- 1 Prague World War 2 Sites
- 2 Nazi Occupation of Prague March 1939 Onwards
- 3 Prague World War 2 Sites – The Holocaust & Jewish Deportations
- 4 The Heydrich Assassination And Terror 1942
- 5 1945 – Allied Bombings and The Prague Uprising
Prague World War 2 Sites
Prague was spared much of the destruction many other places experienced in World War Two, but still played a pivotal role in the conflict. It was where the seeds of the War were sown when the Nazis occupied it in 1939, and where the most audacious assassination of the War took place. Join us as we explore 15 of the principal Prague World War 2 sites.
During World War 2 Prague experienced relatively little material destruction but the Czech population suffered the longest Nazi occupation of the War. Their language and culture was severely repressed, and over 77,000 Jews were lost in the Holocaust. Prague then endured an intense battle as the War ended in Western Europe, with the Nazis finally retreating, only for the Red Army – and Communism – to take over.
We’ve divided the 15 Prague World War II locations into four categories – places associated with the pre-war Nazi occupation of the city, sites linked to the Holocaust in Prague, Operation Anthropoid sites connected to the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and finally, the last battle of World War II, the Prague Uprising of May 1945.
Nazi Occupation of Prague March 1939 Onwards
It was one of the most dispiriting, desperate moments in Czech history. The Nazis took occupation of Prague Castle, for many the spiritual home of the Czech nation, in March 1939. Adolf Hitler appeared from a window of the Castle, surveying the city he had just gained. The French would experience the same wretched feeling in June 1940 when Hitler famously looked across to the Eiffel Tower from the Place du Trocadero.
Hitler’s visit to Prague preceded the declaration of World War Two by almost six months, but was a hugely significant moment in the build-up. Prior to this, Hitler had clawed back what had been taken away from Germany by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, or claimed territory (the Sudetenland, along the Czech-German border) with a large German population. His occupation of Prague, Bohemia and Moravia was his first incursion into a foreign country over which he could not concoct any claim.
Hitler looked out of a window onto Hradčanské náměsti, and the adjacent courtyard inside the Matthias Gate (Matyasova brana) was used for military parades and inspections. This article on the Radio Free Europe website shows images of Prague during the Nazi occupation with sliders on each showing the same sites in 2019. The third image shows Hitler in 1939, and the sixth image shows SS chief Heinrich Himmler visiting in 1941.
The Cerninsky Palace – sometimes referred to as the Czernin Palace – is a five-minute walk up the hill from the gates of Prague Castle, in the heart of the Hradcany district. It was the administrative headquarters of the Nazis during their occupation of the ‘Protectorate’. The infamous Reinhard Heydrich, his predecessor Konstantin von Neurath and police chief / war criminal Karl Hermann Frank all had their offices in the building.
The 17th century Baroque palace, one of the finest in Prague, now houses the Czech foreign ministry and it’s only occasionally open for public visits.
This building, a short walk around the corner from Prague main train station (see below), is one of the most notorious 2nd World War sites in Prague. It served as the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) headquarters, so it was used for imprisonment, interrogation, torture and sometimes execution of anyone suspected of a connection to the Czech resistance.
The building is now part of the Czech government estate, housing part of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. There is a memorial on the corner of the building to the Czech Resistance, and a zsmall chapel in the basement, which is rarely open for visits.
Prague World War 2 Sites – The Holocaust & Jewish Deportations
Praha Hlavni Nadrazi – Kindertransport Memorials and Nicholas Winton Statue
After the shocking violence of the Kristallnacht Nazi attacks on Jews, many realized the stakes had risen and that Jewish lives were directly under threat from the Nazi regime. Most couldn’t emigrate but there was a chance for thousands of Jewish children across Central Europe to escape via kindertransport, mainly to the UK.
Prague Central Station was the departure point for 669 children of Jewish origin to the UK. These were organized by Sir Nicholas Winton, himself of German-Jewish origin. The kindertransports saved many more lives across Europe, but the scenes of separation would have been absolutely harrowing and traumatic for all concerned. Most would never see their parents again.
Prague main train station is well worth a brief visit even if you’re not travelling on from there. The historic half-domed vestibule is one of the highlights of Art Nouveau Prague, and there are two moving memorials to the Prague Kindertransports to seek out. The first is the Valediction Memorial, with a train door with engravings of children’s handprints, signifying their last farewells to their families. This can be found in the walkway between the main concourse and platforms, on the right, opposite a memorial to US President Woodrow Wilson.
From there, make your way up to platform 1 and turn right, continuing to the end. Here you’ll find a statue of Sir Nicholas Winton holding a small boy, with a girl looking terribly sad next to him. The statues, by Flor Kent, are one of the most poignant reminders of World War 2 in Prague.
Bubny – Holocaust Memorial, Holesovice
Praha-Bubny railway station is well off the beaten path, but one of the most important Prague Holocaust locations. The station – barely used nowadays – is located in Holesovice Prague, a few minutes’ walk from the Trade Fair Palace and the mainline Prague Holesovice station.
Around 50,000 Jews from Prague, the protectorate and elsewhere were forced to walk to Bubny station, from where they were transported to the Terezin concentration camp, and often onwards to the gas chambers in the death camps of Nazi-occupied Poland.
The Bubny Memorial of Silence has been founded with a view to establishing a permanent memorial at the station, which is intended to host a range of discussions about the Holocaust. There’s also a simple memorial, the Gate to Infinity by Ales Vesely, which consists of a railway track pointing skywards.
Old Jewish Cemetery & Pinkas Synagogue
The Old Jewish Cemetery and the adjacent Pinkas Synagogue are two of the seven sites that make up the Jewish Museum in Prague. One theory put forward is that the Nazis wanted to create a ‘museum of an extinct race’ once the Jews of Europe had been annihilated, and they certainly had amassed a vast collection of Jewish historical treasures. This may explain why the synagogues of Josefov – the Jewish quarter of Prague – were preserved, along with the Old Jewish Cemetery.
The Old Jewish Cemetery is, in normal (non-pandemic) times one of the best things to see in Prague, though we would counsel arriving early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. The Pinkas Synagogue, on the same site, contains inscriptions of over 70,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who perished at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The Heydrich Assassination And Terror 1942
Heydrich Assassination Site
The most famous event in Prague during World War 2 was the assassination of senior Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal Acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia and one of the main organisers of the Holocaust. It has been the subject of two films in recent years – Anthropoid (2016) and The Man With The Iron Heart (2017).
Operation Anthropoid took eight months to come to fruition, and at first it seemed that the assassination attempt was botched. The machine gun of one of the assassins, Jozef Gabčik, jammed, and as Heydrich ordered his driver to stop the car, his accomplice Jan Kubiš, threw a grenade inside a briefcase, which exploded after hitting the rear wheel of the vehicle. Heydrich was badly injured, but at first tried to shoot Gabčik before collapsing. The assassins escaped, assuming they had failed in their mission, but Heydrich was dead within a week of the attack.
The location of the assassination attempt is in the suburb of Libeň (Prague 8), next to the main Prazsky okruh road, and opposite the Bulovka Hospital where Heydrich died. The site and road layout has changed significantly since 1942 – our article on the Heydrich Assassination Site Prague goes into much more detail.
Kobylisy Firing Range
After Heydrich died, the Nazis set about planning reprisals, on the principle of ‘collective punishment’. The assassins and their associates would all be sought out, but the Nazis’ response was deliberately disproportionate, to instill fear among the population and prevent anything similar from happening again.
The army shooting range at Kobylisy, a little more than a mile (roughly 2 km) from the assassination site, was used to execute over 500 Czechs, many of whom were prominent figures. These included writers, journalists, the Orthodox Archbishop of Prague, Matej Pavlik-Gorazd, and Alois Elias, the former Prime Minister of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
There is a memorial to those who died at the site, and a lone sculpture, The Unbowed Motherland by Milos Zeta. The Kobylisy firing range – Kobyliská střelnice – is a ten-minute walk from Kobylisy Metro station. Bus 102 also stops close by.
Ďáblice Cemetery – Ďáblický hřbitov in Czech – is very close to the Kobylisy firing range – is one of the most obscure World War 2 sites in Prague. It’s in the north of the city, a 15-minute walk or 3-minute bus ride from the Kobylisy shooting range.
It’s believed that many of those murdered by the Nazis, including the Czechs who helped hide the assassins and even Gabcik and Kubis themselves – are buried in unmarked graves at the cemetery. This article on the BBC News website goes into more detail, but it’s highly likely that victims would have been buried there, especially given its proximity to the place of execution.
While you’re there, take a look at the main entrance, a fine example of Cubist construction, a very rare example of a unique form of Prague architecture.
SS Cyril & Methodius Cathedral and Crypt
This Baroque Orthodox Cathedral in New Town Prague was the scene of the final shootout between the Nazis and the seven members of the Operation Anthropoid group. They were betrayed by fellow paratrooper Karel Curda, who received a hefty reward but was later executed for treason.
On 18th June 1942, two weeks after the death of Heydrich, 700 heavily-armed SS, who also had tear gas and the forced assistance of the Prague fire brigade, besieged, gassed and flooded the church but could not capture any of them alive. Three of the Czechoslovakian soldiers were killed during the two-hour gun battle, while the other four committed suicide in the church crypt. Because of its role in these events, it’s one of the most intriguing churches in Prague to visit.
The crypt of the church is now the National Memorial To The Victims Of The Heydrich Terror. It houses a compelling exhibition on the circumstances surrounding the assassination, and the crypt contains busts of the seven paratroopers along with accounts of their role. This exhibition is the focal point of this Prague World War 2 Tour, which also takes you to other city centre locations.
Panenské Břežany is a village 8 miles (14 km) to the north of Prague city centre. Its Prague WW2 connection is that it was the home of Acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich for the last few months of his life.
There are two chateaux in the village – the Horni zamek (upper chateau) was the home of Heydrich’s predecessor, Konstantin von Neurath, while the Dolni zamek (lower chateau) was home to Heydrich and his family. After his assassination, his wife Lina and their children lived there until the end of the War. Heydrich’s home was forcibly appropriated from Jewish sugar factory owner Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a friend and patron of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who fled to Switzerland in 1938.
The upper chateau and park have recently been restored, and is now a Monument of National Oppression and Resistance (website in Czech – you can then put it through to Google Translate), with an exhibition on the first floor.
Lidice was a village 19 km north-west of Prague which was destroyed by the Nazis in the aftermath of the Heydrich assassination. No evidence has been found linking Lidice to the attempt on Heydrich, so it’s conceivable that the destruction of the village, and massacre or deportation of all its inhabitants, was a random act of brutal, sadistic cruelty.
The Nazis shot all males over the age of 15, and some women, deporting most of the women to concentration camps. Seven children were considered suitable for ‘Aryanisation’ and 82 children were murdered in the gas vans at Chelmno extermination camp in occupied Poland.
There is a small museum on the site, as well as several memorials around the site of the village, including a heartbreaking one of the children killed at Chelmno.
Lidice is easy to reach by bus from Prague. Bus 300 runs from Veleslavin bus station, next to the Metro station of the same name, between one and three times an hour, depending on the time of day you’re travelling. The stop you require, Lidice Pamatnik (Lidice Monument), is the fourth scheduled stop.
1945 – Allied Bombings and The Prague Uprising
Compared with many cities in Europe, Prague suffered relatively little material damage during World War II. This was down to the fact that it had been occupied before the outbreak of war, and that it was one of the last places in Europe to be liberated from the Nazis.
The only bombing Prague suffered during World War 2 only happened because of pilot error. During the fateful bombing raids on Dresden, the nearest major city in Germany, in February 1945, some US Air Force pilots made a navigational mistake and ended up dropping their payload over Prague, killing over 600.people in the process
The Emmaus Monastery sustained severe damage during the raid, and much of the church had to be rebuilt after the war. Its distinctive twisting twin spires were added in the 1960s, and the church and cloisters, near the southern end of New Town Prague, are open to visit most days. The 14th century frescoes in the cloisters make it one of the most intriguing Prague historical sites to visit.
Old Town Hall and Old Town Square
While the UK, France and much of Europe was celebrating Victory in Europe – VE Day – on 8th May 1945, Prague was embroiled in the fiercest fighting it had experienced in the whole of World War 2. The Prague Uprising began on 5th May 1945, with American forces to the west, the Soviet Red Army approaching from the east, and the Nazis ready to make a fierce last stand – all the while thinking that they would rather surrender to US forces than the Red Army.
The battle of Prague continued for 4 days, with Czech rebels, aided by the Russian Liberation Army, setting up hundreds of barricades around Prague to slow the Nazi offensive. The Old Town Hall and much of the surrounding Old Town Square were the Prague locations to suffer the most damage. The Old Town Hall was left a smouldering ruin, and one wing of the complex – on the north side, facing St Nicholas Church – was never rebuilt.
Czech Radio Building
The Czech Radio (Cesky Rozhlas) building on Vinohradska 12 is another of the key World War 2 locations in Prague. The studio there began broadcasting in Czech, which was forbidden, at the outset of the Prague Uprising, and made rallying calls for citizens to rise up against the occupiers.
This most crucial of Prague World War 2 sites was occupied by both Czech resistance fighters and Nazi SS forces, so fighting continued within the building, along corridors and from room to room. The Nazis called in an air strike to stop the Czechs broadcasting, and although the transmitter was disabled, the Czechs were still able to broadcast from a location in Strasnice and, later, from St Nicholas Church on Old Town Square.