Part of our trip to Prague was for historical research, so one morning we took the World War II in Prague Tour. First a quick bit of historical background.
The nation of Czechoslovakia was created at the end of World War II when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved and formed into several different nations. Czechoslovakia was a democracy from October 1918 until the Germans marched in on March 15, 1939. His original justification was to re-patriate German speaking Czechoslovakians living in the area known as the Sudentenland, but of course, that area wasn’t enough for his need to create the German empire called the Third Reich. Because the Allies were still trying to avoid war with Germany, there was no military resistance.
Our tour started at the Powder Tower, one of the original thirteen city gates. Located in Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), the gate separates Old Town from New Town. Our guide met us here and gave a lot of information, but the square is noisy and I missed some of it.
Next he led us back to Old Town Square and the Old Town Hall where the Resistance hid in the underground chambers and used the tunnels under the city to move around without notice. How cool is that?
The “city under the city” served as headquarters for the Prague resistance. They even had a provisional hospital set up down there. The underground is actually the Romanesque and Gothic section of the Old Town Hall. Like a lot of old European cities, Prague kept building upward, so you have to go down to locate the older rooms. I believe the more rounded arches represent Romanesque style, whereas the Gothic arches are more pointed. I could see knights sitting around these rooms, quaffing ale or mead.
The biggest success of the resistance was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich of the SS who had been named “Protector” of Bohemia and Moravia by exiled Czech soldiers smuggled back into Prague. The story of the assassination was the basis for the recent film Anthropoid which I have not yet seen. The assassins were hunted down in a church, and Hitler got his revenge by destroying two villages and murdering all males over the age of sixteen. The rest of the villagers were sent to to concentration camps. Was it worth assassinating Heydrich? I guess it depends on your point of view.
One of the reasons the older sections of Prague aren’t modern is that the city largely escaped the bombing campaigns that destroyed so many other cities. There was one bombing raid on the city in Feb. 1945 by the Americans, who claimed that it was an accident. Supposedly the target was Dresden but faulty radar took them off course and they bombed the wrong city. 701 people were killed and the pilots expressed regrets afterward.
On May 3, 1945, when it became clear Germany was losing the war, the people of Prague rose up and fought the Nazis for three days, with resulting damage to the city including the famous Astronomical Clock. (Luckily it has been restored to original condition.) On May 9, Soviet forces entered the city on March 9, and the grim Iron Curtain descended on the former democracy.
In college, I had a professor who came from Prague. She managed to escape after seeing her husband shot by the Soviets. She always told us how lucky we were to live in the US where citizens were free to criticize the president without being picked up by the secret police! I never forgot that.
The rest of the tour took us through the former Jewish section of the city, which I discussed back in April.
The tour was very interesting and now I really want to see that movie!