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Remembering Lidice and Lezaky

Message Suzana Megles
All this past week in June there were numerous programs recalling the
70-year Normandy invasion anniversary to free Europe from Nazi control. Despite our superior forces and equipment, it was heart-breaking to witness on TV one of the invasion landings on an open Omaha beach where our soldiers were being gunned down mercilessly. Yes, we paid a high price that day on that beach and in other places in our quest to free Europe from Nazi control and assure freedom for ourselves as well.
I had forgotten the sad story of the Czech towns of Lidice and Lezaky - the former most often being sited where retribution was carried out by Hitler for a heroic act carried out by two soldiers -- one Czech and the other Slovak. But just today I received a Slovak Heritage newsletter which reported the whole story about what wrongfully happened there.
The two soldiers -Josef Gabcik (Slovak) and Jan Kubis (Czech) could not have known that when they fled their country and joined the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in England that they would be involved in a history--making endeavor.
A decision had been made to assassinate one of the most vicious and feared Nazis --Reinhard Heydrich. He was the overall head of security in Nazi Germany and the leading architect of the Final Solution. In January of 1942 -Heydrich chaired the infamous Wannasee Conference which planned the enslavement and murder of 8 million European Jews.
In 1941 he had been appointed "Protector" of Bohemia and Moravia, but his treatment of Czechs earned him the title "Butcher of Prague."
The Benes government was under increasing pressure to prove that the Czechs were aligned with the Allies so that after the war Czechoslovakia would again be re-united.
The assassination plan dubbed Operation Antropoid was now becoming a reality, and it was decided that one Czech and one Slovak would carry out the mission of assassinating Heydrich as a symbol of the hoped-for unity of Czechs and Slovaks.
Trained by Britain's Special Operations Exceutive (SOE), the two men were air-lifted on December 28, 1941 with five other soldiers to Prague. But it would be on May 27, 1942 when the actual attempt was made on Heydrich's life as he was making his daily commute from his home in a Prague suburb to his office in Prague Castle.
On this day Heydrich was riding in an open-topped Mercedes convertible --showing absolute contempt for the Czechs -believing himself Invulnerable from any threat from them. Gabcik, after receiving a mirrored signal of the car's approach by a third soldier (Valcik) stepped in front of the car as it slowed to take a sharp curve. Then he raised his Sten submachine to fire on Heydrich, but the gun jammed! What a terrifying experience that must have been for him to face this monster helpless.
Heydrich ordered his driver Stein to stop the car and stood to shoot
Gabcik when Kubis threw a modified anti-tank grenade at the vehicle. Its
fragments ripped through the car's right rear bumper. Shrapnel and fibers from the upholstery became embedded in Heydrich's body and also injured Kubis.
Although Kubis and Gabcik fired their handguns at Heydrich who staggered out of the car -they missed. Would anything be going right they probably wondered. Now a dazed Heydrich even tried to chase Gabcik before finally collapsing.
Stein, the driver, chased Kubis who escaped on a bicycle. Then he chased Gabcik on foot into a butcher shop where Gabcik shot him twice--
wounding him in the leg. Gabcik then escaped to a safe house using a tram.
Both men felt they had failed their mission because it seemed at first
that Heydrich would survive. But seven days later he died -probably
from a systemic infection.
Hitler was furious over the death of Heydrich and ordered an investigation. False intelligence linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Lezaky. Per the writer of this account: "Lidice was destroyed on June 9, 1942; 199 men were executed, 95 children and 195 women
deported to extermination camps. In Lezaky all adults, children, and women were murdered and both towns were burned. The ruins of Lidice were leveled. News of these atrocities galvanized hatred of the Nazis and sparked sympathy for the Czechs worldwide."
For awhile it seemed that Kubis and Gabcik would evade the search for them by the Nazis. They had initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in St. Cyril and Methodius Eastern Ordthodox Church.
They were safe until a traitor, Karel Curda, gave the names of the team's local contacts for 500,000 Reichsmarks.
The safe houses were raided, and 17-year-old Ata Moravec whose
mother commintted suicide with a cyanide capsule revealed the final hiding place (the church) after being tortured.
On June 18, 1942- 700 Waffen SS troops laid siege to the church. But though they were ordered to take the paratroopers alive this would not happen.
The paratroopers put up a fight, but after a two hour gun battle, Kubis,
Adolf Opalka, and Jaroslav Svarc were killed. Gabcik and three other
were hidden in an under-ground crypt. But when the SS attempted to smoke the men out and flood the crypt with a fire truck hose, the four committed suicide with their last bullets.
If one report is accurate, the men were able to kill 14 SS and wound 22 others before taking their own lives.
For those of the Orthodox Church you may be well aware of the sacrifices of Bishop Gorazd who tried to minimize the reprisals among his flock by taking the blame for the actions in the church.
He was arrested on June 17, 1942, tortured, and on September 4, 1942 faced a Nazi firing squad along with the church's priests and senior lay leaders. The church was closed and the Czech Orthodox Church declared illegal.
Today there is The National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. Considered a place of reconciliation, it is located beneath the Orthodox Cathedral of SS. Cyril and Medodius at Resslova 9, Prague.
A bronze plaque on the wall lists the names of the parachutists and the
Bishop. The crypt was opened to the public in 1947.
Bishop Gorazd was made a saint of the Orthodox church. Lidice was a second memorial site and place of pilgrimage.

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