German president honours paratroopers who took part in Operation Anthropoid during visit to Czechia

Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits the crypt at St Cyril and Methodius Church

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is currently on a three-day visit to the Czech Republic. The German head of state is meeting with leading Czech officials, including President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. In an historic first, he also laid a wreath at the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Prague – the site of the last stand of the Czechoslovak paratroopers who killed Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich.

The German president began Thursday with an historic visit to the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Prague, where Czechoslovak paratroopers died after being surrounded by Nazi forces during the World War II occupation of Prague.

President Steinmeier laid a wreath in front of the bullet-riddled crypt window of the church before venturing inside to witness the sight of the last stand of the paratroopers, including Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, who assassinated Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich in Prague on May 27, 1942.

President Steinmeier was then received with military honours at Prague Castle, where he met with the Czech head of state Milos Zeman and several other leading officials and government ministers.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier,  Miloš Zeman | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

In a subsequent joint press briefing, President Zeman thanked Germany for taking on several Czech COVID-19 patients during the height of the pandemic in the country and said that Czech-German relations have never been better.

“I would like to thank the Federal Republic of Germany for its help during the coronavirus pandemic. I would also like to thank the German President who visited the crypt of the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius earlier today, becoming the first German politician to do so.

“I take it as a very symbolic gesture. However, what I value the most is our personal friendship. A friendship between two states is sometimes forced, but a friendship between nations is spontaneous. ”

For his part, President Steinmeier said that the current state of Czech-German relations is an “exceptional treasure” which should be nurtured for future generations. He said that the memorial to Czechoslovak paratroopers in the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, as well as the two villages wiped out by the Nazis in retribution (Lidice and Ležáky), serve as reminders of the difficult periods in both countries’ histories and make the current friendship all the more valuable.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier pays visit to Nicholas Winton memorial at Prague Main Train Station | Photo: Michal Kamaryt,  ČTK

Before the reception at Prague Castle, the two presidents also had the opportunity to dine together at Lány Chateau on Wednesday evening. President Zeman said that the only area where there is currently disagreement between the two countries is on the future of Europe’s environmental policy. Unlike Germany, the Czech Republic is in favour of using nuclear power to achieve the EU’s demanding green energy targets. Several of its energy experts have warned in the past that the Czech economy would suffer greatly if forced to rely entirely on alternative energy sources.

Before venturing to the paratrooper memorial, President Steinmeier also laid wreaths at the statues of Sir Nicholas Winton, the organiser of Jewish children’s transports out of Czechoslovakia ahead of World War II, and of first Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk.

He is set to visit the Strahov Monastery in Prague and its library and meet with the Speakers of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Thursday's program will end with a gala reception at the German Embassy for invited guests.

On Friday, the German President will speak with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, while also stopping in the city of Ústí nad Labem, where he will visit an upcoming exhibition on Czech-German relations.