Reinhard Heydrich, the top SS general who became a main architect of the Holocaust, was slain by Czechoslovak paratroopers 70 years ago this May. To mark the occasion, Prague 2 is erecting a model concentration camp on Karlovo náměstí, the district’s main square, where visitors can get a sense of what Nazi oppression was like during his reign as acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
Upon his appointment to the post in September 1941, Heydrich told his aides “[We] will Germanize the Czech vermin” and started out in the occupied Czech lands by terrorizing the population: within three days of his arrival in Prague, 92 people were executed. Their names appeared on posters throughout the occupied region as a warning.
In London, the Czechoslovak government-in-exile resolved to kill Heydrich. Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík headed the team chosen to head Operation Anthropoid, the group of exiles who parachuted into the Protectorate from Britain to carry out the assassination.
On May 27, 1942, they had lain in wait for him on the outskirts of Prague as he was driven into the city from his country retreat. Gabčik’s Sten gun jammed as he ran out to try and shoot Heydrich, but Kubiš threw a grenade at the car that left Heydrich mortally wounded — though it took the Nazi leader a week to die (on June 4) — and Hitler responded without mercy.
The Nazi terror that followed Heydrich’s death saw two Czech villages, Lidice and Ležáky, razed and most of their population shot or shipped off to concentration camps. At the Mauthausen concentration camp, 263 were shot in a single day. Kubiš, Gabčík and the other assassins were betrayed, and made a famous last stand against SS troops at the Eastern Orthodox church on Prague’s Resslova Street, which now bears the names of 294 people executed for aiding the Czechoslovak paratroopers.
The model concentration camp to be erected a few blocks from that church, on Karlovo náměstí — a drastically scaled-down but historically accurate version of elements of the camps to where Czech and Slovak resistance fighters were sent — will be in place from May 16–19.
Inside the model camp, visitors can see large-format photos from events of the day, view documentary films and read about resistance fighters’ life stories — and the martyrs’ families — while loudspeakers blare from the replica guard towers, broadcasting a mix of radio broadcasts from the day and Nazi propaganda.
By Brian Kenety
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