Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

Morning of May 27, 1942 was pleasant in Prague, centre of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia. Weather was kind and the war far, far away. People were going to work. From his residence at Panenské Břežany, Acting Reich-Protector and Obergruppenführer of the SS, Reinhard Heydrich’s car was heading to Prague. That day, he was to fly to meet Adolf Hitler in Berlin.

Heydrich's car after attack, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-039-44 / CC-BY-SA

Heydrich’s car after attack, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-039-44 / CC-BY-SA

It happened when the car with Heydrich slowed to take a sharp turn. A man stepped in front of the car. The driver and Protector suddenly looked into a barrel of a British Sten submachine gun. Holding it was a Czechoslovak soldier trained by Special Operations Executive (SOE), Jozef Gabčík. Unfortunately, the gun failed to fire. However, Gabčík had a backup, his colleague Jan Kubiš. Kubiš threw a bomb which wounded Heydrich. The assassin team then disappeared.

Heydrich was taken to Bulovka hospital just 300 metres from the place of the explosion. It seemed to recover. Nevertheless, he succumbed to an infection of the wound on June 4, 1942.

The assassination had been planned months ago. Reinhard Heydrich assumed the rule in the Protectorate on September 27, 1941. He replaced Protector (former Foreign Minister) Konstantin von Neurath who proved unable to meet the rising resistance movement in the Protectorate. Von Neurath was sent “on leave”. Heydrich utilised very well the carrot-and-stick approach. While taking brutal and effective measures against the resistance (including the arrest of Prime Minister of the Protectorate Government Alois Eliáš) Heydrich supported welfare of the workers in factories. It soon became evident that he succeeded in quelling the resistance with a fearsome efficiency.

Destruction of Lidice, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-020-26A / CC-BY-SA

Destruction of Lidice, photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1993-020-26A / CC-BY-SA

Czechoslovak Government in exile, therefore, sent Gabčík and Kubiš with the goal to assassinate Heydrich. The operation was codenamed Anthropoid. The assassins parachuted with two other groups (Silver A and Silver B) on December 28, 1941. Through winter, they were in hiding and prepared for the attack – which they carried out on what might have been last occasion to do it as Hitler wanted Heydrich to repeat his success in France.

The Nazi response to the attack was quick and barbarous. Martial law was declared, houses in Prague were searched. Each day, the radio announced names of people who were executed. Even expression of agreement with the assassination was enough to be sentenced to death. The assassins, however, were not found. The Nazis offered a large sum for anyone who would inform the Gestapo on their whereabouts. On 10th June, the village of Lidice was destroyed. All adult men were shot, women and children sent to concentration camps. Most of the children were gassed. In total, 340 of inhabitants died. Two weeks later, another village, Ležáky, was also destroyed. That time, women were shot with men. The death-toll of the massacres and executions amounted to 1 300 people.

And the assassins? Gabčík and Kubiš and five paratroopers from other groups dropped with them had eluded the Gestapo for three weeks. Only the betrayal of Josef Čurda, member of the Out Distance paratrooper group, gave the Nazis clues which led them to the hiding place in Church of St Cyril and St Methodius in Resslova Street (at Praha 2 near Charles Square – metro line B or tram Nos 3, 4, 6, 10, 16, 18, 22 and 24 stations Karlovo náměstí). On 18th June, the church was surrounded. The Czech paratroopers put up a tough fight. After several hours, the surviving paratroopers were driven to the crypt of the church. The situation became hopeless and the brave men turned their weapons against themselves.

Memorial of Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš in Church of St Cyril and St Methodius in Resslova Street, photo: bkm / prague.tips

Memorial of Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš in Church of St Cyril and St Methodius in Resslova Street, photo: bkm / prague.tips

Čurda’s betrayal exposed the whole resistance network which had supported the parachutists. Further investigations led to many arrests and the resistance movement experienced serious setback. Čurda proved to be highly useful collaborator of the Gestapo. After the war, he was tried and executed for treason.

The place where Kubiš’s bomb mortally wounded Heydrich is near the Bulovka hospital (station Nemocnice na Bulovce, tram No 10 and 29). However, it has changed a lot during the seven decades since the attack. A tall memorial was erected there several years ago. The church of the paratroopers final stand, however, retains bullet holes around the window leading to the crypt where they ended their lives to avoid capture. Every year the assassination is being remembered. Several years ago, a large exhibition was prepared, which mapped the preparation of the assassination, the difficulties of paratroopers in their occupied homeland, the attack itself as well as the bloody aftermath.

Author: Pavel Janecek

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