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Reinhard Heydrich, the second of three children, was born in Halle, Germany, on 7th March, 1904. His father, Bruno Richard Heydrich, was a musician, opera singer and composer.
Bruno's father was a carpenter but had died in 1916. His mother married a mechanic named Gustav Süss. Although he was not a Jew, Süss was a common German-Jewish name at the time. "The clear implication is that Heydrich senior was Jewish, and throughout his life Reinhard Heydrich sought to suppress details of his Jewish ancestry. From his mother's gravestone he is said to have erased the suggestive forename Sarah. (1)
His mother, Sarah Elisabeth Krantz, a Roman Catholic, was the daughter of his father's teacher, who was the director of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Dresden. According to André Brissaud, the author of the Nazi Secret Service (1972), Reinhard Heydrich's grandmother was Jewish. (2)
Adrian Weale, has pointed out that Heydrich had a serious illness as a child: "At around six months old he suffered an inflammation of the brain that endangered his life, and this was followed by a succession of other illnesses. To overcome this, his father encouraged him to take up as many sports as possible, including running, horse-riding, football, swimming and fencing." (3)
Shlomo Aronson, the author of Reinhard Heydrich (1971) claims that when at school the other children taunted him about being Jewish. (4) Peter Padfield suggests that "Bruno was in appearance and manner just what many of the good citizens of Halle took to be Jewish." He goes on to argue: "Reinhard, an introspective lad who was at a vulnerable age at the time, was particularly disturbed and despite his father's denials wondered if this dark, rather comical, pushing figure did perhaps have Jewish origins, and become confused and resentful." (5)
Heydrich was too young to join the German Army during the First World War but at the age of sixteen worked for the right-wing Freikorps, which carried out a "cleansing action" against the German Communist Party that was attempting to set up a Soviet republic in Halle. Karl von Eberstein later claimed that taking part in these battles meant that his school work suffered.
After graduating from Halle Grammar School he joined the German Navy in 1922 as an officer cadet. Heydrich became active in anti-semitic circles and told a fellow sailor: "the old Heydrich cannot be a Jew if his Reinhard is such a rampant anti-semite". (6) Heydrich has been described during this period as "a gangling youth over six feet tall, with very light blond hair, striking light-blue eyes set rather close and a beak of a nose dominating his long and equine face. He had a high voice and a bleating laugh, on account of which he was called the Ziege - nanny-goat." (7)
While training as an officer he met Wilhelm Canaris. Like Heydrich, he had been an active in the fight against the socialist revolutionaries. It is claimed that he was implicated in the murders of Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and was certainly the key figure in preventing the perpetrators, naval officers from the Freikorps, from being brought to justice. The chosen scapegoat among the accused was sentenced to two years and four months in prison for allowing Luxemburg to be shot while in his charge. They formed an immediate attachment and Heydrich became his senior officer's devoted disciple.
Reinhard Heydrich was promoted to midshipman in 1926 and sub-lieutenant later the same year. After attending the Naval Signals School, he became a communications officer on board the battleship, Schleswig-Holstein, stationed at the Baltic Naval Station at Kiel. Promoted to lieutenant in 1928, he joined the German intelligence service. It was later claimed that during this period he learnt the skills that were so important in the development of his political career.
According to his friend, Walter Schellenberg, "Heydrich's only weakness was his ungovernable sexual appetite. To this he would surrender himself without inhibition or caution and the calculated control which characterised him in everything he did left him completely." (8) In December 1930 he became engaged to Lina von Osten. As Adrian Weale has pointed out: "Lina von Osten, the beautiful, blonde, nineteen-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher from the island of Fehmarn, in the Baltic. Shortly thereafter, though, a previous girlfriend appeared and claimed he had already proposed to her - after they had spent the night together in a hotel." (9)
Heydrich vigorously refuted the woman's claims, but her father, a successful shipbuilder, complained to the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, and in May 1931 a Naval Court of Honour was convened to examine Heydrich's behaviour. Although he defended himself before the court with a "confidence that bordered on arrogance" he was dismissed for "impropriety". Heydrich's dismissal came when he was just a few weeks short of being eligible for a naval pension. Heydrich later claimed that he had been dismissed on "political grounds".
Edouard Calic, the author of Himmler and the SS Empire (2009), points out that Heydrich joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in Hamburg on 31st May, 1931.(10) With the help of Lina's family friend, Karl von Eberstein, Heydrich was able to obtain a meeting with Heinrich Himmler. It has been claimed that he was impressed by Heydrich's "Nordic" appearance. However, Karl Wolff, claims this was not true as he was considered "womanly and unGermanic."
Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991), agrees: "Heydrich fell short of the strict Nordic ideal; his hips were too wide.... There was also a Mongolian cast to his eyes which caused Himmler when annoyed to rebuke him with descent from the hordes of Genghis Khan. It was an apt comment. Even his photographs convey an impression of cruelty; the long, asmmetric face, thick lips and slightly inclined, icy grey-blue eyes suggest something both infinitely calculating and diabolic." (11)
The Nazi Party decided to have its own intelligence and security body and so Himmler was asked to create the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). On 1st August, 1931, Heydrich became the head of the organization and it was kept distinct from the uniformed SS (Schutzstaffel). It has been claimed that Heydrich got the job because of his experience in Naval intelligence. However, Mark M. Boatner III has argued that Himmler had made his decision "not realizing he had been in signals, not naval intelligence." (12) Heydrich's fast task was to carry out an investigation of the SS: "The Security Service itself had its origins in reports early in 1931 that the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by its enemies. Himmler established the Security Service to investigate the claims." (13)
At first Heydrich had few resources to carry out his work. According to Andrew Mollo, the author of To The Death's Head: The Story of the SS (1982): "On a kitchen table, with a borrowed typewriter, a pot of glue, scissors and some files, Heydrich, now leader of the Security Service (Leiter des Sicherheitsdienstes), aided by his landlady and some out-of-work SS men, began to gather information on what the Nazis referred to as the 'radical opposition'. Top of the list were the political churches, Freemasons, Jews and Marxists. A titillating side-line was homosexuality and 'mattress affairs' both inside and out of the Nazi Party. Heydrich then toured the SS regional commands throughout Germany, and on his return began to recruit men of his own age and background into the SD. In contrast to the typical Nazi 'Lumpenpack' Heydrich sought bright young university graduates whose career prospects had been dimmed by depression. It was these young intellectuals from good families who were to give the SD its peculiar character. (14)
On 26th December, 1931, Reinhard Heydrich married Lina von Osten. In July 1932 he was promoted to Standartenführer-SS (full colonel) and became Himmler's valued chief of staff, and in this role helped develop the entire SS. During this period he developed good relationships with other powerful figures in the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) including Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann.
Lina Heydrich gave birth to three children over the next few years: Klaus (17th June, 1933), Heider (23rd December, 1934) and Silke (9th April, 1939). Lina found life with Reinhard Heydrich difficult: "The most characteristic trait was that he (Reinhard Heydrich) was a man of few words. He never talked about something or discussed something just for the love of talk. Every word had to have a concrete meaning, or purpose, had to hit the point. Therefore he never said even one word more than necessary....My husband was vain. He hated nothing more than to be dressed inadequately. That did not apply to his wife. She might have worn the most impossible dresses, he thought them all right." (15)
In April 1932, the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) was banned and Heydrich had to go underground. His embryo intelligence service became the Press and Information Service. This all changed when in March 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power. Heydrich and Himmler were disappointed when they were not offered senior posts in the new government. It was decided that the best path to power lay with the German police. On 1st April 1933, Franz Ritter von Epp appointed Himmler as Commander of the Bavarian Political Police and Heydrich took over the political desk of the Munich Criminal Police.
On 26th April, 1933, Hermann Göring established the Prussian Secret State Police (Gestapo). He appointed Rudolf Diels as his deputy. "The same day a decree created a State police office in each district of Prussia, subordinate to the central Service in Berlin. The Gestapo... now had a branch in every district, but its power did not yet exceed the boundaries of Prussia. The purge was complete, not only in the police but also in the magistrature and among the State officials. A law was passed that... allowed the dismissal of officials and anti-Fascist judges, Jews, or those who had belonged to Left Wing organizations." (16)
The organization was gradually enlarged and reorganzed so that it could "deal with political police tasks in parallel with or instead of normal police authorities". The following year Göring decided to form an alliance with Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler. On 24th April 1934, Göring appointed Himmler Inspector of the Secret State Police and Heydrich its commander. Now the whole police apparatus was firmly in SS hands. It has been argued by Alan Bullock, that Göring had taken this decision in order to obtain an ally against Ernst Röhm and the Sturm Abteilung (SA). (17)
Several writers have tried to explain the relationship between Heydrich and Himmler. Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) has argued: "To judge from letters and reports which they exchanged, the partnership was one of mutual trust and on Himmler's part affection... Himmler treated his protégé with special consideration and fondness... Both men were too complicated to conform to such simple analysis. Both were driven characters with deep-seated childhood complexes of inadequacy and they operated within a shifting minefield of power rivalries; neither was what he seemed... Himmler and Heydrich were a partnership and after more than a decade of success that virtually moulded the Nazi revolution they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and each his position vis-a-vis the other as intimately as the partners in a marriage; as in a marriage no doubt the relationship changed and shifted subtly from time to time." (18)
Michael Burleigh, the author of The Third Reich: A New History (2001) claimed that the SS was "Himmler's mind projected on an institutional canvas, while the operational style largely derived from Heydrich.... Himmler's more outre obsessions should not distract from his manifestly astute grasp of how this highly chaotic and protean political system worked. Routinely out-manoeuvring his foes, his empire spread between the interstices of state, Party and army, throughout Germany, and then across the whole of occupied Europe. His manner may have been distracted and unassuming, but the coldness, moralising, prying and suspicion kept him in absolute control of subordinates, whose own utter ruthlessness was accompanied by human frailties which Himmler lacked." (19)
Richard Evans argues that Heydrich "became perhaps more universally and cordially feared and disliked than any other leading figure in the Nazi regime" and had the qualities that Himmler needed: "Unsentimental, cold, efficient, power-hungry and utterly convinced that the end justified the means, he soon won Himmler over to his ambitious vision of the SS and its Security Service as the core of a comprehensive new system of policing and control... on 9 March 1933, the two men took over the Bavarian police service, making the political section autonomous and moving SS Security Service personnel into some of the key posts. They went on to take over the political police service in one federated state after another, with the backing of the centralizing Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick." (20)
Walter Schellenberg who was able to observe both men at work has pointed out that Heydrich was the "hidden pivot around which the Nazi regime revolved.... He was far superior to all his political colleagues and controlled them as he controlled the vast intelligence machine of the SD." (21) However, his wife, Lina Heydrich claimed that he an an inferiority complex: "His apparent arrogance was no more than self-protection. Even with me he expressed no kind word, no word of tenderness". (22)
By 1934 Adolf Hitler appeared to have complete control over Nazi Germany, but like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power. To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of divide and rule and encouraged other leaders such as Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Ernst Röhm to compete with each other for senior positions.
One of the consequences of this policy was that these men developed a dislike for each other. Röhm was particularly hated because as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) he had tremendous power and had the potential to remove any one of his competitors. Goering and Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Röhm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.
Heydrich was also in control of the victims of what became known as the Night of the Long Knives. The historian, Paul R. Maracin, the author of The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004) has pointed out: "With utmost secrecy a death list was compiled. Heydrich was in control of the master list, which was expanded almost daily as they added more names of 'enemies of the party.' Working out of Gestapo headquarters, Heydrich meticulously correlated the planning for the operation which was assigned the disarming and innocuous code name of KOLIBRI (hummingbird)." (23)
Hermann Göring and Himmler also contributed to the list of people outside the SA that they wanted killed. This included Gregor Strasser, Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and Gustav von Kahr, who crushed the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Louis L. Snyder argues: "Hitler later alleged that his trusted friend Röhm had entered a conspiracy to take over political power. The Führer was told, possibly by one of Röhm's jealous colleagues, that Röhm intended to use the SA to bring a socialist state into existence... On June, 1934... Hitler came to his final decision to eliminate the socialist element in the party. A list of hundreds of victims was prepared." (24)
On 29th June, 1934. Hitler, accompanied by Theodor Eicke and selected members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), arrived at Bad Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. During the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to the meeting. Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur, witnessed what happened: "Hitler entered Röhm's bedroom alone with a whip in his hand. Behind him were two detectives with pistols at the ready. He spat out the words; Röhm, you are under arrest. Röhm's doctor comes out of a room and to our surprise he has his wife with him. I hear Lutze putting in a good word for him with Hitler. Then Hitler walks up to him, greets him, shakes hand with his wife and asks them to leave the hotel, it isn't a pleasant place for them to stay in, that day. Now the bus arrives. Quickly, the SA leaders are collected from the laundry room and walk past Röhm under police guard. Röhm looks up from his coffee sadly and waves to them in a melancholy way. At last Röhm too is led from the hotel. He walks past Hitler with his head bowed, completely apathetic." (25)
A large number of the SA officers were shot as soon as they were captured but Adolf Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Röhm should die. Himmler ordered Theodor Eicke to carry out the task. Eicke and his adjutant, Michael Lipppert, travelled to Stadelheim Prison in Munich where Röhm was being held. Eicke placed a pistol on a table in Röhm's cell and told him that he had 10 minutes in which to use the weapon to kill himself. Röhm replied: "If Adolf wants to kill me, let him do the dirty work."
According to Paul R. Maracin, The author of The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004): "Ten minutes later, SS officers Michael Lippert and Theodor Eicke appeared, and as the embittered, scar-faced veteran of verdun defiantly stood in the middle of the cell stripped to the waist, the two SS officers riddled his body with revolver bullets." Eicke later claimed that Röhm fell to the floor moaning "Mein Führer". Three days after the purge Eicke was appointed Inspector of Concentration Camps and head of Death's Head Units. He was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (SS-Gruppenfuehrer). According to Louis L. Snyder, the next day, Otto Dietrich, Press Chief of the NSDAP, "gave a blood-curdling account of the slaughter to the press. He described Hitler's sense of shock at the moral degeneracy of his oldest comrades." (26)
Originally called re-education centres the Schutzstaffel (SS) soon began describing them as concentration camps. They were called this because they were "concentrating" the enemy into a restricted area. Adolf Hitler argued that the camps were modeled on those used by the British during the Boer War. They were initially brought in to deal with activists in left-wing political parties and trade unions.
The first three main camps were set up at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenausen. The historian, Louis L. Snyder, has suggested: "The first inmates were Communists and Jews, but opposition to Nazi totalitarianism was so great that Socialists, Democrats, Catholics, Protestants, and even dissident Nazis were added to the camp population. Trade union leaders, clergymen, monks, pacifists, Jehovah's Witnesses - all were herded into the camps without trial and the right to appeal." (27)
As Michael Burleigh, the author of The Third Reich: A New History (2001), has pointed out, Heydrich was important in the decision to expand the system in 1936: "Theodor Eicke built up a special guard formation called the Death's Head units, after the aluminum skull and cross-bones on the right collars... Strictly separated from the camp internal administration, which handled prisoners on a daily basis, these units were dual-purpose: to guard the perimeters, and to act as a heavily armed auxiliary police force in the event of civil disturbances during wartime. To that end, from 1936 onwards, Heydrich began assembling a card index on forty-six thousand people who would have to be immediately detained." (28)
Lina Heydrich claimed that her husband was hard on his staff: "In the morning, while being shaved, he worked at the new reports that had come in during the night... After breakfast during the 30 minutes ride to the office this reading was continued. He never let his staff had even a minute's rest, it was very hard and strenuous for them.... My husband never had time. He had lost the human measure. He always hurried his subordinates. He did not know any private or family life, and he did not estimate that of his fellow-workers. His life was the conditionless unconditional devotion to his task and that was what he expected from everyone." (29)
It is claimed that Reinhard Heydrich developed a plan to damage the Red Army. (30) In January 1937, a Soviet journalist heard stories that senior members of the German Army were having secret talks with General Mikhail Tukhachevsky. According to Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror (1990), the story had been created by Nikolai Skoblin, a NKVD agent who had appeared to be one of the leaders of the Russian opposition based in Paris. "Skoblin had long worked as a double agent with both the Soviet and the German secret agencies, and there seems no doubt that he was one of the links by which information was passed between the SD and the NKVD. According to one version... the Soviet High Command and Tukhachevsky in particular were engaged in a conspiracy with the German General Staff. Although this was understood in SD circles as an NKVD plant, Heydrich determined to use it, in the first place, against the German High Command, with whom his organization was in intense rivalry." (31)
Major V. Dapishev of the Soviet General Staff has claimed that the plot "originated with Stalin" as he wanted to purge the leadership of the armed forces. (32) On 16th March, 1937, Stalin received a telegram from the Soviet embassy in Paris that it had learned of plans "by German circles to promote a coup d'etat in the Soviet Union" using "persons from the command staff of the Red Army".
There is evidence that Heydrich organized the forgery of a dossier containing an exchange of letters over a period of a year between members of the German High Command and Tukhachevsky. Service argues that it was "the work of the German secret agencies on false passports and so on, it consisted of thirty-two pages and had attached to it a photograph on Trotsky with German officials... The German security service got a genuine signature of Tukhachevsky from the 1926 secret agreement between the two High Commands by which technical assistance to the Soviet Air Force was arranged. A letter was forged using this signature, and Tukhachevsky's style was imitated... The German generals' signatures were obtained from bank checks. Hitler and Himmler were shown the dossier in early May, and approved the operation." (33)
Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) that he is convinced that Heydrich arranged the forgery of the documents. However, he points out: "It would be a mistake to think that these false accusations were the main cause of the destruction of the best cadres. They were only a pretext. The real causes of the mass repression go much deeper. Any serious investigation would have exposed the Nazi forgery against Tukhachevsky, but Stalin did not order an expert investigation. It would have been even easier to establish the falseness of many other materials produced by the NKVD, but neither Stalin nor his closest aides checked or wanted to check the authenticity of these materials." (34)
Mikhail Tukhachevsky was found guilty of treason and executed on 11th June, 1937. It is estimated that 30,000 members of the armed forces were killed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.
In reaction to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, the Third Secretary of the Germany Embassy in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan on 7th November, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich gave orders for the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Nazi Germany. This attack, later called Crystal Night (Kristallnacht), took place two days later. "The assault In fifteen hours 101 synagogues were destroyed by fire, and 76 were demolished. Bands of Nazis systematically destroyed 7,500 Jewish-owned stores. The pillage and looting went on through the night. Streets were covered with broken glass, hence the name Kristallnacht." (35)
Karl von Eberstein was the police president of Munich during these attacks on the Jewish community. In a telegram sent to the State Police HQ of various cities under his control, he stated that "Anti-Jewish demonstrations" would occur with synagogues as their main target. The police were told to "do nothing to hinder the demonstrations". Eberstein also said in the telegram that "every effort will be made to arrest immediately as many Jews as the jails will hold, primarily healthy male and well-to-do adults of not too advanced age". (36)
On 31st July, 1941, Hermann Göring issued orders to Reinhard Heydrich to submit a comprehensive plan for "a final solution of the Jewish question." The meeting to discuss the plan, the Wannsee Conference, was held on 20th January 1942. Heydrich chaired the meeting and also in attendance were fifteen leading Nazi bureaucrats, including Heinrich Muller, Adolf Eichmann and Roland Friesler.
The conference was opened by Heydrich, who declared that he was the plenipotentiary for the "final solution of the Jewish question. He then reviewed the emigration problem. Heydrich admitted that there had been a plan to deport all Jews to the island of Madagascar but this had been abandoned after Operation Barbarossa. After discussing the matter with Adolf Hitler it had been decided to evacuate all Jews to the east. The evacuees would be organized into huge labour columns. He added that a majority would "fall through natural diminution". The survivors of this march would be dangerous because they had shown that they were strong and could in the future "rebuild Jewish life". Therefore they would be "regarded as the germ cell of a new Jewish development" and should be "treated accordingly."
After this opening statement Adolf Eichmann gave the conference numbers of the Jews living in the occupied territories. This included Nazi occupied territories in Eastern Europe (3,215,500), Germany (131,800), Austria (43,700), France (865,000), Netherlands (160,800), Greece (69,600), Belgium (43,000), Denmark (5,600) and Norway (1,300). Eichmann also provided details of the Jews living in countries that the Nazis hoped to have control over during the next few years. This included the Soviet Union (5,000,000), Hungary (742,000), Britain (330,000), Romania (342,000), Turkey (55,000), Switzerland (18,000), Sweden (8,000), Spain (6,000), Portugal (3,000) and Finland (2,300).
At the end of the meeting the Wannsee Protocol was circulated in the ministries and SS offices about the Final Solution. It included the following: "As a further possibility of solving the question, the evacuation of the Jews to the east can now be substituted for emigration, after obtaining permission from the Führer to that effect. However, these actions are merely to be considered as alternative possibilities, even though they will permit us to make all those practical experiences which are of great importance for the future final solution of the Jewish question. The Jews should in the course of the Final Solution be taken in a suitable manner to the east for use as labor. In big labour gangs, separated by sex, the Jews capable of work will be brought to these areas for road building, in which task undoubtedly a large number will fall through natural diminution. The remnant that is finally able to survive all this - since this is undoubtedly the part with the strongest resistance - must be treated accordingly, since these people, representing a natural selection, are to be regarded as the germ cell of a new Jewish development, in case they should succeed and go free (as history has proved). In the course of the execution of the Final Solution, Europe will be combed from west to east." (37)
From that date the extermination of the Jews became a systematically organized operation. It was decided to establish extermination camps in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000). It has been estimated that between 1942 and 1945 around 18 million were sent to extermination camps. Of these, historians have estimated that between five and eleven million were killed.
Lina Heydrich blamed her husband's relationship with Adolf Hitler for these decisions: "He required absolute obedience as he himself obeyed without questioning.... Orders from Hitler were obeyed absolutely. My husband saw in him the one great man. I sometimes ask myself what his thoughts would have been if he had seen the bitter end. He thought him to be the one and only being who could lead the German nation to greatness and glory." (38)
On 27th September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich took up his post as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Five days later he announced that the SS intended to "Germanize the Czech vermin." (39) Czech men, women and children were killed in large-scale executions, many staged dramatically in public. These actions resulted in a new nickname, the "Butcher of Prague".
In September, 1941, President Eduard Beneš, the head provisional Czechoslovakian government based in London approached Colin Gubbins, the director of operations of Special Operations Executive (SOE) about the possible assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. "Colonel Moravec enquired whether SOE would help in this project by providing facilities for training and supplying any special weaponry that was required. Gubbins had no hesitation in agreeing, but decided to restrict the knowledge of the Czech approach, and above all of the identity of the probable target, to a very small circle.... Acts of terrorism fell within SOE's charter and, as a senior official of the Sicherheitsdienst, Heydrich was a legitimate target. Moreover, in the last resort Benes and the Czech government were free to do what they liked in their own country without having to seek British approval. However, Gubbins pointed out to Moravec that an assassination of this sort was a purely political act which, even if unsuccessful, would result in wholesale reprisals for which, in his view, there was insufficient military justification." (40)
Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6 gave permission for Gubbins to organize the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. This was the only Nazi leader that the Allies attempted to assassinate. They took this decision knowing that the German Army would take terrible retribution of the people of Czechoslovakia. (41) Interestingly, Gubbins did not tell the Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden about the plot. Eden was especially opposed to this kind of action that he described as this "war crimes business".
The Czech secret service in England provided British-trained assassination agents Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčík. The two-man team, codenamed Anthropoid, parachuted into the Bohemian hills on 29th December 1941. The drop was over Nehvizdy, a village five miles south of Pilsen. (42) During the time needed to recruit the team they studied Heydrich's movements and habits. He always used the same routes between his country estate at Hradcany Castle and the airport. He always sat in the front seat of his powerful Mercedes car with Klein, the SS driver. Heydrich also did not use a bodyguard or armed escort. (43)
On 23rd May 1942, the Czech underground gave Kubis and Gabčík, Heydrich's schedule for 27th May. "Meanwhile a perfect place for an ambush had been found. It was in the Holesovice suburb were Heydrich's car would have to slow for a right turn from Kirchmayer Blvd toward Troja Bridge and the center of Prague. With time for working out details of their plan Kubis and Gabčík formed their team. Josef Valcik would be on the boulevard about 100 yards from the turn, and he would flash a pocket mirror (pretending to comb his hair) when the victim came into sight. Rena Fafek, Gabcik's girlfriend, would be driven through the turn ahead of the big Mercedes and signal (by wearing a hat or not) whether the team had to deal with two cars or just one. Adolf Opalka was on the left-hand sidewalk across the street from the hit men; Kubis was on the corner watching Valcik:a few yards from him on the right sidewalk, were Gabčík and three other parachutists, Jaroslt Svarc, Josef Bublik, and Jan Hruby.... Just after 10:30 the Anthropoids got the signals: Valcik flashed his mirror, and the lady partisan came through the turn bareheaded. As the unsuspecting Germans followed, a streetcar clanged up from the Troja Bridge to a transfer point on the boulevard. Klein had to slow further for a couple of indecisive pedestrians, then he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a man who darted into the street. It was Josef Gabčík who whipped a Sten gun from under his rain coat, leveled it at Heydrich's chest, and calmly pulled the trigger. Nothing happened!" (44)
Heydrich and Klein both stood up and opened fire at Gabčík. Kubis then stepped forward a threw lobbed a grenade at the car. Heydrich was taken to the local hospital, where he underwent an emergency operation. The wound in his side did not appear to be life-threatening, but was full of debris - bits of metal and car upholstery to include cloth, leather, and horsehair near the spleen. Heydrich was reported to be recovering well, but developed blood poisoning and died of septicemia on 4th June 1942. (45)
Karl Frank, Secretary of State for of Bohemia and Moravia, offered a reward of 10 million Czech crowns for the arrest of those involved in the assassination. He also stated: "Whoever shelters these criminals, provides them with help, or, knowing them, does not denounce them, will be shot with his whole family." Adolf Hitler gave orders for the immediate execution of 10,000 Czechs suspected of anti-German activities of anti-German activities. The Gestapo began rounding up suspects and they were sent to Mauthausen concentration camp.
The seven men involved in the assassination hid in the church of St Cyril and St Methodius in Prague. They were betrayed by Karel Curda. Inside were more than a hundred members of the Czech Resistance Movement. The men held out for three weeks until he Germans stormed the church on 18th June 1942. All the men inside were either killed or committed suicide. Four priests were executed on 3rd September for helping the fugitives, and another 252 Czechs were condemned to death at another trial that month for aiding the assassins. Another 256 Czechs were condemned to death for aiding the assassination plot. (46)
As Jacques Delarue, the author of The Gestapo (1962) has pointed out: "Heydrich's death was the signal for the most bloody reprisals. More than three thousand arrests were carried out, and courts-martial at Prague and Brno pronounced 1,350 death sentences.... A gigantic operation was unleashed against the Resistance and the Czech populace. An area of 15,000 square kilometers and 5,000 communes was searched and 657 persons shot on the spot.... Until the end the Nazis harassed the Czech people without ever managing to break their resistance. It had been calculated that 200,000 people passed through the prison of Brno alone, of whom only 50,000 were liberated, the others having been killed or sent to the slow death of the concentration camps. In all, 305,000 Czechs were deported to the camps; only 75,000 emerged alive." (47)
In retaliation for the assassination of Heydrich, Kurt Daluege ordered the destruction of the village of Lidice. The village was razed to the ground and its 173 male inhabitants were murdered. The 198 women were sent to a Concentration Camp in Ravensbueck. Thousands of Czech people were also deported to other concentration camps in Austria and Germany as a result of Heydrich's death.
On 11th June, 1942, the German newspaper, Der Nerse Tag reported: "In the course of the search for the murderer of Obengruppenfuehrer S.S. it was found that the population of the village of Lidice near Kladno had helped and cooperated with the perpetrators of the crime. This has been proved, although the villagers denied that they had cooperated. The attitude of the population with regard to the crime has also manifested itself by other acts hostile to the Reich. For example, underground literature, stocks of weapons and ammunition have been found as well as the existence of a transmitting set, and an illegal depot containing large quantities of rationed food. All the men of the village have been shot. The women have been deported to concentration camps and the children sent to appropriate houses for their education. All the buildings of this village have been razed to the ground and the name of the village removed from the land registers." (48)
Membership of the SS meant joining an elite organisation explicitly modelled on an ahistorical version of religious orders, such as the Teutonic Knights or the Jesuits, whose dedication to a higher idea was admired in these otherwise anti-clerical circles. As SS membership became a mass affair, including every physically prepossessing farmboy, the SD regarded itself as "an elite within the elite", with unrevealed truths requiring incremental induction. Here it is impossible to postpone consideration of the SS leadership, for the ethos was Himmler's mind projected on an institutional canvas, while the operational style largely derived from Heydrich. The Nazi leadership have become overly familiar, albeit as a galere of grotesques rather than as gods in ancient or pagan pantheons. Since the 'school masterly' Himmler and the 'blond beast' Heydrich have acquired their own character attributes and mythologies, we need to divest them of respectively bizarre beliefs and putative Jewish ancestry, the stuff of cliche, to grasp how they created one of the most awesome and efficient concentrations of police power mankind has known.
Himmler's more outre obsessions should not distract from his manifestly astute grasp of how this highly chaotic and protean political system worked. His manner may have been distracted and unassuming, but the coldness, moralising, prying and suspicion kept him in absolute control of subordinates, whose own utter ruthlessness was accompanied by human frailties which Himmler lacked. Here some of the obsessions cited to illustrate this moralising little creep's weirdness make sense within his own dim terms of reference - except he did not confine his prurient sententiousness to how much his men drank or smoked, although that was surely bad enough.
Moralising interventions in the marital affairs of his subordinates were an example of how the watchers were watched, not to speak of the information assembled on each SS man (up to and including Heydrich) by eugenic and racial vetting stretching back to 1750 or 1800. This was leverage, for somewhere or other there was bound to be a weak link, whether racial or eugenic, in the 'clan' pedigree. How could there not be, when one filled tooth was enough to prohibit admission? Even those of unimpeachable ancestry and impressive physique were not yet home and dry. Himmler insisted that the SS equivalent of livestock breeders cast an instinctive eye over the candidate, in search of subjective character defects. Suspicious watchfulness was also part of a personal and institutional desire to create fear. While the SD attempted to cultivate a friendly face, to facilitate delation, the SS deliberately sought to make others shudder. As Himmler said in 1935: "I know there are many people who fall ill when they see this black uniform; we understand that and don't expect that we will be loved by many people."
The Security Service itself had its origins in reports early in 1931 that the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by its enemies. Himmler established the Security Service to investigate the claims, and put the business in the hands of a man who subsequently became perhaps more universally and cordially feared and disliked than any other leading figure in the Nazi regime - Reinhard Heydrich. Born in 1904 into a highly cultured middle-class family - his father was an opera singer, his mother an actress - Heydrich was an accomplished violinist, who, contemporaries reported, played with feeling, often weeping as he did so. Tall, slim, blond, his striking good looks marred for some only by his narrow face and small, close-set eyes, he also became an expert swordsman who excelled at fencing. Joining a Free Corps at the age of sixteen, he enlisted as an officer cadet in the navy in 1922 and had become a lieutenant by 1928, working in the signals department. His future in the armed forces had seemed assured. But Heydrich also found it easy to make enemies. The sailors disliked his abrupt, overbearing manner and mocked his high, almost falsetto voice. His numerous affairs with women got him into trouble with his superiors when the father of one of his girlfriends, a director of I.G. Farben and a friend of Admiral Raeder, head of the navy, complained; not only was the girl pregnant, but at the naval court of honour summoned to hear the case, Heydrich tried to pin the blame for the conception on her, causing general outrage amongst the officers and leading to his being cashiered from the navy in April 1931. Marrying his new girlfriend, Lina von Osten, who held strong Nazi convictions and had family connections with the SS chief in Munich, Karl Baron von Eberstein, Heydrich found new employment in the SS and was immediately set to work rooting out infiltrators. So thorough was he at this task that he convinced Himmler that the Security Service needed to widen the scope of its activities to become the core of a new German police and surveillance force. His intrusive investigations aroused the hostility of a number of old Nazis, including the Regional Leader of Halle-Merseburg, who riposted with the malicious allegation that Heydrich had Jewish ancestry in his blood. An investigation ordered by Gregor Strasser, Reich Organization Leader of the Nazi Party at the time, came to the conclusive finding that the allegations were untrue, though they continued to dog Heydrich for the rest of his career and have surfaced periodically since his death as well.
None of this stopped Heydrich's meteoric rise to power within the SS. Unsentimental, cold, efficient, power-hungry and utterly convinced that the end justified the means, he soon won Himmler over to his ambitious vision of the SS and its Security Service as the core of a comprehensive new system of policing and control. Already on 9 March 1933, the two men took over the Bavarian police service, making the political section autonomous and moving SS Security Service personnel into some of the key posts. They went on to take over the political police service in one federated state after another, with the backing of the centralizing Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. At this point they ran into a major obstacle to their plan to create a unified national political police system, however, in the formidable shape of Hermann Goring, the Prussian Minister-President, who on 30 November 1933 established a separate political police service for Prussia. This was based on the political police section of the Berlin police presidium, which had acted as an information-gathering centre on Communists during the Weimar Republic and was staffed by professional policemen, headed by the career police officer Rudolf Diels. Goring's new, independent force was known as the Secret State Police, Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo for short.
Himmler accepted Heydrich's draft proposals for setting up an SS intelligence service and, after a short spell of duty in the ranks of the Hamburg SS, Heydrich returned to Munich in August 1931 to begin work. On a kitchen table, with a borrowed typewriter, a pot of glue, scissors and some files, Heydrich, now leader of the Security Service (Leiter des Sicherheitsdienstes), aided by his landlady and some out-of-work SS men, began to gather information on what the Nazis referred to as the 'radical opposition'. A titillating side-line was homosexuality and 'mattress affairs' both inside and out of the Nazi Party.
Heydrich then toured the SS regional commands throughout Germany, and on his return began to recruit men of his own age and background into the SD. It was these young intellectuals from good families who were to give the SD its peculiar character.
At the beginning of September 1931 SS regional commanders were secretly ordered to set up an Ic desk in their headquarters, but this decentralized system of intelligence-gathering by SS men with no experience or special training led to a number of embarrassments for Heydrich, and he was obliged to set up an independent SD chain of command.
In April 1932 the SA and SS were banned and Heydrich had to go underground. His embryo intelligence service became the Press and Information Service, but the ban was only one of Heydrich's many problems, the most acute of which was a desperate shortage of cash. He himself received a pittance and all he could give his helpers was a bowl of soup, while the telephone of the Zentral in Munich Nymphenburg was often disconnected because the SD couldn't
pay its phone bill.
At the head of this organisation was Heydrich's erstwhile naval colleague, now his serious rival, Oswald Pohl. Whether Himmler's motive in thus mightily building up Pohl's power base was to curb Heydrich's growing ambition and popularity with the Fuhrer after his decisive action in the Protectorate and with the Endlosung, whether it was to fend off outside rivals from the economic sector, or whether it was just an obvious rationalisation now that camp labour and the SS building materials firms were in the forefront of eastern colonisation plans is not clear.
Even less clear is the underlying nature of the relationship between Heydrich and Himmler. To judge from letters and reports which they exchanged, the partnership was one of mutual trust and on Himmler's part affection. To judge from statements by Heydrich's widow since the war, her husband was secretly contemptuous of the theories which obsessed his chief. This is difficult to believe; all the documentary evidence suggests that he was quite as committed to the Aryan-Germanic virtues and the fight against their eternal enemies. However, her portrayal of Himmler as "the schoolmasterly type who never looked like a soldier and always wanted to be what he was not", her husband by contrast "a soldier" who "did not play with ideas" but "saw his tasks in concrete form" rings true. Obviously it was so. Kersten pointed the same contrast between the two, Heydrich by far the more dynamic, far superior in exposition and as decisive as Himmler was constitutionally indecisive. Now that Wolff was at Fuhrer headquarters, Heydrich had the right of immediate access to Himmler, even during Kersten's treatments, hence Kersten had opportunity to see him in action. His impression was that the clarity and incisiveness of Heydrich's arguments when he was proposing a course of action simply overwhelmed Himmler - so much so that, after Heydrich had gone and he had had time to reflect, Himmler would often phone through instructions that the agreed measures should not be put into effect until he had discussed them with the Fuhrer. He was, Kersten concluded, simply not in the same class as Heydrich.
Schellenberg, who had equal opportunities to observe both men closely, came to a similar conclusion, indeed he wrote of Heydrich as the "hidden pivot around which the Nazi regime revolved.... He was far superior to all his political colleagues and controlled them as he controlled the vast intelligence machine of the SD." Many others with first-hand knowledge of the two men have written in the same vein and have credited Heydrich with carrying his mediocre chief up to the power position he occupied; Edouard Calic, Heydrich's latest biographer, has implied this. Obviously it is how it appeared from the outside; obviously too neither man could have been unaware of Heydrich's sharper mind and practical abilities, yet it never showed. Himmler treated his protege with special consideration and fondness; Heydrich showed him what Kersen regarded as "quite inexplicable servility". It was 'Jawohl, Herr Reichsfuhrer!' - when everyone else addressed him simply as "Reichsfuhrer!" - and "if that is the Herr Reichsfuhrer's wish" and if Himmler expressed an opposing view.
Heydrich immediately adopted it. Whether this was merely outward form - a sign of his diabolical management of people - or whether, like Karl Wolff and Jurgen Stroop, he truly respected his chief for his ideological hardness, wider knowledge in all the ideologically important areas of race, Germanic history and comparative religions, above all perhaps as the founder and head of the Order of the SS, are questions which cannot be answered. Both were driven characters with deep-seated childhood complexes of inadequacy and they operated within a shifting minefield of power rivalries; neither was what he seemed. Lina Heydrich said of her husband that he also played the hard man; "his apparent arrogance was no more than self-protection. Himmler and Heydrich were a partnership and after more than a decade of success that virtually moulded the Nazi revolution they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and each his position vis-a-vis the other as intimately as the partners in a marriage; as in a marriage no doubt the relationship changed and shifted subtly from time to time.
Following the attempt on the life of Secretary of the Legation von Rath in Paris, demonstrations against the Jews are to be expected in all parts of the Reich in the course of the coming night, November 9/10,1938. The instructions below are to be applied in dealing with these events:
I. The chiefs of the State Police, or their deputies, must immediately upon receipt of this telegram contact, by telephone, the political leaders in their areas - Gauleiter or Kreisleiter - who have jurisdiction in their districts and arrange a joint meeting with the inspector or commander of the Order Police to discuss the arrangements for the demonstrations. At these discussions the political leaders will be informed that the German Police has received instructions, detailed below, from the Reichsfiihrer SS and the chief of the German Police, with which the political leadership is requested to coordinate its own measures:
(a) Only such measures are to be taken as do not endanger German lives or property (i.e., synagogues are to be burnt down only where there is no danger of fire in neighboring buildings).
(b) Places of business and apartments belonging to Jews may be destroyed but not looted. The police are instructed to supervise the observance of this order and to arrest looters.
(c) In commercial streets particular care is to be taken that non-Jewish businesses are completely protected against damage.
(d) Foreign citizens - even if they are Jews - are not to be molested.
II. On the assumption that the guidelines are observed, the demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police, who are only to supervise the observance of the guidelines.
III. On receipt of this telegram, police will seize all archives to be found in all synagogues and offices of the Jewish communities so as to prevent their destruction during the demonstrations. This refers only to material
of historical value, not to contemporary tax records, etc. The archives are to be handed over to the locally responsible officers of the SD.
IV. The control of the measures of the Security Police concerning the demonstrations against the Jews is vested in the organs of the State Police, unless inspectors of the Security Police have given their own instructions. Officials of the Criminal Police, members of the SD, of the Reserves and the SS in general may be used to carry out the measures taken by the Security Police.
V. As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts, especially the rich, as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contracted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps. Special care is to be taken that the Jews arrested in accordance with these instructions are not ill-treated.
The most sophisticated apparatus for conveying top-secret orders was at the service of Nazi propaganda and terror. Heydrich had made a study of the Russian OGPU, the Soviet secret security service. He then engineered the Red Army purges carried out by Stalin. The Russian dictator believed his own armed forces were infiltrated by German agents as a consequence of a secret treaty by which the two countries helped each other rearm. Secrecy bred suspicion, which bred more secrecy, until the Soviet Union was so paranoid it became vulnerable to every hint of conspiracy.
Late in 1936, Heydrich had thirty-two documents forged to play on Stalin's sick suspicions and make him decapitate his own armed forces. The Nazi forgeries were incredibly successful. More than half the Russian officer corps, some 35,000 experienced men, were executed or banished.
The Soviet chief of Staff, Marshal Tukhachevsky, was depicted as having been in regular correspondence with German military commanders. All the letters were Nazi forgeries. But Stalin took them as proof that even Tukhachevsky was spying for Germany. It was a most devastating and clever end to the Russo-German military agreement, and it left the Soviet Union in absolutely no condition to fight a major war with Hitler.
I refer to the meeting that took place today in Berlin and want to point out once again that the overall measures planned (thus, the final objective) must be kept strictly secret.
Distinctions must be drawn between: (1) the final objective (which will require more extensive time periods), and (2) the phases towards fulfillment of the final objective (which will be carried out on a short-term basis).
It is obvious that the task ahead cannot be determined from here in every detail. The following instructions and guidelines will simultaneously serve the purpose of prompting the commanders of Special Units to do some practical thinking.
I. The first prerequisite for the final objective will be, for one, the concentration of Jews from the countryside into larger cities. This must be carried out expeditiously. Attention must be paid to the requirement that only such cities may be designated as areas of concentration which are either railway junctions or are at least situated on a railway line. One prevailing basic rule will be that Jewish congregations of less than 500 members will be dissolved and moved to the nearest city of concentration
II. Jewish Council of Elders.
(1) Each Jewish congregation must set up a Jewish Council of Elders it will be fully responsible, in the truest sense of the word, for an exact and prompt execution of all past or future directives.
(2) In case of sabotage of such directives, the councils will be advised that most severe measures will be taken.
(3) Deadlines given to the Jews for departure into the cities.
The most characteristic trait was that he (Reinhard Heydrich) was a man of few words. Therefore he never said even one word more than necessary.
He did not read much. Never did he read novels or philosophical books, eventually he read themes on scientific topics.
He never wasted a minute of his time. Every minute had to have is aim and purpose. Therefore he simply hated to go for a walk. Gymnastic exercise was not meant for a past-time or leisure, but for discipline, a training to reach the highest possible record in it. Therefore he always chose such sports to which he did not take naturally, but which required a hard training, self discipline. For instance, he was not at all gifted for fencing, but the end of its hard and enduring training was that he became German champion....
In the morning, while being shaved, he worked at the new reports that had come in during the night... He never let his staff had even a minute's rest, it was very hard and strenuous for them....
My husband never had time. His life was the conditionless unconditional devotion to his task and that was what he expected from everyone....
My husband was vain. She might have worn the most impossible dresses, he thought them all right.
He also was ambitious, ambition meant work and efficiency... He could deliver speeches or orations, but he could take part in discussions and then his logic was forceful.... His memory was astounding. He never needed a telephone directory. He knew by heart all the numbers he needed, he never forgot a single report that he had read. In this respect the most surprising stories are told about him.
Neither in his youth nor later on had he any personal friends. He also tried to avoid every social contact with neighbors or fellow workers. That was very hard on me. When I once asked him for the reason, he answered, "How can I be friends with any one, as I never can tell whether there might not perhaps arise the possibility of having him arrested one day!"
He distrusted every one and he was hardly ever mistaken in his judgment of persons. How often did he not say to me, "I don't know, there is something about this person that I don't like, if I would only know what's wrong with him." So my husband who seemed to be guided only by his logic and intelligence was in the end led by intuition. There was an immense danger in his development, that of human isolation.
He was easily irritated and got excited about the smallest matters such as wrongly filed reports, incorrectness in the behavior of adjutants, belated beginnings of public assemblies, and so on. But difficult problems in his work he solved without any signs of excitement. He was the man who passed the most dangerous cliff without difficulty, but whom a straw caused to stumble.
He required absolute obedience as he himself obeyed without questioning.... His way of living... was modest. He did not like pomp, nor to be the centre of a society. He loved good food, but he did not like splendid dinners. Receptions, state funerals, public affairs of every kind he just hated, and he tried to get away from them wherever he could. He smoked little and hardly ever took alcohol. When he did go out, he preferred to go incognito. His daily life was scheduled to the minute. He kept absolute silence as to office matters.
He never gave in before he had reached the aim he wanted to reach. If he did once mistrust a person, it was exceedingly difficult to convince him or to prove to him that this person did not earn this judgment....
Orders from Hitler were obeyed absolutely. He thought him to be the one and only being who could lead the German nation to greatness and glory. Therefore it is good that my husband died in 1942. He has kept his faith and ideal.
I wrote you these items today because they just came to my mind. I am not always able to write, there are too hard and woeful memories connected with this.
Gubbins found it necessary to turn his attention once again to Central European affairs. At the initial meeting between Dalton and Edvard Beneš in 1941, it had been agreed that SOE should train a small contingent of Czech troops for special operations. The SIS was unwilling to allow Moravec to jeopardize his existing radio links which were being used to carry valuable intelligence traffic, and before any action could be taken it was necessary to establish independent radio communications with the Protectorate. Several air sorties to Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1941 had proved abortive because of bad weather and during the summer months the hours of darkness were too short to permit flights to Central Europe. The Czech authorities were not particularly worried by these failures, nor by the decision of the Chiefs of Staff that it was impossible to provide air support for general risings in Central Europe. There were ample supplies of arms and explosives in the Protectorate; their armament industry, fully mobilized by the Germans, provided Czech workers with innumerable opportunities for the undetectable (and unverifiable) sabotage approved of by the Chiefs of Staff in which their underground organization claimed to excel. There had never been any question of the Czech Home Army attempting the sort of paramilitary operations favoured by the Poles, at any rate until the time was ripe for a general rising. Nevertheless, with Russia's entry into the war, Benes began to worry lest the relatively passive role adopted by the Czech resistance might count against the Czechs' territorial claims in the post-war settlement. In short, they could no longer rely on the reputation for subversion and sabotage which they had gained when under Austrian domination before and during the First World War; some spectacular gesture was needed, whatever the cost.
In September, 1941, Gubbins was informed that President Beneš had sanctioned a terrorist attack on some prominent personality in the Protectorate, possibly on the Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich himself. Colonel Moravec enquired whether SOE would help in this project by providing facilities for training and supplying any special weaponry that was required. Gubbins had no hesitation in agreeing, but decided to restrict the knowledge of the Czech approach, and above all of the identity of the probable target, to a very small circle. There was no need for him to seek ministerial approval and there is no evidence that he consulted Dalton at this stage. However, Gubbins pointed out to Moravec that an assassination of this sort was a purely political act which, even if unsuccessful, would result in wholesale reprisals for which, in his view, there was insufficient military justification. Later on Gubbins revised this opinion on learning that Heydrich, before coming to Prague, had made a special study of resistance elements in North West Europe, his elimination therefore becoming of direct interest to SOE.
By the time that Selborne took over from Dalton, independent radio communication with the Protectorate had been re-established; two agents had been selected by the Czechs, trained and equipped by SOE and dropped in Bohemia by the RAF, and the assassination was due to take place at the first opportunity. Gubbins therefore lost no time in putting Selborne in the picture, making it clear that the odds were against the operation succeeding and that absolute secrecy was essential. There is no reason to think that Selborne informed the Prime Minister of SOE's implication until news reports were received that the attack had succeeded to the extent that Heydrich had been seriously wounded. The SIS was certainly aware of Czech intentions and may or may not have informed the Foreign Office. It also seems likely that the Russians were forewarned, if not by Benes, at least by Moravec who was in regular contact with Ivan Chichayev, the NKVD resident representative in London.
Although ANTHROPOID, as the operation was code-named, had been planned and executed entirely by the Czechs, SOE's Czech section had provided essential support and the two agents had been transported to Czechoslovakia by the RAF. The reprisals were even more terrible than Gubbins had predicted and effectively liquidated organized Czech resistance for the rest of the war. This is not the place to try to assess the importance of ANTHROPOID which was certainly one of the most sensational operations in which SOE was involved.... Nor did he seek ministerial approval or disclose the true nature of the operation until it was too late for anyone to interfere. As it transpired, news of SOE's part in Heydrich's assassination was received with approval by the Prime Minister, and Mr Churchill was reported to have winked when President Roosevelt subsequently asked him whether the British authorities had been involved. Nevertheless, although Gubbins wrote to Moravec congratulating him on the success of the operation, it was not until many years after the war that. SOE's involvement was publicly acknowledged. Meanwhile Benes had his own reasons for not wishing the responsibility of the Czech government in London to become known. The secret was well kept.
President Beneš had, since 1939, led an untiring diplomatic campaign for nullification of the Munich Pact and rerecognition of the Czechoslovak Republic. Manifestations of resistance both in the occupied Czech lands and in Slovakia were of crucial importance. The need for a spectacular act of anti-Nazi defiance in the so-called Protectorate helped inspire the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in May 1942. Heydrich was the head of the Sicherheitsdienst, or SD, the Nazi secret service, and was sent by Hitler to Prague in early 1942 as the ranking German officer in the occupied Czech lands.
Beneš and his chief of army intelligence in London, General Moravec, chose two noncommissioned officers of the Czechoslovak Army in England to parachute into the Protectorate and execute Heydrich. It was no coincidence that one of them - Jozef Gabčík - was Slovak, and the other, Jan Kubis, Czech. This pairing was meant to symbolize the continuing mutuality of Czech and Slovak national interests.
Authorities in London and Prague fully appreciated that this assassination would bring terrible retribution, but the Czechs decided their people would suffer less in the long run if Heydrich were killed...
Within a week the Anthropoids, lucky from the start, were located by partisans and taken in by Czech families. Kubis and Gabčík made contact with other parachutists but did not reveal their own mission. For this reason Heydrich was not alarmed when informed of their arrival but remained preoccupied with catching Paul Thuemmel, and the Anthropoids soon had new orders from London to help save Franta. After the latter's final arrest on 20 Mar 42 Kubis and Gabcik returned to their original task.
While the Anthropoids struggled to recruit a team they studied Heydrich's movements and habits. The butcher of Prague seemed to mock the threat of assassination. He always used the same routes between his country estate at Panenske Brezany, Hradcany Castle and the airport; he always sat in the front seat of his powerful Mercedes sports-convertible with Oberscharfuehrer Klein, the SS driver; he almost never had a bodyguard or armed escort.
The big break came on 23 May 42, when the Czech underground gave the Anthropoids Heydrich's schedule for 27 May. Meanwhile a perfect place for an ambush had been found. Adolf Opalka was on the left-hand sidewalk across the street from the hit men; Kubis was on the corner watching Valcik:a few yards from him on the right sidewalk, were Gabcik and three other parachutists, Jaroslt Svarc, Josef Bublik, and Jan Hruby. Everybody was posted by 9 AM.
Heydrich left his country estate just after 10 AM, half an hour behind schedule. His senior warrant officer, Herbert Wagnitz, was driven a few minutes later after handling some final chores. The acting protector, who loved speed ordered Klein to step on it, and Wagnitz had no hope of catching up even if that had been the plan. Klein had to slow futher for a couple of indecisive pedestrians, then he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a man who darted into the street. Nothing happened!
The startled Germans recovered fast, both standing to fire pistols and hit their dumb-founded assailant twice in the leg. As the car began moving on, Jan Kubis lobbed a grenade that exploded against the side of the car behind the front seat, tearing a great halt Heydrich got out clutching his pistol and briefcase, staggered a few steps, and fell. Klein, unscathed, pursued Gabčík, who had thrown down his gun and fled on foot, Kubis, whose face had been hit by slivers of metal, escaped on his bicycle. Valcik had run to the scene of action, being hit there by fragments and escaping with blood on his trousers. All the other partisans also got away.
The team's reconnaissance work revealed that he drove from his residence to the Hradcany Castle in Prague every morning, and this seemed to be when he was at his most vulnerable. On 27 May, the four commandos, led by Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčík, struck. They set an ambush on a hairpin bend and waited for Heydrich to appear. When he did, Gabčík jumped into the middle of the road, raised his sub-machine gun and pulled the trigger. But the gun jammed. Heydrich's car screeched to a halt and he pulled his pistol from his holster and opened fire. At that point, Kubis a grenade under the car. It detonated, but then, to the Czechs' astonishment, Heydrich emerged from the cloud of smoke, shouting and still shooting. A running battle developed as the commandos tried to escape from their athletic and apparently unharmed enemy. Kubis managed to slip between two passing trams and escape on a bicycle he had positioned near by; but Gabčík seemed to be in real danger of being caught. However, Heydrich suddenly reached for his stomach, threw down his pistol and slumped to the ground. His driver, who had been slightly wounded in the blast, commandeered a passing bread van and took Heydrich to the nearest German military hospital. It was discovered that Heydrich had multiple shrapnel wounds, and he deteriorated over the next few days, despite being treated by Germany's leading doctors. He died on 4 June from septicemia, aged thirty-eight.
Heydrich's death was the signal for the most bloody reprisals. More than three thousand arrests were carried out, and courts-martial at Prague and Brno pronounced 1,350 death sentences. The section leaders of the R.S.H.A., Nebe and Schellenberg, arrived in Prague on the evening of May 27 to start an inquiry. They were able to reconstitute the mechanism of the bomb, a remarkable weapon of British origin, which could be regulated according to the distance it was required to roll. It had been set for a distance of eight yards and had functioned with great precision.
The authors of the attempt had found asylum in the Church of Saint-Charles of Borromeo, where more than a hundred members of the Czech Resistance Movement were in hiding, The Gestapo discovered the existence of this hideout, and the S.S., after besieging the church, killed everyone inside, including the killers.
The inquiry petered out, probably because nobody wanted to go more deeply into the matter. The outrage was used as a pretext to track down the Resistance networks. The day of the assassination 150 Jews were executed in Berlin by way of reprisals.
Schirach, Gauleirer and Reich Governor in Vienna, seized without doubt by a feeling of solidarity with his opposite number in Prague, wrote to Bormann asking him to have a British town of cultural interest bombed by way of reprisals, since the bomb was of British manufacture.
A gigantic operation was unleashed against the Resistance and the Czech populace. An area of 15,000 square kilometers and 5,000 communes was searched and 657 persons shot on the spot. Finally it was decided to punish two villages suspected of having sheltered the authors of the crime-the communes of Lidice and Lezaki.
On the morning of June 9 a detachment of the S.S. Division "Prinz Eugen," commanded by S.S. Haupfsturmfuehrer Max Rostock, invested the hamlet of Lidice about thirty kilometers from Prague. The population was confined to the village and forbidden to leave; the men and youths of more than sixteen years old were then locked up in the barns and stables while the women and children were imprisoned in the school. The following morning the men were taken out in groups of ten into the garden behind Gorak's, the mayor of Lidice, farm and shot. By four o'clock in the afternoon 172 men of the village had been killed. Nineteen men of Lidice who worked in the neighboring mines of Kladno, or as woodcutters in the neighboring forests, were taken to Prague and shot, as were seven women from Lidice. The other 195 women of the village were deported to Ravensbruck. The newborn and babies were torn from their mothers and had their throats slit. The other infants, numbering about ninety, were sent to the Gneisenau concentration camp in Poland. Seventeen of them, placed in German families, were discovered in 1947. Finally the village itself was razed to the ground. The houses were set on fire and dynamited and the entire village demolished...
In this manner reprisals carried out on a peaceful peasant hamlet were brought to the knowledge of the German people, without the slightest protest being raised. This action had been ordered by State Secretary Karl Hermann Frank, subsequently known as the "Butcher of Lidice."
After the death of Heydrich the executions were just as savage. The arrests continued at an accelerated rate. People were murdered even in the prisons. In the Pankrac prison of Prague 1,700 Czechs were killed and 1,300 more in Koumic College at Brno, which had been transformed into a prison.
Until the end the Nazis harassed the Czech people without ever managing to break their resistance. It had been calculated that 200,000 people passed through the prison of Brno alone, of whom only 50,000 were liberated, the others having been killed or sent to the slow death of the concentration camps.
In all, 305,000 Czechs were deported to the camps; only 75,000 emerged alive, another 23,000 being so seriously affected that their chances of survival were very faint. The executions carried out until 1943 often received considerable publicity. After 1943 they took place almost in secret. An average of a hundred persons a month continued to be shot. By the time the Nazis had to evacuate Czechoslovakia they had claimed 360,000 victims.
In the course of the search for the murderer of Obengruppenfuehrer S.S. All the buildings of this village have been razed to the ground and the name of the village removed from the land registers.
(1) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1997) page 127
(2) André Brissaud, Nazi Secret Service (1972) page 26
(3) Adrian Weale, The SS: A New History (2010) page 76
(4) Shlomo Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich (1971) page 258
(5) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) page 106
(6) Shlomo Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich (1971) page 23
(7) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) page 107
(8) Walter Schellenberg, The Memoirs of Hitler's Spymaster (2006) page 31
(9) Adrian Weale, The SS: A New History (2010) page 78
(10) Edouard Calic, Himmler and the SS Empire (2009) pages 58- 59
(11) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) page 111
(12) Mark M. Boatner III, Reinhard Heydrich (1996) page 216
(13) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 54
(14) Andrew Mollo, To The Death's Head: The Story of the SS (1982) pages 21-22
(15) Lina Heydrich, letter to Jean Vaughan (12th December, 1951)
(16) Jacques Delarue, The Gestapo (1962) page 36
(17) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 291
(18) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) page 360
(19) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 191
(20) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) pages 53-54
(21) Walter Schellenberg, The Memoirs of Hitler's Spymaster (2006) page 30
(22) Quoted in Shlomo Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich (1971) page 62
(23) Paul R. Maracin, The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004) page 114
(24) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 31-32
(25) Erich Kempka, interviewed in 1946.
(26) Paul R. Maracin, The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004) page 139
(27) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 56-57
(28) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) page 200
(29) Lina Heydrich, letter to Jean Vaughan (12th December, 1951)
(30) John Erickson, Soviet High Command (1962) page 433-34
(31) Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (1990) page 198
(32) Major V. Dapishev, speech 18th February, 1966
(33) Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror (1990) page 199
(34) Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) page 300
(35) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 201
(36) Karl von Eberstein, telegram (9th November, 1938)
(37) Wannsee Protocol, (20th January 1942)
(38) Lina Heydrich, letter to Jean Vaughan (12th December, 1951)
(39) Mark M. Boatner III, The Biographical Dictionary of World War II (1996) page 215
(40) Peter Wilkinson and Joan Bright Astley, Gubbins & SOE (1993) pages 107-108
(41) Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service (2010) page 539
(42) Miroslav Ivanov, Target: Heydrich (1974) page 46
(43) Henri Michel, The Shadow War: European Resistance (1972) page 223
(44) Mark M. Boatner III, Reinhard Heydrich (1996) page 216
(45) Miroslav Ivanov, Target: Heydrich (1974) page 177
(46) Miroslav Ivanov, Target: Heydrich (1974)
(47) Jacques Delarue, The Gestapo (1962) pages 259-261
(48) Der Nerse Tag (11th June, 1942)
Heinrich Himmler and the SS: A Study in Propaganda (Answer Commentary)
The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)
Reinhard Heydrich: In Depth
Reinhard Heydrich was one of the main architects of the “Final Solution.” He was chief of the Reich Security Main Office, the SS and police agency most directly concerned with implementing the Nazi plan to murder Jews of Europe during World War II.
At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, Heydrich presented plans, authorized by Adolf Hitler himself, to coordinate a European-wide “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) organized the killing of Heydrich in Prague, where he was serving as the Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. In a top-secret operation code-named “Operation Anthropoid,” the SOE trained a group of Czech resistance members to assassinate him.
Heydrich’s death after the assassination attempt led to reprisals against the Czech population, including the destruction of the town of Lidice and village of Ležáky.
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SS General Reinhard Heydrich was chief of:
- The Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS (Sicherheitsdienst SD) from 1931 until 1942.
- The German Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei Gestapo) from 1934 to 1936.
- The German Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei SiPo), which consisted of the Gestapo and the criminal police detective forces (Kriminalpolizei Kripo), from 1936 until 1942.
- The Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt RSHA) after September 1939, the Security Police and SD were formally unified under Heydrich's command in the RSHA. The RSHA was the SS and police agency most directly concerned with implementing the Nazi plan to murder the European Jews during World War II.
While still chief of the RSHA, Heydrich served as Acting Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1941 until 1942.
Why Famous: Regarded by many historians as the darkest figure in the Nazi elite, Heydrich chaired the Wannsee Conference in 1941 which formalized plans for the deadliest phase of the Holocaust. He directly oversaw the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi death squads who killed more than a million Jews, and served as the brutal protector of Bohemia and Moravia during the Nazi occupation, earning him the moniker "the butcher of Prague."
Heydrich had previously served as the director of the Gestapo from 1934 until 1939, when he took over as the director of the Reich Main Security Office, responsible for rooting out opposition and resistance movements in Nazi territory. So crucial was his involvement in the Holocaust that Adolf Hitler once referred to him as "the man with the iron heart."
He was assassinated in Prague by Czech rebels during Operation Anthropoid.
Born: March 7, 1904
Birthplace: Halle an der Saale, German Empire
Died: June 4, 1942 (aged 38)
Cause of Death: Assassination
Reinhard Heydrich was born in March 1904 and died in 1942. Heydrich was to become one of the most feared men in Nazi Germany helping Himmler cement the dictatorship started in March 1933 with the Enabling Act. Heydrich is one of the men most associated with the Holocaust. It is thought that Hitler looked on Heydrich as his natural successor.
Heydrich, on the left, behind Himmler
Heydrich was in charge of the Political Police. He was also a skilled musician, an Olympic class fencer and the mastermind behind the organisation that lead to the Holocaust. It was Heydrich who chaired and lead the meeting at Wannsee where the decision was taken to eradicate the Jews from Europe. He was a devoted Nazi who pursued his anti-Semitism with zeal. Why?
Heydrich had to live with the fact that some of the Nazi hierarchy considered him to be a Jew under Nazi law.
Heydrich’s father was called Bruno Richard Heydrich and had founded the First Halle Conservatory for Music, Theatre and Teaching. But research ordered by Gregor Strasser in 1932-33, came across an entry in the 1916 version of Riemann’s Musical Encyclopedia which read “Heydrich, Bruno, real name Süss”. The name Süss would have been considered by some as a Jewish name.
Martin Bormann kept a card system that held detailed information on leading Nazis. This survived the war. Bormann was as thorough as any person could be and yet the card on Heydrich only goes back one generation on his mother’s side and there is no entry for his grandmother on her side. It would seem that Bormann kept this information out deliberately as he was too meticulous to leave gaps in his research and he certainly would have had access to documents throughout the Reich.
The beliefs of some came to nothing as those higher up in the Nazi Party did not consider a surname to be incriminating evidence. However, Heydrich had to live with the knowledge that some believed he should have held no position in the Nazi Party at all. Perhaps this is why he was so devoted to his work against the Jews to prove to others that he was a true Nazi.
Heydrich joined the SS in 1932 after leaving the navy where he had been an officer. He had left the navy in disgrace after an affair with a young girl. He joined the SS as an unemployed man. His efficiency was soon noticed and he was appointed head of the SS Srcurity Service (the SD) which acted as an intelligence agency.
He was later appointed head of the Gestapo and the criminal police (the Kripo). These positions were combined into one when the Reich Security Office was established.
In 1941, he was appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia and in the following year chaired the Wannsee meeting.
Heydrich was killed by British trained Czech partisans as he was driven to work in May 1942. He travelled in an open top car and always used the same route to work. For these assassins, it was simply a matter of waiting for him to arrive at a point where his car had to slow down. One of the assassins was traced to the village of Lidice which was to pay a terrible price for having one of its townsfolk involved in this killing. Hitler ordered that everything should be killed in Lidice – including pets – and that its name should be removed from all future maps of Europe that were printed. The legacy of Heydrich lasted after his death.
Grave of top Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich opened in Berlin
An employee at the Invalids' Cemetery in central Berlin found on Thursday that the grave had been opened.
No bones were removed, police say.
Heydrich was a key organiser of Nazi Germany's mass murder of European Jews. He chaired the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, where Hitler's genocidal "Final Solution" was planned.
Tampering with a grave can be prosecuted under a German law against "grave defilement".
The Allied occupation forces at the end of World War Two decreed that the graves of prominent Nazis should not be marked, to prevent Nazi sympathisers turning them into shrines.
Whoever violated Heydrich's grave is thought to have had inside knowledge of its location.
A similar incident happened at Berlin's Nikolai Cemetery in 2000, when a left-wing group opened what they claimed was the grave of Horst Wessel, a Nazi stormtrooper murdered in 1930, who was turned into a martyr and honoured with a Nazi anthem.
The group claimed to have thrown Wessel's skull into the River Spree, but police denied that, saying the grave was that of Wessel's father and no bones had been removed.
Heydrich, nicknamed "the Butcher", headed the Reich Main Security Office under SS leader Heinrich Himmler. Adolf Hitler called Heydrich "the Man with the Iron Heart".
He ruled over Bohemia and Moravia until May 1942, when British-trained Czechoslovak agents attacked his limousine, and he died later of his injuries.
In retaliation, the Nazis destroyed Lidice village, murdering all the men and adolescent boys and deporting the women and children to concentration camps.
This particular vehicle is noted as likely being the vehicle that Reinhard Heydrich was in when he was attacked outside of Prague in 1942. Heydrich was a high-ranking Nazi official who was one of the main architect’s of the Holocaust. He was referred to by Adolf Hitler as “the man with the iron heart.”
Heydrich was on his way to meet Adolf Hitler in Berlin on May 27th, 1942 when his vehicle was suddenly ambushed. According to documents found, it appears as though Adolf Hitler was meeting with him to send him to France, where Germany was losing ground fast. The Czechoslovakian government in exile had been looking to kill Heydrich for some time, having chosen two men to carry out the attacks. The two men were Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, who had been trained by British special forces. The two lived in hiding from December 27th until May 27th, scouting and preparing the assassination.
Reinhard Heydrich’s car (a Mercedes-Benz 320 Convertible B) after the 1942 assassination attempt in Prague. Heydrich later died of his injuries.
The route Heydrich and his driver took on May 27th to Berlin required them to pass through Liben (a suburb of Prague). On the route, there was a tight turn, which was the perfect spot for the ambush. As the car rolled round the turn, Gabcik tried to use his sub-machine gun to shoot up the vehicle, but the gun jammed.
Heydrich ordered his driver not to drive off. Instead, Heydrich tried to face the attackers directly. Kubis then threw a bomb at Heydrich, which blew up the rear of the passenger side. The bomb was a re-purposed anti-tank mine. Both Heydrich and Kubis suffered serious injuries.
Shortly after this, Heydrich chased Kubis with a gun in his hand. But Heydrich was too badly wounded to chase him, and he fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Heydrich had ordered his driver to chase after Gabcik. This ended with the driver being shot in the leg and Gabcik getting away.
Following this, a woman found Heydrich wounded on the side of the road and got a delivery van to take him to a hospital. He suffered serious injuries to his lungs, diaphragm, and spleen. The doctors were able to pack his chest but were unable to remove the splinters from the blast that had lodged inside of his body. Because of this, they operated immediately, removing his spleen and the dead tissue caused by the bomb.
One of Reinhard Heydrich’s cars, similar to the one he was mortally wounded in, Military Technical Museum of the Military Historical Institute, Prague. FunkMonk – CC BY 3.0
At first, it appeared as though Heydrich would make a full recovery, but on June 2nd he fell into a coma and never regained consciousness. On that same day, Hitler’s physician had suggested a new anti-bacterial drug to fight infection, but another physician believed that Heydrich was making good progress and would fully recover. He died on June 4th from sepsis, a condition where the body’s response to an infection ends up hurting its own tissues and organs.
Tag: reinhard heydrich
Operation Anthropoid was a mission carried out by the Czech resistance in 1942. This spectacular mission saw the killing of the high-ranking Nazi, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was also instrumental in the January 1942 Wannsee Conference. At this conference, the Nazis made their plans for the ‘final solution’ and the subsequent logistics to carry it out. Many historians consider Heydrich to be one of the ‘darkest figures of the Nazi regime.’ And interestingly enough, he was also the highest-ranking official to be successfully assassinated in a secret operation.
Czechoslovakia during Wartime
In October 1938, following the Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany incorporated the Czech Sudetenland. In March 1939, they incorporated the rest of the Czech lands, except for the first Slovak Republic’s puppet government. At any rate, most of the country was subdivided into the protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, overseen by Reichsprotektor Konstantin von Neurath.
Minutes of a January 1939 meeting with Heydrich’s subordinates survive. In it, the Reichsprotektor told them that: “The foreign policy of Germany demands that the Czechoslovak Republic be broken up and destroyed within the next few months. If necessary, by force.” This statement doesn’t leave much to the imagination in the way Heydrich dealt with the territory he would oversee two years later.
In September 1941, Heydrich was appointed as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. The reason for this was that top Nazi officials considered the first Reich Protector, Konstantin von Neurath, ‘too soft.’ With Heydrich in control, things certainly took a turn for the worse. He reigned with an iron fist. It soon led to him acquiring fitting monickers such as the ‘Butcher of Prague’, the ‘Blonde Beast’, and the ‘Hangman.’ Hitler referred to him as an ‘incredibly dangerous man’ and ‘the man with the iron heart.’ Doubling as the head of the Sicherheitsdienst, he dismantled many spy cells and double agents during his short term as head of the protectorate. The fate these men and women suffered at the hands of Heydrich’s Sicherheitsdienst was incomprehensible.
In October 1938, President of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Benes, fled to the United Kingdom. The British government pressured his government in exile to prepare acts of resistance to increase Czechoslovaks’ morale in Nazi-occupied territory. They raised an army-in-exile, whose soldiers were trained by the British Special Operations Executive.
To this day, it is unclear why the Czech government-in-exile chose men like Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčík for the mission. Sure, the British Special Operations Executive trained the men, but their paratrooper grade reports revealed mechanic Gabcik and tiler Kubis barely received a passing grade. In the section detailing dealing with explosives, one of them received the comment: ‘Slow, both in practice and response.’
Still, they weren’t the first. Throughout 1941 27 agents were parachuted into Nazi-controlled territory. Most of them ended up dropped in the wrong areas, with multiple agents ending up in the Tyrolean Alps. Some agents didn’t discard papers or addresses of contact persons in time. Others were betrayed by locals afraid of reprisals, and yet other agents themselves betrayed a significant amount of resistance members after their arrest. Czech resistance wasn’t a very well-oiled machine to begin with.
On December 28, 1941, a Handley Page Halifax-bomber of the Royal Air Force dropped seven Czechoslovak soldiers above the protectorate. Their mission was to take out Heydrich, and things immediately began on the wrong foot. They were dropped in the wrong place, near Prague. The next several months they used fake documents and hid in attics and basements of resistance members’ houses.
Their first plans didn’t amount to much. Initially, the plan was to assassinate Heydrich onboard a train, but that didn’t seem feasible. The second attempt too failed. The men waited at a forestry road Heydrich should cross on his way to work, but he never appeared. And although the third time’s the charm, the men now decided they had to take drastic action: kill Heydrich in Prague. On his turf. A cleaning lady and clockwork repairman working in Prague Castle, Heydrich’s office, managed to slip the Czech resistance his travel plans for May 27.
On that morning, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the other British-trained soldiers, took their positions at a bend in the road near Troja bridge. Gabcik sat on a bench and assembled a STEN gun under his coat. Kubis, leaning against a lamp post across the street, carried two bombs and a grenade in his briefcase. They knew Heydrich passed the bend daily when driving from his home to Prague Castle. Around the corner stood another member of the resistance, ready to signal with his shaving mirror when the car drove up.
Most days Heydrich wasn’t accompanied by guards and even drove his Mercedes-Benz without a roof. He enjoyed showing his dominance and authority on Prague’s streets, considering it fearless to do so. Surely, the Czechs would not dare to attack him. The men had been waiting for nearly an hour and a half, when at 10:29 AM the Mercedes finally drove around the corner.
When the car crossed the bend, driver SS-Oberscharführer Johannes Klein slowed down a bit. In that moment Gabcik stepped onto the street in front of the car and attempted to open fire on Heydrich and Klein. But his STEN gun jammed. He had hidden the disassembled parts between rabbit food, which was now blocking his rifle. Immediately realising what was happening, Heydrich rose up in the back seat of his car, pulled his Lüger pistol and aimed at Gabcik, who was still fiddling with his gun. Klein too opened fire on Gabcik but missed all of his rounds.
Kubis now quickly moved into action. Unnoticed by both Heydrich and Klein, he threw one of the bombs towards the vehicle. It exploded at the right backside tire. Shrapnel tore through the car’s coating and hull. The shrapnel critically injured Heydrich, who was struck in his spleen. Still, he continued firing shots but was unable to aim properly due to the smoke and debris.
Meanwhile, Gabcik threw away his STEN gun and fled towards a local butcher store, with Klein in hot pursuit. When Klein attempted to take out Gabcik, he was shot in the shin. Gabcik managed to escape. Meanwhile, Heydrich was still attempting to shoot at Kubis, whose face was bloodied due to the bomb fragments. He used one of the bikes the men took with them to get away. Valcik, the man who used his mirror to signal the car was approaching, escaped as well.
All these events happened in rapid succession. A few minutes at most. Yet they led to Heydrich’s end, and the end of several thousand innocent Czech lives lost in the subsequent reprisals. And although the gun jammed, and it nearly seemed like the entire mission would fail, it ended up being one of the most successful secret operations of the Allied powers during the war.
Mystery surrounding Heydrich’s death
As the men got away, Heydrich initially attempted to chase them. But no matter the adrenaline rush, his injuries took the best of him, and he collapsed next to his car.
Because no ambulances showed up, constables tried to get civilians to take the critically injured Heydrich in their cars. Several people refused to take him upon noticing his SS uniform. Thirty minutes later, a driver finally brought him into the Bulovka hospital. Sources conflict a bit about what happened next, but what is for sure is that the doctors understood the gravity of the situation and attempted to save his life. Other sources indicate Heinrich Himmler’s personal physician treated him.
On June 4, Heydrich passed away at the age of just 38. The official cause of death was listed as blood poisoning. Heydrich managed to become one of the most infamous and brutal officials of the Nazi regime in his short life. His body was transported to Berlin, and he received a full state funeral. Although many high-ranking officials praised his character, Heydrich arguably had more deadly enemies among the Germans than the Czechs.
There still isn’t much clarity about how Heydrich ended up catching blood poisoning. Some claimed the car’s coating caused it. Others said the grenade shell was laced with poison. But one theory is even more thrilling, looking at the intrigues and power-struggles within the Nazi high command, and in this case, the SS.
Because claims have been floating around that Heydrich’s growing influence and ambition scared Himmler. As such, it appears to be somewhat likely that Himmler made a virtue of necessity and ordered his personal physician to poison Heydrich discretely. Other historians allude to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, taking drastic action to get rid of Heydrich. A few days before his assassination, Canaris and Heydrich fought in the Prague Castle because Heydrich was convinced the Abwehr was filled with spies and untrustworthy elements. He demanded his Sicherheitsdienst receive more control over the espionage body. At any rate, Heydrich was gone, leaving a void in the protectorate.
Reprisals and Heroic Deaths
When news of the assassination reached Hitler in Berlin, he was furious. He too considered Heydrich to be one of the most cold-hearted and efficient Nazi officials. He just lost one of his best men. Hitler personally appointed SS officer and Gestapo agent Heinz Pannwitz to lead the investigation and manhunt.
The subsequent reprisals were precisely in line with the way Heydrich governed the protectorate up until then. During the manhunt for the assassins, the small village of Lidice was wrongly considered to be connected to the assassination. On June 10, the town was surrounded and completely destroyed. As in, completely wiped out and razed. All men over the age of 15, all 184 of them, were executed. The 184 women and 88 children that lived there were deported to concentration camps, with a few exceptions if the children were considered suitable for Germanisation. It’s incredibly dark – and after the war merely 53 women and 17 children returned. This massacre was meant to serve as a warning to other resistance groups. A small town nearby, Lezaky, suffered the same fate two weeks later.
In total, over 13000 people were arrested. The vast majority of them had nothing to do with resistance, let alone the assassination. Approximately 3000 civilians were executed during the reprisals.
The men responsible for killing Heydrich didn’t manage to evade capture for long. Pannwitz caught a lucky break when a Czech resistance member, Karel Curda, turned himself in. For betraying his fellow members of the resistance, Pannwitz paid him 10 million Czech Crowns (the equivalent of around 600.000 dollars). He gave up Kubis and Gabcik’s hiding location: the Saint Cyril and Methodius Cathedral’s crypt in Prague.
In the early hours of June 18, a Waffen-SS force rolled up to the Cathedral, where Kubis, Gabcik and five other resistance fighters hid. The firefight that broke out lasted for six to eight hours. Although heavily outgunned, the seven men managed to keep approximately 700 Waffen-SS soldiers at bay. Realising they would be unable to escape the scene, they ended up fighting to the death and taking their own lives.
To this day the bullet holes remain visible in the Cathedral’s wall. The Cathedral’s bishop and other members of the congregation too were arrested and executed and the entire families of the agents that met their end there.
Killing Hitler’s hangman: the dramatic story of Reinhard Heydrich’s assassination
In May 1942, two partisans assassinated the reviled Nazi grandee Reinhard Heydrich. For the beleaguered Allies, Heydrich's death was a major coup. But, says Robert Gerwarth, the consequences for countless civilians across occupied Europe were catastrophic.
This competition is now closed
Published: May 26, 2018 at 1:34 pm
Reinhard Heydrich is widely recognised as one of the great iconic villains of the 20th century, an appalling figure even within the context of the Nazi elite. Curiously enough, however, his international ‘fame’ rose considerably as a result of his 1942 assassination which quickly became the subject of countless movies and books, starting with Fritz Lang’s Hollywood production Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and Heinrich Mann’s novel Lidice (1942).
The continuing interest in Operation Anthropoid is understandable. Arguably the most spectacular secret service operation of the entire Second World War, the assassination on 27 May 1942 ended the life of Nazi Germany’s chief organiser of terror at home and in the occupied territories. It was the only successful attempt on the life of a senior Nazi during the war.
Secret plans to assassinate Heydrich had emerged in London more than half a year earlier, in late September 1941. The origins of the plan have remained highly controversial to this day and have given rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, largely because the parties involved – the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Czechoslovak government-in-exile under President Edvard Beneš – officially denied all responsibility after 1945. Neither of them wanted to be accused of condoning political assassination as a means of warfare, particularly since it had always been clear that the Germans would respond to the killing of a prominent Nazi leader with the most brutal reprisals against the civilian population.
The surviving documents on the assassination reveal that the plan to kill Heydrich was primarily born out of desperation: ever since the fall of France in the summer of 1940, and the inglorious British retreat from Dunkirk, London was hard-pressed to regain the military initiative.
Without any chance of being able to defeat the German army by themselves, Churchill, the War Office, and the Special Operations Executive hoped to incite popular unrest in the Nazi occupied territories, thereby deflecting vital German military resources to a number of trouble spots. They quickly found an ally in Beneš, for whom the ultimate objective was the postwar re-emergence of an independent Czechoslovak state. To gain support for this objective in London, he needed a spectacular act of resistance designed to demonstrate that the Czechs were doing their bit for an Allied victory. The purpose of Heydrich’s assassination was to achieve this objective.
The men selected to assassinate Heydrich were well prepared for their mission. Jan Kubiš, a 27-year-old former NCO (Non-commissioned officer) from Moravia, had gained his first experiences in resistance activities in the spring of 1939. When the Gestapo tried to arrest him, he managed to escape to Poland where he met the second future Heydrich assassin, Josef Gabčík. A former locksmith from Slovakia, Gabčík had served as an NCO in the former Czech army before fleeing the country in despair over the Nazi occupation. A third man, Josef Valčík, was to act as lookout for the approaching car on 27 May 1942, the day of the ambush, at a hairpin bend in central Prague. At around 10.20 that morning, Valčík’s shaving mirror flashed in the sun, signalling that Heydrich’s open-top car was approaching.
As the assassins had anticipated, Heydrich was driving without a security escort. When the car slowly turned around the corner, Gabčík jumped out, aiming his machine-gun at Heydrich and pulling the trigger, but the gun, previously dismantled and concealed in his briefcase under a layer of grass, jammed.
Heydrich, assuming that there was only one assassin, hastily ordered his driver to stop the car and drew his pistol, determined to shoot Gabčík – a fatal error of judgment that would cost his life. As the car braked sharply, Kubiš stepped out of the shadows and tossed one of his hand-grenades towards the open Mercedes. He misjudged the distance and the bomb exploded against the car’s rear wheel, throwing shrapnel back into Kubiš’s face and shattering the windows of a passing tram. As the noise of the explosion died away, Heydrich and his driver leaped from the wrecked car with drawn pistols ready to kill the assassins.
While Kubiš managed to quickly grab his bicycle and cycle away, Gabčík found escape less easy. As Heydrich came towards him through the dust of the explosion, he took cover behind a telegraph pole, fully expecting Heydrich to shoot him. Suddenly, however, Heydrich collapsed in pain. Gabčík seized the opportunity and fled.
As soon as the assassins had vanished, Czech and German passers-by came to Heydrich’s aid and halted a baker’s van that transported the injured Heydrich to the nearby Bulovka hospital, where doctors quickly delivered a diagnosis: his diaphragm was ruptured, and fragments of shrapnel and horsehair from the car’s upholstery were lodged in his spleen.
A few days after the initially successful surgery, an infection in the stomach cavity set in. Had penicillin been available at that point, Heydrich would have survived. Without it, Heydrich’s fever got worse. The doctors were unable to combat his septicaemia, his temperature soared and he was in agonising pain. On 4 June, at 9am, Heydrich succumbed to blood poisoning. ‘Hitler’s Hangman’, as the exiled German Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann famously called Heydrich in his BBC commentary the following day, was dead.
On 9 June 1942, the body of Heydrich was laid to rest in one of the most elaborate state funerals ever held in the Third Reich. Over the previous two days, his coffin had been exhibited in the courtyard of Prague Castle, where tens of thousands of ethnic German and Czech civilians – some voluntarily, some ‘encouraged’ by the Nazi authorities – filed past to pay their final respects. The coffin was then transported to the New Reich Chancellery in Berlin, where, to the tunes of the Funeral March from Richard Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods, the entire leadership of the Third Reich bid a final farewell to the slain Reich Protector. Himmler and Adolf Hitler offered the eulogies.
While Heydrich’s body was being laid to rest in Berlin, the Nazi leadership sought revenge for what Goebbels described in his diary as the “irreplaceable” loss of “the most radical and most successful persecutor of all enemies of the state”. The atmosphere in Berlin can only be described as murderous. “Nothing can prevent me from deporting millions of Czechs if they do not wish for peaceful co-existence,” an outraged Hitler screamed at Czech president Emil Hácha after the funeral. The assassins had to be found immediately or the Czech population would face unprecedented consequences. Hitler also ordered an immediate act of retaliation: the complete annihilation of the Bohemian village of Lidice.
Lidice, a small village with around 500 inhabitants located north-west of Prague, had first aroused the suspicion of the Gestapo in late autumn 1941, when a captured Czech parachutist testified that two families living in Lidice, the Horáks and Stříbrnýs, served as contact points for resistance fighters airdropped into the protectorate. The story was probably made up, but the Gestapo chose to believe it and declared the village a legitimate target for retaliation. On the day of Heydrich’s funeral, German police units surrounded the village. Male inhabitants were herded onto the farm of the Horák family where they were shot in groups of 10. All in all, 172 men between the ages of 14 and 84 were murdered in Lidice. The shootings were still under way when the first houses were set on fire. By 10 in the morning, every house in Lidice had been burnt down and their ruins blown up with explosives or bulldozed to the ground.
The women of Lidice were deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp while their children underwent racial screening. Only nine of the children of Lidice were deemed ‘Germanisable’ and given new German names before being assigned to German foster parents. Most of the children were murdered.
While the destruction of Lidice fulfilled Hitler’s immediate appetite for revenge, the Gestapo initially failed to apprehend Heydrich’s assassins. Instead, the authorities announced that drastic measures against the Czech population would be taken if the assassins were not apprehended by 18 June. As the date approached, rumours spread that the Nazis would execute every 10th non-German in the protectorate, and many Czechs, either out of fear for their lives or in exchange for money, offered information to the Germans. None of it, however, delivered a real lead on the assassins.
Then, on 16 June, two days before the deadline, Karel Čurda, a parachutist airdropped into the protectorate in late March 1942, walked into the Gestapo headquarters in Prague’s Peček Palace – not a place many Czechs entered voluntarily. To save his life and protect his family, Čurda was willing to sacrifice those of others. He did not know Gabčík and Kubiš’s current location, but he did betray those who had provided safe houses, including that of the Moravec family in Prague, which had sheltered Heydrich’s assassins for a number of weeks.
A wave of arrests followed. In the early hours of 17 June, the Moravec apartment was raided. The mother of the family, Marie Moravec, killed herself with a cyanide capsule when the Gestapo agents arrived. Her husband, Alois Moravec, oblivious to his family’s involvement with the resistance, was taken to the cellars of Peček Palace alongside his teenage son, Vlastimil. After withstanding hours of torture, Vlastimil cracked when the interrogators showed him his mother’s severed head in a fish tank and threatened to place his father’s beside it. Vlastimil told the Gestapo that the assassins had taken shelter in the Orthodox Church of St Cyril and Methodius in central Prague.
Assassins’ last stand
The following morning, 800 SS men surrounded the Orthodox church. Their orders were to take the prisoners alive, allowing for further interrogations regarding their aides in the protectorate. The unsuspecting Kubiš and two fellow parachutists had the night watch as the Germans burst into the church. From the choirstalls the parachutists opened fire and managed to keep the attackers at bay for nearly two hours. By 7am, the first Czech was dead the other two, including Kubiš, were seriously wounded and captured. Kubiš was carried out of the church alive and brought to the SS military hospital, but died there without ever regaining consciousness.
The Gestapo searched the building more thoroughly and found a trapdoor to the catacombs. Under pressure, the resident priest admitted that four more parachutists – including Heydrich’s second assassin, Gabčík – were hiding there. He and Čurda tried to persuade the men to surrender, but they refused. Over the following four hours, the SS pumped tear gas and water into the catacombs to force the parachutists out. When the SS finally used explosives to enlarge the narrow entrance, the four parachutists shot themselves in the heads.
The death of Heydrich’s assassins was greeted with joy in Berlin, but the reprisals continued. Over the next few weeks, 236 other supporters and providers of safe houses for the parachutists were taken to Mauthausen concentration camp and murdered. The terrifying memory of the Heydrichiáda, as the wave of terror that followed the assassination was soon to be known, served as a powerful deterrent to any further resistance activities. Through his death, Heydrich had inadvertently fulfilled one of his ambitions: the complete and lasting ‘pacification’ of the protectorate.
If Heydrich’s assassination triggered an unprecedented wave of retaliation against the Czech population, it also prompted the Nazi leadership in Berlin to a further radicalisation of their policies towards the Jews. As Himmler emphasised in a secret speech to senior SS officers in Berlin immediately after Heydrich’s funeral: “It is our sacred obligation to avenge his death, to take over his mission, and to destroy without mercy and weakness, now more than ever, the enemies of our people.” Himmler also made it very clear that the programme of mass extermination was to be completed as soon as possible: “The migration of the Jewish people will be completed within a year. Then no more of them will be migrating.”
Himmler kept his word, and 1942 was to become the most murderous year of the Holocaust as the Nazis killed the majority of Jews herded into the ‘General Government’ district of German-occupied Poland. In ‘honour’ of Heydrich, the extermination programme in the General Government was given the operational name ‘Aktion Reinhard’. When it tailed off in the autumn of 1943, some 2 million people – the vast majority of them Jews – had been murdered.
Robert Gerwarth is director of the Centre for War Studies at University College Dublin. His books include Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich (Yale, 2012).
Heydrich: The life of Hitler’s killer-in-chief
Born in 1904 in the city of Halle, Reinhard Heydrich came from a middle-class background of professional musicians. His father was a successful composer, while his maternal grandfather was the director of the world-famous Royal Dresden Conservatory. Although young Heydrich displayed great talent in music, he decided to join Germany’s small navy as an officer cadet after the First World War, mainly because running a conservatory became unsustainable in the economically troubled Weimar Republic.
In 1931, Heydrich was discharged from the navy after a scandal revolving around him being simultaneously engaged to two women. Up until that point, he had shown little interest in politics. It was his future wife, Lina von Osten, who introduced him to the ideology of Nazism and encouraged him to apply for a vacancy as an intelligence officer in the SS.
Himmler took an immediate shine to Heydrich and together they rose rapidly after Hitler had come to power in 1933. By the time of his death in June 1942, Heydrich had accumulated three key positions.
As head of the Nazis’ vast political and criminal police apparatus, Heydrich commanded a sizeable shadow army of Gestapo and SD officers directly responsible for Nazi terror at home and in the occupied territories. As such, he was also the main organiser of the SS mobile killing squads, the ‘Einsatzgruppen’.
Then, in September 1941, Hitler appointed Heydrich acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, a position that made him the undisputed ruler of the former Czech lands. The eight months of his rule in Prague and the aftermath of his assassination are still remembered as the darkest time in modern Czech history.
In 1941, Heydrich was instructed by Hitler via Hermann Göring to find and implement a ‘Total Solution of the Jewish Question’ in Europe. In that capacity, he chaired the Wannsee conference of January 1942. By the time of his death, the Nazis had moved to the indiscriminate and systematic murder of the Jews of Europe.
Calic, Edouard. Reinhard Heydrich: The Chilling Story of a Man Who Masterminded the Nazi Death Camps. New York, 1985.
Deschner, Günther. Reinhard Heydrich: A Biography. New York, 1981.
Herbert, Ulrich. Best: Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft, 1903–1989. Bonn, Germany, 1996.
Wildt, Michael. Generation des Unbedingten: Das Führungskorps des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes. Hamburg, Germany, 2002.
Assassination by Czech Patriots
In September 1941, Heydrich was given control of Bohemia and Moravia-previously known as Czechoslovakia-and continued his murdering spree. He had become arrogant with his unlimited power, and demonstrated his complete control of the country by riding around in an open-topped green Mercedes, with no guard. The Czechs had taken notice of this habit, and on May 27, 1942, as Heydrich slowed to take a sharp turn on the Prague-Berlin highway, Czech agents who had been trained in England attacked. They threw a bomb into his open car. In spite of the explosion, Heydrich managed to get out of the car and shoot at them before falling in the road. He was later found to have a broken rib, a ruptured diaphragm, and shrapnel from the bomb. Mortally wounded, Heydrich lasted for several days under the care of Himmler's private doctors. He died on June 4, 1942 in the Czech capital of Prague, as a result of blood poisoning from the shrapnel.
In revenge for his death, German officials killed more than a thousand people they thought might have been involved, including Czech agents, resistance fighters, and 3,500 Jews. They also massacred the entire male population of the Czech village of Lidice, and deported all the women and children to the concentration camps, where most of them died. A few children, who looked like Germans, were taken to Nazi orphanages. After removing or killing all the people of Lidice, Nazis bombed and destroyed all the buildings in the village, leveled the ground, planted grain on the exposed soil, and removed the village's name from all German maps.
Despite Heydrich's death, his "final solution" plans were not forgotten. Other Nazis stepped in to continue his campaign against the Jews. This murderous campaign was not stopped until the Germans were defeated by Allied forces.