Operation Anthropoid: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
In the beginning of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power as President and Chancellor of Germany, the Nazi government annexed Austria, the country of Hitler’s birth. After gaining the consent of Britain and France, Germany took over the Sudetenland, which was formed of both the northern and western sections of Bohemia, and northern Moravia by the Sudeten mountains. This area had become part of the Czechoslovakian expansion during the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain, set at the end of World War I in 1918-1919. Shortly afterwards, in March 1939, without anyone’s permission, Hitler took over Czechoslovakia with its 3,000,000+ German majority population.
In September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo, who had, on Hitler’s orders, already created a plan for executing Jews, called the “Final Solution,” was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia). He set up his offices in Prague and was often seeing going to one place or another in his open top green Mercedes with very little security, confident that no one would ever be brave or stupid enough to attack him.
One of Heydrich’s first steps in office was to create a Jewish ghetto or concentration camp at Theresienstadt, something he had already done in many other places across German occupied Europe. The camp was meant to be a transition point to a death camp, such as Treblinka or Auschwitz, although thousands of Jews died at Theresienstadt, while thousands of others were just left in place.
In this light of Heydrich’s arrogance, his connection with the Final Solution and death camps, and for doggedly rounding up as many resistance fighters he could find, a plot was hatched between Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) and seven Czech soldiers in exile in England, to assassinate Heydrich in Prague. They would have to parachute into the countryside, close to Prague, then work their way in, contact their friends for a place to stay, and then decide which of three location options would work the best for the assassination.
The designated assassins were Jan Kubis, Jozef Gabcik, and Josef Valcik, with the rest who parachuted in, to act as backups or reconnaissance. When the three found out that Heydrich was travelling out of town to a meeting on May 27th, 1942, they ambushed Heydrich on a street in Prague as Heydrich was beginning his journey by car without any security. First, Gabcik ran out in front with his Sten submachine gun and tried to fire into the car, but it jammed. The car stopped and Heydrich stepped out and drew his pistol to shoot at Gabcik. Kubis, off to the side, stepped out quickly and threw a bomb close to the car, which exploded, while Kubis fled.
Everyone got away, and Heydrich was injured by flying metal parts from the car and a passing tram, even though he tried to chase Kubis, but had to turn back towards the car, where he fell and passed out. Heydrich died eight days later, from reported “septicaemia” caused by embedded metal slivers and possible seat cover materials.
Hitler was furious and ordered a blood-bath search of any place where they might be found, including door-to-door searches in Prague. It was a terrible time in Prague, as many who were suspected of harboring the assassins, were taken away, tortured, and most often, killed. Two nearby towns, Lidice and Lezaky, were totally wiped off the face of the Earth, and its citizens either murdered on the spot, or hauled away because they were erroneously suspected of helping the assassins.
The three assassins, along with the remaining teams, hid for nearly three weeks in one place or another, until they finally ended up in a church’s crypt, but were betrayed under torture by a member of a family, looking after one of the extended team members who had been injured. All but one of the family members, would be rounded up and murdered shortly afterwards.
Once the Germans knew where the team was, the Karel Boromejsky Church, they surrounded the church, and then stormed inside, starting a gun battle that ended down in the crypt after several hours. When almost all in the team were dead by gunfire, the last survivors took their own lives.
While thousands of innocent Czechs lost their lives during this time, it is also said that many more lives were saved because Heydrich was killed before he could do more damage to the Czechoslovakians. It also gave the Czechs hope and pride in their country for finally standing up to the murderous Germans, and it also altered the course of the war, and history itself. This event was recently the subject of the 2016 movie, “Anthropoid.”