Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Heroes of Anthropoid

First Lieutenant Adolf Opálka.
Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík.
Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda.
Sargent Jan Kubiš.
Sargent Josef Bublik.
Jaroslav Svarc.
Josef Valcik.
Jan Hruby.

These are names most people will not know. Having been present for more final roll calls then I care to think about the format seems fitting to begin a discussion about these brave men. It's also veteran's day, which as it turn out isn't just a day for U.S. veterans. You'll notice not everyone has rank here either. That is because some of them were civilian resistance fighters. Some were assigned rank posthumously but I can only find mixed sources about that. These are the names of the heroes of Anthropoid.
These men were participants in Operation Anthropoid which was essentially a suicide mission to kill Reinhard Heydrich the deputy protector of Moravia and Bohemia for the Nazis. As an update, I have heard there is a feature film being made about this event called Anthropoid with some major stars. It was filmed in Prague mostly.
He was also a high-ranking SS general and all-around nasty guy. I believe he was known as "the Butcher of Prague." Hitler liked him a lot.
Read the Wikipedia entry about the assassination, it is quite a fascinating tale. The saddest part of the whole ordeal is that after the assassination the Nazis were very upset, especially when they were not able to bring the perpetrators to justice immediately. The Nazis were so enraged in fact that they destroyed entire villages in attempts to both locate the assassins as well as punish those they thought to be harboring them. The Nazis killed nearly everyone in the village of Lidice and destroyed all the buildings, it literally does not exist anymore. Some estimates say that almost 5,000 people were killed as reprisals for the assassination.
The assassins and a few other accomplices hid in an orthodox cathedral, but were eventually discovered, thanks to a traitor in their midst. It is the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. There is a Catholic church dedicated to the same two saints, but it is in a completely different part of town.

They hid in the crypt below the cathedral which is now a national memorial to these men. Most of them took cyanide capsules or shot themselves to avoid being captured by the Nazis who laid siege to the cathedral for days but were unable to get into the crypt. The last words of these men were reportedly "Nevzdáme se. Nikdy. Jsme Češi" or "We will not surrender. Never. We are Czech."

I actually have walked passed the cathedral quite a few times, but was not aware of what this simple memorial on the outer wall was all about. This is the only window in the crypt and the Germans hit it with a good amount of MG-42 fire. There are many such memorials in Prague and I don't stop to try and read all of them because, I can't.

As you can see the machine gun fire did a lot of damage to the thick walls around the window. It did not, however kill, or even hurt for that matter, the men taking refuge inside the crypt. Realistically, this damage isn't that bad. It could probably have been repaired easily but I think leaving it was the right choice.

If you know what you are looking for it is not very difficult to find the entrance to the crypt. There are some flags with paratrooper wings and an orthodox cross outside blowing in the wind. It's actually a pretty cool design. The two assassins were paratroopers for the Czechoslovak army in exile you'll find all that information in the Wikipedia entry I hope you read.

Here is a better photo of the entrance to the crypt. It says, "National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror." You can also see the cathedral in this one too. There is even a memorial near the entrance to the cathedral. When you see all the monuments in this one place you really start to get a better idea about how important these guys were. They are without a doubt national heroes, deservedly so.

This is the "traditional" entrance to the crypt. It was blocked by a giant stone and therefore impossible for the German soldiers to move. I believe they had to use dynamite to dislodge it enough to be able to get into the crypt. This entrance isn't used anymore and was not used by the men who died there. They used a small access hole in the ceiling of the crypt (or floor of the church). The slab that was blocking this entrance is in the crypt pretty much intact.
The modern entrance door to the crypt is designed to be like an aircraft wing. It symbolizes the paratroopers and some other things. There is a small museum before you get into the actual crypt with lots of interesting historical information about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the events leading up to it.

Inside the crypt there are bronze busts of each of the men. With them there is an explanation of who each man was and what he did, also when he died. These men were buried in a mass grave in Prague, so this is their final resting place. These are their tombstones.

I suppose it is somewhat fitting to have one's final resting place in a crypt. You could joke that they didn't have to go far to find a final resting place, but I really don't think that is appropriate in this case. It's also very clear that people from all over come to pay their respects to these heroes.

This destroyed section of wall contains well, wishes and prayers from dozens of people. The stairs contain all manner of small memorials. Most of them are in Czech, but not all of them are.

As you can see this note is written in English and has been placed in one of the crypt spaces behind the busts of the men. Like I said, people come from all over to pay their respects. It is a simple and unostentatious memorial. You really do have to be looking for it to find it, but once you know what you are looking for it is easy to get to and see.

Of course directly across the street from the cathedral is a pub, Krčma u Parašutistů. Basically "Paratrooper's Pub." If you happen to be a jump-qualified soldier, this might be a good place for you to have a beer. They have food too, but I didn't eat anything. They have a lunch menu, so maybe I'll go there for lunch someday.

Inside it is a fairly typical Czech pub, although with better light and more decor then what is normal for most Czech pubs. As you can see there are some decorations celebrating the Czechoslovak paratroopers and some Czech dudes enjoying a beer. This is about as authentic as it gets while still being something that won't turn tourists off. So, if you go to see the memorial, do yourself a favor and walk across the street for a beer at least. The prices aren't tourist-trap prices so at least you have that going for you.
As a special treat, I have found a youtube video of a recreation of the assassination of Heydrich. It is right here: