Anthropoid – Victory, Defeat and Remembrance
In the past I’ve written about the Church of St Cyril and St Methodius and the single event in World War Two history that was called Operation Anthropoid. There’s a lot involved in the story including bravery, betrayal, sacrifice, justice and inspiration. Largely it’s the story of seven brave men that fought to the end and lost their lives but it’s much more than that. It’s a fascinating place and I’ve visited several times so now I decided to write about my most recent visit.
What’s the Plot?
In October 1941 the present day Czech Republic was known as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a man called Reinhard Heydrich was made Deputy Reichsprotector in Prague. Between December 1941 and March 1942 several British-trained Czech/Slovak soldiers were parachuted into the country to support the local resistance and to assassinate Heydrich. The Heydrich assassination attempt on May 26th 1942 was initially thought to be unsuccessful but he died on June 4th. The Nazis unleashed retribution unseen so far in the city culminating in the deaths of the soldiers and much of the organised resistance. Want to prepare yourself? then first read the Operation Anthropoid post.
Why Visit and Where Is It?
There are many endings to the story as in some ways it was a defeat whilst in others, a victory so that’s why you should visit the Church of St Cyril and Methodius AND the associated crypt. In the church you can still see some of the bullet holes in the walls but that’s basically that’s it. The real story is in the crypt. At the time of writing the crypt is open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 5-30pm (note that last entry is at 4-30pm). The entry to the crypt is under the main church steps. At the time of writing it was free to enter although they suggest a donation. Here’s the Google Maps Address.
When you go through the doors you go into a little museum area. You should start on the left and work round in a clockwise direction. It’s in chronological order from October 1938 and introduces you to all of the main characters in this story. If you read everything (text is in Czech and English) it’s going to take about 40 minutes. Make sure you go ALL THE WAY AROUND and finish by reading about Karel Čurda.
Now for the Crypt. Before you go in, take some time to read the plate on the right of the door which explains the ethos behind the design and concept for the door. Having read the chronological detail you’ve now got a feel for what it was like between June 4th and June 18th, the betrayal, the torture of resistance fighters, the desperation of soldiers trapped and facing certain death. Now we enter the crypt. You’ll have already learned about the soldiers who fought and died here but each of the busts has some detail about where they were born and what they did before the war. There’s no particular order in the display but the Heydrich assassins Jan Kubiš (Czech) and Josef Gabčík (Slovak) are in a pair on the left. Some of the busts have flags, drawings and hand-written text (in Czech). Look for some of the detail just inside the crypt on the right where you can see where they tried to dig out through the crypt into the sewer system to give themselves a way out. Any time I go in here I would just love the opportunity to turn off the lights. When the end came, the shooting through the window, the attempt to flood the crypt, the discovery of the crypt entry, it was ultimately the decision of the surviving soldiers to end their lives either by pistol or poison or both.
WARNING FOR PARENTS: Part of the crypt exhibit shows close-up full face b/w pictures of the dead soldiers.
This is often combined with a trip to see the Dancing House at the bottom of Resslova street. Allow an hour in total for the church/crypt. You’ll learn the entire Operation Anthropoid operation, who was involved and the aftermath. In some ways you’re sad because of the deaths involved. In other ways you’re grateful because it killed Heydrich, potentially one of the most evil characters of the 20th Century. Should you take kids? to the museum yes, to the crypt yes but under strict control.
Finally, having visited the crypt and understanding the concept of the entry design, ask yourself, could you walk through the door?