven paratroopers there fell in combat or committed suicide. (details in an archived post here)

Since the fall of communism, the cathedral has officially and publicly commemorated the terrible events. In 2002, the Memorial to the Victims of the Heydrich Terror became "A National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror--a Place of Reconciliation." Each year, on the anniversary of the battle, a national commemoration takes place  on the street in front of a memorial plaque on the bullet-pocked wall.

To the accompaniment of martial music and the Czech and Slovak national anthems, soldiers lay wreaths dedicated by a succession of persons, from major political figures and dignitaries to veterans and their families or ordinary citizens.

Here, Czech soldiers practice wreath-laying gestures before the ceremony, 2011.

Here, an honor guard of Czech soldiers lines up in preparation for the ceremony, 2011.

By the end of the ceremony, the sidewalk is covered with flowers and inscribed ribbons.

The event concludes with a brief mass in the church, after which the exhibit hall and the memorial in the crypt, are opened to the public, free of charge. Despite the awkward location, in a narrow and busy urban space, it is one of the simplest but most moving memorial ceremonies that it has been my privilege to attend.

[updated video, stills]

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