The assassination in May 1942 of the Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, was one of the most dramatic events of World War II. The Czechoslovak resistance fighters parachuted into Prague to carry out the attack later met their own deaths in a church in the city, after being surrounded by Nazi troops. Their brave actions are the focus of an exhibition in the church’s crypt which has now been given a major facelift.
A service was held at the Orthodox Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius near the centre of Prague on Wednesday, marking the reopening of an exhibition in its crypt. It is dedicated to the parachutists Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš and their associates who died on June 18, 1942, just weeks after they’d carried out the daring assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. The exhibition was first opened in the early 1990s, but has now been significantly redesigned. Colonel Aleš Knížek of the Czech Military Institute was behind the facelift.
“Museum items were removed from the actual crypt itself and placed here in this anteroom. Our aim was to make the crypt more solemn – it will now contain only seven busts of the parachutists who died here in this church. The anteroom maps the Czechoslovak resistance movement, and contains items that they used here in the crypt, as well as in the assassination of Heydrich.”
Three of the paratroopers were killed by the Nazis, while four others took their own lives rather than surrender. At the Church of Saints Cyril, the Czech defence minister, Martin Barták, reflected on the sacrifice of those who died there in June 1942.
“I think it was one of the biggest acts during the second world war and maybe the biggest act in modern Czechoslovak history. I consider these paratroopers as the biggest heroes of our nation, and I think this is something from which we should learn all the time and never forget.”
The parachutists had trained in England alongside other members of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile, and the British ambassador to Prague Sian Macleod was among the special guests at Wednesday’s opening.
“I’ve just had a look at the new exhibition, which I think is very moving, very well presented and very interesting. I’m looking forward to spending more time looking at it. But the crypt of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius remains a very important, a very moving place.”
The church and crypt were already one of the most popular sites with history buffs in the Czech capital, and the people behind its new facelift say they’re hopeful it will now draw even more visitors.
Photo: Barbora Kmentová
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