Anthropoid - Story

Operation Anthropoid

The "Final Solution" was Nazi Germany's attempt to eliminate the Jewish race from the face of the earth. While there remains much historical debate over who or how the order to end the Jewish race was given, most historians agree that the main architect of the "Final Solution" was Reinhard Heydrich.

Heydrich was in many ways Hitler's right-hand man. Even though that title is commonly attributed to Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich was the general of the SS. Heydrich was the muscle — he physically witnessed and enforced the mass genocides, incursions and occupations of the Third Reich.

The year was 1941 and the fate of the world looked grim. Hitler's forces had conquered all of continental Europe. England was still intact, but the air raids were taking their toll on the country's infrastructure and morale. Nazi Germany seemed unstoppable.

Enter Operation Anthropoid. Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš were two Czech soldiers who had fled to Britain after Hitler's victory in France in 1940. The two had been fighting the Nazis all across Europe and North Africa, but with the Nazis continuing to gain territory, the two fled to the one unconquered European nation.

Heydrich had been sent to Prague in 1941 to tighten the German grip on Czechoslovakia and stop the fledgling resistance groups. Operation Anthropoid was an assassination plot orchestrated by the British Special Operatives Executive.

Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš parachuted into Czechoslovakia as part of a small team of soldiers in December 1941. The soldiers met with anti-Nazi resistance forces to discuss how they would assassinate Heydrich.

The first idea was to kill Heydrich on a train. After some deliberation it became clear that it would not be practical. A train would be difficult to infiltrate and heavily guarded. The second plan involved stretching a cable across the road to stop Heydrich in his car in the middle of a forest road on the way to Prague. The plan was all set until their commander told them to come to Prague. They would kill Heydrich there.

May 1942. The war effort was failing. Hitler was decimating Britain and the Soviet Union - the two remaining Allied powers. Morale was at an all-time low, and even Prime Minister Winston Churchill had told his people that their island might be taken over. "If, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old," he said in his nation's most uncertain hour.

The world was on its knees. Could the Nazis ever be defeated? They seemed unstoppable. Enter Operation Anthropoid.

On the morning of May 27, 1942, Heydrich was making his daily commute in his Mercedes convertible, which was being driven by a chauffeur. The open-topped car exposed Heydrich, which would facilitate the murder. Gabcík and Kubiš were waiting by a tram stop near a tight curve. They knew this curve would force the car to slow down. The moment of truth was here. The fate of the resistance hung in the balance.

Gabcík heroically stepped in front of the vehicle, risking his life. He tried to fire his submachine gun at Heydrich, but it jammed. Heydrich, in brutish fashion, did not flee. Instead, he ordered his driver to stop the car so he could fire back at his assassin. It truly was the pride before the fall. Heydrich's order to stop the car gave Kubiš just enough time to throw a grenade at the car. His aim was far from dead on. The grenade ended up blasting the car's bumper. Heydrich appeared to be unscathed.

The two soldiers felt the heat of the blast and tried firing at Heydrich with their pistols. Both Gabcík and Kubiš fled in opposite directions and managed to escape. They were convinced their plans had failed and that Heydrich would live... but that was not to be.

The shrapnel from Kubiš' grenade punctured Heydrich's body. When he got out of his car to chase the soldiers, he collapsed, unaware that he'd been injured. The blast caused major damage to Heydrich's diaphragm, spleen, and lungs and fractured a rib. He spent the next several weeks in the hospital undergoing and recovering from various procedures. In the end, his body simply could not recover and he slipped into a coma and was pronounced dead June 4, 1942.

Hitler's punishment for Heydrich's death was fierce. Over 13,000 Czechs were arrested, including Kubiš' girlfriend Anna. She would later die in a Nazi concentration camp. The Gestapo were led to believe that the villages of Lidice and Ležáky were linked to the assassination of Heydrich. Every single building in both towns were destroyed and burned to the ground. The men and boys of Lidic were taken to a farm and shot, one by one. Women and young children were taken to concentration camps. A total of 81 children from Lidice were gassed to death. Eight blond and blue-eyed children who could pass for Aryan escaped certain death, instead being sent to German families for adoption. This policy was commonplace — hundreds of thousands of children were taken during the war and forced into German families as part of the Third Reich's "Germanization."

The two soldiers took refuge in an Eastern Orthodox church in Prague. They, along with their conspirators, were eventually discovered by the SS. A fierce gun battle took place in which the Germans lost at least 14 men. Gabcík and the other men decided to commit suicide rather than be captured by the Nazis. Kubiš did not commit suicide, but died shortly after the battle from his injuries.

Operation Anthropoid was the only successful assassination of a high-ranking member of the Nazi party. Heydrich's death showed the world that the grip of the Third Reich was not absolute, and that resistance could prevail. By the end of 1942, the gears of war had shifted. Hitler's forces were spread too thin, and the end of the Third Reich was drawing close.

~Yanis Khamsi

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