This is another future-looking episode, released just before Friday’s Anthropoid. It’s the story of how the Czechoslovakian government, forced into exile after the Germans occupied their homeland in 1938, tried to fight back and take down Reinhard Heydrich at the height of World War II.
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- Show Transcript
- Anthropoid (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
- The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich
- Reinhard Heydrich: A Biography
- Reinhard Heydrich. The Biography. Volume I: The Road to War [with] Volume 2: Enigma. COMPLETE SET
- The CIA’s account of The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
Between Berlin and Frankfurt lies the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It’s largest city, Halle, is located in the southern part of the state and is home to one of the oldest universities in Germany, The Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, which was founded in 1502 and is named after the Protestant reformer Martin Luther – who was a professor at the university in the 1500s.
It was here that an opera singer and composer by the name of Richard Bruno Heydrich lived with his wife, Elisabetha. Himself the son of a piano builder, Richard’s life was devoted to music. And he was good at it.
Richard was a huge fan of another German composer named Richard, Richard Wagner. Although there’s no documentation to prove Richard Heydrich knew Richard Wagner personally, one can always speculate. After all, Wagner was born in Leipzig, which is just 45 minutes from Heydrich’s home of Halle. If there’s a reason they didn’t meet, it’d likely be that Wagner died in 1883 just ten days before Heydrich’s 18th birthday.
In 1895 Richard Heydrich wrote his first opera, entitled Amen, which told the story of a Germanic hero with extreme moral, intellectual and physical gifts named Reinhard who goes up against a peasant leader named Thomas. It was a play on the politics at the time as Thomas represented the threatening rise of Social Democracy in Imperial Germany.
The opera was a smash hit and at the turn of the century, Richard and Elisabetha enjoyed the life of luxury and a very high social standing in the community. In 1899 he worked at the musical conservatory in Halle that he founded. In his lifetime, Richard Bruno Heydrich composed over 80 different works, most of which were styled after Richard Wagner’s works.
When Richard and Elisabetha had their first child, they decided to name him after the music they loved so much.
Born on March 7th, 1904, Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich’s name was all about the music that was so important to his parents.
Reinhard, after the hero in his father, Richard’s, own first opera, Amen.
Tristan, after the name of the protagonist in Richard Wagner’s popular opera, Tristan und Isolde.
Eugen after his mother, Elisabetha’s, father, Professor Eugen Krantz, who was the Director of the Dresden Royal Conservatory — what today is the Carl Maria von Weber College of Music.
With such a musical family, it only makes sense that Reinhard’s early years were filled with music. He latched onto training as a violinist and became quite good–in fact, violin became a lifelong passion for him. At school, Reinhard was constantly bullied with anti-Semitic slurs on the account of rumors he was of Jewish descent. While anything is in the realm of possibility if you travel back far enough in history, there’s no documentation we know of to support this claim for Reinhard.
By his tenth birthday, Germany was at war when World War I broke out on July 28th, 1914. Unfortunately, we don’t really know exactly how much of an impact this had on Reinhard during the war. We do know the war caused massive economic ruin throughout most of Germany. One of the first industries hit were those considered luxuries, like going to his family’s musical conservatory.
He was too young, of course, to know the details of what was going on, but this significant change had to have a big impact on his childhood. He never really knew a life without war.
It also exposed him to violence early on.
Just two years after the war ended in 1918, a sixteen-year-old Reinhard, who himself used to be teased for a supposed Jewish ancestry, joined an anti-Semitic organization. It was the Freikorps, a group of ex-soldiers who were openly revolting against Communists in Germany. While he was certainly influenced by these ex-soldiers and their extreme violence, he reveled in the association with an anti-Semitic organization.
One can’t help but wonder how much of the political side he understood and how much of this was motivated by his being bullied as a Jew as a child.
His association with the Freikorps ended in 1922 when Reinhard left home for an even bigger adventure in the German Navy. While in the Navy, rumors of Reinhard’s Jewish heritage came back to taunt him in the form of the nickname “Moses Handel”. This because being teased as a Jew likely caused a rise out of the young Reinhard and because of his passion for classical music. Needless to say, he didn’t like this nickname.
As much as he may have wanted to, in the Navy he couldn’t very well resort to violence. So he put his head down and put the taunting aside as he worked his way up the ranks.
While he was doing that, a young Adolf Hitler was rising through the ranks himself as his Nazi party attempted to overthrow the Bavarian government in The Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Hitler would get arrested and serve nine months in prison where he’d use the time to write Mein Kampf.
In 1930, as Hitler’s Nazi party was on its way to becoming the second-largest party in Germany, Reinhard was in his own struggle because of a sexual relationship that Reinhard had with an unmarried daughter of a shipyard director. A year later, Admiral Erich Raeder forced Reinhard to resign from the Navy for “conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.”
Devastated at the loss of his career his fiancé, Lina Von Osten, suggested he join the Nazi Party. Lina was an enthusiastic Nazi member, having joined the party in 1929, and had just met Reinhard on December 6th of 1930 at a ball. The two fell in love almost instantly and despite Reinhard’s getting kicked out of the Navy for relationships with other women, Lina and Reinhard married at a small church in Grossenbrode on December 26th, 1931.
The timing seemed to be perfect for Reinhard. While he was looking for a new job, Heinrich Himmler was setting up a counterintelligence division of the SS. One of Lina’s friends suggested Reinhard apply for the new division and even went so far as to set up a meeting between Himmler and Reinhard. Himmler ended up canceling the appointment, but Lina didn’t care. She packed up Reinhard’s suitcase and put him on a train to Munich to meet Himmler anyway.
This time, the meeting took place. Himmler pressed Reinhard for his ideas on how to build the new division. He was impressed and hired Reinhard on the spot. Reinhard was hesitant at first since the salary was only 180 Reichsmarks a month. That’s equivalent to only about $42 in today’s U.S. dollars–per month!
But he took the job for two reasons: Lina urged him to as it was a way into the Nazi Party. And Reinhard was intrigued with the idea of a military position that also seemed to be on the verge of revolutionary. If you remember, he was involved in a revolutionary sort of organization before joining the Navy so these two things seemed to be a good fit for him.
He was the 10,120th member of the SS.
Reinhard loved his job. In only a few months, he earned a raise to almost 300 Reichsmarks a month–about $70 in today’s dollars.
On August 1st, 1931, Reinhard was promoted to a new job as chief of the intelligence service. The service was brand new, so the title hadn’t existed before Reinhard. But it meant a brand new office at the Nazi Party headquarters in Munich.
As is often the case with those who rise to power, their enemies will try to tear them down. And although Reinhard didn’t have many enemies against him specifically, the power of his new position meant he would be targeted as well.
While Reinhard Heydrich certainly can’t be associated with President Obama, it’s very interesting that both men were targets of the same sort of political attack by their enemies. For Obama, it was people spreading rumors that he wasn’t born in the United States and was actually of Kenyan descent. For Reinhard, rumors began to spread he was Jewish and many claimed to actually have documentation of Reinhard’s Jewish ancestry.
This documentation has never surfaced, but it did cause some commotion in the Nazi Party about their new head of counterintelligence.
Still, Himmler considered getting rid of Reinhard over this controversy. He had a long talk with Reinhard to discuss these rumors, after which Himmer said Reinhard is: “a highly gifted but also very dangerous man, whose gifts the movement had to retain…extremely useful; for he would eternally be grateful to us that we had kept him and not expelled him and would obey blindly.”
So instead Himmler called in Dr. Achim Gercke, who was in charge of researching the genealogy of Nazi Party members, to do an investigation into Reinhard’s history and determined he was, “of German origin and free from any colored or Jewish blood.” This went a long way to ending the rumors officially, but Reinhard did hire a private investigator to keep looking into his heritage to further combat the rumors.
While Dr. Gercke certainly could have fudged the historical records to say whatever Himmler wanted, he didn’t have to. There’s no truth to Reinhard’s supposed Jewish ancestry. The whole reason for it was centered on Reinhard’s grandmother, whose second husband had a Jewish sounding name: Süß. But this was someone Reinhard’s grandmother had married after the death of her first husband, who was Reinhard’s actual grandfather. So there was no blood relationship, and even though Mr. Süß sounded Jewish he wasn’t Jewish either.
Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany on the morning of January 30th, 1933. With Hitler looking to further gain power in Germany, that same year Himmler turned to Reinhard to help him gain control over the German police. Reinhard gathered some of his men and stormed police headquarters in Munich, effectively taking over the police force there. Himmler was put in place as the Chief of Police in Munich and Reinhard himself became the commander of another new division, a form of political police known as “Department IV”. They continued their show of force until they had control of the police forces in all seventeen of the German states.
After gaining control of the police, the first concentration camps began to be set up in 1933 to house political prisoners. Hermann Göring also set up the Gestapo in 1933 as yet another police force in Germany. By the end of 1933, there were over fifty concentration camps.
Reinhard’s role changed in 1934 when Göring transferred the Gestapo to Himmler in April. Himmler, in turn, immediately turned the Gestapo over to Reinhard, making him the head of Gestapo on April 22nd, 1934.
While Reinhard was head of both the Gestapo and counterintelligence, he was at the heart of the Nazi Party’s Operation Hummingbird, a plan to take even more power in Germany. They did this flexing their power over the police. Hitler ordered four men to draw up a list of key people who should be dealt with: Göring, Himmler, Viktor Lutze and Reinhard. Just before carrying out their plan, on June 9th, 1934, Rudolph Hess took over for Reinhard as head of the counterintelligence service. This allowed Reinhard to focus all of his time on the Gestapo.
He didn’t waste any time.
Along with the SS, Reinhard and his Gestapo coordinated a series of mass arrests beginning on June 30th, 1934. These were arrests without any real merit other than to get rid of these people. Without reason, other than their opposition to the Nazi Party, an estimated two hundred people were arrested and shot, without a trial, in what would become known as the Night of the Long Knives.
It took only two days, and afterward the Nazi’s suddenly had a lot less opposition to their grip on Germany. On August 2nd, 1934, German President Hindenburg died and Hitler seized control once and for all. He combined his office as chancellor with the office of the president into a single dictatorial position, the German Führer–which simply means “leader”.
Because of the Night of the Long Knives, there wasn’t any real opposition to Hitler’s final rise in ranks to ultimate power.
With unchecked freedom, Reinhard began making some significant changes in his Gestapo in an attempt to fear and intimidate. He started with an index-card system, essentially putting offenders into a series of categories that were color coordinated. As part of this, his Gestapo was given permission to arrest people who not only were offenders but also arrest people who might become offenders. Anyone who they thought might commit a crime was arrested at the complete discretion of the Gestapo officers.
Reinhard got a new law passed in his favor in 1936. Called The Gestapo Law, it essentially gave the Gestapo the ability to do whatever they wanted. As long as anyone in the Gestapo was considered to be carrying out Hitler’s will, no courts could even so much as order an investigation into the action.
Needless to say, the concentration camps that were once held only for political prisoners started to overflow. New concentration camps were built. Brutal beatings, murders and arrests became commonplace throughout Germany. Reinhard’s plan to institute fear and intimidation was working.
It was also this same year that Reinhard and his wife, Lina, both left the Catholic Church, claiming the Church’s political power was a danger to the German State. They instead joined a new church set up by Heinrich Himmler.
You’d think it would be hard to get any more promotions, but fortunately for Reinhard, the Nazi Party could do whatever they wanted. This included just making up new positions of power.
On June 17th, 1936, the Führer unified all of the German police forces. Heinrich Himmler officially got a promotion as the new Chief of German Police across all of Germany. And of course this meant a promotion for Himmler’s right-hand man and Reinhard was promoted to deputy with an official title of SS Obergruppenführer, or Senior Group Leader of the SS. Second-only to Himmler. While the German military machine had many high ranking officials that had power outside of Germany, inside the country there was no one more powerful than Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich.
And as we know from history, their power would grow even larger right along with Germany’s borders.
It was on April 10th, 1938, when Austrians held a vote. The question was simple: Should we join Greater Germany? While we’ll probably never know how many of the voters knew what was involved–much like the more recent Brexit vote where there were many reports of voters who had regret the day after the vote was passed–what we do know is that the Austrians were bombarded with propaganda just before the vote.
Oh, and we also know about 400,000 people, or about 10% of the Austrian population at the time, simply wasn’t allowed to vote.
After the vote, the German political machine announced the vote passed by an overwhelming 99% in favor. So, Germany officially announced the annexation of Austria. No shots were fired. But all of a sudden, Reinhard’s power expanded over millions more people in Europe.
Almost immediately, Hitler turned his sights on Czechoslovakia. After a series of territorial occupations, Germany creeped into Czech land. As this was happening, a German-born Polish Jew assassinated a German diplomat. Reinhard’s reaction was swift as he orchestrated what we now know as Kristallnacht, or Crystal Night. Under cover of the night on November 9th and early morning hours of the 10th, Reinhard’s Gestapo officers murdered ninety-one Jews and arrested an estimated 25,000 to 30,000. These were all deported to concentration camps.
Almost exactly one year after Austria was absorbed into Germany, on March 15th, 1939, the remainder Czechoslovakia was annexed by Germany. Millions more were added under German law and the intimidation of Reinhard’s Gestapo.
A man by the name of Konstantin von Neurath was set up as the Reich Protector in Czechoslovakia. He was charged with keeping the peace in Germany’s new lands. But that doesn’t mean Reinhard wasn’t involved.
With millions more from other countries added to Germany, Reinhard didn’t feel The Gestapo Law was enough. Sure, they could legally arrest anyone they thought might commit a crime even before they committed it. But would courts in the former countries of Austria and Czechoslovakia resist? Legally they had to comply, but he didn’t want to start revolts with their arrests.
So toward the tail end of 1940, he issued a decree simply titled Nacht und Nebel. Translated to Night and Fog, Reinhard’s Gestapo officers didn’t slow down their pre-emptive arrests. Instead, they were ordered to take their prisoners away “under the cover of night and fog”.
The results of this decree meant one day someone would be there; the next day they’d be gone. Neighbors were left to wonder what happened to people in their community. They’d simply disappeared. In this way, thousands and thousands started to vanish from communities around Greater Germany.
Reinhard became increasingly displeased with von Neurath, claiming he was too soft. A strong Czechoslovakia was vital to the German war machine, as there were a lot of industrial plants there. So on September 27th, 1941, Hitler, Himmler and Reinhard issued a proclamation that von Neurath had fallen ill and would be sent on leave. Reinhard was appointed as the Deputy Reich Protector in Czechoslovakia. Technically von Neurath was still the Reich Protector, but in reality it was Reinhard who had full control.
And he made no illusions as to his goal. After he was appointed, Reinhard told one of his aides: “We will Germanize the Czech vermin.”
Of course, that was all internally discussed and the only reason we know about it now is because of the top secret documentation that came to light after the eventual fall of the Third Reich.
So Reinhard went to work in German-occupied Czechoslovakia and he acted swiftly: Within three days of his arrival in Prague, he executed 92 people. Within five weeks that number had grown to 300. He also closed down any sort of shops or businesses that expressed Czech culture, instead impressing on the people the German culture. In the final few months of 1941 and into the early months of 1942, most historians estimate that Reinhard was directly responsible for the arrest of between four and five thousand people. Most of these were either executed right away or they were sent to concentration camps.
It’s no wonder Reinhard earned the nickname, “the Butcher of Prague”.
But as far as Germany was concerned, his tactics worked. Production increased. And so did his popularity with Hitler and Himmler. For his tactics, most historians consider Reinhard to be the more fearsome member of the Nazi Party leadership.
What happens next is the basis for the movie Anthropoid.
While all of this was going on with Reinhard, Eduard Benes, who was the Czech president-in-exile was trying to keep up with what was happening in London. He was starting to fear that if the Czechs didn’t muster a revolt that even if the Allies won the war there’d be no Czechoslovakia left to lay claim to. So he sent a message to General Frantisek Moravec, who was the chief of intelligence for the Czech Army, and ordered him to increase the resistance. This in and of itself wasn’t an easy task as Reinhard had men watching for any sort of underground messages or resistance.
But nothing happened. Czech resistance didn’t increase.
So President Benes decided to do something more rash–something that would send a message. He decided on an assassination of a high-ranking official. General Moravec nominated a Czech traitor, an ex-colonel who was a puppet for the Germans. This colonel’s name? Emanuel Moravec. No relation to General Frantisek Moravec, but that they had the same last name no doubt was a major reason for General Moravec’s reasoning. He didn’t want to be associated with a traitor.
But no one really knew who Emanuel Moravec was–he wasn’t a very popular person outside of his small circle. It’s likely that General Moravec knew of him was because of their shared last name.
President Benes turned down this suggestion, and so General Moravec suggested someone else: Reinhard Heydrich. It was perfect. Reinhard was not only a major figure in the Nazi Party, but he’d been slaughtering hundreds of Czechs and imprisoning thousands more.
President Benes agreed and the operation officially was under way. They gave it the name “Anthropoid”, which is a Greek term mostly used in zoology. It means “having the form of a human”.
To keep things as secret as possible, there only were five people who knew about the operation. These were President Benes, General Moravec and his deputy Lt. Col. Stragmueller along with General Ingr and the chief of operations, Major Eryc. Of these five, only President Benes and General Ingr knew the names of all the men involved.
From the beginning, everyone was working under the assumption this was a suicide mission. If anyone was fortunate enough to get close to Reinhard, there’d be no way they’d make it out alive–whether or not the operation was a success. It would be a real-life suicide squad–but this isn’t where DC Comics came up with the idea for their own Suicide Squad. That’s the story of the Filthy Thirteen, and is another World War II story for another day.
The five who knew of Operation Anthropoid in the Czech Army knew they’d also have another problem. Czechoslovakia was occupied by the very man they were trying to assassinate. This operation would take training, and they couldn’t very well do it in Czech lands. So President Benes managed to convince a few British officers in MI-6 to help with the training. The final men in on the plan would be the pilots of the plane that would fly them to Czechoslovakia. These men would know the time and location of the drop, but not the identities of the men who they were dropping off or their purpose. If you can imagine that, they’re going to be in a plane flying for hours on a top secret mission and they don’t even know each other’s names.
At the time, this was common. In the military, secret operations were common and so it wasn’t unexpected to be training for a mission where you didn’t know the full details. You were told what you needed to know and nothing more.
The final piece of the puzzle was picking the men who would pull off the operation — the actual operatives. To do this, they turned to 2,500 Czech soldiers in England who were already in training. Whether or not it was for this operation, they would be used in the war effort somewhere. Most of these 2,500 soldiers were volunteers who had evacuated Czechoslovakia when the Germans occupied the lands. They were now training under British instruction.
Two MI-6 officers were assigned to this brigade of Czechs. They pretended to be soldiers training alongside them, but in truth they were searching for two men who would make good operatives. When the two MI-6 officers would find someone, they’d set up an interview with Lt. Col. Stragmueller who, if he liked them and, of course, they agreed to volunteer for special training, would send them through a series of vigorous additional training. This included making home-made bombs, ju-jitsu, physical conditioning, cover and concealment and more. The training was done in ten-man teams and the five Czechs behind the operation were watching each man closely.
During these training sessions, the five masterminds behind Anthropoid decided it’d be best if it were a two-man operation. This would keep the numbers small, but if one man failed there would be someone to step up and take his place. What this meant in training was they were not only looking for individual skill, but for the two men who worked well together.
Oh, and they couldn’t actually be from Prague. If someone was from Prague, they’d be eliminated from the operation. The operation would be carried out in Prague, and no one could risk the two assassins being recognized. During times of war, that would be highly suspicious. Reinhard would certainly kill anyone based on just a suspicion. After all, that’s exactly what The Gestapo Law allowed him to do.
As the days and weeks marched on, the teams started to narrow down. As they neared the end, General Moravec chose a clever way to help whittle down the teams even more. When there were just eight potential candidates left, he ordered their instructors to pull them aside separately at a time when no one else could see they were being pulled aside. Then the instructors would share a juicy bit of concocted information–a rumor–and end the secret conversation with the warning not to mention it to anyone else.
No two candidates were given the same bit of information.
It didn’t take long for two rumors to start circling, and immediately the two candidates who had been given that information were eliminated. That left six. One of the six got sick, which eliminated him. Then it came to light that another was married, which eliminated him–this was, after all, a suicide mission.
General Moravec interviewed the final four candidates and soon after he had his picks. Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik not only passed all of their tests, but happened to be good friends. This meant they’d work together better as a team.
Jan was born in 1916 and joined the Czech Army at age twenty. He’d fought in France in 1940 and although he was a bit shy, he was extremely smart and inventive.
Josef was born in 1917 and was an orphan since the age of ten. He’d joined the Czech Army in 1937, a year after Jan, and had also fought in France in 1940. He was good-natured and cheerful even under extreme strain, which was a perfect complement to the more quiet Jan.
What’s more, both Jan and Josef spoke fluent German. Although neither had relatives or friends in Prague, they were still Czech–they had relatives in Czechoslovakia. General Moravec pulled the two into a small room to do one final interview. He spoke to the two saying:
“Please understand that I am not testing you now. You have proved that you are brave and patriotic. I am telling you that acceptance of this mission is almost certainly acceptance of death–perhaps a very painful and degrading death–because I do not believe the man who tries to kill Heydrich can succeed if the awful realization that he too will die comes too late, and unnerves him. I have another reason, too: if you make your choice with open eyes, I shall sleep a little better.”
The two men considered these words for a moment. Josef was first to agree, then Jan. They were proud to have been chosen. Before leaving the room, the general gave them one last chance. This was the final line. There’s no going back. If you don’t want to or cannot go through with the assassination for any reason, it is your duty and honor to say so immediately.
The two looked at each other first then Josepf said, “No. We want to do it.” Jan nodded his approval.
With the two operatives chosen, the final training was to begin. This is the training where the plans for the operation itself was laid out.
They pulled out a map and started to lay out who was going to be dropped where and when.
General Moravec looked up from the map, “One more point. Under no circumstances–and I mean none at all–is either of you to get in touch with the underground, directly or indirectly. You are absolutely on your own. The underground is infested with informants; Heydrich has done his usual masterful job. For this reason we have not sent out one word about you, even to the most trusted leaders there. If anyone approaches you and says that he comes from the underground, he is a provocateur. Treat him as such.”
Jan and Josef nodded. Then the three men began to run through the operation.
The two would be dropped about 50 kilometers, or about 31 miles, outside of Prague in a wooded area. That would give them the cover needed to land, but the landscape southeast of Prague also offered some good cover to approach the city. Immediately upon landing, Jan and Josef would destroy all traces of the landing. The two men would then head to a pre-chosen half-way point between Prague and the nearby village of Brezary. This was chosen because Reinhard’s home was heavily guarded, as was the palace where he worked.
The chosen point was near a sharp curve in the road. Any cars traveling on it would be forced to slow down to 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles per hour. They assumed there’d be at least two military motorcycles in addition to Reinhard’s car, but they couldn’t be sure exactly how many would be in the motorcade.
General Moravec gave his final advice:
“Now remember–don’t rush it. Don’t use pistols in any case. If there is any chance that you can’t bring it off with the bomb or the machine gun on first try, wait and pick a better spot for the next day. But don’t delay too long. Now, a last dry run.”
Jan and Josef left the room to prepare for the dry run. After about ten minutes, General Moravec called for his car to be driven down a certain country road at a certain speed–trying to match the conditions of what they expected in the operation. He sat in the car and scanned all of the foliage and cover wherever the car slowed for a curve. He tried his best to find Jan and Josef, but couldn’t find them. Then, he drove back and waited.
After a few minutes, Jan and Josef reappeared.
“Well?” General Moravec. “Did you kill me?”
Josef replied, “Yes, sir.”
“Are you sure?”
The final stage of the operation would be escape. Even though the operation was planned as a suicide mission, should the two men–or one of them–have the chance to make it out alive, they had to have a plan in place. And since no one really expected it to be used, the escape plan was not nearly as detailed as the rest. It was simply to make their way, on foot, east of Prague to Slovakia. Josepf knew the mountains in that area, so they’d hide out there until they could find a way back. They were essentially on their own.
On April 15th, 1942, General Moravec walked down the runway to the plane that would take Jan and Josef to Czechoslovakia. Remember they were still keeping the operation secret, even to those at the airport. From this airport, planes took off all the time–Czech, Polish, Canadians–the nationalities were scattered. For this day, General Ingr had made sure that a Czech team was rested and ready to go.
As Jan, Josef and General Moravec stood at the bottom of the ramp next to the plane, they took a moment to look at each other. They shook hands briefly and General Moravec went into the plane to explain where and when Jan and Josef would need to be dropped off.
When the general came back out of the plane, Josef appeared a bit nervous. He motion the general aside, “Sir, may I speak to you for a moment in private?”
General Moravec was disappointed–Josef was going to drop out of the operation. They moved a few yards away where no one else could hear them.
“Look, sir,” Josef started, “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
After a moments pause, he continued. “I’m ashamed. But I have to tell you. I’ve run up a bill at a restaurant, the Black Boar. I’m afraid it’s ten pounds, sir. Could you have it taken care of? I hate to ask, but I haven’t got the money, and I don’t want to leave this way.”
General Moravec felt a wave of relief, “All right. Anything else?”
Josef’s countenance instantly changed. “No, sir!” The two started back to the plane, then Josef said one last thing, “Except—don’t worry. We’ll pull this off, Kubis and I.”
Jan and Josef got in the plane and took off, headed to certain death in their homeland of Czechoslovakia.
Now from here on out it’s important to note that we don’t really know a lot of the details for what happened with Jan and Josef. They hadn’t taken any radios or any means of reporting back. That would be cause for suspicion and execution in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Even if they were to survive, the ability to recount specifics and their willingness to do so would be minimal. Especially since they’d been trained specifically not to.
General Moravec waited in anticipation, as did the rest of those who knew of the operation. When the plane returned, the captain, a man named Anderle, had said the two men had jumped on time. As far as he could tell, everything went according to plan.
Ten days after Jan and Josef were dropped, Captain Anderle was shot down in an air battle in Malta. Was this a bad omen?
Two weeks passed.
If it were successful, surely they’d hear word of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich’s death.
If it wasn’t successful, it’d be almost certain that Reinhard would torture and kill them. While Jan and Josef may receive some special attention for their operation’s purpose, they didn’t expect to hear word of this.
After four weeks, it was assumed the operation was a failure. General Ingr said, “If they failed, let us hope they failed completely and without getting anywhere near Heydrich.”
After six weeks, on May 29th, they intercepted something on a radio broadcast in Prague that piqued their interest. It was a Friday afternoon, and the broadcast was indignantly reporting that Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich had been severely wounded by murderers in a criminal attempt on his life that morning. According to the broadcast, two men had been seen leaving the area on bicycles and a search was underway. The voice on the radio spoke with confidence when he declared the two criminals would be found and brought to justice.
Almost immediately, the news exploded. Czechs around the world would start bragging and boasting about the significant blow the Czechs had pulled off! The most popular story was that the Czech underground had performed the attack–although other stories quickly flew around. It was paratroopers who had done it. No, it was Germans–the Abwehr had exacted revenge on Heydrich, who had forced them to sign over their rights years before.
Back at the brigade in England, no one even suspected Jan and Josef were responsible. Sure, they were missing, but so were many others who had gone off to fight in the war in the months since the two men disappeared.
As best as we can piece together, Jan and Josef had tried to kill Reinhard with machine guns. But their guns malfunctioned, so they tossed a grenade at his car as it slowed for the curve in the road. The grenade’s explosion caused severe damage to Reinhard’s car as it punctured the tire and blew a huge hole in the body of the car. You can actually find a photo of his damaged Mercedes-Benz online.
Then the two Czechs fled, and Reinhard pulled his pistol on them staggered out of the damaged car. But Reinhard’s pistol misfired, too, and Jan and Josef were able to get away. Reinhard leaned on the car for a moment before collapsing on the hood in severe pain.
Just after 11:00 a.m. on May 29th, Reinhard was rushed to the hospital. His spleen had been damaged in the explosion. Three physicians were flown in from Germany, accompanied by Himmler himself. Ultimately, Reinhard would contract blood poisoning from the grenade shrapnel as well as pieces of the car–seat-spring splinters and horse-hair used to cushion the car seats.
The doctors tried to drain the wound, and the fever he had contracted appeared to be subsiding. Reinhard was feeling much better. He was eating a late breakfast around noon on June 2nd when he suddenly went into shock and lapsed into a coma. He’d never recover.
At 4:30 a.m. on June 4th, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich died. He was survived by his wife, Lina, and four children.
We’ll never really know how many people Reinhard was responsible for killing during his 38 years. As chief of the Reich Main Security Office, which included the Gestapo, Kripo and SD, as well as Acting Reich Protector of what is now the Czech Republic, his orders were responsible for the deaths of millions.
We know Reinhard Heydrich was directly responsible for Einsatzgruppen, which means “task forces”, and were essentially death squads of German soldiers who traveled behind the German armies and murdered an estimated two million people, including 1.3 million Jews, as the Germans occupied new lands.
The Nazi retaliation for his assassination was swift.
After fleeing the scene, Jan and Josef hid in number of safe houses and eventually ended up at an Orthodox church in Prague. They weren’t the only ones in the church, though, and their location was revealed by a Czech traitor and soon the church was surrounded by over eight hundred SS and Gestapo troops.
A gunfight ensued as the German soldiers tried to flush everyone out of the church with tear gas and gunfire. After a few hours, the troops blasted a hole in the side of the church and started pouring in. Rather than be captured, Jan and Josef turned their guns on themselves. Even though the assassins were dead, the Germans murdered everyone in the church, including Bishop Gorazd, who was the church’s leader and is now considered a martyr in the Orthodox Church because of his support in hiding the assassins.
This wasn’t enough. When the news reached Hitler, he was furious. He ordered an investigation into the events–how had this happened? In the quick investigation that ensued, some false information arose and Hitler was told the assassins were linked to two Czech towns: Lidice and Ležáky. The reason for this was likely because the Germans knew there were several Czech Army officers from Lidice who had fled to England, so they assumed there would be a safe house there where the assassins may have made their plans. And a radio was found in Ležáky, something they assumed was the communication device for the planning of the attack.
On June 9th, Hitler ordered brutal retaliation. Over 13,000 people in Lidice and Ležáky were arrested, deported or sent to concentration camps. Then, on June 10th, all men over the age of sixteen in both Lidice and Ležáky were murdered along with all of the women in Ležáky. Four women survived this slaughter on the account of their being pregnant. These four women were taken to the same hospital where Reinhard had died where their babies were forcibly aborted. Then the women were sent to concentration camps.
Some of the town’s children survived, being forced into “Germanization”, an ethnic cleansing of sorts. Eighty-one children were murdered when they were gassed in vans at the Chelmno extermination camp. Finally, both the towns of Lidice and Ležáky were burnt to the ground.
In the end, at least 1,300 people were massacred as a result of Reinhard Heydrich’s death.
Then Nazi officials started a new project which they named after him. Called Operation Reinhard, this new project was the construction of three death camps at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. These were the first Nazi camps designed specifically for mass killings with absolutely no legal process or pretext.