By Shazia Anwer Cheema
Under the Baroque Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius is an actual war sight of World War II in Prague. It is not strange for me and if you are following my Museum Series, it will not be strange for you either to find Church and War in single historical frame. The war hospital museum in Budapest was a church inside a cave and provided shelter for hundreds of wounded soldiers. The role of the church during volatile situations like war has a long history and the culminating circumstances behind every such event always have a deeply profound story to tell for all time to come.
The story of Saint Cyril and Methodius Church is no different, during World War II the Czech orthodox church was a hideout of Czechoslovak Parachutists from May 27 to June 18, 1942, after the attack on Reinhard Heydrich. The Paratroopers participated in the attack and assassination of Deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich and found shelter here. The paratrooper assignation team included eight members: technical Sergeant Josef Valčík from the Silver A group, Lieutenant Adolf Opálka from the Out Distance group, Staff-Sergeant Jaroslav Švarc from the Tin group, Aspirating Sergeant Josef Bublík and Sergeant Jan Hrubý from the Bioscope group, and Technical Sergeants Josef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš from the Anthropoid group and Karel Crudu.
Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis materializes the assassination of Heydrich on the 27th of May 1942. All seven found shelter in the Church excluding Karel Crudu who escaped to South Bohemia and hide in his mother’s house, eventually, Germans got hold of him and he later disclosed the planning, participants, and facilitation, to the Germans due to reasons unknown and that’s how German got the location of the seven parachuters hiding under a secret cellar of Saint Cyril and Methodius Church.
German SS and Gestapo cordon off the church in the early morning of 8th June 1942. Two of the paratroopers came out and fight back from the Choir but being outnumbered all got killed and much later the event a memorial was built in the same cellar and then opened for the public to visit and reflect.
As there is just one entrance to that basement, which was covered with a tombstone, in fact, while looking at the crypt it seems like a tomb or grave chamber, without proper ventilation and light and how those brave soldiers spend twenty-one days there is another story of valor and patriotism. While reading the information it was written that it was actually a burial tomb containing the remains of 18th-century priests. The tomb-contained was prepared for sleeping with mattresses and sleeping bags and it was only possible to enter the crypt through a ventilation shaft next to the church’s main entrance because the crypt entrance was covered with a tombstone. Now the memorial site has the memory of the paratroopers commemorated on a bronze memorial plaque with a relief of a paratrooper and a priest with the names of the heroes and their protectors by František Bělský at the same place where the tomb contained still gives a chilling feeling of sleeping among dead in the concrete coffins for 21 days.
Sometimes valor and dignity cost life but those lives have been paid as a tradeoff never goes in vain, because the realization of dignity and self-respect creates fault lines even among the strongest of enemies. The assassination of the Nazi security police and Governor of the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia known as ruthless and merciless pushes the Czechoslovak resistance to the next level. The sacrifice of seven brave soldiers paved the way for the liberation of an entire nation.
“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”― James Allen