Hangman Heydrich, Two Parachutists and the Czech Resistance

Hangman Heydrich, Two Parachutists and the Czech Resistance

Reinhard Heydrich (Public Domain)

“Heydrich came to murder the Czech nation, and the Czech nation murdered him.”

Professor Václav Černý     

Today is Monday, May 27  – Memorial Day in the United States, a time to honor Americans who have died in all wars. Interestingly, May 27 is a day in the former Czechoslovakia  when many people honor those who died during World War II in a daring act that Madeleine Albright calls in interviews about her new book Prague Winter, “one of the most amazing events of the war.”

Heroic Czech and Slovak parachutists Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik who died for their country in World War II are among those honored for their great acts of unquestionable courage. They accepted their mission knowing they would most certainly die. Operation Anthropoid was the code name for their mission, a daring act to assassinate the ruthless and hated Nazi leader SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich aka the Butcher of Prague and Hangman Heydrich. He was also right hand man for Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi security and police forces of the Reich and key planner of the “final solution”  for the genocide of the Jews.

On September 28, 1941, Heydrich was appointed Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. These were territories remaining from the former Czechoslovakia following Hitler’s Munich Agreement of 1938. Heydrich replaced the ineffective Konstanin von Neurath whose methods were said  to promote negative feelings toward Germans  and encourage anti-German resistance. Even though the resistance movement was small, it was dedicated, determined and amazingly successful.

The resistance network was under the leadership of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London President Edvard Benes. Frantisek Moravec, head of the Czechoslovak military intelligence coordinated resistance activity from London.  The new Reichsprotektor’s charge was to strengthen Hitler’s policies and wipe out the small, but mighty Czech Resistance. He was also charged to keep production quotas high for Czech-manufactured tanks and weapons essential to the German war effort.

Heydrich quickly began to suppress the resistance.  The day following his inauguration, he announced martial law in Prague, Brno, Moravská Ostrava, Olomouc, et al. He ordered immediate deportation of Jews to Poland and the Gestapo to increase arrests and executions. The Protectorate’s Prime Minister, General Alois Eliáš, was arrested, proven guilty of maintaining contacts with the enemy and sentenced to death. Two acting leaders of the military resistance organization were sentenced under martial law and executed by a firing squad. Hundreds of the Czech intelligentsia were executed or sent to concentration camps. The underground movement was methodically infiltrated and all but destroyed.

Alarmed by Heydrich’s success, the loss of face for the government and resistance, etc., former Czech President Beneš, Moravec and others connected with the government-in-exile decided Heydrich had to go. Something dramatic must happen and Operation Anthropoid was born.

Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčik (Public Domain)

In cooperation with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the planning and training began. Two members of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile were selected and trained: Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík from Slovakia and Jan Kubiš from Moravia. They were airlifted from London to the Czech countryside on December 28, 1941 with seven other soldiers and members of two other groups – Silver A and Silver B who had different missions.

Gabčík and Kubiš landed off course east of Prague, then moved to Pilsen and Prague where they spent months planning the locations and strategies for the assassination attack. Parachutists could communicate with London via a transmitter set up in Pardubice.  My husband Charles stated that the local Moravian and Bohemian resistance and Sokol helped with the preparation and strategy. He  lamented that the local resistance groups in Bohemia and Moravia were not given proper credit for the work they did to help. However, this is sometimes disputed, e.g., the conflicting account from CIA analyst R.C. Jaggers.

On May 27, 1942, at 10:30am, Heydrich was on his daily commute to work from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle an hour later than his typical time.  He was travelling in a chauffeur-driven open top green Mercedes car without a police escort.  The assassins had scoped the site out earlier and selected a part in the road where the car would have to slow down to navigate a sharp turn.  Two lookouts were stationed about 300 feet north of them.  As the car moved closer, then slowed down, Josef Gabčik raised his hidden submachine gun to aim at Heydrich and clicked the trigger, but the gun jammed.  Probably believing Gabčik was a lone assassin, the Germans slowed down to a stop and

Heydrich’s Car (Bundesarchiv)

reached for their weapons. When Heydrich stood up trying to shoot,  Kubiš, realizing Gabčik’s  gun had misfired, tossed a grenade which exploded at the right rear end of the car, flattening a tire. Heydrich was severely wounded by the explosion and grenade fragments, but he and his driver were still able to open fire with their pistols. Kubiš was also injured, but was able to flee on his bicycle.  The chauffeur tried to intercept Kubis, then chased after Gabčik, but both his attempts were unsuccessful and the assassins and their lookouts escaped.

Meanwhile, Heydrich had collapsed in his car and was rushed to Bulkova Hospital. He was operated on by German surgeons from the hospital and Charles University. By May 29 he was totally under the care of SS physicians. His condition appeared to be improving when while sitting up eating a meal he collapsed, went into a coma and died the next morning of June 4, 1942. Blood poisoning was given as the cause of death.  The Czech Resistance was successful. . . or so it seemed.

For more  detailed information and photos on Operation Anthropoid see:


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