Veterans remember brave last stand by Heydrich assassins

Vaclav Havel in the crypt of the Church of Cyril and Methodius in Prague's Resslova street, photo: CTK

A military band plays a slow march as Czechoslovak veterans lay wreaths outside the Church of Cyril and Methodius in Prague's Resslova street. Sixty years ago today, on June 18th 1942, hundreds of SS and Gestapo units surrounded the building. They were there to track down a group of British-trained Czechoslovak parachutists, who were hiding in the crypt of the church. Among them were Sergeant Jan Kubis and Sergeant Josef Gabcik, who three weeks earlier had assassinated the Nazi governor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhardt Heydrich. For six hours, Nazi troops tried unsuccessfully to force their way into the crypt, using grenades, tear gas and even the fire brigade to try and drown the parachutists. But they never surrendered, choosing instead to take their own lives. Among the veterans attending Tuesday's ceremony was Frank Kaplan, who served with the Czechoslovak forces during the war and later settled in Britain. Rob Cameron asked him whether he thought Heydrich's assassination was justified, given the terrible reprisals that followed.

Vaclav Havel in the crypt of the Church of Cyril and Methodius in Prague's Resslova street, photo: CTK
"The way I see it is that it was something that had to happen. Because news of Czechoslovak action during the war were very few and far between, and something had to be done to bring to the world the knowledge that the Czechoslovaks were fighting properly as they should be doing, that there was actually a movement in Czechoslovakia. I think the action was obviously political, there's no doubt about it. It wasn't a question of killing Heydrich per se, it was a question of doing something that would bring to the world the name of Czechoslovakia. And I think it achieved that. The casualties that ensued were to be expected, there's no doubt about it. They were, I should imagine, more severe than anticipated. But nevertheless, wartime is wartime, it just can't be helped."

It's sixty years now since Heydrich's assassination, since the atrocities of Lidice and Lezaky that followed. There is a good turnout today, of veterans like yourself, and soldiers, politicians, the media. How long do you think people will keep coming to these ceremonies? Do you think people will ever forget?

"Well something which I find rather heartening is that there seems to be more and more interest in what happened in the Second World War, especially in the West, than there has been for quite some time. People are interested. I myself am approached by various people asking me questions, and it's very heartening to see that those people are fairly young people. They're not our generation. And the interest is there. When you look at the number of publications that have been written about the Second World War, they're selling very well, and they keep on multiplying. And as I say, it's very, very heartening. I'm an optimist: I don't think they'll forget."