Operation Anthropoid

Usually, when asked about what the face of evil looks like, an average person will point at Adolf Hitler. However, even just a quick glance at Hitler’s closest people reveals a myriad of sick, twisted minds.

Take, for example, Herman Göring – a morphine addict; Rudolf Heß, who got so lost in his delusions that believed he could bend spoons with the power of his mind; and many, many more… Among them – Reinhard Heydrich, the principal architect of genocide – the Holocaust, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD), president of the International Criminal Police Commission, chairman of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the creator of the Einsatzgruppen, the co-organizer of Kristallnacht, and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich, whose first steps in the Nazi party were rather shady and who was notorious for numerous affairs in his private life, is widely recognized as the darkest figure in the Nazi regime. For more information about Reinhard Heydrich, click here.

There were hundreds of assassination attempts, successful or not, targeted at eliminating Nazi perpetrators. All of them resulted in bloody repercussions. Yet, the case of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich is exceptionally tragic.

Heydrich, actually becoming the dictator of Bohemia and Moravia after replacing Konstantin von Neurath in September 1941, implemented brutal politics aimed at suppressing the resistance and anti-German movements. He became known as “the butcher of Prague”, “the Blond Beast”, or “the Hangman”. As a sign of confidence, he would often drive with his chauffeur in a car with an open roof. However, plans were made to eliminate Heydrich – once and for all. The codename of the operation was: Operation Anthropoid. It was the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during the Second World War.

The attack on Heydrich was carried out by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, Czechoslovak resistance operatives. They were flown from England and parachuted east of Prague, where the assassination was to take place. When their allies in Prague found out about the plan, many begged the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to call off the attack. They knew that the revenge of the Nazis would exceed any levels of violence known so far. 

On 27 May 1942, Heydrich was driven by SS-Oberscharführer Johannes Klein to his headquarters at Prague Castle. Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were waiting near a tight curve in the vicinity of Bulovka Hospital. They knew that the car would have to slow down in order to pass the curve. As Heydrich’s Mercedes 320 Cabriolet B approached, Gabčík tried to shoot Heydrich with his Sten submachine gun. However, the gun jammed. Heydrich, instead of ordering the driver to go faster, stood up and tried to fire back. The car stopped right in front of Kubiš, who threw a modified anti-tank grenade. However, the grenade (concealed in a briefcase) did not land inside the Mercedes, but against the rear wheel. Still, Heydrich was badly wounded as a result of the detonation.  Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš managed to escape, believing that the attack had failed.

Reinhard Heydrich died in hospital on June 4, 1942. His death resulted in a wave of brutal repercussions. According to one estimate, the Nazis’ revenge took the lives of around 5,000 people. As a result of a false assessment, intelligence linked the assassins to the village of Lidice, which was razed to the ground. Few children survived, being evaluated as “susceptible towards Germanization”. Over 500 Czechs were executed at the Kobylisy Shooting Range in Prague in May and June 1942. 294 people were executed at the Mauthausen concentration camp. 

Operation Anthropoid was the only successful government-organized assassination of a senior Nazi leader.