June 18, 1942: The Heroes of Operation Anthropoid Met Their Deaths

june 18 operation Anthropoid
Photo: Prague City Tourism

“We are Czechs! We will never surrender, did you hear that? Never!” 

Those were the last words of the paratroopers from the crypt in Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius Church in Resslova street in Prague.

On the 18th of June 1942, seven paratroopers lost their lives, among them were Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Jan Kubiš, who were sent to eliminate the SS Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei Reinhard Heydrich, one of the highest-ranking nazi officers.

In October 1941 after three years of occupation, the exiled Czechoslovak government in England decided that a show of strength was required.

Operation Anthropoid was a World War 2 military operation with a specific assignment for two young allied paratroopers – Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík – namely the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

The Nazis wanted immediate payback and two villages were proven to have supported the attack on Heydrich or to have actively supported the resistance.

On June 10th the people of Lidice were rounded up, any male over 15 was shot, almost everybody else sent to death camps (young babies were adopted) and the village was destroyed. On June 24th a similar fate awaited Ležáky.

In fact, Ležáky was never rebuilt and exists today only as a memorial. Following the attack on Heydrich the Nazis enacted something called “Collective Punishment”, simply put it meant that combatants friends, relatives and neighbours of anybody connected with the resistance were arrested and in many cases killed.

262 of the friends and relatives of the paratroopers were arrested as a result of the betrayal and were executed at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Several plaques in Prague show the date of death as October 24th, 1942.

After the attack, Kubiš and Gabčík, together with five other parachutists, had taken refuge in the crypt of the Church of St. Cyrillus and Methodius in Prague.

Despite a massive Nazi manhunt, their sanctuary remained a secret for a long time.

On June 16th a man called Karel Čurda, a British trained paratrooper on a separate mission, entered Gestapo headquarters and said he knew who killed Heydrich.

He named Gabčík and Kubiš plus a number of locations where they may be found.

On June 18, when the Germans entered the church, five of the paratroopers were already dead and two died on the way to hospital.

In addition to the many others who provided aid to the paratroopers, officials from the Orthodox Church and St Cyril and Methodius Church who had helped hide the paratroopers were executed.

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