Prague remembers Nazi past with replica death camp | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.05.2012
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Prague remembers Nazi past with replica death camp

Czech and Slovak groups are marking the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of Hitler's top officers, by constructing a replica of a Nazi concentration camp in Prague.

Virtuelle Simulation eines KZ, der in Prag zur Erinnerung an den Heydrich Attentat errichtet wird. Post Bellum: Assasination of Heydrich 70. Authors of the visualisation - virtual simulation are Josef Mádr and Martin Král Copyright: Post Bellum Zulieferer: GABRIEL L. BORRUD

Virtuelle Simulation eines Konzentrationslagers zum 70. Jahrestag des Heydrich-Attentats

In a leafy square in the center of Prague, workmen are putting the finishing touches to a replica of a Nazi concentration camp. Grey huts are lined up under the oak trees. A watchtower looms ominously overhead.

Reinhard Heydrich

Some see the assassination of Heydrich as a turning point

It's been put here to remember those who helped shelter a group of paratroopers who assassinated SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, in 1942, an act that prompted terrible reprisals from Hitler.

"Many people were killed here, and we want to give a voice to them as well […] to tell their stories - something personal - and to make the visitors here realize that these people, who have been forgotten, are worth remembering," Magdalena Benesova, who's in charge of the project with the Post Bellum historical society, said in an interview with DW.

'Operation Anthropoid'

The exhibition will be formally opened on Sunday, May 27th, 70 years to the day that three Czechoslovak paratroopers - Jozef Gabcik, Jan Kubis and Josef Valcik, all trained by Britain's Special Operations Executive - mortally wounded Heydrich as he was leaving Prague en route to Berlin for a meeting with Hitler.

As Heydrich's open-top Mercedes limousine slowed to round a hairpin bend in the Prague suburb of Liben, Gabcik, armed with a Sten sub-machine gun, leapt in front of the car and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed.

Heydrich ordered his driver to halt and drew his pistol. Kubis threw a bomb, believed to be a converted anti-tank mine, at the car and fled. Heydrich, wounded and in shock, pursued Kubis for several meters before returning to the car and collapsing. He died in a Prague hospital eight days later, on June 4, 1942, reportedly from septicemia from the shrapnel or possibly fragments of upholstery.

The reaction from Berlin was swift and terrible.

A woman stands in front of a monument in Lidice

The men and women in Lidice were killed or sent to camps; children were sent to Germany for 'Germanization'

The men's families were immediately rounded up and shot. The Czech villages of Lidice and Lezaky - based on flawed intelligence reports linking them to the paratroopers - were razed and their inhabitants shot or sent to the camps. Another 15,000 people met the same fate.

But the assassination of Heydrich, despite the enormous loss of life that resulted, also carried a deeply positive significance, according to Mikulas Kroupa, Post Bellum's director.

“In 1942, the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia was beginning to seem like it would last forever. Most Czechoslovaks were paralyzed by a feeling of defeat and humiliation. The killing of Heydrich roused the people into standing up to the Nazis. It showed we were not a nation of slaves.”

Enemy underestimated

Outside the camp, curious passers-by routinely stop and gaze at the grey wooden fence posts; this is certainly one of the more unusual sights in the center of Prague - and potentially upsetting for those who lived through the war.

One woman here, Jana Sisova, was two years old when Heydrich was killed.

“I was with my parents in the garden of our house in Liben at the time, and it's one of my first memories. I remember all the soldiers and police running around, and public transportation was down. We had to walk everywhere; that's what I remember.”

Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich (right), pictured here with SS-head Heinrich Himmler, was seen as a possible successor to Adolf Hitler

The paratroopers hid for three weeks but were eventually betrayed. On June 18th, 1942 they were surrounded in the crypt of a church. For several hours they held off an assault by over 700 Waffen SS and Gestapo troops, who ordered the Prague Fire Brigade to flood the crypt. Finally they took their own lives. Bishop Gorazd, the orthodox priest who'd sheltered them, was arrested, tortured and executed.

Heydrich, ultimately responsible for all of Nazi Germany's security apparatus including the Gestapo, was a great loss to Hitler, who organized two massive funerals in Prague and Berlin. In private, however, he raged at Heydrich's ‘stupidity,' calling his refusal to travel with a bodyguard or allow armor-plating on his car ‘idiotic.'

For once, the man whom Hitler hailed for his ‘iron heart' had underestimated his enemy.

Author: Rob Cameron, Prague
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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