Last week saw the premier of the film HHhH (or Smrtihlav in Czech). The film tells the incredibly powerful story of 2 soldiers (one Czech and one Slovakian), who walked boldly into the path of Reinhard Heydrich’s oncoming car with the intention of ending his life. Their story was also the inspiration for the widely acclaimed 2016 film Anthropoid, which was shot in Prague.
Reinhard Heydrich played a critical role in devising the “final solution” and if he had not been stopped, he would certainly have continued with his horrendous plans to enslave, imprison and murder millions of Jews and Slavic people throughout Europe. It has been estimated that up to half of the Czech population would not be alive today had it not been for the courageous actions of the 2 soldiers. Today, the Czech nation is hugely proud of the heroes who stood up to fight against a brutal and evil Nazi regime, giving hope to a population which was beaten, demoralised and afraid.
Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik had been trained for Operation Anthropoid as part of a team based in Great Britain and the pair parachuted into Bohemia in December 1941. The assassination took place on the morning of May 27th 1942, with Heydrich being targeted whilst being driven through Prague’s Kobylisy district. Unfortunately, the operation didn’t quite go as anticipated for Gabcik and Kubis. Gabcik had intended to shoot Heydrich but the pair was forced to improvise when his gun jammed at the critical moment. Kubis instead threw a grenade into Heydrich’s car and the resultant explosion injured not only Heydrich but also Kubis himself. Despite being chased down by Heydrich’s driver, both parachutists escaped the scene with only minor injuries. Reinhard Heydrich died several days later of septicaemia, after he refused to allow himself to be operated on by none-German surgeons.
June 10th this year marked the 75th anniversary of the horrendous Lidice massacre, which saw the Czech village of Lidice completely annihilated by Nazi forces. On June 10th 1942, all men living in the village of Lidice were shot. The women and children were rounded up and taken to the local school, where terrified children were seperated from their families. The women and hildren were eventually transported to concentration camps, where many of them were subsequently killed in the gas chambers. 4 pregnant women who were living in the village at the time were driven to a local hospital, where they were forced to undergo abortions before being taken to concentration camps. This depraved and barbaric act was undertaken to avenge the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.
What Happened to the Parachutists?
For 3 weeks following the assassination, the parachutists were kept hidden in the crypt of The Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius, as Nazi forces lead a zealous manhunt to track them down. However, they were eventually betrayed. Gabcik and Kubis ended up taking their own lives, along with many of the brave people who had attempted to hide them, as the church was descended upon by around 700 Nazi troops.
The village of Lidice was rebuilt in 1949. A cross with a crown of thorns marks the mass grave of the Lidice men. A memorial consisting of 82 bronze statues of children stands on the site of the original village and commemorates the children of Lidice who lost their lives in Chelmno Concentration Camp.
International reaction and sympathy in the aftermath of the Lidice massacre was massive. Towns such as San Jeronimo Lidice in Mexico and Barrio Lidice in Venezuela were renamed in an attempt to make sure that the spirit of Lidice lived on despite Hitler’s best efforts to destroy it. In 1949, coal miners in Stoke-on-Trent (UK) set up the organisation “Lidice Shall Live”, in order to raise money for the village’s reconstruction and there is a Lidice memorial in Phillips, Wisconsin. A neighbourhood in Illinois is named Lidice, there is a Lidice Square in the English city of Coventry and a Lidice street in Santiago, Chile.
The Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius is now also known as “The Heydrich Terror Memorial” and is home to a small and highly informative museum. The museum tells the story of the parachutists, Operation Anthropoid, the assassination and the horrific events of its aftermath. It’s possible to enter the crypt where Gabcik and Kubis were hidden, which is a really moving and emotional experience.
- The Museum can be found Resslova 9a Prague 1 (entry from Na Zderaze street). The closest Metro Station is Karlovo Namesti (B Line).
- The Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5pm and the entrance fee is just 75CZK.