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German president pays tribute in Prague to assassins of top Nazi Heydrich

Frank-Walter Steinmeier becomes first German leader to recognize sacrifice of Czechoslovak paratroopers, who died in subsequent gunfight

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R), his wife Elke Büdenbender and wife of Czech President Milos Zeman, Katerina Zemanova attend a welcome ceremony, ahead their meeting on August 26, 2021, in Prague, Czech Republic. (MILAN KAMMERMAYER / AFP)
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R), his wife Elke Büdenbender and wife of Czech President Milos Zeman, Katerina Zemanova attend a welcome ceremony, ahead their meeting on August 26, 2021, in Prague, Czech Republic. (MILAN KAMMERMAYER / AFP)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute Thursday to Czechoslovak paratroopers who assassinated senior Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich in 1942.

By laying a wreath at a Prague church and visiting a crypt in which the paratroopers died after a gunfight with the Nazis, Steinmeier became the first German leader to recognize their sacrifice.

Like his predecessor, Joachim Gauck, Steinmeier also recalled two Czech villages razed to the ground by the Nazis in retaliation for the killing of Heydrich by the paratroopers trained in Britain.

The destruction of the Lidice and Lezaky villages was part of a Nazi retaliatory sweep that saw 15,000 people detained, killed, or taken to a concentration camp.

“These villages were destroyed and there were so many victims,” said Steinmeier, who is paying a three-day visit to the Czech Republic.

“When we become aware of this difficult history and the things that unite us, we can be happy that our proximity, partnership, and friendship have such solid foundations that are practically independent of our political constellations,” he added, hailing German-Czech relations as the best in memory.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) and his wife Elke Büdenbender listen to Michal Burian of the institute for military history, during a visit of the crypt of the memorial for the resistance fighter of the Heydrich-assassination in Prague on August 26, 2021. (Bernd von Jutrczenka / POOL / AFP)

“What we are experiencing is something absolutely exceptional, it is a treasure we have to take care of,” Steinmeier said after meeting his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman.

(L-R) Franz Josef Huber, Arthur Nebe, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller, planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1939. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R98680/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The president, who arrived in Prague by train with his wife on Wednesday, is due to meet top Czech politicians, including Prime Minister Andrej Babis, before leaving on Friday.

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