If you’re on this page, chances are you already know what Operation Anthropoid is sooo… I won’t go into how the Operation Anthropoid memorial is dedicated to the seven exiled Czechoslovakian paratroopers who flew from the UK and landed in the Czech Republic with the mission of assassinating SS leader Reinhard Heydrich in the late spring of 1942. Or how Heydrich, one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and architect of the “Final Solution,” was the target of the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader (and only successful assassination attempt at that) during WWII. Because you already know that.
And since you already know this, I guess I don’t have to mention how these men succeeded in their mission and were ruthlessly hunted down for their actions. You probably already know that these seven men—Jan Kubiš, Josef Gabčík, Josef Bublík, Adolf Opálka’, Josef Valčík, Jaroslav Švarc and Jan Hrubý—avoided immediate capture and eventually took refuge inside a church, fighting off hundreds of Nazi soldiers, with machine guns and hand grenades at their disposal, using only pistols.
And since this is a memorial we’re talking about, you must already know all seven of these heroes lost their lives after a hard-fought battle during which they overcame so many incredible odds. A battle that took place at the site of the current memorial.
You probably know all the astonishing details of Operation Anthropoid already, and now you’re interested in visiting the Operation Anthropoid memorial in Prague. And I’m here to help you do that!
This memorial—formally known as the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror—was installed by and is managed by the Military History Institute of Prague, a museum, research center, library, and archive facility of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. Also, the Operation Anthropoid memorial is, more or less, the only WWII site to visit in Prague.
In September of 2016 I was preparing for my first ever visit to Prague (a city I’ve since visited multiple times). Shortly before my trip, I saw the trailer for a movie called Anthropoid, set in the Czech capital and starring none other than the 50 Shades of Grey guy and the Scarecrow from Batman. This movie—touted as one of the most historically accurate films out there—was my first encounter with Operation Anthropoid and I’ve been captivated ever since.
WHERE IS THE OPERATION ANTHROPOID MEMORIAL?
The Operation Anthropoid memorial is considerably accessible within the city of Prague. It’s located beneath the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, right in the center of Prague’s New Town. You can get there in just a few minutes’ walk from many of the popular tourist sites and a just a stroll around the corner from the Dancing House.
Walking time to Operation Anthropoid memorial from:
- Astronomical Clock: 19 minutes
- Wenceslas Square: 15 minutes
- Charles Bridge: 18 minutes
- Dancing House: 3 minutes
WHAT TO SEE AT THE OPERATION ANTHROPOID MEMORIAL
Before you even enter the memorial, follow the sidewalk along the south side of the church (along Resslova) until you see ‘1942’ in the sidewalk tiles. Here you’ll find a small memorial on the outside of the cathedral—a small window shrouded in bullet holes underneath a plaque commemorating many of the heroes related to Operation Anthropoid (the seven paratroopers, the cathedral’s Bishop Gorazd, and other helpers), and typically a collection of candles, flowers, and/or wreaths. It was through this window Nazi soldiers shot at the paratroopers, threw grenades, and flooded the crypt with fire hoses. This small memorial was created in 1947.
Head back towards the corner and turn right up the stairs to the church’s “porch” if you will. Up here you’ll see two tall black stones typically with wreaths or candles at the base. This is the memorial to the victims of the Heydrich terror created by sculptor Marie Šeborová and dedicated in 2010.
While the main Operation Anthropoid memorial pays tribute to the “heroes” of the operation, this memorial remembers those who assisted them in their efforts–family members and strangers alike who helped hide them, feed them, and provide them with contacts after the assassination attempt–who were subsequently arrested and killed at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. To see the full inscription, check out this page.
On the west side of the church, at ground-level, you’ll see the entrance to Národní Památník Hrdinů Heydrichiády—the National Memorial the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. Big wooden doors, shiny gold sign, Czech flag.
In here, the main Operation Anthropoid memorial, you’ll find:
➤ A small museum dedicated to Operation Anthropoid—beginning with the development of the Munich Agreement, continuing on through Reinhard Heydrich’s rise to power, the entirety of Operation Anthropoid from preparation to execution, and the important role the Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral played. The informational displays are both in Czech and in English.
➤ Physical, historical artifacts from Operation Anthropoid
➤ A small “gift shop” if you will. Okay fine, it’s a desk with some postcards on it.
➤ And the crypt. Here in the church’s crypt is where Operation Anthropoid came to a violent end. You’re welcome to visit the crypt and inside this dimly lit room you’ll find busts of the heroes along with biographical information about each of them (in Czech and English), wreaths and flowers, and everything almost exactly as it was in 1942. The air is heavy, the claustrophobia is real, and it’s impossible to not better understand the struggle of the heroes. Visiting the Operation Anthropoid memorial in Prague is an experience you won’t soon forget.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
A visit to the Operation Anthropoid memorial will only take about a half hour out of your day. It’s close to a lot of other sights and visiting is easy and straightforward. However, there are a handful of things you should probably know before you go:
➤ Admission to the museum and crypt is free (but there is a place for you to leave donations if you feel so inclined). For the latest operating hours, check out their official website here.
➤ When I visited in early October, the heat inside the memorial was blasting. I mean, it was downright stifling in there. If you thought the weight of the topic was suffocating, wait until you go in there in a down jacket.
➤ The door in and out of the crypt is… well it’s weird. I still don’t quite understand it. I realize that sounds ridiculous—I’m 36, I’ve opened plenty of doors in my life—but hear me out. The door is a large metal slab with no handles (that I could find). If the crypt door is shut, entering is easy (just push). If you’re inside and the door is shut… well… bless your heart.
Did I mildly panic when I thought I was trapped in there? Yeah… Did the fact that I was an inch from heatstroke have anything to do with that? I’d bet my sweat on it. Was it designed like this to make the visitor feel the same terror as the heroes for which the memorial is dedicated? Sounds plausible, right? Long story short (well, not really at this point), I used my nails to claw the door slab from against the wall and was able to push it open. I have NO idea if that’s how you get out—if you visit and have a different experience, please advise.
RECOMMENDED READING & WATCHING
Operation Anthropoid is a lot more complex than what I’ve talked about here (ya know, the stuff you already knew when you got here?) and is definitely worth learning more about. To learn more about Operation Anthropoid, check out these books and movies:
📽 ➤ Anthropoid (2016) | English-language, historically accurate representation of the real-life Operation Anthropoid starring Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy. The trailer is action-packed, the movie is not as intense but you learn A LOT from watching it. Definitely a must-watch before a visit the Operation Anthropoid memorial in Prague.
📽 ➤ Lidice (2011) | Also known as Fall of the Innocent in the UK. Dramatization of the destruction of the village of Lidice and the massacre of all its citizens by Nazi soldiers as payback for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Czech language, English subtitles, great reviews.
📚 ➤ Resistance by Gerald Brennan (2017) | Nonfiction, an excellent retelling of the events of Operation Anthropoid (according to reviews)
📚 ➤ HHhH by Laurent Binet (2012) | Historical fiction, novel focusing on the lives of Operation Anthropoid’s two central players: Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík.
📚 ➤ The Man with the Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove (2008) | Pure fiction, alternative history novel answering the question: “What would’ve happened if Heydrich had survived?”
I haven’t read or watched all of these yet. Have you?
Let me know in the comments which ones you personally recommend.
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