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Heydrich's Mercedes 320 Convertible B after the attack, showing the tank grenade damage
|Location||Prague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (today Czech Republic)
|Planned||December 1941–May 1942|
|Planned by||Special Operations Executive|
|Date||27 May 1942|
|Executed by||Jozef Gabčík
|Outcome||Heydrich dies from his wounds, 4 June; Nazis order reprisals|
Operation Anthropoid was the code name for the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office, RSHA), the combined security services of Nazi Germany, and acting Reichsprotektor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The operation was carried out in Prague on 27 May 1942 after having been prepared by the British Special Operations Executive with the approval of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Although only wounded in the attack, Heydrich died of his injuries on 4 June 1942. His death led to a wave of merciless reprisals by German SS troops, including the destruction of villages and the killing of civilians.
Heydrich had been important in the rise of Adolf Hitler; as a Nazi potentate, he was given overall charge of the Final Solution and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe. Despite the risks, the primary purpose of Anthropoid, from the Czech perspective, was to confer legitimacy on Edvard Beneš's government-in-exile in London.
- 1 Background
- 2 Operation
- 3 Consequences
- 4 Memorials
- 5 Portrayals in film and writing
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Heydrich, who had been the chief of the RSHA since September 1939, was appointed acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia after replacing Konstantin von Neurath in September 1941. Hitler agreed with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and Heydrich that von Neurath's relatively lenient approach to the Czechs promoted anti-German sentiment, and encouraged anti-German resistance by strikes and sabotage.
Heydrich came to Prague to "strengthen policy, carry out countermeasures against resistance" and keep up production quotas of Czech motors and arms that were "extremely important to the German war effort". During his role as de facto dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich often drove with his chauffeur in a car with an open roof. This was a show of his confidence in the occupation forces and in the effectiveness of his government. Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.
By late 1941, Hitler controlled almost all continental Europe, and German forces were approaching Moscow. The Allies deemed Soviet capitulation likely. The exiled government of Czechoslovakia, under President Edvard Beneš, was under pressure from British intelligence, as there had been very little visible resistance since the occupation of the Sudeten regions of the country in 1938 (occupation of the whole country began in 1939). The takeover of these regions that was enforced by the Munich Agreement and the subsequent terror of the German Reich broke the will of the Czechs for a period.
While in several other countries defeated in open warfare (e.g. Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece) the resistance was active from the very beginning of occupation, the subjugated Czech lands remained relatively calm, and produced significant amounts of military materiel for the Third Reich. The exiled government felt it had to do something that would inspire the Czechs, as well as show the world that the Czechs were allies.
The status of Reinhard Heydrich as the acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia as well as his reputation for terrorizing local citizens led to him being chosen over Karl Hermann Frank as an assassination target. The operation was also intended to demonstrate to senior Nazis that they were not untouchable.
The operation was given the codename Anthropoid, Greek for "having the form of a human", a term usually used in zoology. With the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), preparation began on 20 October 1941. Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík (Slovak) and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda (Czech) were chosen to carry out the operation on 28 October 1941 (Czechoslovakia's Independence Day). Svoboda was replaced with Jan Kubiš (Czech) after a head injury during training, causing delays in the mission, as Kubiš had not completed training nor had the necessary false documents been prepared for him.
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were airlifted along with seven soldiers from Czechoslovakia’s army-in-exile in the United Kingdom and two other groups named Silver A and Silver B (who had different missions) by a Royal Air Force Halifax of No. 138 Squadron into Czechoslovakia at 10 pm on 28 December 1941. Gabčík and Kubiš landed near Nehvizdy east of Prague; although the plan was to land near Pilsen, the pilots had problems with orientation. The soldiers then moved to Pilsen to contact their allies, and from there on to Prague, where the attack was planned.
In Prague, they contacted several families and anti-Nazi organisations who helped them during the preparations for the assassination. Gabčík and Kubiš initially planned to kill Heydrich on a train, but after examination of the logistics, they realised that this was not possible. The second plan was to kill him on the road in the forest on the way from Heydrich’s seat to Prague. They planned to pull a cable across the road that would stop Heydrich’s car but, after waiting several hours, their commander, Lt. Adolf Opálka (from the group Out Distance), came to bring them back to Prague. The third plan was to kill Heydrich in Prague.
The attack in Prague
On 27 May 1942, at 10:30, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commute from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the tram stop at a tight curve near Bulovka Hospital in Prague 8-Libeň. The spot was chosen because the curve would force the car to slow down. Valčík was positioned about 100 metres (328 feet) north of Gabčík and Kubiš as lookout for the approaching car.
As Heydrich’s green, open-topped Mercedes 320 Convertible B reached the curve two minutes later, Gabčík stepped in front of the vehicle and tried to open fire with his Sten submachine gun, which jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to try to shoot Gabčík with his Luger pistol, Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade (concealed in a briefcase) at the vehicle and its fragments ripped through the car’s right rear bumper, embedding shrapnel and fibres from the upholstery in Heydrich’s body upon detonation, even though the grenade failed to enter the car. Kubiš was also injured by the shrapnel.
Following the explosion, Gabčík and Kubiš fired at Heydrich with their Colt M1903 pistols but, shocked by the explosion as well, failed to hit him. Heydrich, apparently unaware of his shrapnel injuries, staggered out of the car, returned fire and tried to chase Gabčík but soon collapsed. Klein returned from his abortive attempt to chase Kubiš, who fled the scene by bicycle. Now bleeding profusely, Heydrich ordered Klein to chase Gabčík on foot, saying "Get that bastard!". Klein chased him into a butcher shop, where Gabčík shot him twice with his pistol, severely wounding him in the leg, and then escaped to a local safe house via tram. Gabčík and Kubiš were initially convinced that the attack had failed.
Medical treatment and death
A Czech woman and an off-duty policeman went to Heydrich's aid and flagged down a delivery van. Heydrich was first placed in the driver's cab, but complained that the truck's movement was causing him pain. He was then transferred to the back of the truck, placed on his stomach and taken to the emergency room at Na Bulovce Hospital. He had suffered severe injuries to his left side, with major diaphragm, spleen and lung damage as well as a fractured rib. A Dr Slanina packed the chest wound, while Dr Walter Diek, the Sudeten German chief of surgery at the hospital, tried unsuccessfully to remove the splinters.
Professor Hollbaum, a Silesian German who was chairman of surgery at Charles University in Prague, operated on Heydrich with Drs Diek and Slanina's assistance. The surgeons reinflated the collapsed left lung, removed the tip of the fractured eleventh rib, sutured the torn diaphragm, inserted several catheters and removed the spleen, which contained a grenade fragment and upholstery material. Heydrich’s direct superior, Himmler, sent his personal physician, Karl Gebhardt, who arrived that evening. After 29 May, Heydrich was entirely in the care of SS physicians. Postoperative care included administration of large amounts of morphine.
There are contradictory accounts concerning whether sulfanilamides were given, but Gebhardt testified at his 1947 war crimes trial that they were not. The patient developed a high fever of 38–39 °C (100.4–102.2 °F) and wound drainage. After seven days, his condition appeared to be improving when, while sitting up eating a noon meal, he collapsed and went into shock. Spending most of his remaining hours in a coma, he died around 4:30 the next morning. Himmler’s physicians officially described the cause of death as septicemia.
One of the theories was that some of the horsehair used in the upholstery of Heydrich’s car was forced into his body by the blast of the grenade, causing a systemic infection. It has also been suggested that he died of a massive pulmonary embolism. In support of the latter possibility, at autopsy particles of fat and blood clots were found in the right ventricle and pulmonary artery, and severe edema was noted in the upper lobes of the lungs, while the lower lobes were collapsed.
Botulinum poisoning theory
The authors of A Higher Form of Killing claim that Heydrich died from botulism; i.e. botulinum poisoning. According to this theory, the No. 73 anti-tank hand grenade used in the attack had been modified to contain botulinum toxin. This story originates from comments made by Paul Fildes, a Porton Down botulism researcher. The authors say there is only circumstantial evidence to support this allegation (the records of the SOE for the period have remained sealed), and few medical records of Heydrich's condition and treatment have been preserved.
The general evidence cited to support the theory includes the modifications made to the No. 73 grenade: the bottom two thirds of this British weapon had been removed, and the open end and sides wrapped up with adhesive tape. The modification of the weapon could indicate an attached toxic or biological payload. Heydrich received excellent medical care by the standards of the time. His autopsy showed none of the usual signs of septicemia, although infection of the wound and areas surrounding the lungs and heart was reported. The authors of a German wartime report on the incident stated, "Death occurred as a consequence of lesions in the vital parenchymatous organs caused by bacteria and possibly by poisons carried into them by bomb splinters ... ".
Heydrich's condition while hospitalized was not documented in detail, but he was not noted to have developed any of the distinctive symptoms associated with botulism (which have a gradual, progressive onset). Two others were also wounded by fragments of the same grenade: Kubiš, the Czech soldier who threw the grenade, and a bystander, but neither was reported to have shown any sign of poisoning. Given that Fildes had a reputation for "extravagant boasts", that the grenade modifications could have been aimed at making the 2 kg weapon lighter, and that the toxin would have been unlikely to survive the flight and five months of "Mid-european winter", the validity of the botulinum toxin theory has been doubted. Two of the six original modified grenades are kept by the Military History Institute in Prague.
On the very day of the assassination attempt Hitler ordered an investigation and reprisals, suggesting that Himmler send SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski to Prague; according to Karl Hermann Frank's postwar testimony, Hitler knew Zelewski to be even harsher than Heydrich. Hitler favored killing 10,000 politically unreliable Czechs, but after he consulted Himmler, the idea was dropped because Czech territory was an important industrial zone for the German military and indiscriminate killing could reduce the productivity of the region.
The Nazi retaliation ordered by Himmler was brutal nonetheless. More than 13,000 were arrested, including Jan Kubiš' girlfriend Anna Malinová, who subsequently died in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. First Lieutenant Adolf Opálka's aunt, Marie Opálková, was executed in the Mauthausen camp on 24 October 1942; his father, Viktor Jarolím, was also killed. According to one estimate, 5,000 were killed in reprisals.
Intelligence falsely linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. A Gestapo report identified Lidice as the assailants' suspected hiding place since several Czech army officers exiled in England at the time were known to have come from there. In addition, the Gestapo had found a resistance radio transmitter in Ležáky. In the village of Lidice, destroyed on 9 June 1942, 199 men were executed, 95 children taken prisoner (81 later killed in gas vans at the Chełmno extermination camp; eight others were taken for adoption by German families), and 195 women were immediately deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. All adults, men and women, in the village of Ležáky were murdered. Both towns were burned, and the ruins of Lidice leveled.
The possibility that the Germans would apply the principle of "collective responsibility" on this scale in avenging Heydrich's assassination was either not foreseen by the Czech government-in-exile, or else was deemed an acceptable price to pay for eliminating Heydrich and provoking reprisals that would reduce Czech acquiescence to the German administration.
Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, was infuriated enough to suggest leveling three German villages for every Czech village the Nazis destroyed. Two years after Heydrich's death a similar assassination attempt was planned, this time targeting Hitler in Operation Foxley, but not approved.
Operation Anthropoid was the only successful government-organized targeted killing of a top-ranking Nazi. The Polish underground killed two senior SS officers in the General government (see Operation Kutschera and Operation Bürkl); also, in Operation Blowup, General-Kommissar of Belarus Wilhelm Kube was killed by Soviet partisan Yelena Mazanik, a Belarusian woman who had managed to find employment in his household in order to assassinate him.
Investigation and manhunt
In the days following Lidice, no leads on those responsible for Heydrich's death were found despite the Nazis' zealous impatience to find them. During that time, a deadline set for the assassins to be apprehended by 18 June 1942 was publicly issued to the military and the people of Czechoslovakia. If they were not caught by then, the Germans threatened to spill far more blood as a consequence, believing that this threat would be enough to force a potential informant to sell out the culprits. Many civilians were indeed weary and fearful of further retaliations, making it increasingly difficult to hide information much longer.
The assailants initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in Karel Boromejsky Church, an Eastern Orthodox church dedicated to Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Prague. The Germans were unable to locate the attackers until Karel Čurda of the "Out Distance" sabotage group was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo and gave them the names of the team’s local contacts for the bounty of one million Reichsmarks.
Čurda betrayed several safe houses provided by the Jindra group, including that of the Moravec family in Žižkov. At 05:00 on 17 June, the Moravec flat was raided. The family was made to stand in the hallway while the Gestapo searched their flat. Mrs. Marie Moravec, after being allowed to go to the toilet, bit into a cyanide capsule and thereby killed herself. Mr. Moravec, unaware of his family's involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Peček Palác together with his 17-year-old son Ata, who though interrogated with torture throughout the day, refused to talk. The youth was stupefied with brandy, shown his mother's severed head in a fish tank and warned that if he did not reveal the information they were looking for, his father would be next. Ata's strong willpower finally snapped and he told the Gestapo what they wanted to know.
Waffen-SS troops laid siege to the church the following day but, despite the best efforts of 750 SS soldiers under the command of Generalleutnant Karl Fischer von Treuenfeld, they were unable to take the paratroopers alive; Kubiš, Adolf Opálka, and Jaroslav Svarc were killed in the prayer loft (although Kubiš was said to have survived the battle, he died shortly afterward from his injuries) after a two-hour gun battle. The other four, Gabčík, Josef Valcik, Josef Bublik and Jan Hruby committed suicide in the crypt after repeated SS attacks, attempts to smoke them out with tear gas, and Prague fire brigade trucks brought in to try to flood the crypt. The Germans (SS and police) suffered casualties as well, 14 SS allegedly killed and 21 wounded according to one report although the official SS report about the fight mentioned only five wounded SS soldiers. The men in the church had only small-caliber pistols, while the attackers had machine guns, submachine guns and hand grenades. After the battle, Čurda confirmed the identity of the dead Czech resistance fighters, including Kubiš and Gabčík.
Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the church and even wrote letters to the Nazi authorities, who arrested him on 27 June 1942 and tortured him. On 4 September 1942 the bishop, the church's priests and senior lay leaders were taken to Kobylisy Shooting Range in a northern suburb of Prague and shot by Nazi firing squads. For his actions, Bishop Gorazd was later glorified as a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Political consequence and aftermath
The assassination of Heydrich was one of the most significant moments of the resistance in Czechoslovakia. The act had such an impact that it led to the immediate dissolution of the Munich Agreement (called the "Munich dictate" by the Czechs) signed by Great Britain and France as well as Germany's ally Italy. Britain and France agreed that after the Nazis were defeated, the annexed territory (Sudetenland) would be restored to Czechoslovakia.
Two large funeral ceremonies were performed for Heydrich as one of the most important Nazi leaders: first in Prague, where the way to Prague Castle was lined by thousands of SS men with torches, and then in Berlin attended by all leading Nazi figures, including Hitler, who placed the German Order and Blood Order medals on the funeral pillow.
The National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror is located beneath the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague.
The Slovak National Museum opened an exhibition in May 2007 to commemorate the heroes of the Czech and Slovak resistance, presenting one of the most important resistance actions in the whole of German-occupied Europe. There is a small fountain in the Jephson Gardens, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire (one of the places where the Czech Free Army were based), commemorating the bravery of the troops.
Portrayals in film and writing
It is also the subject of several books, including:
- Seven Men at Daybreak (1960) by Alan Burgess
- The Killing of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (1998)  by Callum MacDonald
- the novel The Visible World (2008) by Mark Slouka
- the novel HHhH (2010) by Laurent Binet, winner of that year's Prix Goncourt
- the novel Resistance (2012) by Gerald Brennan
- the novel "Mendelssohn is on the Roof" by Jiří Weil
- the novel No Known Graves by Maureen Jennings
The short story "The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich" by Jim Shepard gives a fictionalized account of Operation Anthropoid from Kubiš's point of view.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, where the Allied agents died after being cornered, and the memorial there for those killed by the SS in retaliation for Operation Anthropoid.
- Czech resistance to Nazi occupation
- Occupation of Czechoslovakia
- Operation Foxley – SOE plot to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944
- Operation Kutschera – Polish assassination of the SS and Police Leader Franz Kutschera in 1944
- List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
- List of rulers of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia
- McNab 2009, pp. 41, 158-161.
- Assassination by Michal Burian et al. See p. 31.
- Lumsden 2002, p. 83.
- Williams 2003, p. 82.
- Williams 2003, p. 141.
- Ramen, Fred. Reinhard Heydrich: Hangman of the Third Reich, p 8. ISBN 0-8239-3379-2
- Shepherd, Ammon (2008). "World War II — Timeline". Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- Burian et al 2002, p. 35
- Burian et al 2002, p. 44
- Burian et al 2002, pp. 48 – 49
- Michel, Wolfgang, Britische Spezialwaffen 1939–1945: Ausrüstung für Eliteeinheiten, Geheimdienst und Widerstand, p. 72. ISBN 3-8423-3944-5
- Williams 2003, pp. 145–147.
- Williams 2003, pp. 147, 155.
- Burgess, Alan, Seven Men At Daybreak, p. 160. ISBN 0-553-23508-7
- Burian et al 2002, p. 64
- Williams 2003, p. 155.
- Defalque, R. J.; Wright, A. J. (January 2009). "The Puzzling Death of Reinhard Heydrich" (PDF). Bulletin of Anesthesia History (Pittsburgh PA: Anesthesia History Association and Wood-Library Museum of Anesthesiology) 27 (1): 1–7. Retrieved 29 May 2009.
- Burian et al 2002, p. 65
- MacDonald 1998, pp. 182–183.
- Harris, Robert; Paxman, Jeremy (1982). A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. chapter 4, pp. 70–108. ISBN 978-0-8129-6653-4. OCLC 8261705.
- Carus, W. Seth (2001). Bioterrorism and Biocrimes: The Illicit Use of Biological Agents Since 1900. The Minerva Group, Inc. p. 89. ISBN 1-4101-0023-5.
- Middlebrook and Franz (1998). Botulinum toxins (PDF). Office of The Surgeon General, Department of the Army, United States of America.
- http://aktualne.centrum.cz/domaci/spolecnost/clanek.phtml?id=746282 Grenades in The Military History Institute (acc to Eduard Stehlík).
- Dederichs 2009, pp. 150–151.
- Dederichs 2009, p. 151.
- "SPOLEK PRO VOJENSKÁ PIETNÍ MÍSTA, O. S. – VPM okres Znojmo – Rešice". Vets.estranky.cz. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- "SPOLEK PRO VOJENSKÁ PIETNÍ MÍSTA, O. S. – VPM okres Znojmo – Vémyslice". Vets.estranky.cz. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
- Heroes or cowards? Czechs in World War II
- Dederichs 2009, pp. 151–152.
- MacDonald 1998, pp. 186, 187.
- Dederichs 2009, p. 152.
- Vasiliy Tsvetkov. "A BOMB FOR GAULEITER". De Bello. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
- "The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich", The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
- MacDonald 1998, p. 202.
- MacDonald 1998.
- Burgess, Alan, Seven Men At Daybreak. ISBN 0-553-23508-7
- Axis History Forum • View topic – Last fight of Heydrich's killers
- Cowdery, Ray R. & Vodenka, Peter, Reinhard Heydrich: Assassination. Victory WW2 Publishing Ltd. (1994) Lakeville, MN, USA
- Karl von Treuenfeld: Report about the employment of Waffen-SS 23 June 1942 (in Czech translation)
- Williams 2003, p. 223.
- "Czech Traitors Hanged Today", 1947, The Free Lance-Star
- "Trial and terror in a by-gone Prague", 2007, The Telegraph
- title=Fifty Shades Star Jamie Dornan to Play Czech Soldier
- Burian, Michal; Aleš (2002). "Assassination — Operation Arthropoid, 1941–1942" (PDF). Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
- Dederichs, Mario R. (2009) . Heydrich: The Face of Evil. Drexel Hill, PA: Casemate. ISBN 978-1-935149-12-5.
- Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS. Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9.
- MacDonald, Callum (1998) . The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich: The SS 'Butcher of Prague'. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80860-9.
- McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. London: Amber Books. ISBN 978-1-906626-48-8.
- Williams, Max (2003). Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography, Volume 2—Enigma. Church Stretton: Ulric Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9537577-6-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Anthropoid.|
- National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror
- Radio Prague: Czechs in World War II
- Radio Prague: Exhibitions mark 60th anniversary of assassination of Nazi governor Heydrich
- Operation Anthropoid at Everything2
- Czechs in Exile website
- Exhibition on Operation Anthropoid at the Slovak Nation Museum
- The Prague Daily Monitor: Experts find wartime paratroopers' grave
- RCAHMS record for Arisaig memorial
- Highland HER entry for Arisaig memorial