Heydrich assassination took place 75 years ago

Czechoslovak paratroopers attacked the Nazi leader's car on May 27, 1942

Czechoslovak paratroopers attacked acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich with a grenade 75 years ago on May 27, 1942 in the culmination of Operation Anthropoid. Heydrich died of complications of his injuries on June 4, 1942.

His death led to reprisals by German SS troops, including the destruction of the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. The mission was the only successful assassination of a senior Nazi leader during World War II.

Before coming to Prague, Heydrich had been involved in coordinating Kristallnacht and planning the Holocaust.

Operation Anthropoid was prepared by the British Special Operations Executive and approved by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, based in London.

Heydrich came to Prague in September 1941 to stop the resistance movement and get people to meet production quotas of Czech vehicles and arms. Due to his severe policies, Heydrich was nicknamed the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.

The operation was instigated by Czech intelligence services almost as soon as Heydrich was appointed to his post in Prague, the capital of the then-Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda were chosen to carry out the operation Oct. 28, 1941, which was Czechoslovak Independence Day. Svoboda was injured in training and was replaced with Jan Kubiš. This caused delays as new false documents had to be prepared.

Gabčík, Kubiš, and other soldiers from Czechoslovakia's army in exile were flown from a UK airbase at 10 pm on Dec. 28, 1941. They were supposed to parachute near Plzeň but instead landed near Nehvizdy, east of Prague.

Gabčík and Kubiš initially planned to kill Heydrich on a train or by pulling a cable across the rural road to stop Heydrich's car, but neither plan was practical. The third plan was to kill Heydrich in Prague.

Heydrich proceeded on his daily commute from Panenské Břežany to his office in Prague Castle on the morning of May 27, 1942. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the tram stop near Bulovka Hospital in Prague 8–Libeň where the car would have to slow down for a turn. Another paratrooper, Josef Valčík, was positioned to spot the car. The car with Heydrich reached the curve at 10:32 am.

Gabčík stepped in front of the open-topped Mercedes 320 Convertible B and tried to shoot, but his Sten submachine gun jammed. Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade, which ripped through the car's right rear bumper, embedding shrapnel and upholstery fiber in Heydrich's body. Kubiš was also injured.

Gabčík and Kubiš then fired pistols at Heydrich but missed.

Heydrich returned fire, and soon collapsed. Kubiš fled on a bicycle. Heydrich's driver chased Gabčík on foot into a butcher shop, but Gabčík shot him twice in the leg and then escaped on a tram.

Two people flagged down a delivery van, which was used to transport Heydrich to the emergency room at Bulovka Hospital, where doctors tried to clean the wounds of debris. His spleen was removed and his left lung was reinflated, among other operations.

After a week he collapsed and went into a coma. He died around 4:30 am on June 4 officially of septicemia, although the exact cause has been disputed.

The assassination had immediate reprisals. More than 13,000 people were arrested, and 5,000 people were killed according to estimates.

A Gestapo report suggested the village Lidice was the hiding place of the assassins, but this was not true. Germans massacred the residents of Lidice on June 9, 1942. Some 199 men were executed, 195 women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp and 95 children taken prisoner. Most of the children died in concentration camps. The village of Ležáky was destroyed because a radio transmitter was found there.

The paratroopers took refuge in Karel Boromejsky Church near Karlovo náměstí. The Germans found out their location after one of the paratroopers, Karel Čurda, betrayed them.

Kubiš, Adolf Opálka, and Jaroslav Svarc were killed in the prayer loft after a two-hour gun battle. Gabčík, Josef Valcik, Josef Bublik and Jan Hruby committed suicide after fire brigade trucks started to flood the crypt.

The story of the mission to assassinate Heydrich has been told on film several times. In 2016 the film Anthropoid by writer-director Sean Ellis starred Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, along with Czech actors. It was shot on Prague locations.

In 1975 the film Operation: Daybreak, a British production based on the novel Seven Men at Daybreak, starred Timothy Bottoms and Joss Ackland. It was also shot in Prague and concentrates on suspense, adding many fictitious elements.

The first version was in 1943, called Hangmen Also Die!, and was directed by Fritz Lang from a story by Bertolt Brecht. The same year Douglas Sirk made Hitler's Madman. Lang, Brecht and Sirk were all exiles from Germany who moved to Hollywood.

A Czech film about the events called Atentát was made in 1964. It won a Golden Prize at the Moscow Film Festival in 1965.

An English-language French production of the story called HhhH, based on the novel by Laurent Binet, is slated for release in June. It was mostly filmed in Hungary.

The 2011 film Lidice, which has some of he same actors as Anthropoid, told the story of the aftermath of the assassination.

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