Anna Letenská was a celebrated Czech stage and film actress, best known for her comedy roles in the 1930s and 40s. Her second husband, architect Vladislav Čaloun, had ties to the Czech resistance movement. In 1942, when Nazi local boss Reinhard Heydrich’s car was grenaded in Prague, one of his assassins turned to another in the group for help. This other man was arrested for his assistance, and his wife was caught at the train station in Prague, attempting to flee. Under interrogation she confessed that she had spent the night before at the home of Letenská and Čaloun. They were then promptly arrested as well.
At the time of her arrest, Anna Letenská was in the middle of filming for a comedy film titled Přijdu hned (loosely translated, “I’ll Be Right There”). One of the producers at the film studio was Miloš Havel (uncle of the former Czech President Václav Havel), who pulled some strings with the Nazis in order to get Letenská released — at least, just long enough to allow for the film to be completed.
This clip is from the 1938 film Milování zakázáno. Appropriate to this blog, it involves singing. It’s charming.
Wikipedia: Letenská remained under Gestapo surveillance while filming continued. According to Otakar Vávra, the film’s director, “throughout this time Anna Letenská would sit with her head held between her hands although she appeared as cheerful as could be in front of the camera. We understood that she was preparing herself to die”.
There is a 2009 documentary film about her story, Anna Letenská: The Comedienne And The Nazis”, which was aired last night on the German television station RBB. There are several clips from Přijdu hned showing Letenská, and in them she looks tired. Knowing what was to come must have been absolutely draining. Meanwhile she was sending packages to her husband in prison, and caring for her son at home.
Immediately after the filming ended, Letenská was arrested and sent to Theresienstadt, then deported to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria, along with a transport of female relatives of the assassination organizers. Shortly after her arrival, she was killed by a bullet to the head, in October 1942.
Two months later, the film Přijdu hned had its premiere. It was probably not yet known to anyone there that Letenská had already been murdered. A man who had been part of the film work, interviewed for the documentary, was asked if anything had been said regarding Letenská at the premiere. Not a thing, he replied. “As if nothing had happened.”
Some months after that, her son was called to Gestapo offices, and given official notification of his mother’s death.
Another post about the reprisals for Heydrich’s assassination here.