- Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
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- Killing Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague
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Neither of them wanted to be accused of condoning political assassination as a means of warfare, particularly since it had always been clear that the Germans would respond to the killing of a prominent Nazi leader with the most brutal reprisals against the civilian population.
The surviving documents on the assassination reveal that the plan to kill Heydrich was primarily born out of desperation: ever since the fall of France in the summer of , and the inglorious British retreat from Dunkirk, London was hard-pressed to regain the military initiative. Without any chance of being able to defeat the German army by themselves, Churchill, the War Office, and the Special Operations Executive hoped to incite popular unrest in the Nazi occupied territories, thereby deflecting vital German military resources to a number of trouble spots.
To gain support for this objective in London, he needed a spectacular act of resistance designed to demonstrate that the Czechs were doing their bit for an Allied victory.
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The men selected to assassinate Heydrich were well prepared for their mission. At around As the assassins had anticipated, Heydrich was driving without a security escort. As the noise of the explosion died away, Heydrich and his driver leaped from the wrecked car with drawn pistols ready to kill the assassins.
As Heydrich came towards him through the dust of the explosion, he took cover behind a telegraph pole, fully expecting Heydrich to shoot him. Suddenly, however, Heydrich collapsed in pain.
Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
A few days after the initially successful surgery, an infection in the stomach cavity set in. Had penicillin been available at that point, Heydrich would have survived. The doctors were unable to combat his septicaemia, his temperature soared and he was in agonising pain. On 4 June, at 9am, Heydrich succumbed to blood poisoning. On 9 June , the body of Heydrich was laid to rest in one of the most elaborate state funerals ever held in the Third Reich.
Himmler and Hitler offered the eulogies. The atmosphere in Berlin can only be described as murderous. The assassins had to be found immediately or the Czech population would face unprecedented consequences. Hitler also ordered an immediate act of retaliation: the complete annihilation of the Bohemian village of Lidice. The story was probably made up, but the Gestapo chose to believe it and declared the village a legitimate target for retaliation.
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All in all, men between the ages of 14 and 84 were murdered in Lidice. The shootings were still under way when the first houses were set on fire.
By 10 in the morning, every house in Lidice had been burnt down and their ruins blown up with explosives or bulldozed to the ground. Most of the children were murdered. Instead, the authorities announced that drastic measures against the Czech population would be taken if the assassins were not apprehended by 18 June. As the date approached, rumours spread that the Nazis would execute every 10th non-German in the protectorate, and many Czechs, either out of fear for their lives or in exchange for money, offered information to the Germans.
None of it, however, delivered a real lead on the assassins. A wave of arrests followed.
Killing Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague
In the early hours of 17 June, the Moravec apartment was raided. The mother of the family, Marie Moravec, killed herself with a cyanide capsule when the Gestapo agents arrived. The following morning, SS men surrounded the Orthodox church. Their orders were to take the prisoners alive, allowing for further interrogations regarding their aides in the protectorate. From the choirstalls the parachutists opened fire and managed to keep the attackers at bay for nearly two hours.
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The Gestapo searched the building more thoroughly and found a trapdoor to the catacombs. When Hitler came to power in , Nazi policy was to persecute German Jews and force them to emigrate. When the war started in , the plan was to resettle Jews, from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, in Poland. It was only after Wannsee that mass murder became the preference.
The policy transition from deportation to genocide was prompted by the assassination of Heydrich in Jun There was no great Czech resistance but Heydrich still arrested thousands and executed hundreds. Nearly men were shot and its women deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp. How do you write a biography of a monster?
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Gerwarth rejects the idea that Heydrich was psychotic or an unfeeling technocrat. Heydrich, says Gerwarth, was a Nazi zealot, a true believer. Heydrich was a late convert to the Nazis, joining the SS in following his discharge from the navy.