This post will document the Czech/Slovak resistance to Nazism in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. It was a time of great struggle for the people of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement of 1938 the area of Sudetenland (today in the Czech Republic) on the borders of Bavaria, Saxony and Lower Silesia now Poland was amalgamated into Nazi Germany. It was in September of that year in 1938 that Adolf Hitler wanted to take Sudetenland. The area of Sudetenland had many German speakers residing there and many of the population suffered greatly during the Great Depression. Much of the population were employed in export dependent industries including; paper making, textiles, toy manufacturing and glass manufacturing. Many Sudeten Germans wanted answers to their problems and as a result they turned to more extreme movements to rectify this. One as such was Fascism. The Munich Agreement was a conference attended by Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. Czechoslovakia was not invited to the conference and as a result felt betrayed by the United Kingdom and France, hence the name the Munich betrayal. All parties signed the agreement on 30th September 1938, however it was dated on 29th September that Hitler was permitted to take Sudeten lands in Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovakian government was exiled to London. Fast forward a year and the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia was a separate pro-Nazi republic and Hitler proceeded to seize the rest of the area including Moravia and Bohemia where Prague is located. This fundamental decision on Hitler’s part ended appeasement. Later in 1939 Germany invaded Poland and propelled Europe into another war, The Second World War that would last another 6 years.
Resistance occurred in the form of boycotts and mass protest demonstrations at the start of the Second World War. Operation Anthropoid was a planned assassination of a high ranking Nazi Official by the name of Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was head of the Reich Main Security Office , General of Police and later Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He was notoriously attributed to the “Final solution” to the Jewish question, helping to organise Kristallnacht and quash resistance in Czech/Slovak lands, this involved suppressing their culture. When he was in Prague he did not hesitate to eliminate any threat to Nazi rule. 92 people were assassinated shortly after Heydrich’s arrival to Prague and placed c.5000 people into concentration camps. Heydrich did not hide his intentions that he wanted the Czech lands to become German. The Czech people were an exploited labour force for Nazi Germany.
The Czech government in exile in London agreed that Heydrich was to be assassinated. Jan Kubis, a Czech and Jozef Gabcik were chosen to lead the operation and it was initiated by the Head of Czech Intelligence Frantisek Moravec and approved by Czechoslovakian President, Edvard Benes. They were trained by the British Operations Executives in order to carry out the operation. Kubis and Gabcik arrived via parachute in December 1941 and were in hiding whilst planning and conducting the assignation attempt. In this time they came into contact with anti-Nazi organisations and families that helped them and prevent them being thwarted. It was intended that they were to arrive in Pilsen, however this never happened due to navigation issues. This included doing background research that included Heydrich’s routine in order to paint a reliable picture for them to aid with their mission. It wasn’t until May 27th 1942 that they were successful. Kubis and Gabcik eventually settled on a plan to assassinate Heydrich in Prague.
On May 27th 1942 Heydrich left for Prague from his home in Panenske Brezany. The area that Kubis and Gabcik ambushed Heydrich was at a curvature of a tram line. This area was used because the curvature allowed for Heydrich’s car to slow down making the ambush seemingly easier to perpetrate. Kubis and Gabcik were stationed 100 metres from each other and when Heydrich’s car approached the curvature, it was Gabcik who opened fire at Heydrich with a sub machine gun but it wasn’t functioning properly. Heydrich ordered the car to stop to apprehend the assailant and tried to shoot Gabcik with his luger pistol. Upon witnessing this Kubis threw a grenade at the car. Shrapnel was scattered from the grenades collision through the car’s right rear bumper and hit Heydrich’s border (the shrapnel). Kubis and Gabcik shortly attempted to shoot in the direction of Heydrich but missed their target. Heydrich attempted to chase and shoot Gabcik but he collapsed and was bleeding heavily from his injuries. Heydrich’s driver attempted to apprehend Gabcik after Kubis left the scene by bicycle. However Gabcik wounded the driver and he too escaped. Initially it was thought on both Kubis and Gabcik’s part that the operation was a complete failure. Heydrich was later taken to hospital and operated on and needed blood transfusions. On 4th June Heydrich died from his injuries and contracted sepsis.
The consequences were that Heydrich’s death was the only successful assassination attempt of a high ranking Nazi official. Gabcik and Kubis managed to lay down low from preying Nazi eyes. In the meantime Nazi Intelligence linked the assailants to the village of Lidice and or Lezaky where the entire village was completely obliterated to the ground. Many inhabitants died. Intelligence officers alluded to the fact many Czech soldiers who were in exile in the United Kingdom originated in Lidice and so was concluded the assailants had connections there.
For a time it proved difficult for the Nazi’s to get a lead on who perpetrated the assignation. The bounty was set for 1million marks in exchange for where the assailants were hiding. A fellow exiled Czech soldier, Karel Curda who arrived along with 3 other exiled soldiers for their own mission to sabotage gasworks in Prague in 1942 as part of a resistance group Out Distance betrayed the operation and led the Nazis to those who provided help to Kubis and Gabcik. Those who offered help to the resistance were tortured, sent to concentration camps and killed. The torture for one young man, Ata was truly deplorable as after he was beaten his torturers showed the decapitated head of his mother. Ata resisted any attempts to reveal information for some time and continued to uphold his silence on the matter very bravely in the face of adversity. However, he later broke his silence under the torture and revealed to the Gestapo what they needed to know.
Nazi Intelligence found out that Kubis and Gabcik were residing in the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. A shootout ensued which resulted in the death of Gabcik and other resistance fighters. Kubis alongside other resistance fighters committed suicide in the crypt. The Bishop Gorazd and other senior church leaders were shot by firing squad. In a noble fashion Bishop Gorazd took the blame for what happened in the Cathedral to protect his flock. The man who betrayed his fellow comrades, Curda was a Gestapo collaborator for the reminder of the war but after the war was over he was tracked down and charged with high treason and for punishment was hanged.
It is certainly an enthralling piece of Czeck/Slovak history and one that is remembered for those who fought for freedom and justice to crush Fascism and tyranny. The bullet holes are still evident on the outside of the Cathedral today from the shootout and today a museum is housed in the Cathedral. I was lucky enough to visit Prague and was staying in the Manes area in the New Town, fairly close to Wenceslas Square and to this day the bullet holes remain on the exterior of the Cathedral. Although, please note the museum is not open on Mondays*
There are two films that base the events of what happened; Operation Daybreak released in 1975, starring Anthony Andrews and Timothy Bottoms and Anthropoid released in 2016, starring Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan that are both worth watching in order to gain more of an insight regarding the operation.
*correct at present time of publishing