On May 27, 1942, Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich—known as ‘the Butcher of Prague” and the right-hand man of Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler—was attacked by British-trained Czech paratroopers in Operation Anthropoid, and died of his injuries a week later. This was one of the only assassinations of a high-ranking Nazi official to have succeeded, and the consequences were swift and cruel.
In the aftermath of the attack, 13,000 people were imprisoned and interrogated. Mistakenly believing the perpetrators were connected with the village of Lidice, the Nazis murdered over 5,000 people and also burned and leveled the entire town to the ground, even after realizing the connection had been a false lead. They even destroyed the village cemetery, dug up the dead, and changed the course of the river so that “nothing was to remain” of Lidice.
After the assassination, the Czech paratroopers hid in the church’s crypt for three weeks until their hiding place was betrayed. Some 750 German soldiers surrounded the church, attempting to gas them out and then flooding the crypt with fire hoses through a tiny gap in the wall. Three paratroopers were killed in the fight; the other four took their own lives rather than surrender. The priest and bishop who sheltered the soldiers were later murdered by the Nazis. In 1945, the Czech traitor who betrayed their hiding place was arrested for treason and executed.
In the crypt itself, now a small museum dubbed the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror, you can still see bullet holes and shrapnel scars on the walls. There are also signs of the paratroopers’ last desperate efforts to dig an escape tunnel to the sewer. Outside, the narrow gap in the wall of the crypt where the Germans inserted their fire hoses is still covered with bullet marks. The last words of the paratroopers were reportedly, “We will not surrender. Never. We are Czech.”