One church in Prague, during one of mankind’s darkest hour, became the epicenter of the war against the Nazis.
During the World War II, the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, provided refuge to the men who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. It was also the venue where they mounted an epic battle with the the Nazi SS Obergruppenführer.
Reinhard Heydrich was a senior ranking member of Nazi Germany. He is credited as one of the main architects of the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of over 6 million Jews in Europe. He chaired the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, which formalized plans for the “Final Solution”. It was this “solution” that resulted in the deportation and genocide of Jews during World War II. He was a close ally of Hitler.
Czechoslovakia had been completely occupied by Germany by March 1939. The German occupation only ended with the end of the World War II. During this period, a Czechoslovak government-in-exile was instituted that was anti-fascist and had the support of Britain. A number of Czech soldiers who sought to fight the Nazis were able to flee to Britain where they were trained.
Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were two soldiers who had fled to Britain. With the blessing from the Czech government in exile, they began plotting the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. They enlisted the help of British-trained Czechoslovak paratroopers – Josef Bublík, Jan Hruby, Josef Valčík, Jaroslav Švarc and Adolf Opálka in this mission. The mission was called Operation Anthropoid.
On May 27th, 1942, Gabčík and Kubiš ambushed the car in which Heydrich was travelling. After opening fire, they threw a grenade at the car. Heydrich succumbed to the injuries eight days later. The two fled the scene and found their way to the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, the principal church in the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. They had enlisted the help of Bishop Gorazd, the church’s Orthodox priest, in securing safe refuge. The other men who had helped either as look-outs or in logistics, also reached the Church to evade capture. They remained in the building for three weeks before a massive manhunt launched by the Nazis found them. This resulted in a battle between these seven men and the 700 Waffen SS and Gestapo troops who had them surrounded.
The battle raged for hours with the men unwilling to stand down. They fired at the Nazis and held their ground for as long as they could. The Nazis unable to defeat them began flooding the basement with fire hoses. The men, with no other option, committed suicide as they did not want to get captured.
The Church now both a place of worship and a museum that honors these heroes. The museum’s curator, Petr Hampl said, “Czechs, primarily because of the Munich Agreement [an international treaty signed in 1938 that allowed Hitler to annex significant chunks of Czechoslovak territory], didn’t have the opportunity to fight against the Nazis directly, so it has a huge symbolic significance. It shows that we fought, despite the fact our country was occupied, and we never sided with the Nazis.
Our assessment is that the incident is a reminder of the sacrifices that were made to eradicate Nazism from the world. The courage of the soldiers and the compassion of the Church in bravely providing them refuge, is an example of the best that humanity has to offer.