Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Return to Icelandia

We weren't scheduled to fly back to Copenhagen until 13:50, so we decided to take one more small walk just a few blocks from our hotel to visit a church.

The Orthodox Cathedral of
Saints Cyril and Methodius

This is the courtyard of the Cathedral. By European standards this Cathedral is quite average, but in the Western Hemisphere, it would be one of the top five churches to visit.

Nice Crucifix

Still, nothing special, so why make a trip here on our last day in gorgeous Prague?

Damn, the History Channel Strikes Again!

Although a big part of the charm of Prague lies in the fact that it was not bombed during World War II, it does not mean that it was untouched by that darkest period of the 20th century.

Thus we entered the basement of the Cathedral to visit The National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror - A Place of Reconciliation.

Nazi Army Entering Prague Castle

Thanks in large part to the Munich Pact (see British P.M. Neville Chamberlain's "Peace in Our Time" speech) that simply gave most of the current Czech Republic to Hitler. The Nazis started their brutal occupation of Prague in 1939.

Reinhard Heydrich
The Third Reich's "Protector" of Prague

Heydrich is the man behind Hitler's left shoulder. Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler is behind Hitler's right shoulder.

Heydrich accepted his "Protector" status in 1941 and began the typically brutal Nazi clean-up program to "protect" Prague.

When he took over his new post he was quoted as saying ". . . after all, Czechs no longer have any business to be in this region."

SS Cap and Jewish Prisoner's Badge

The conflict in a nutshell.

The question, of course, was what to do about it.

The Czech mantra was poignant, "We have been and will be! We shall hold out!"

They would outlast the Nazis but only to be replaced by decades of communist oppression. Finally, after more than 50 years, their holdout against two totalitarian governments won out thanks to the Velvet Revolution.

But for the moment, what to do about the Nazis?

The plan was simple, send in groups of exiled Czech paratroopers from Britain to assassinate Heydrich. It would prove that no Nazi was safe but it would come at a great price to the people of Prague and the surrounding towns.

Heydrich helped by deciding to move out of Prague Castle into a villa on the outskirts of town. He would still drive daily to work in the castle using the same route daily.

Two of the Czech paratroopers, Josef Gabík and Jan Kubis, were selected to kill Heydrich by shooting at his car when it had to slow down considerably due to a curve in the road on Heydrich's daily route. If that failed, they also had a bomb to toss into his car, set to explode on impact.

As fate would have it, Gabicík's tommy gun jammed, so Kubis lobbed the bomb at the car whose driver had hit the brakes rather than speeding up. The bomb did not fall into the car but rather exploded on contact with the exterior of the car.

Heydrich was injured by car door shrapnel and, more importantly, by the leather and horse hair stuffing from the car seats. The leather and stuffing were jam packed with all sorts of yummy germs and bacteria that would infect Heydrich and slowly bring about his death eight days after the attack.

Hopefully, he suffered.

Of course, this led to extremely brutal reprisals even by Nazi standards. Besides the unprecedented daily levels against the Czech people. They killed every man, woman and child (340 human beings) in the town of Lidice, where several of the paratroopers had found refuge, before leveling the town. Later the town of Lezáky would suffer the same fate.

Two priests working at the Cathedral, Vladimír Petrek and Václav Cikl, had agreed to hide some of the paratroopers in the Cathedral's basement crypts. Both priests would face an SS firing squad because of their parts in the plot.

Fake Tombstone

In order to conceal the entrance to the crypts, this tombstone was installed.

The Crypt

Ventilation Shaft

Instead, the only way into the crypt was through this very small ventilation shaft in the crypt's ceiling.

All was good until one of the paratroopers, Karel Curda, broke under the weight of the daily executions and general terror. He went to the Nazis and betrayed his countrymen in exchange for his life.

After the war, Curda would be tried and found guilty of being a traitor. Hanging was the execution technique of choice.

Hopefully, by piano wire.

Bullet Riden Crypt Mini-Window

Once the Nazi soldiers realized that the Czechs were hiding in the crypt, they would get tear gas in through this window to try to flush out the Czech patriots.

The Nazis then surrounded the Cathedral 22 days after the bombing using 850 soldiers to try to capture all seven paratroopers alive. In the ensuing battle, the Nazis would kill three of the Czechs including Kubis. The other four paratropers including Gabcík fought until they each had only one bullet left. At that point they committed suicide rather than be captured.

Busts of the fallen Czech Paratroopers

Josef Gabík and Jan Kubis

Final Thoughts on Prague

Prague is just a wonderful, wonderful city in my opinion. I do not hold the pickpocketing against the city, that is an issue in every major city in the world. Besides, my money belt minimized the loss.

This trip made Prague's stranglehold on the #2 spot in my European Cities Top Five Power Rankings even stronger.

If the Pope ever moves to Prague on a full-time basis, ala Avignon, France from 1309-1378, then lookout, Prague skyrockets to #1!

Since we are now back in homey Icelandia, it is time for . . .

Stockholm hosted the "Jim Thorpe" Summer Olympics in 1912.

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