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Assassination of Heydrich 70 years ago: details could have been different

Exactly 70 years ago, on May 27th, 1942, Operation Anthropoid took place; see also BBC's article about the anniversary; Mr Alois Denemarek of those special units (who is still alive) remembers his friends.



This fencer, swimmer, violinist, tyrant, and an obsessed jerk spoke German, English, French, and Russian. That's too bad because a Czech leader should speak Czech. Also, it is not a good idea to be a vice-head of a terrorist organization, the SS.

The Czechoslovak government located in our temporary capital called London – due to some bureaucratic chaos in Prague of that time – sentenced a political crackpot, a key father of the Holocaust, and one of the most notorious leaders of the so-called Nazi Germany to death penalty for his role in the death of numerous Czech citizens, for his crimes against humanity, and his attempts to behave as a Czech political leader ("a protector") despite the obvious absence of any democratic mandate.

This execution was the only successful execution of a top Nazi apparatachik organized by a nation harassed by the Nazi regime. It helped us to increase our self-confidence because, let's admit, most Czechs were cowards and they were almost as compatible with the Nazi regimes as Danes, Dutchmen, and many others.

It wasn't logistically possible to hang him properly so we had to use some creativity to actually perform the execution of the "blonde beast". Trained agents equipped by the expertise of the British Special Operation Executive were sent from London and parachuted to Bohemia a few months before the operation.




The critical maneuvers, Operation Anthopoid, was scheduled for May 27th. Two key agents, Jozef Gabčík who was Slovak and Jan Kubiš who was Czech got a straightforward task. They should wait for Heydrich's "SS-3" Mercedes in the Holešovičky neighborhood of Prague – just hundreds of meters from the physics buildings of my Alma Mater in Trója – and eliminate him with a gun or a grenade.

(It seemed like the last chance to get rid of him. On that very day, Heydrich was apparently scheduled to meet Hitler in Berlin and he could have been appointed a master of France. So our speedy execution could have saved the French folks from quite some terror. Thanks us. You're welcome.)

The key minutes are usually presented as in this video (or this one, to to 6:00, or this one). Reinhard Heydrich was commuting and his Mercedes had an open roof – in order to show how self-confident he was feeling in his job of a fake Czech prime minister and how the Czechs "love" him. They knew exactly the regular trajectory he followed.

So near a sharp turn, at the crossing (Google Maps, an arrow) of the current Zenklova Street and V Holešovičkách Street, Gabčík started to shoot. However, his gun got jammed. So they had to employ the plan B. Kubiš threw a grenade. Heydrich survived the attack for a while but he died in a week due to blood poisoning caused by a shrapnel.

For seven decades, people would believe this story in which a technological glitch made the execution more complicated than it could have been.

Now, military historian Mr Eduard Stehlík studied some intelligence sources in London - and he was also thinking and asking folks from special units etc. – and he decided that the standard material taught to the agents in 1941 was different and it's possible that there was no glitch at all.

What is his story?

Based on these historical documents, he believes that it was actually expected that one uses a grenade as the first weapon and the gun was just a safety device prepared for plan B. He actually thinks that the most kosher and strategically sensible diplomatic protocol assumed that one should first throw two grenades in such situations. One of them should explode in the front of the car and stop it because it's safer and more convenient to work with a stopped car containing a dangerous toxic waste than with a moving one; the other grenade thrown in between the passengers should kill the unprotected "protector" and perhaps his driver Mr Johannes Klein (SS), too. The gun would only be used afterwords and they may have determined that it wasn't needed.

That was probably the original technical plan engineered by British experts. But it's plausible that they changed it because the Czechoslovaks were not too confident about their ability to throw grenades, especially after months of humiliation in Great Britain that they don't know how to play cricket. ;-) (The British coaches were some of the best British cricket players or their relatives so it just wasn't fair to criticize someone for being worse in a game we don't play at all.)

The broader strategic but still technical details of such plans were probably masterminded by (Czech) colonel František Moravec (in the military headquarters). Moravec's favorite ex-boss, general Josef Bílý, was among the first 13 high officers murdered by Mr Heydrich after he declared himself the "protector". So the execution of Mr Heydrich according to Mr Moravec's plan had a personal dimension, too. It was a punishment for our fallen officers as well as civilians, part of whom could have been attributed to Mr Heydrich. Czech readers may watch the 1964 movie "Assassination" with lots of details.

(It's known that alternative methodologies to execute him were considered, including poisoning, derailing of a train, and a massive bomb suicide attack.)

During the funeral (German-language historical video), Adolf Hitler complained that Heydrich had been an irresponsible fucked-up asshole. How could he have been exposed in this way even though Hitler has had such big plans with him?

After introducing the martial law and catching the executioners in the Cyril and Method Orthodox Church (which had to be flooded), the Nazi mafia continued to revenge for the death of their big boss. In June 1942, two villages – Lidice and Ležáky – were fully flattened and exterminated due to (flawed) reports that they had something to do with the execution of Mr Heydrich. About 5,000 if not 15,000 Czechs (including about 300 relatives of the assassins; but the thugs would kill you just if you approved of the execution) died because of the execution which may seem as way too many for one SS beast.

But I agree with those who say that the actual casualties caused by allowing this beast to operate could have been much higher. See e.g. Heydrich's speech shortly before he died about the need to settle the whole space (including Bohemia) by Germans only. Aside from disallowing Heydrich to pursue similar plans, the execution had other positive consequences. Britain (and, less consequentially, official non-Nazi France) retracted their shameful signatures under the 1938 Munich "Betrayal" Treaty and they declared Czechoslovakia an ally.

There are many lessons to be learned from those events. One of them is that if you're doing something unjustifiable with a whole nation and some very measured and decent people suggest that you may deserve the ultimate punishment for your deeds, they may be right and they may be able to turn this opinion into a reality. You shouldn't trust complacent words by the asslickers who surround you. Heydrich's fate shouldn't be forgotten by various global warming alarmists and similar people.

In the words of gen. Moravec,

In a society which lives by normal rules, assassination cannot be morally justified. But when a nation is enslaved by murderers and fanatics, assassination may be the only means of destroying the evil.

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reader Tamarack said...

At the time of the blast, my father was working in a nearby chemistry lab. The explosion was close enough to induce a tremor in the building. At once his supervisor rushed in, assuming that he had blown something up . . . again.


reader Luboš Motl said...

This is complete rubbish, a preposterous kind of a Nazi propaganda. There's been no industrialization during Heydrich. He was just using companies we built between the 19th century and the 1930s.


All the other "achievements" you enumerate are liabilities, forms of communism that made it easier for communism to introduce its Soviet policies, too.


The weakening of Germany was a legitimate major goal after Germany "mostly made" both world wars in just 25 years. The fact that you don't like this realization by Churchill and others doesn't justify you to spit tons of lies about my homeland's history.


Heydrich was a ruthless murderers and it was inevitable that he had to be executed by our government operating from London in 1942.


reader Eugene S said...

Dear Luboš

The quotes in the post from Mr. Meitzler are most probably the usual mix of true / torn out of context / completely fabricated found on Nazi websites but I have neither the time nor the inclination to do the research.


We are entering an age where it becomes easier for them to tell lies and sow doubt. The last survivors are in their twilight years now. Soon their testimonies will only be available in recorded form.


Among the general public, interest in a dense, historically accurate retelling of WW II and Nazi crimes wanes, quite naturally. The events of that period are becoming raw material for screenwriters to turn out entertainment.


However, not only Nazis can play that game. A counterfactual alternative version of history was Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds a few years ago (flawed, in my opinion). Another movie that I would highly recommend as a contemporary way of dealing with the Nazi legacy in the context of fiction and entertainment was the Dutch "horror" movie A Human Centipede, produced for less than one-percent of the cost of Tarantino's movie. (Be warned, that movie is definitely not for the faint-hearted.)


Time marches on and the Holocaust and World War II will become the province of specialists, experts in history. The vast majority will come to view that time like the Napoleonic or Peloponnesian Wars. One may lament this development but in my opinion it is inevitable.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Your comment only shows how the Nazi thinking such as yours is pretty much indistinguishable from the communist thinking.