We commemorate eighty years since the day Reinhard Heydrich arrived as deputy imperial protector. Why did he replace Konstantin von Neurath?
For a simple reason. In September 1941, Nazi Germany prospered on the eastern battlefields, occupied Kiev, and began to besiege Leningrad. They occupied almost all of Europe. And for that they needed a supply of weapons and other material. The Czech armaments industry was a supplier of German troops and the Germans, who like order, want absolute peace and no resistance and sabotage in the Czech lands.
He was preparing the cold-blooded murder of Jews and the liquidation of the Czech nation
Although the Gestapo managed to almost paralyze the Czech military resistance, Berlin was still not satisfied with Neurath, who was an aristocrat and dealt with everything slowly. He was also dissatisfied with the protectorate government, as Prime Minister General Alois Elias hampered Germanization measures and was linked to Beneš’s domestic resistance in England.
And did the Germans already know that at that time?
The Gestapo knew this, so the Nazis decided to send a sharp man to Prague. And he has no one sharper than Heydrich. On September 27, 1941, Czech Radio announced that Neurath had fallen ill and that he would be represented by Heydrich. It wasn’t good news for insiders, because he was one of the highest-ranking Nazis and was razor-sharp and just started acting.
Welcoming Reinhard Heydrich (middle) on September 28, 1941 on Hradčanské náměstí.
Photo: Photo ČTK / Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Scherl
What instructions did he have from Hitler?
Ensure peace in the protectorate. How he did it was left to him. On the same day that he arrived at the airport in Kbel, he had Prime Minister Elijah arrested and later executed. He is still preparing a declaration of martial law that day. And in the next few days, execution squads will shoot in Ruzyně generals and officers from the resistance organization Defense of the Nation, General Josef Bílý, General Hugo Vojta, Mayor of Prague Otokar Klapka, Mayor of Sokol Augustin Pechlát. In two days, Heydrich instigated extreme terror.
German people’s courts handed out death sentences in a few minutes. In 1939 and 1940, he also gave highly high punishments, but it was not until Heydrich carried out an “order” and said that “he will not Germanize the Czech ksindl by old methods.”
Was that his concept of the final solution to the Czech question?
Yes, there was a plan for longer-term Germanization and integration, but Heydrich decided not to dwell on it. But he made a number of enemies, although the Gestapo disrupted the military resistance a lot.
Of the famous Three Kings, Josef Balabán was already executed, the badly wounded Josef Mašín was in the hands of the Gestapo and the staff captain Václav Morávek was fled on the run. General Bedřich Homola, commander of the Defense of the Nation, is in hiding, no longer had the strength for any actions, and in December he was captured and later executed.
But Czechoslovak soldiers abroad, especially in England, were greatly outraged by Heydrich’s rampage that he was executing their comrades and former commanders. And five days after the arrival of Heydrich, ie on October 3, they selected two paratroopers: Jozef Gabčík and Karel Svoboda, who were injured afterwards and was replaced by Jan Kubiš.
At that time, they were asked if they were willing to return to their homeland and kill Heydrich or as an alternative target for KH Frank. The paratroopers agreed and were to leave as soon as possible. The original – very optimistic – plan was to liquidate it on the national holiday of October 28.
And what caused Heydrich’s rampage in the protectorate?
There, Heydrich also makes a strong enemy: the falcons, whom he killed the mayor of Pechlat, banned them from activity and dragged 1,500 falcons to concentration camps, all of which did not survive.
But the falcons who remained were willing to help the paratroopers, and without them an assassination would be impossible. Provide them with shelter, supplies, and most importantly, information about Heydrich’s movements. The two themselves would have no chance in the protectorate, but the network of falcons, their wives and children contributed greatly to the success of the assassination.
Why did Heydrich go to the falcons like that?
The designation of the beast is appropriate, but mainly it was a cold-blooded technocrat of power. He was very intelligent and talented. He could play the violin, he was a pilot, a swordsman, he had three children he liked, a fourth was on the way. But it was a prototype of a Nazi architect of power. He was an Holocaust architect. Without emotion, he prepared the cold-blooded extermination of the Jews and the liquidation of the Czech nation by the gradual Germanization and liquidation of its elites.
Without the self-sacrificing falcons, the success of the assassination would not have been possible
The Sudeten German KH Frank had different emotions towards the Czechs, but Heydrich was completely icy, he managed everything systematically and quickly. He knew well who to pacify quickly: teachers, officers, falcons and scouts. That is, the supports of civil society, behind which were huge organizations and associations such as Sokol, Junák, amateur theaters, firefighters…
At that time, they did not wait for subsidies – even a poor worker in Sokol had to buy a Sokol costume for his own – and they were organized and dedicated. There was also an organized resistance in Sokol, the so-called OSVO (Obec Sokolská v odboji) or Jindra. There were rock resistance fighters like František Pecháček, Jan Zelenka-Hajský or Novák. The paratroopers encountered them and received significant help from them.
And how did Heydrich’s terror affect Czech society?
Logically, he frightened and intimidated her. Heydrich had some success with some of the workers. He then said: “We must feed the Czech worker and he will make weapons for us.”
By 1941, everything was on the tickets, there was little food and the black market was flourishing. In addition to pure resistance fighters, several dozen scoundrels were executed in the first wave. Heydrich needed heavy industry workers to make tanks, so in the protectorate’s misery he increased their rations: rum, lard, canned fish.
Historian Jindřich Marek.
When I once interviewed some gendarmes who did not collaborate as much as is said about them, one told me that when he was on a patrol in Brno at night and walking around the armory, he heard workers arguing that they were better off than before the war. .
Heydrich bought those who don’t think about what the next day. His terror was also a success. If you have three children at home and you can be executed for anything, then you will consider whether to do external resistance.
But didn’t he completely destroy the resistance?
No. As he drove the falcons, soldiers and other resistance fighters into the corner, they were ready to defend themselves.
There was something behind the fact that Heydrich came to the country on the eve of the feast of St. Wenceslas?
I would not say, even if the Germans feasted St. Wenceslas obeyed. E.g. the highest decoration of the protectorate was the St. Wenceslas eagle. The cult of St. Wenceslas in a simplified interpretation that it is good to cooperate and regularly realize himself.
But there was nothing in it, on September 24, Hitler solved problems in the empire and the protectorate came to the fore, and he decided to send the most capable of him here. But it is true that it is very dramatic that the massive executions began on the feast of the national world.
It is said that when Heydrich took the keys from the crown jewels, he put on the St. Wenceslas crown and thus summoned a curse on himself, which says that anyone who does not do so will die within a year. Is it just a legend?
This is a legend that has taken our memory of the relatively good film The Assassination by director Jiří Sequens. But no one came across a serious document. But the fact that he was there manipulated like jewels provoked myths. Like the legend of Lomikar and Kozin, it arose without evidence of what Kozina said before the execution. But because Lomikar died within a year of Kozin’s execution, the Chodos called each other at home, you see Lomikar, within a year and a day. And then it became popular.
You said that Heydrich managed to buy workers, but they still sabotaged the factories in the factories or at least did PP actions, so work slowly.
Yes, there was also a spontaneous resistance, which bordered on seaming as the mentioned practice easily, or if you spoil something, just fine. Heydrich is greatly assisted in buying workers by the protectorate’s collaborating unions, especially NOÚZ – the National Trade Union Trade Union. E.g. organized a spa stay of several thousand workers in Luhačovice.
Trade unions are also creating various posters against Jews, trying to divert attention from protectorate poverty and bring food shortages to Jews. Probably the most famous poster shows a worker how he builds and behind a pile Jews cut and smirk. We try to pass the blame on everyone in England, America or the Communists.
Why is this story of a tyrant and his liquidation still so appealing?
It is one of the greatest successes of the elimination of the tyrant in Europe, the third highest Nazi in the empire, one of the greatest beasts. Already during the war, the story resonated in Hollywood, where they made two films.
In the tragedy of seeing these films today, it is more of a joke, because Gabčík and Kubiš look like Serbian peasants, bearded, hairy with rams, because Yugoslav gendarmes were popular in America at that time. These were films that were made out of admiration for the event, but without any information.
The response abroad and the drama that followed were huge. Lidice, Ležáky, discharged resistance, death of paratroopers in the church. It was an ancient drama. For example, in Latin America they renamed the villages Lidice, often naming the girls. And it was never like the pre-assassination here. The people who were murdered by the Nazis after the assassination in the non-communist resistance were missing in 1948 to stand up to the onset of communist totalitarianism.
Is there a comparable assassination attempt on the Nazi sex?
I really admire the Polish resistance organization Armia Krajowa. It systematically sentenced to death and then liquidated important occupation leaders. But in the hierarchy of Nazi power, these dignitaries were very far from Heydrich.
Of course, the Poles also paid heavily for it. In our country, the Nazis systematically executed the whole family, but in Poland they did so through a system of street executions. A car arrived, soldiers jumped up, caught a hundred people on the street and shot them all.
And it also has a huge foreign policy impact for the future of Czechoslovakia. Britain and France called off the signing of the Munich Agreement and the powers no problem with the post-war expulsion of the Germans.
It was such a pyramid. The struggle of our pilots in England, the formation of an exile government gradually creatively the lower strata of the pyramid of efforts to return Czechoslovakia to the pre-Munich borders. But when the assassination and Lidice came, the process was complete.