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The Czech government-in-exile was based in London during World War II. In 1941, the decision was made to kill Heydrich, using Czech Resistance fighters (many Czechs joined the RAF during World War II). The two men chosen for the daunting task of killing one of Hitler’s top Nazis were Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš . They parachuted into the country on December 28, 1941, and went into hiding. They were waiting for the right time to ambush Heydrich, and in less than half a year, an opportunity presented itself.

Hitler planned to meet with Heydrich in Berlin on May 27, 1942. Documentation from that time indicates that he intended to send “The Butcher of Prague”, as he was now known, to France, in orderto quash the Resistance. Heydrich habitually rode in a car with an open top, a less-than-subtle way of declaring his power over the Czechs; he did not believe that anyone would make an attempt on his life.

As Heydrich traveled through the Prague suburb of Libeň, his driver had to slow to take a hairpin turn. Gabčík attempted to open fire with a Sten submachine gun, but the gun jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver to halt, and Kubiš threw a handmade bomb under the car, wounding himself and Heydrich. The Nazi came out with his gun in his hand, following Kubiš and attempting to shoot him. Kubiš escaped by bicycle, while Heydrich soon ran out of steam and collapsed. Meanwhile, his driver pursued Gabčík on foot; Gabčík shot him in the leg and escaped.

A woman living nearby came to Heydrich’s assistance, helping him into the back of a delivery van, which took him to Prague’s Bulovka Hospital. At the hospital, it was determined that the bomb had caused fairly serious injuries to his left side, including a broken rib. He underwent several blood transfusions and a splenectomy. When news of the assassination attempt reached Berlin, Himmler ordered a German doctor, Karl Gebhardt to fly to Prague to treat Heydrich.

Hitler’s personal physician, Theodor Morell, suggested using a new antibacterial drug called sulfonamide to fight infection, but the suggestion was vetoed by Gebhardt. Unfortunately for Heydrich, the bomb had driven horsehair into his body, from the seat of his car. Blood poisoning was setting in. On June 2, Himmler paid Heydrich a visit. After his departure, Heydrich fell into a coma from which he never awoke. He died on June 4, 1942.

Heydrich’s first funeral was held in Prague, on June 7. His coffin was then sent by train to Berlin for a second funeral on June 9. He was publicly lauded as a martyr to the cause. Privately, though, Hitler felt that Heydrich had brought the assassination upon himself, by riding in an open vehicle. He acknowledged Heydrich as being “irreplaceable”, which made his actions all the more “stupid and idiotic.”

The Butcher of Prague had finally been removed, but more was to come. The war in Europe would last almost two more years, and the Czechs were well aware that Nazi reprisals were swift, merciless, and thoroughly destructive.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon