Supporter Exclusive Book (and Movie) Review – Anthropoid

The story of the Czechoslovak resistance to German annexation and occupation during World War Two is a pretty bleak one – the Gestapo did a very effective job of rooting out almost the entire organization. One of the most notable actions taken was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by two SOE-trained and equipped paratroopers, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš on May 27, 1942. Six different movies have been made about this assassination, and the most recent one in 2016 (“Anthropoid”) is in English, and extremely well done.

I had a chance to visit Prague recently, and made a point to visit the church where the final gun battle between these two men (and several other operatives) and German forces – it’s quite a memorable sight. In addition, I was given a copy of a book about the resistance movement and the lead-up to and aftermath of the Heydrich assassination that was produced by the Czech Ministry of Defense. It does not appear to be available for sale, but it can be viewed and downloaded in PDF format from the Czech Army website.

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  1. Hi Ian,
    sorry to correct you for about “Czechoslovakia” in 1941/42. Ther was no Czechoslovakia during that time.
    With the Munich agreement it became Czech–Slavakia with Slovakia get some independece from Prague.
    In 1939 Slovakia became an independent state!
    All the events belong to the occupied Czech territory of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich did not have jurisdiction on the first Slovak State.–1945)

  2. I found “The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich” by Callum MacDonald to be a pretty good book on the subject. As well as covering the events of the assassination it also gives a good overview of the political background which led up to it.

    When looking at events, recall the time frame this took place in, during the mid part of the war when it wasn’t obvious the Germans were going to lose. The Czech leadership in Britain were afraid that an armistice would be signed which would leave Bohemia and Moravia (what is now the Czech Republic) under German rule. By assassinating Heydrich they hoped to show their value to the allies and create an obligation which would make such a deal politically impossible.

    According to the above book, although the Czech leadership in Britain didn’t know this at the time, the Germans planned to exterminate all the Slavs in Bohemia and Moravia and repopulate the territory with “Aryans” brought in from elsewhere. So there was justification for this concern even if they didn’t know it.

    • claims that
      The government-in-exile felt it had to do something that would inspire the Czechoslovak people and show the world that the Czechoslovaks were useful partners in the Allied grouping. Heydrich was one of the most important men in Germany, and his death would be a huge loss and a profound psychological, if not strategic, victory.

      • Regardless of this “tactical wartime pre-positioning” it was not clear till late spring of 1945 in what shape the new CSR will be restored. Will Sudeten belong to Germany, will Germans stay and create some sort of autonomous entity? Nobody knew for sure.

        It was thanks to diplomatic support of USSR that Czechoslovakia was re-created to original prewar borders and ethnic Germans were deported. West’s position, once again, was indifferent. The second part (expelling of Germans) was not so commendable, but unfortunately it did happen. If it was my choice, I’d make them to stay and be once again loyal citizens. History sorted itself out and now Germans form regional “freundshafts” with Czechs.

        • Denny:

          Postwar Czechoslovakia didn’t get all of its prewar territory back, the USSR annexed the eastern province of Ruthenia, I think maybe to give itself a land border with Hungary if it ever needed to invade, which of course it did in 1956.

          Ruthenia had been the birthplace of one Jan Hoch, who later became Robert Maxwell, whose daughter Ghislaine has been in the news recently.

          • I am well aware of Ruthenia (Transcarpathian Ukraine) being absorbed into USSR after WW2. Czechs used to call it “payoff for liberation”. My focus was on Bohemia-Moravian mainland. This bit of former CSR is irrelevant to Czechs anyway.

            I am also aware of the Maxwell family origin from that region. Interestingly enough no one in Ruthenia carried Anglo-Saxon name. How did it happen? A falsified name?

          • Denny:

            Maxwell was the name he assumed during WWII when he was serving with British forces. Apparently he got the name from a Scottish telephone directory. He had originally wanted to adopt the name du Maurier, after a brand of cigarettes, but was told not to be so silly.

          • To JohnK:

            I got it; thanks for info. AFAIK there were many more with this background who ended up with assumed names.

  3. While Eric correctly stated Slovak non-involvement in this tragic affair, I’d like to add couple of points. This is highly political subject and I do not see its place in this page. It is up to Ian to decide if it was good or bad decision to mention it. He has right to remove my remark and I will respect his decision.

    Yes, there was an internal resistance in “Protektorat Bohmen und Mahren” (official name) and from several sources. They carried on the struggle thru the war with dignity and honor. My own grandfather was part of resistance and paid for it with his life. Enough to say here, I believe.

    Now to R. Heidrich’s assassination. This was externally directed action done by British war government with acquiescence of Czech exiled representatives in G.B. at the time. True, some Czechs at home assisted the men who were airdropped latter, therefor there was a connection via one of the resistance groups prior the action took place. However this was primarily a politically motivated action directed from the outside. It achieved a ZERO military effect on the field o war. It is also factual that Germans badly needed skilled Czech workforce for their war effort. In that sense, any disruption of that situation was welcome by western allies.

    It is outside of this discussion as what were German plans for Czech population, if they were victorious in the war. Personally I do not believe it was solely up to R.Heidrich to decide fate of Czech population in that sense. This is historian’s job to determine and as far as I know debates are ongoing. I doubt there will ever be a conclusion o it.

    Now an ‘anecdotal evidence’. I want to underline, this is NOT my own opinion, but what I heard from some knowledgeable people of older generation who experienced the horror of German occupation. They told me that there was a state of working class “appeasement” in protectorate by Germans which alarmed British wartime government. This state of affairs were to be changed and the airdrop with following assassination were tools to achieve it.

    It surely, and by expectation lead to German retributions on a previously unknown scale, including wiping out one whole village and execution of thousands of Czech patriots. Similar cases happened in France and many more in Poland and Soviet Union, but those countries were in war with Germany. This case was principally different and the justifiable outrage was worldwide as these were undoubtedly repugnant war crimes.

    Anyone who evaluates the justification for this undertaking ought to consider and balance the goal and the effect.

    • For those who like to dig deeper into history, I’d recommend to read this

      No, there was NOT a spontaneous “liberation” after killing one tyrant; another one was placed into the office instead of the deceased one. K.H. Frank was called by locals “murderer of Czechs”. When he was captured on his way out of country in May of 1945, he was trying to excuse his actions by saying he was “just doing what he was told by his superior”. So here we have it, same story over again: “I was just doing what I was told/ filling orders”. Pathetic.

  4. “Bad magazine to STEN” (C)

    Is that right?
    I read that the SMG was incorrectly assembled.
    The back cup of the main spring was missing, and when they tried to start shooting, the stock fell off stupidly…

    • “read that the SMG was incorrectly assembled.
      The back cup of the main spring was missing, and when they tried to start shooting, the stock fell off stupidly”

      So much for the quality of SOE’s skill at arms training.

  5. Ian, Thank you. I downloaded a copy and sent it to one of my best friends. She was born in Czechoslavakia and her family got out one step ahead of the Secret Police in Sixty Eight. I introduced her to another friend of mine and ended up being best man at their wedding.

    Having said that, I first read of the SOE and Anthropoid in high school. The book on the SOE (They Fought Alone) was by Maurice Buckmaster who had been nice and safe back in Blighty and in charge of Section F (to fool the dumb Jerries into thinking that it wasn’t in charge of SOE in France) and I now view it as a white wash of a criminally incompetent organization (MI6 wanted nothing to do with it, viewing it as dangerous and set up their own underground organization entirely separate from SOE. See the notorious funkspiel run by the Germans against Section F

    “Captured radio operators in France were to forcibly send false messages to British intelligence.

    It allowed Nazi intelligence to intercept Allied military information, convey disinformation to the enemy and actively fight resistance movements. By doing so, Nazi intelligence made the pretense of being the French resistance with a script written for the enemy by the Gestapo or the Abwehr. Operations were conducted at 84 Avenue Foch, the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst in Paris.

    The last false message exchanged with London in this operation was: “Thank you for your collaboration and for the weapons that you sent us.”

    A large portion of this can be blamed on Churchill who had a romantic notion that the occupied countries were full of people who would revolt against the Germans. In fact most wanted nothing to do with the Resistance and just wanted to get on with their lives and weren’t about to do anything that might jeopardize themselves or their families. Post war revisionism and myth building is responsible for a great deal of the image of “freedom fighters” in the occupied countries.)

    The book on the assassination I now view as neutral, while it did celebrate the heroism of those involved, it did acknowledge the terrible fate of Czechoslovaks after the act. Later as I matured, I called into question the whole operation. It should be noted that the underground leadership was totally appalled when they were informed of the idea by the assassins after they had arrived. The attitude, was “A lot of people safe in London want to kill a bunch of innocent people.

    Last, in the siege of the church, the assassins holed up in an underground crypt which neutralized German fire power. The Germans responded by having the fire brigade flood the crypt while the they threw grenades, causing the Czechs to commit suicide

    • If you’re interested in SOE I can’t recommend highly enough ‘Between Silk and Cyanide’ by Leo Marks and ‘A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE’ by Sara Helm.

      Buckmaster was an arrogant fool, and his incompetence was covered up by Atkins, in order to protect her own position and status.

      Between them they were responsible for the deaths of many, many brave men and women.

    • What “Liberals “ are crying? Generally they rejoice when right wing butchers like Heydrich are eliminated. It seems history is still out on the effectiveness of Anthropoid.

  6. In 1993, just after establishment of the Czech Republic, I was in Prague for a visit to S&B ( Vlasim)
    During my time in Prague, I visited Hradcany Castle ( Heydrich’s home, the actual Location of the Assassination, and the Romanian Orthodox Church where the Last Stand occurred ( bullet strikes still visible).I could not go down in the crypt, as a church service was in progress. I have seen several of the English Language Films,but did not manage to get to the Lidice memorial outside of Prague.
    A thoroughly humbling experience.
    Note, the Traitor was eventually executed after 1945, by the re-born Czechslovak Government ( before Communism).
    Doc AV

  7. “about the Polish people in the RAF”

    And the Navy

    The night before she was sunk, KMS Bismarck was attacked by a British destroyer flotilla that included ORP Blyskawica (Lightning). She went in, launched her torpedoes and then signaled, using her searchlight, to the Bismarck, “I AM A POLE!”. She is now a museum ship in Poland, the oldest surviving destroyer in the world.

    See The Chieftain’s- yes, he knows a bit about big, floaty things, too – on the Polish Navy in the Battle of Poland (1939)

    • The invasion defenses along the particular coast of Scotland where my late grandmother was from were built by the Polish army.

  8. Well…this stirred things up.

    The Killing of Heydrich and the consequences.
    Terrible things and terrible choices are war. There are no good choices.
    A good choice in war is a candidate for miraculous and not even rare.
    I’ve been to war. War has been to me.

    As for the results: Heydrich was a key person in the Reich, not just the architect of the final solution but a likely successor to Hitler.
    So…Let’s forward to a 1944/1945 where Heydrich is healthy and by Hitler’s side.
    That is a longer war, possibly even one where Germany pulls out an armistice.
    Keep in mind that until the Ardennes offensive aka Battle of The Bulge the American Army was predicting until 1947 to defeat Germany. Think about that world.
    Between 1942 and 1947 instead of facing a sclerotic leader we could have been facing a young, vigorous and ruthless one named Reinhard Heydrich.

    “keep in mind people didn’t know Germany would lose the war.”
    Germany losing the war is taken for granted now, this allows a lot of second guessing.
    Before it starts I at least won’t entertain canards about industrial power etc etc, it was inevitable…

    With vigorous and trusted successor to Hitler by his side – Heydrich – a great many things would have been much better handled on the German side, because Heydrich would have been handling the matter.

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