Anthropoid

Visiting the Heydrich Terror Memorial in Prague had a deep impact on me. “Anthropoid” was the code name for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia in May 1942 by soldiers of the Czechoslovak army in exile. I knew the details of the operation before I came to Prague, but being in the crypt where the last showdown took place was a profound experience.

In the morning of May 27th, 1942, Heydrich was heading by car towards Prague Castle, his office. He had no personal guards and was alone with his driver. When the car slowed down in a street hairpin turn, Jozef Gabčík went in front of it and tried to shoot the Nazi leader with his machine gun but the weapon jammed. Heydrich asked the driver to stop the car and chase Gabčík. This gave time for Jan Kubiš to throw the modified hand grenade at the open roof car. Although the grenade exploded outside the car, shrapnel went through the door into Heydrich’s body wounding him. The attackers managed to run from the scene without being caught. Heydrich died from the infected wounds in a hospital eight days later.

German’s reprisals were very violent. It is estimated that 5000 Czechs were killed to revenge this assassinate. Thousands of people were arrested. Gestapo falsely thought that Lidice was the hiding place of the attackers so the Germans did a massacre in that village. A bounty of 1 million Reichsmarks was announced for information leading to the capture of the soldiers who killed Heydrich. No matter how many threats and how many people were shot for three weeks nobody revealed anything to the Germans. But on June 16th a Czech paratrooper who was separated from the main group came to the Gestapo office and gave them all the information he had on the Anthropoid operation and the families helping the soldiers. Once their mission was done, the Czech soldiers hid in the “Saints Cyril and Methodius” Orthodox church in Prague together with five other paratroopers who were sent from England with different missions in Czechoslovakia. In the morning of June 18th, 750 SS soldiers surrounded the church and did everything they could to capture the Czechs alive. The battle took six hours. The men inside the church fought to the last bullet which they used to commit suicide. Three of them died in the church chorus and the other four in the crypt below the altar. The traitor was judged by the Czechoslovak authorities after the war in 1947 and he was hanged.

What impressed me was the fact that the soldiers fought in the church until the end, even if they knew there was no other chance of survival than surrender. While three of them were fighting in the chorus the other four were digging for a way out of the crypt.
By their choice to fight until the end and exit from life only when there was nothing left they sent a very strong message. It was a message of courage and determination that still inspires people after all this time.

There was one more thing that had a deep impact on me. In the museum, there are many pictures of people who helped the paratroopers hid during their six months stay in Prague. All of them knew that when the Germans will find out about their collaboration with the exile army they will be shot together with their families. It was not a question if this will happen but when. They knew this meant their death and the death of loved ones and yet they helped the soldiers. However, once the killing attempt happened in May, for three weeks nobody said anything to Gestapo, despite threats and executions. Once the traitor talked, the Germans took care to torture and execute all the civilians involved as well as their families. Most of them were shot in October of the same year. By their sacrifice, they sent a message to posterity that humans should fight for what they think is right even when this means to pay the highest price.

The facts are that Heydrich was killed and around 5000 Czechoslovaks were executed as reprisals. Was this worth it?

Heydrich was a main architect of the Holocaust. He was in command of the units that committed killings behind the front lines and he was a very effective leader. He wanted to Germanize the Czechs while acting as Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia. If he would have lived longer I am sure that his units would have killed much more people than they did after his death. The Anthropoid operation was an important milestone in the Czechoslovak fight for liberation and showed that they weren’t willing to accept Germanization.

For those who want to read more about Anthropoid I recommend an interesting article which clarified many of the questions I had.

Prague Spring

It was a cold weather during the 10 days I spent in Prague at the beginning of March. Such a major difference to the sunny Rochefort that I visited in February. For the tourists interested in city attractions there are many articles on what to visit in the Czech capital so I won’t talk about that. I will cover only the out of the box things. I appreciate the sense of humor of the Czech people although it’s quite different from the Romanian’s sense of humor.

Let’s start with the history first. In the Wenceslas square there is an imposing statue of the former Duke of Bohemia from the tenth century – Wenceslaus I. A few hundred meters from this place, in the Lucerne passage, there is another representation of the same ruler only that this time is riding on a dead horse. This statue is the creation of the sculptor David Černý.

The next stop is the Prague castle, the biggest castle in Europe. There is a famous window the scene of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618. This led to the Thirty Years’ War in our continent. It was a tragic event, but it was somewhat funny to see next to that window a note that asked the visitors not to open the window. Last time that window was opened a war that lasted for thirty years ravaged Europe. We should better keep that window closed. As a side note, although the distance from that window to the ground is 21 meters all the three people thrown out of the window in 1618 survived the impact. This was considered a miracle at the time.

Let’s return to more modern times. Below are two similar sculptures. While I don’t know where the man with an umbrella in the first picture was heading to, the second man is the creation of David Černý mentioned above. It is a statue of Sigmund Freud attached with one hand to a flagpole. It is an inner struggle for Freud whether he should let it go or not.

In recent times, in 1996, they built a dancing house in Prague nicknamed “Ginger and Fred”, which can be seen as a modern symbol of an old city. Near the house, I saw the text in the second picture at a traffic light pole and I … did push the button.

These were a few things that caught my eye, amused me and made me think during my visit to Prague. I invite you to search for other out of the box cultural elements in Prague. This way you will understand more of the Czech spirit and way of thinking.

Les demoiselles de Rochefort

In February I was in Rochefort for a week playing in a chess tournament. When I was a kid, “Les demoiselles de Rochefort” was my favourite musical. It was written and directed by Jacques Demy following his success with “Les parapluies de Cherbourg” two years before. I enjoyed very much the soundtrack composed by Michel Legrand and the way it talked about love. The movie it’s about three men coming to Rochefort where each of them meets the love of his life. It was filmed in Rochefort for three months in the summer of 1966. Since that summer this little town has been changed forever.

Visiting Rochefort 53 years later for playing chess, I wanted to see the places where various scenes from the movie were shot and I discovered that not much of the original décor has changed.

The movie begins on a Friday morning with the arrival of showmen for a festival that was set to take place during a weekend in Rochefort. You can see that not much has changed in the town center over the years:

Rochefort town center in 1966
and in 2019

The gallery of Lancien is a “Natur House” in 2019:

The school of Boubou where Gene Kelly has a very nice dance scene:


The music store of Simon Dame became a local market. That’s the most dramatic transformation.

The market was closed that day

The tavern owned by the mother of the twins was modernized.

Michel Legrand passed away in Paris in January 2019. He was my favourite composer of movie soundtracks. Among other recognitions he was awarded with three Oscars during his career.
The town hall of Rochefort is adorned with a poster that says “Michel Legrand – Rochefort vous dit merci”

In the same town hall building Catherine Deneuve and her real life sister Francoise Dorleac sang the song of twin sisters in the movie:

The memories of this musical live strong in Rochefort as well as in my mind.

The movie ends with the showmen departure from the town next Monday morning once the festival finished. They came for just a few days then left Rochefort and… so did the chess players.

The movie will remain actual as long love is a topic of interest for human beings.
I enjoyed every day of my stay in Rochefort whether I was winning or losing a game. It feels great when you follow your dreams.