How Sokol movement helped Operation Anthropoid succeed

Sokol slet in 1938, photo: archive of Czech Radio

One of the key factors in the successful assassination of senior Nazi Reinhard Heydrich 80 years ago was the support that members of the Sokol patriotic gymnastics movement provided to the Czechoslovak soldiers. Many of them would later pay for it with their lives.

We are being called to form guard, brothers, lift up your arms, and tightly embrace your country. We will protect our love of peace, and the peace in our people’s hearts forever, against everyone.

These are just some of the lines from the Sokol movement’s Oath to the Republic ceremony, a symbolic mass exercise event that took place at Prague’s Strahov stadium in July 1938, less than three months before the Munich Agreement.

Its author was František Pecháček, a former world champion gymnast and Sokol member who would serve in the Czechoslovak resistance during the Second World War. It was his flat inside which one of the Anthropoid parachutists, Jan Kubiš, would be debriefed by the resistance. Both Pecháček and his wife would later be arrested by the Gestapo and die in Mauthausen concentration camp.

Jan Kubiš,  Jozef Gabčík | Photo: archive of Military History Institute Prague and Eduard Stehlík

Historian Jindřich Marek from the Military History Institute in Prague told Czech Radio that the couple’s fate was far from unique.

“There were very many Sokol families that helped the parachutists. The main drivers of this effort were František Pecháček and Sokol district leader Jan Zelenka, with several other families supporting their efforts.

“The lives of the vast majority of these people would have a tragic ending.”

Sokol members were intertwined with the Anthropoid mission virtually from the start. Indeed, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík would move into Jan Zelenka’s flat in January 1942, four months before the assassination took place.

Members of the movement were also active in supplying the parachutists with fake work permits, food stamps, information and many more necessities without which they would not have been able to stay undercover and complete their mission.

The 1938 Oath to the Republic

Sokol resistance activity was not just limited to supporting anthropoid either. Numbering close to a million members before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the organisation provided a major supply of recruits for underground activity.

Before the arrival of the parachutists, the Gestapo had conducted a major crackdown on the organisation, arresting around 1,500 of their functionaries in the autumn of 1941 and banning Sokol activities.

But this move may have actually backfired on the Nazis, as one Gestapo report from the investigation of Heydrich’s assassination suggests.

“They felt obliged to help the relatives of those who were arrested with whom they were on friendly terms, but could only do so illegally.

Jindřich Marek | Photo: Šárka Ševčíková,  Czech Radio

“This stubborn and bitter attitude of many Sokol functionaries was exploited by teacher [Jan] Zelenka for his purposes.”

Historian Jindřich Marek says that Heydrich’s death was therefore also a form of Sokol payback for the Nazis’ earlier crackdown on the organisation.

“Heydrich made a lot of enemies among the Sokols by doing this and he would later pay for it with his own life.

“What is also admirable about these people is that when Protectorate police chief Karl Hermann Frank announced a short-term amnesty for those members of the resistance and their families who come forward with information, not a single one of them broke the vow of silence.”

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Lucie Korcová
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