Sunday, November 11, 2012

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Prague

Guest post written by my wife since she made it to this church and I did not. This is the last post of the Prague series, honest!

Our guidebook had a few lines describing the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church and mentioned that it contained a monument to an assassination team from World War II.  That peaked my curiosity so I headed over one day while the kids were taking their naps.

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, Prague

The church is a Cathedral for the Eastern Orthodox church in the Czech Republic. The church was locked, but a large glass window allowed a view of the interior. Although not large, it is beautifully decorated. 



A large sign pointed to the basement crypt "National Memorial of the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror."  For a small fee, the museum shows you a series of large signs and photos (and a few artifacts) explaining what happened here in 1942.  I really knew nothing about these events, but the museum did an excellent job explaining the background, buildup, assassination, and aftermath. I won't be able to cover it all here, but I'll give the 10,000 foot version.  If you're in Prague, I strongly recommend visiting the site.

During World War II, the Czechoslovakian government was in exile in London. The exiles needed to prove to the Allies that they were serious about fighting the Nazis. With the British, they developed a plan to assassinate the Nazi governor, Reinhart Heydrich. Heydrich was an incredibly evil and ruthless guy, and one of the main architects of the Holocaust.  

Heydrich arrives at Prague Castle with Hitler

Heydrich in power

The dots in the picture below were used to measure skin tone.  The Germans wanted to purify Czechoslovakia and reward the Aryan elements there.

Nazi display

Meanwhile, in Scotland, some Czech soldiers were given paratrooper and assassination training by the British and were kitted out with weapons, equipment, and contacts in the Czech resistance. They parachuted into a farm area near Prague where they hid with various families and members of the resistance. After months of preparation, they attacked Heydrich while he was driving. They succeeded in their mission, but at a terrible cost.

Reprisal on one of the towns thought to have sheltered the assassins

One of the local resistance members who was helping the assassination team knew the priest at the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church. He arranged for the team to hide in the crypt of the church after they killed Heydrich. Eventually, the Nazis found them and attacked. They wanted to capture the paratroopers alive, so that they could be tortured and interrogated. Then they could roll up the whole resistance movement. The crypt of the church was almost impregnable, and the paratroopers held out for several hours against a huge number of Nazi soldiers. After several hours of machine guns and tear gas, the paratroopers used their last bullets on themselves.

Stairway where some of the fighting took place

The crypt

Memorials to the heroes

The memorial outside

The most moving part of the museum, for me, was seeing the pictures of the Czech families that helped the paratroopers, giving them lodging or food during the time when they were preparing for the operation. Almost all of those families were caught and killed by the Nazis.  They killed the children with their parents. I couldn't help but think of my children when seeing the beautiful innocent faces of these Czech families.

For more information, there is an excellent wikipedia article on this.

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