Who could have assumed that the most dangerous man in Nazi Germany would go on his last ride in May 1942? It is not Hitler we are talking about. Reinhard Heydrich was the true epitome of the ideal Nazi man – he was tall, blonde and he had blue eyes. Even though he could have been mistaken for a European playboy, Heydrich was ruthless, and nobody could stop his ambitious nature. He had risen high and became the chief of Reich Main Security Office, and he controlled the Gestapo. Heydrich spoke at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, exposing a plan for the extermination of the European Jews, plus he became the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, provinces in the occupied Czech Republic.
Unfortunately, the people soon realized what his protection looked like. Historian Chad Bryant wrote: “Within days of his arrival buildings across the Protectorate were splattered with red posters listing the names of people—ninety-two in the first three days of Heydrich’s rule—sentenced to death by newly established summary courts. The summary courts allowed only three possible verdicts: the death sentence, shipment to a concentration camp, and release. By February 1942, five thousand people had been tried.”
When Heydrich went on his last ride, he was going through Prague without a bodyguard, and that was a mistake. However, he firmly believed that his people would not do him any harm and that they wouldn’t do anything to risk national security.
Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis were two men who carried out Operation Anthropoid. This was a specifically thought out operation to assassinate the brutal leader. These two men were trained by Britain’s Special Operations Executive. The first man who came up with the idea was the former Czech president Edvard Benes. However, Benes wanted to gain political points, and he wasn’t looking at the operation as a necessity to “free” his people from Heydrich, according to writer Callum MacDonald. Benes was confident that the Nazis on the one side and the Brits and Soviets on the other would come to peace terms, leaving Czechoslovakia under the Nazi rule. He was looking for a spectacular event to show that they would not allow this, no matter the cost.
Kubris and Gabcik parachuted from a British Halifax bomber, but the missions didn’t start according to plan. They landed twenty miles from the drop point, but luckily they weren’t discovered even though they landed out in the open. Czech gamekeeper helped them hide and connected them with people in Prague’s underground. They had to wait months to carry out the assassination, and they were hiding in safe houses around Prague. They couldn’t risk attacking Heydrich who was well-protected while he was at home. Luckily they knew where the Nazi leader would be on May 27 and they waited for him at a sharp curve where the vehicle would have to almost come to a stop to make a turn. Even though some of the Czech leaders opposed the operation, they went on with the plan.
They were standing at the sidewalk, watching Heydrich pass by and Gabcik opened his raincoat, but his Sten submachine gun jammed as he tried to pull the trigger. “Heydrich then made a fatal error,” MacDonald writes. “Instead of ordering Klein to accelerate out of the ambush, he stood up and drew his pistol, yelling at the driver to stop. Neither he nor Klein had spotted Kubis and believed that they were dealing with a lone assassin. As the car braked in front of him, Kubis stepped out of the shadows and tossed a bomb at the two figures in the front seats.”
Kubis and Gabcik started running as Heydrich, and his driver shot at them with pistols. The assassins were convinced that they missed the target, but Heydrich suddenly collapsed badly injured from the shrapnel. He was rushed to the hospital, and the Czech doctors were fighting for his life. It was time for Czechoslovakia to pay the price.
“Throughout the Protectorate blocks of flats, suburbs and villages were randomly cordoned off and searched,” MacDonald writes. “Everyone over fifteen was ordered to register with the police by 30 May. Those who failed to do so were shot along with anyone found guilty of harboring them.” Although a Nazi doctor was sent to attend Heydrich, he died on June 4 succumbing to injuries.
One part of the vengeance was capturing and sending Jews to the concentration camp, but the other part involved the village of Lidice. Hitler ordered his men: “Lidice was to be destroyed. The men were to be shot on the spot and the women sent to a concentration camp. Children worthy of Germanisation were to be handed over to SS families. The village was to be burned to the ground, and its remains leveled so that no trace remained.”
Lidice was utterly wiped out as if it never existed, on June 9, 1942. The Nazis killed 199 men, and 195 women were sent to the Revensbruck concentration camp. As for the children, only eight were adopted by families in Germany while eighty-one were put into the gas chamber. This was devastating news for the two assassins who were hiding in the crypt of a church together with five other commandos. They had no plan for escape, and they couldn’t get out without being seen. Unfortunately for them, a Czech sergeant approached the Nazis and gave up their position.
The Nazis sent troops to take the crypt and kill everyone who was down there. However, to their surprise, the people underneath were putting fierce resistance, and they needed fire brigade to get them out. Once the shooting stopped, the German found five parachutists dead, whereas Kubis and Gabcik took poison. In order to show that it was useless to fight the Reich, the Germans mounted their heads on spikes.
There is a site in Prague today where the attack on Heydrich happened. You can still see the bullet holes on the building walls, and it is a popular tourist attraction. Was this attack successful or not?
We can claim that Kubis and Gabcik were heroes. They attacked one of the most powerful people of Nazi Germany, realizing that they were risking their lives and the lives of others. The people of the Czech Republic went through hell under the rule of Heydrich. Most of them must have been relieved to see him dead, but they were aware of the retaliation. Instead of finding and killing the assassins, the Nazis punished the common folks who did nothing wrong. Thousands of people died just because of one man, and it is hard to determine whether the mission was successful or not. On the other hand, Heydrich was eliminated, and if he had lived, the lives of the people in that region wouldn’t have improved much.
What is ironic was that Heydrich was so arrogant that he believed that these were his people and that they would not harm him. However, ever since he became the ruler of Bohemia and Moravia, agents have been sent to spy on him and sabotage him, but there was a low chance for success. He believed that the Gestapo brought peace and order to this country, but apparently, he was wrong and it was his arrogance that killed him.