A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events

Patrick Lynch - November 14, 2017

As a leading member of the Nazi Party and one of the architects of the Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich was the personification of evil. By 1942 with the success of the Nazi regime, he must have felt invincible. But this feeling of invulnerability probably cost him his life. On May 27, 1942, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis completed Operation Anthropoid, the code name for the plot to assassinate Heydrich.

They attacked the Nazi’s Mercedes-Benz 320 Convertible B in Prague, and the vile Heydrich died from his wounds seven days later. While his assassins could rightly call themselves heroes, they had no idea of the terror they unleashed.

The Formation of Operation Anthropoid

Heydrich was only too keen to replace Konstantin von Neurath as the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia in September 1941. He agreed with Hitler and Himmler’s assessment that von Neurath was too lenient and his actions had caused an increase in anti-German sentiment. Heydrich vowed to crush any resistance to Nazi rule. He carried out this promise in brutal fashion by having 92 people murdered soon after he became ruler

The plan to kill Heydrich originated in London in September 1941 although the suspected plotters, which included the British Secret Operations Executive (BSOE) and the Czech Intelligence Services (with the approval of exiled President Edvard Benes); all denied their involvement after 1945.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Jan Kubis. Mistapametinaroda.cz

According to the surviving documentation, the plan to kill Heydrich was borne out of the Allies’ desperation after France fell in the summer of 1940. At that time, there was little chance of Britain winning the war so the plan was to cause popular unrest in Nazi-occupied areas so the enemy would have to divert resources and become weaker in the process. Benes was only too happy to assist as he believed it would help him achieve his postwar goal; an independent Czechoslovak state.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Edvard Benes. LivingPrague

Preparation began on October 20, 1941, and the head of the Czech Intelligence Service, Frantisek Moravec, chose two dozen high-quality Czech soldiers based in Britain and they were sent to a BSOE commando training center in Scotland. The plot was called Operation Anthropoid which is the Greek word for ‘having the form of a human’ an obvious nod to the inhumanity of Heydrich.

The leading Nazi was chosen for several reasons. One, his position as acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Two, due to his cruel treatment of the citizens and three, because he had developed a habit of driving around in a car with an open roof. Heydrich did this to show his confidence in the strength of the occupying forces, but Hitler was apparently unhappy with this decision and urged him to tighten up his security.

On October 28, 1941, Moravec chose Karel Svoboda and Jozef Gabcik as the two assassins, but when Svoboda sustained a head injury in training, Jan Kubis was picked as his replacement. It delayed the mission because Kubis had not completed the training nor did he have the requisite false documents prepared for him. On December 28, 1941, everything was deemed ready and the two men, along with seven other Czechoslovakian soldiers, left Britain and landed at Nehvizdy just east of Prague. They knew what needed to be done and were prepared to risk everything to achieve their goal.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Jozef Gabcik. Platform of European Memory and Conscience

Final Planning

Once Gabcik and Kubis arrived in Prague, they contacted several anti-Nazi organizations who helped them formulate the plan. They initially planned to kill Heydrich on a train but soon realized it was an impossible mission. Their next idea was to pull a cable across a road and stop Heydrich’s car near a forest, but after waiting for several hours, they were brought back to Prague to think of another plan.

They finally decided to assassinate Heydrich in Prague’s Liben district at a sharp bend in the road. Heydrich was a creature of habit and had his chauffeur drive him along the same route from his residence in Panenske Brezany to the city. Gabcik and Kubis performed the requisite reconnaissance and knew that Heydrich’s car had to slow down at a sharp bend near Bulovka Hospital. When the fateful day came, the duo was armed and ready to rid their nation of its worst resident.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Heydrich. Famous People

The Fateful Day

On May 27, 1942, Gabcik and Kubis lay in wait as Heydrich made his daily commute. He left his residence at 10:30 am with no idea of what lay in store. The two assassins recruited a third man, Josef Valcik, to act as a lookout; he was positioned around 100 meters from Gabcik and Kubis. When Valcik saw Heydrich’s car approaching, he held out his shaving mirror so that it flashed in the sun. It was a signal to his two comrades that the time had arrived.

As usual, the arrogant Heydrich had no security escort, so he was an easy target. As soon as the car slowed down and took the bend, Gabcik jumped out with his sten gun. It was surely the end of the Butcher of Prague. However, Gabcik’s gun jammed and this gave Heydrich the opportunity to retaliate. He didn’t see the second assassin, so he ordered his driver, Klein, to stop, and then he stood up and drew his Luger pistol; it was a fatal mistake.

Kubis appeared suddenly and threw a hand grenade at the vehicle but misjudged the distance and it went too far. Instead of killing Heydrich, the explosion burst the car’s rear wheel, shattered a passing tram’s windows and sprayed shrapnel in Kubis’ face. As soon as they recovered, Heydrich and Klein jumped out of the car and chased the assassins with their pistols drawn.

Gabcik and Kubis had fired their guns at the Nazis after the explosion but missed the target and decided to flee. While Kubis was able to get away on his bike, Gabcik left the scene on foot and was chased by Klein. At this point, Heydrich had collapsed; it transpired that the shrapnel from the grenade had hit him as well. Meanwhile, Klein followed Gabcik into a butcher’s shop but was shot twice and severely wounded in the leg as the assassin finally made it to freedom. The two men believed their mission had failed, but the Butcher of Prague’s luck had run out.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Heydrich’s funeral. WorldFutureFund

An Agonizing Death

An off-duty policeman and a local woman came to Heydrich’s aid and stopped a passing baker’s van which was used to transport the injured Nazi to Bulovka Hospital. The doctors found that he had a ruptured diaphragm, and shrapnel fragments and horsehair from the vehicle’s upholstery were lodged in his spleen. It appeared as if the emergency surgery performed on Heydrich was successful and from May 29 onwards; he was placed under the care of SS physicians.

Heydrich seemed to be improving, but on June 3, he collapsed suddenly while eating his lunch and went into shock. He spent the rest of his brief life in a coma and died at approximately 4:30 am on June 4. The cause of death was officially septicemia, but there are several alternative theories. One suggests that the horsehair in his body caused a systemic infection while another theory says he died from a pulmonary embolism. Whatever killed him, the most important thing was that Operation Anthropoid was a success after all. Unfortunately, the aftermath was a brutal and cruel as Heydrich himself.

A Nazi Butcher’s Arrogance Led to His Demise in this Dramatic Turn of Events
Heydrich’s Death Mask on Stamp. Mourning the Ancient

Nazi Reprisals

The state funeral of Heydrich on June 9 was one of the largest and more ostentatious in the history of the Third Reich. Tens of thousands of Czech and German citizens had filed past his coffin in Prague Castle over the previous couple of days to pay their respects; many of these people were coerced into doing so. The Nazis commemorated the first anniversary of Heydrich’s death by issuing a stamp with his death mask on it.

Hitler and Himmler gave the eulogies at the funeral which was attended by a litany of high ranking Nazi officials. The British press sneered at the entire process and referred to it as “a gangster funeral in the pompous Chicago style.” As soon as Heydrich was in the ground, the Nazis began their reprisals, and thousands of innocent people would suffer the consequences.

None more so than the inhabitants of the small village of Lidice which was wiped off the face of the Earth. Every man between the ages of 14 and 84 were executed, and every house was burned with the ruins blown up or bulldozed into the ground. The Nazis announced that they would take drastic measures against all Czechs if the assassins were not caught by June 18.

On June 16, a man named Karel Curda volunteered information on the location of people who provided safe houses – which led the Nazis in the right direction. Eventually, the Gestapo tortured a teenage boy named Vlastimil into betraying the location of Kubis and Gabcik. On June 18, 800 SS men surrounded the Orthodox Church of St Cyril and Methodius in Prague. After a two-hour gun battle, Kubis was captured but fell unconscious and died from his wounds. Gabcik and three parachutists were hiding in the catacombs and committed suicide after the SS failed to take them alive during a four-hour attack.

Despite the death of the assassins, the Nazi atrocities continued as hundreds of resistance members and those who provided safe houses were executed over the next few weeks. After the death of Heydrich, the Allies dissolved the Munich Agreement. The UK and France agreed that once the Nazis were defeated, the annexed territory would be returned to Czechoslovakia. Incidentally, Karel Curda was hanged for high treason in 1947 after a failed suicide attempt.