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Published: March 25th 2011
It was designed to explode on impact.
Buildings on our campus and their link to a tragic event in an evil era
A number of buildings here date back to the 1700s. So it is not surprising there have been good eras and dark eras of sadness and tragedy. One of the darkest periods was WW II when these buildings were the headquarters of the GESTAPO. There is no question some very bad things happened. The events following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the GESTAPO in this region, can only be viewed as bad.
An Evil Man
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (7 March 1904 – 4 June 1942) is remembered as the Butcher of Prague
. It could be said he was the butcher of the entire Czech nation and was instrumental in the deportation of Jews, Gypsies and others to death camps and that thousands of people were murdered at his command. In 1942 he chaired the infamous Wannsee Conference, where the decision was made to exterminate all the Jews of Europe. He is quoted as saying, "Europe would be combed of Jews from east to west."
Hated by almost everyone
He was hated, not just by the people he
persecuted, but also by many Nazis as well. He climbed to power through framing others and by the murder of his opponents. He sought revenge against any who displeased him. I believe he had ambitions of being Hitler's replacement when Adolf died. Hitler described him as, "a highly gifted but also very dangerous man, whose gifts the movement had to retain...extremely useful; for he would eternally be grateful to us that we had kept him and not expelled him and would obey blindly."
A number of Czech soldiers who had been rescued from France when France fell to the Nazis were trained in England. A decision was made to send a team to Prague to assassinate Heydrich. Three Czechs were selected to lead Operation Anthropoid. On May 27th, 1942 the plan was put into action. At a very sharp corner of a street in Prague two of men waited. As Heydrich's car slowed to make the turn, one stepped out, pointing a machine gun at his car. When he pulled the trigger the gun jammed. Heydrich then made a fatal mistake. Instead of telling his driver to speed up and get out as fast as possible,
he commanded him to stop. He stood, pulled his pistol out and shot at his would-be assassin not noticing the second man who stepped out and tossed a bomb toward the car. The bomb exploded as it hit the running board. Reinhard was not killed but was wounded. Metal shards and pieces of fabric pierced his body. Infection set in and he died in agony on June 4th at 4:30 a.m. One version is he stepped out of the car and chased the first man a block before shock set in and he had to stop.
Himmler visited Heydrich in the hospital. It is reported that Heydrich said, "The world is just a barrel-organ which the Lord God turns Himself. We all have to dance to the tune which is already on the drum."
After Himmler's visit, Heydrich went into a coma, and never regained consciousness.
Retaliation and reprisals
Immediately a massive search began for the assassins, but for days it came to nothing. Their hiding place was given to the GESTAPO by a turn-coat operation member who bargained for his life ... if he turned them in, he and his family would be spared. The
men were hiding in the Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. There was a prolonged gun battle between the GESTAPO, other German forces and the hiding men. When all hope of escape was los,t all the men save one who had been badly wounded and died, committed suicide rather than submit to capture and torture.
Village of Ledice
The reprisals unleashed on the Czech people were terrible. It has been reported that 15,000 Czechs died in the reprisals. In a horrific act of revenge, called "Operation Reinhard," Hitler had the entire village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia--near where Heydrich was killed--exterminated. The Nazis believed that people in the village had aided the assassins. This was not true. In addition to the the murder and deportation of the villagers, the town was burned and then bulldozed. Even the dead did not escape as the Nazis dug up the bodies in the effort to remove all traces that a village ever existed. All male inhabitants above the age of 15 were shot. Women of the village were sent to the death camp at Ravensbrück.
This campus's ties to this tragedy
A number of children were
brought to Prague and some, perhaps all, were housed in a building here. In 2005 we published a blog entry and at that time I said 48 children were kept here. Since them I have read various numbers. The number 48 comes from a small booklet written by our friend, Petra. Others were transported to Svatoborice in Moravia. Many of the children of Lidice were executed and others were sent to concentration camps. A few, whose appearance was judged to be "appropriate" were sent to be adopted by German families. To my knowledge there is no word on what happened to these children other than a short article my wife read that said about 14 of these children returned to the Czech Republic after WWII.
Museum and memorial.
The museum and catacombs in the Saints Cyril and Methodius Church can be visited Tuesday through Saturday. For those interested in history and in World War II it is an interesting place to visit. The museum has detailed explanations of the events and interesting but sad displays.
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