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The Czech Republic marks the seventieth anniversary of the Operation Anthropoid

Seventy years ago, on May 27 1942, a daring military operation codenamed Anthropoid was undertaken to kill SS Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich - one of the most powerful Nazis of the German Third Reich and the acting Reichs Protector in Bohemia and Moravia. The operation was planned by the Czechoslovak Military Intelligence-in-exile together with the British Secret Service.

In September 1938, the Munich Agreement forced Czechoslovakia to cede large areas of its territory to Germany. In 1939, the rest of the Czech lands was invaded by Hitler and was incorporated into the Reich as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

After the German occupation, some Czechs joined the home resistance and fought underground. Others, together with a number of Slovaks, escaped abroad to continue the struggle. After the collapse of France in June 1940, they arrived in Britain where they kept their hopes of freedom alive. The troops remained loyal to the exiled president Edvard Beneš. His government in London including the Ministry of National Defence and its Intelligence Department was recognised by HM Government in 1941.

In September 1941, Reinhard Heydrich arrived in Prague and quickly earned his nickname “The Butcher of Prague”. Thousands of people were executed or sent to concentration camps. His aim was the total germanising of the Czech lands. President Beneš felt that something quite dramatic must be done.

In October 1941, Beneš decided to hit back directly at Heydrich in Operation Athropoid. The Operation was planned with the assistance of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) which had been created to assist resistance organisations.

The SOE, established by Winston Churchill in 1940, to "set Europe ablaze" was already training volunteers from the Czechoslovak Army for underground work. The men had undergone weeks of intensive training at the command school in Scotland. It was from the ranks of these volunteers that two soldiers were selected to kill Heydrich. They were Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík.

vojaci

Training of the Czechoslovak soldiers in Scotland 1941 (courtesy of Jan Kaplan Archive)

 

Having reached Prague and made contact with the local Resistance, Kubiš and Gabčík spent months planning the operation. They examined various methods and locations and finally settled on the plan provided by the Special Operations Executive: an attack on Heydrich's limousine. The mission was accomplished on May 27 1942.

Timesy

A report on the attack on Reinhard Heydrich in The Times published on 28 May 1942 (courtesy of Jan Kaplan Archive)

 

 

Following Heydrich's death, Nazi retribution was swift and brutal. Hitler and Himmler ordered the immediate murder of several hundred Jews already in captivity and by June 4, other 157 prisoners were executed in Prague.

On June 9, 1942, the SS cordoned off the village of Lidice. All of its 199 male inhabitants were shot, and 195 women were sent to concentration camps along with almost one hundred children. The village was subsequently razed to the ground.

In the next three months, 3188 Czechs were arrested of whom 1357 were executed. 657 more died under Gestapo interrogation. The victims included people who had merely expressed approval of Heydrich´s killing. These measures were given continuous publicity by the press, on the radio, and street loudspeakers.

After the attack, Kubiš and Gabčík, together with five other parachutists, had taken refuge in the crypt of the Church of St. Cyrillus and Methodius in Prague. Despite a massive Nazi manhunt their sanctuary remained a secret for a long time. After a betrayal of one of the Czechoslovak soldiers, the Gestapo invaded the Church. After several hours of fighting, all the soldiers were death, some of them apparently decided to take their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the enemy.

The violence surrounding Heydrich's death did not end with the death of Kubiš and Gabčík. On July 24 1942, the village of Ležáky was destroyed following reports that army-in-exile troops had used it as a base. The adults were shot and the village children were sent to Germany.

The revenge for Operation Anthropoid claimed the lives of more then 5,000 Czechoslovaks.