Tuesday, October 6, 2015
An Unsettling World War II Tour In Prague
Our last stop on our eastern European trip was Prague, Czech Republic. While most tourists would choose the normal day tours we chose one focusing on Prague's history during World War II. Janice was unsure at first whether it would be her 'cup of tea', but by the end she had no regrets at all, none, and praised it as perhaps the best tour in our trek.
The tour leader was a Czech WWII specialist named Marek, who was as articulate in his English as he was well read in the history of World War II especially as it pertained to Prague. According to the tour flyer available at our hotel, one joined the tour by seeking Marek out according to his display of a black umbrella near the Powder Tower in Republic Square. Deadline: 2 p.m.
We decided to join the tour, as we were already in the Old Town Square:
And taken the time to see the famous Astronomical clock, amidst hundreds of touristas, e.g.
and so decided to walk to the Powder Tower in Republic Square where Marek would be standing. The photo below is of yours truly on the way there, with the Powder Tower in the background:
The walk (from the astronomical clock in Old Town Square) took about half an hour but we took our time, arriving by 1:55. (After stopping 20 mins. at an outdoor cafe for drinks.) It was also great to escape the pressing crowds (mostly composed of Americans) in Old Town Square! One of the first sights, pointed out to us (now 16 in all) by Marek using his same black umbrella was the Nazi S.S. headquarters in Prague:
From this once disreputable place (now a trading emporium) the orders of Reinhardt Heydrich were carried out, especially in rounding up all Jews present in the city - for shipment to one of the camps. (After the War, only about 1,600 Jews have remained in Prague and Marek showed us one of their only standing Synagogues and one of the oldest in Europe).
Heydrich also presided over multiple forays against Czech resistance fighters, at least until two of them assassinated him. (Described in minute detail by Marek as if he was actually present)
The Czech resistance itself depended on an extensive underground - once the catacombs used by early Christians. We were given special permission to enter these tunnels, and Janice got a photo of me below:
After the Nazis routed the resistance and took over their underground network, they used a deep pit (below) to throw prisoners and starve them to death. Marek noted they deliberately set up a kitchen nearby so that the aroma of freshly cooked food would waft toward the forlorn Czechs - forced to smell foods they were unable to eat as they wasted away.
Pit in underground used to starve Nazi prisoners.
The Czech resistance finally got some revenge when two Czech nationals - Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš - were airlifted along with seven soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile in the United Kingdom. The pair succeeded in assassinating S.S. Obergruppenführer Reinhardt Heydrich using a bomb in "Operation Anthropoid". Sparing no detail, Marek described how they bombed Heydrich's open-topped Mercedes 320 Convertible B - succeeding in part because Heydrich was brash and arrogant and didn't believe his vehicle needed any shielding, or protection. Heydrich himself didn't die until several days later from septicemia due to "foreign objects" left inside the wounds.
Our tour ended in the Jewish cemetery in the Old Town Square which apparently survived Prague's turmoil only to subsequently be seized and used as a site to try to advance Hitler's perverse plan to establish a local "museum of an extinct race."
Earlier, Marek had been asked by one of our group about a controversial new book on the Holocaust.
Marek (below right) seen as he knocks down a crazy theory propounded by Yale prof Timothy Snyder in his recent book, 'The Black Earth', claiming the Holocaust was really based on a "population control" agenda to protect the European ecology. Snyder claimed the preponderance of lives lost were in "non-state controlled" areas of the Reich. Marek dismissed it as "whole cloth nonsense" written by an ivory tower academic who really knew nothing of the War or the Holocaust.
In a soon to appear post I will show how and why Marek (and other critics of Snyder's revisionist pseudo- ecological codswallop) are totally correct.