Being May 27th, we are looking at an evil monster from history known as the Butcher of Prague and the various films made about Operation Anthropoid, the plot to kill him in Czechoslovakia. Operation Anthropoid, with its course and consequences, is the most heroic and tragic story in the modern Czech history.
Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík (Slovak) and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda (Czech) were chosen to carry out the operation on October 28th, 1941 (Czechoslovakia’s Independence Day), but Svoboda was replaced by Jan Kubiš (Czech) after he received a head injury during training and the mission was delayed.
Dedicated to Their Heroism and Memory
The Czechoslovak paratroopers who assassinated the Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich in May 1942, died in the crypt of St. Cyril and Methodius Church in Prague city center. They are seen as heroes today.
Code Name: Operation Anthropoid
The target of Operation Anthropoid: Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich.
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (March 7, 1904 – June 4, 1942) was a high-ranking German Nazi official during World War II, and a main architect of the Holocaust. Among other things, he was also Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich was sent to Czechoslovakia in order to get the Czech people to bend to the German will, 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”.
As a Protecktor, Heydrich would begin a campaign of torture and vile deeds in order to break the will of the Czech people. He was to ruin the Resistance (nearly 400 people were executed right away, while the rest went into hiding). He also made an effort to Germanize the people. Here, he also began rounding up the Jews like cattle and began shipping them off to Terezin.
In Prague, Heydrich sought to eliminate opposition to the Nazi occupation by suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance.
During his role as de facto dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich was said to ride around Prague in an open roof Mercedes without a security escort. The brazen Nazi believed that the people of Czechoslovakia feared him so much, they wouldn’t ever dream of laying harm to him.
Due to his brutal efficiency, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.
The man that Adolf Hitler described as “the man with the iron heart”, many historians regard him as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite. He was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special task forces which traveled in the wake of the German armies and murdered over two million people, including 1.3 million Jews, by mass shooting and gassing.
The Czechoslovakian government in exile under President Eduard Benes grew desperate for the people of Czechoslovakia to rebel against the Germans. The people made a decision. What better way to rebel and stand up to the Germans than to murder Heydrich?
Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš had volunteered to carry out the assassination plot. These brave men knew they had very little chances of survival, but it was a risk they were willing to take.
On December 29, 1941, the men were flown to a location on the outskirts of Prague and they parachuted down during the darkest hours of the night. Marie Moravcová was a Red Cross volunteer and was deeply connected to the Czech Resistance. She was one of the first to help hide the two parachutists. Sergeant Josef Valčík and Lieutenant Adolf Opálka joined Kubiš and Gabčík. Karel Čurda soon joined Opálka.
The Czech Underground was feeling the pressure. Members often wondered who would be the next to be arrested, who could withstand the torture and who would not. Gabčík and Kubiš found it difficult to figure out ways to entrap Heydrich during this time without raising suspicion and bring danger to others.
Eventually, they were able to contact Prague’s Hradčany Castle. There they learned that Heydrich rode from his residence that was outside of Prague, to his offices inside the castle. This information was confirmed by the underground and it was said this was a daily routine. The two brave men decided that the hilly area with sharp turns before the bridge to enter the city would be where the assassination would take place.
On May 27th, 1942, (76 years ago today), the men positioned themselves on opposing sides of the road at the location. Opálka and Valčík stood as lookouts and signaled when Heydrich would be approaching—with no security, an open Mercedes, and only a driver and himself in the vehicle. Gabčík and Kubiš prepared their weapons. When the car came close, Gabčík stepped out with his machine gun. When he tried to shoot the gun, nothing happened—it was jammed!
Kubiš stepped out from his hiding spot and tossed an antitank grenade toward the car. When it detonated, Heydrich was hit. The men and their lookouts fled from the scene.
Heydrich was critically wounded as a result of a the mission.
This was the only targeted assassination of a senior Nazi leader during the Second World War.
Operation Anthropoid was to ensure Heydrich’s demise. The ambush by the team of Czech and Slovak agents who had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill the Reich-Protector; and who were trained by the British Special Operations Executive, had failed at first, but succeeded a week later.
Why? Because Heydrich died from his injuries a week later.
On June 4th, the Butcher of Prague was dead.
But Heydrich’s death was not to go unpunished. His death led to a wave of reprisals by SS troops, including the destruction of villages and the mass killing of civilians. The Gestapo launched a frantic manhunt to find the assailants. The Czech people refused to help the Nazi’s and Martial law was declared. The Gestapo announced that if they discovered anyone who had helped or harbored the assailants, that they would immediately be executed—no questions asked.
Karel Čurda may be most infamous for his betrayal of those responsible for the assassination of Heydrich. His rewards were 500,000 Reichsmarks and a new identity, “Karl Jerhot”. He married a German woman and spent the rest of the war as a Gestapo collaborator. But Czech historian Jiří Plachý gives a different account of his personality and motives. According to research, Čurda stayed with his family in South Bohemia in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. That put him under huge pressure as he knew the Nazis could wipe out his whole family or village, just as they had wiped out Lidice and Ležáky.
Nazi intelligence had falsely linked the assassins to the villages and both of them were razed; all men and boys over the age of 16 were shot, and all but a handful of the women and children were deported and killed in Nazi concentration camps. All in all, thousands of people died as a result of the Nazi’s relentless reprisals.
It has been posited that this was the key factor in Čurda’s actions in betraying the team. In any case, after the war, Čurda was tracked down and arrested. He was found guilty of treason and hanged on April 29, 1947.
Operation Anthropoid Films
The following is the list of the movies dealing with Operation Anthropoid or assassination of Heydrich or portraying the act of assassination as the crucial moment of the film’s plot:
Hangmen Also Die! (1943)
Hangmen Also Die! is a 1943 noir war film directed by the Austrian director Fritz Lang and written by John Wexley from a story by Bertolt Brecht (credited as Bert Brecht) and Lang. The film is loosely based on the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague, number-two man in the SS, and a chief architect of the Holocaust, who was known as “The Hangman of Prague.”
Hitler’s Madman (1943)
Hitler’s Madman is a 1943 World War II film about the assassination of Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and the Lidice massacre revenge taken by the Germans. The picture was produced by Seymour Nebenzal for PRC and Angelus Pictures, Inc. It starred Patricia Morison and featured John Carradine as Reinhard Heydrich. The movie’s opening credits say that Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1942 poem, Murder of Lidice was the inspiration of the this movie and parts of the poem are read at the beginning of the film to introduce the audience to the doomed village.
The Silent Village (1943)
The Silent Village is a 1943 British propaganda short film in the form of a drama documentary, made by the Crown Film Unit and directed by Humphrey Jennings. The film was named one of the top 5 documentaries of 1943 by the National Board of Review. Not about Operation Anthropoid, but because it was inspired by the Lidice massacre in Czech Republic in June 1942, we are including it here.
Muži bez křídel (1946)
Muži bez křídel (Men Without Wings) is a 1946 Czech drama film directed by František Čáp. The action takes place in occupied Czechoslovak Republic after assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague on May 27, 1942. It was entered into the 1946 Cannes Film Festival where it was one of the winners of Palme d’Or.
Atentát (The Assassination) is a 1964 black-and-white Czechoslovak war film directed by Jiří Sequens. The World War II story depicts events before and after the assassination of top German leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague (Operation Anthropoid). The film was entered into the 4th Moscow International Film Festival where it won a Golden Prize. Czech historians have called the film the historically most accurate depiction of the events surrounding Operation Anthropoid.
Sokolovo (Russian title Соколово) is a 1974 Soviet–Czechoslovak war film made by Otakar Vávra depicting the Battle of Sokolovo in 1943. The film was published in two parts and was meant as the middle part of Vávra’s “war trilogy” consisting of movies Dny zrady, Sokolovo and Osvobození Prahy. In the scene below, we see the assassination attempt on Heydrich.
Operation Daybreak (1975)
Operation Daybreak (also known as The Price of Freedom in the US) is a 1975 Second World War film based on the true story of Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Prague. Starring Anthony Andrews, Timothy Bottoms and Martin Shaw, it was directed by Lewis Gilbert and shot mostly on location in Prague. It is adapted from the book Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess.
Lidice (The Butcher of Prague) The burning of the village of Lidice by Nazi Germany is the only official genocide during the war. The film tells three interconnected stories that all have to do with burning down and the destruction of Lidice in 1942.
Bullet for Heydrich (2013 TV movie)
Kulka pro Heydricha (České století) or Bullet for Heydrich (The Czech Century) is an episode in a dramatical Czech television series. Czech Century brings an unusual view of the marginal moments of the modern history of our country (1918-1992).
Anthropoid is a 2016 epic war film directed by Sean Ellis, written by Ellis and Anthony Frewin and starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerová, Harry Lloyd, and Toby Jones. It tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the World War II assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Exile Czechoslovak soldiers on 27 May 1942.
The Man with the Iron Heart (2017)
The Man with the Iron Heart (released as HHhH in France and Killing Heydrich in Canada) is an English-language French-Belgian biographical war drama-thriller film directed by Cédric Jimenez and written by David Farr, Audrey Diwan, and Jimenez. It is based on French writer Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH, and focuses on Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during World War II. The film stars Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike, Jack O’Connell, Jack Reynor, and Mia Wasikowska. It was shot in Prague and Budapest.
To date, these are the films which have been made about Operation Anthropoid.
Yes, as the poster below states, this is (was) Nazi brutality…
We end today’s post with an image of the memorial to the paratroopers who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich in the Church of Saint Cyril and Methodius on Resslova street in Prague.
This memorial under the cathedral acts as a museum (National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror) and tells the story of brave Czech paratroopers who killed Heydrich in Operation Anthropoid. Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík, along with several partisans who assisted in the plot, fled to the crypt of the Orthodox Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. Hiding and fighting went on for twenty days and nights. The 700+ Nazi soldiers tried first of all to shoot their way into the crypt, then to flush the men out with water.
Sadly, on realizing there was no escape, the resistance fighters committed suicide.
In the crypt of the church, the tragic story is retold, right where the events took place. Photos from the period and explanations recount an event which is heroic, sad, and at the same time, frustrating. The museum also tells the wider story of Czech people who resisted Nazi occupation as well as the thousands who lost their lives in Lidice and Ležáky.
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