A group of re-enactors dressed in Second World War British uniforms on Wednesday marched through the centre of Nehvizdy, a small town to the north-east of Prague. There, 70 years ago on the day, two British-trained Czechoslovak commandoes, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík jumped off a plane on a daring mission – to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi leader of occupied Bohemia and Moravia.
Local people along with dozens of guests laid wreaths at the memorial in the centre of the village to the sound of Scottish bagpipes commemorating the country where the paratroopers were trained. A requiem for the victims of Nazi terror was served in the local church; the priest, František Samek, was in fact the first person the soldiers spoke to after they landed and told them where they were. Michal Burian is a historian with the Czech Army’s Military History Institute.
“The landing was supposed to take place in an area east of Plzeň but due to a navigational error, they were dropped here, some 25 km east of Prague. On the night of the operation, the landscape was covered with snow so there were very few landmarks they could use to determine their position. They could see railway tracks, rivers and so on, and they also saw the city but they had no way of telling whether it was Plzeň or Prague.”
Hundreds of people came to the exact spot where the two soldiers landed in the night of December 28, 1941, located just a few hundred meters outside the village. The Czech Army was planning to re-enact the jump as precisely as possible except this time, they were going to jump off an Mi-17 helicopter rather than the Halifax bomber which airlifted the troops 70 years ago. But to the disappointment of the onlookers, bad weather spoilt their plans. Michal Burian explains.
“Everything was planned very carefully but unfortunately, today’s weather conditions prohibited the commemorative jump. Clouds are very low which would make the jump dangerous. So the parachutists decided not to jump because they would risk severe injuries.”
Among those who came to pay tribute to the heroes of Czechoslovak resistance was Miloš Ryčl, an 85-year-old native of Nehvizdy. He was 15 when his village entered history – but he says that with the exception of a few men, no one really knew about what happened until after the end of the war.
“I only learnt that they landed here after the war. Only a few people knew about it, including local police officers. But they swore that they would not tell anyone. So when the Gestapo later came searching for the parachutes and other equipment, they found nothing.”
Dozens of people risked their lives, and many lost them, in assisting the two commandoes to achieve their goal. Five months after they landed near the village of Nehvizdy, Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík finally stood face to face with the Nazi leader in Prague, mortally wounding him. Their actions are to this day remembered as one of the most heroic acts of resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe.