Czechs commemorate Heydrich's assassins

A ceremony was held at the St Cyril and Methodius Church in Prague on Monday to mark the fifty ninth anniversary of the deaths of seven Czech paratroopers who carried out the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich in May 1942. Heydrich's assassination benefited the standing of the Czechs in their allies' eyes, but had terrible consequences at home. Nick Carey reports.

Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich was sent to Prague in 1941 by Adolf Hitler to combat the growing Czech resistance movement, and within a few months of his arrival, up to 6,000 people had been imprisoned or executed. Czechoslovak soldiers in Great Britain drew up a plan to assassinate Heydrich, with the approval of the British government and Eduard Benes, the head of the Czechoslovak government in exile.

Seven Czechs were trained by the British and then parachuted into Czechoslovak territory in May 1942. The Liben district of Prague was chosen for the spot to make their attack on May 27th, which nearly failed when the machine gun of one of the assassins jammed. Reinhard Heydrich was fatally wounded by a grenade thrown by one of the other paratroopers, and died on June 4th. According to philosophy professor Erazim Kohak, Heydrich's death was a watershed point for how the Czechoslovaks were treated by their allies:

"As the far as the documents that are being released are concerned, primarily British documents, these show clearly that this was the turning point in the attitude of the British towards the Czechoslovak government in exile. Before that, the British government tended to wonder whether [the] Munich [Agreement] had not been the right thing. While they rejected the occupation of the remnant of the Czech Lands, they were still not sure whether Czechoslovakia deserved to be restored. After the assassination of Heydrich, there is no indication of that kind of undertone in the documents that are now being publicised."

Village of Lidice,  where 1000s were murdered by Nazis in retaliation to Heydrich's assassination
The seven Czechs involved in the assassination failed to escape from Prague, and after hiding at the homes of resistance members, they took refuge at the Church of St Cyril and Methodius in the centre of Prague. Betrayed by one of their comrades, they were surrounded by German troops. After a fierce gun battle, they took their own lives. But the story doesn't end there. The Nazi authorities exacted a terrible revenge for the death of Heydrich, including the destruction of the village of Lidice, where all the men were shot and the women and children sent to concentration camps. Only a handful of the children survived. Despite the terrible consequences, Erazim Kohak feels that in the fight for freedom, this was an unfortunate price that had to be paid:

"A war is never worth it. But if you look at the number of casualties this nation took in the First World War, when we were not even fighting for our own cause, it seems to me that this was a very painful casualty, but it was part of the fight for our freedom."