Operation Anthropoid

Operation Anthropoid was a key turning point in World War II. After Chamberlain gave Hitler control of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Czech lands fell under the control of Nazi German occupation. In 1941, Reinhard Heydrich was appointed “Reich Protector” over the territory. Many historians credit Heydrich as the “architect of the holocaust” and “one of the most evil people to ever walk the earth.” Even Hitler called him “the man with the iron heart.”

During the occupation, the Czech government in exile trained two parachutists, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, to assassinate Heydrich. On December 28, 1941, the two young men were dropped into the Czech territory where they rendezvoused with their allies. Over the next several months, the team monitored Heydrich and learned his routines, trying to identify the appropriate time to take action.

On May 27, 1942 (75 years ago) they executed the attack. As Heydrich commuted to his office in Prague castle, Gabčík stepped in front of the car to open fire with his submachine gun. Unfortunately, the gun jammed. As the car screeched to a stop, Heydrich stood up and drew his own pistol. Before he could fire a shop, Gabčík threw a modified grenade towards the car. The grenade missed the car but, upon detonation, embedded shrapnel of upholstery in Heydrich’s body. The two men did escape by tram to a safe house, however, unaware of Heydrich’s injuries, they believed they had failed.

One week later, Heydrich died from a septic infection incurred from the shrapnel in his blood.

This was a turning point in the war, and one many historians believe turned the tides in favor of the Allies. It was, however, not without consequence. Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš became wanted men and the Nazis would stop at nothing to find them. Over 13,000 civilians were killed in the manhunt over 2 weeks. When the massacres failed to produce further leads, the Germans issued a deadline of June 18th to turn over the assassins, who at this time were hiding in the Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Eventually, a tip was brought forward. In exchange for one million Reichsmarks, Karel Curda gave up a list of all of the safe houses.

The next day, the SS troops laid siege to the church. This resulted in a two-hour gun battle and attempts to smoke out the assassins with tear gas. When the fugitives fled to the crypt, the fire brigade was called to flood them out. In the end, Gabčík and Kubiš, along with the other accomplices in hiding with them, took their own lives as the crypt filled with water.

I visited the sanctuary of the Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius last Friday as part of the Czech’s “Church Night” (a cultural event where all 288 churches in the city are open and free to the public until 1am.) The city is blessed to have many brilliant sanctuaries that range from brilliantly baroque to hauntingly gothic.

This sanctuary, however, was different. It did not glisten in gold. In fact, it did not glisten at all. The room was dark, with the only lighting coming from candles light around the periphery of the room.

As I sat in the pew and contemplated the history of this room, two bible verses whispered in my ears that I couldn’t shake. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light onto my path.”

In the first verse, John tells us that the Light (God) shines in even the darkest situations. Certainly, this sanctuary has seen much darkness, and yet the light still shines. There is no amount of darkness that can put out the light. In the second verse, the Psalmist reminds us that God is a lamp in the darkness. But I love the wording of this verse; the light shines on our feet and our path. It doesn’t drive out all the darkness and it doesn’t show us the entire way to go; it finds us where we are, and it shines for us here in the moment.

There is so much darkness in our world today. Globally, locally, and personally, it seems like there is always a battle to fight and evil at play. In our jobs, our schools, our governments, our families, and our friends, darkness has a way of creeping in. But the candles in the Orthodox Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius are a reminder that no amount of darkness can put out the light. God will stop at nothing. And while the future may not be clear, God is with us in the moment and promises to keep shining.

Operation Anthropoid was turned into a Hollywood Historical thriller in 2016. The trailer can be viewed here. This weekend will mark the 75th anniversary of the gun-fight inside the church. I encourage you to say a prayer for darkness around the world that threatens happiness and peace. And may we also give thanks for a God that gives us light and reminds us that, whatever the battle, Love always wins.   Amen!

Zach Herzog

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