Killing Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague


It all began on September 30, 1938 when the Munich Agreement was signed. With this agreement, England and France gave the Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler exactly what he wanted— the Sudetenland, the north western area of Czechoslovakia. There was not a single Czech representative present at the discussion. This was an act of the English Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlin and an effort to appease the violent Germans. Of the agreement, Winston Churchill stated:  “We chose between shame and war; now we have shame and war.” This planted the seeds for one of the most famous assassinations during the European Theater of Operations of WWII.

Czechoslovakia knew that the German’s Third Reich was headed into their country. It is noted if you look at a map of Europe, Germany looks like a large animal with the head of Czechoslovakia gripped between its teeth. As Hitler and his army continued to grow in strength, the Nazi forces soon swallowed Czechoslovakia whole.

During this time, a Third Reich star would soon gain power and a reputation among the Nazi world. SS General Reinhard Heydrich was a deputy to Heinrich Himmler. Heydrich supervised the police and security operations in Germany. He also directed Germany’s campaign to motivate the Jews to emigrate.

The emigration plans didn’t work because it was seen as too cumbersome and ineffective for such a massive population. Heydrich was one of the key players in the “Final Solution” which is better known as the Holocaust. This final solution resulted in genocide and torture. Victims that suffered at the hands of Heydrich dubbed him the “Blonde Butcher”, “Hangman” and later the “Butcher of Prague.”

Heydrich really had his eyes on France to be the Protecktor, but in September 1941, Hitler had other plans. Heydrich was sent to Czechoslovakia in order to get the Czech people to bend to the German will. Heydrich saw this as an opportunity to get closer to being sent to France.

As a Protecktor, Heydrich would begin a campaign of torture and vile deeds in order to break the will of the Czech people. He was to ruin the Resistance (nearly 400 people were executed right away, while the rest went into hiding). He also made an effort to Germanize the people. Here, he also began rounding up the Jews like cattle and began shipping them off to Terezin. Terezin was a Czech concentration camp that was once an army fortress.

Heydrich was said to ride around Prague in an open Mercedes without a security escort. The brazen Nazi believed that the people of Czechoslovakia feared him so much, they wouldn’t ever dream of laying harm to him. During this time, the Czechoslovakian government in exile under President Eduard Benes grew desperate for the people of Czechoslovakia to rebel against the Germans. The people made a decision. What better way to rebel and stand up to the Germans than to murder Heydrich?


Josef Gabcik, a Slovak, and Jan Kubis, a Czech, volunteered to carry out the assassination plot. The men knew they had very little chances of survival, but it was a risk they were willing to take. On December 29, 1941, the men were flown to a location on the outskirts of Prague and they parachuted down during the darkest hours of the night. Marie Moravcova was a Red Cross volunteer and was deeply connected to the Czech Resistance. She was one of the first to help hide the two parachutists. Sergeant Josef Valcik and Lieutenant Adolf Opalka joined Kubis and Gabcik. Karel Curda soon joined Opalka.

The Czech Underground was feeling the pressure. Members often wondered who would be the next to be arrested, who could withstand the torture and who would not. Kubis and Gabcik found it difficult to figure out ways to entrap Heydrich during this time without raising suspicion and bring danger to others. Eventually, they were able to contact Prague’s Hradcany Castle. There they learned that Heydrich rode from his residence that was outside of Prague, to his offices inside the castle. This information was confirmed by the underground and it was said this was a daily routine.

The two brave men decided that the hilly area with sharp turns before the bridge to enter the city would be where the assassination would take place.

May 27th, 1942, the men positioned themselves on opposing sides of the road at the location. Opalka and Valcik stood as lookouts and signaled when Heydrich would be approaching—with no security, an open Mercedes, and only a driver and himself in the vehicle. Gabcik and Kubis prepared their weapons. When the car came close, Gabcik stepped out with his machine gun. When he tried to shoot the gun, nothing happened—it was jammed. Kubis stepped out from his hiding spot and tossed an antitank grenade toward the car. When it detonated, Heydrich was hit. The men and their lookouts fled from the scene.

Heydrich was taken to Prague’s Bulovka Hospital where he was listed as critically wounded. Heinrich Himmler sent his personal doctor. June 4th, the Butcher of Prague died.

The Gestapo launched a frantic manhunt to find the assailants of the assassination. The Czech people refused to help the Nazi’s. Martial law was declared and the Gestapo announced that if they discovered anyone who had helped or harbored the assailants would be executed—no questions asked. Even though there were mass arrests and executions without reason, the people of Czechoslovakia remained silent. That is… Until Karel Curda betrayed everyone for a mere $500,000 Reich marks.

Moravcova was the first home the Gestapo ransacked. She ran to the bathroom and swallowed a cyanide capsule so that she would avoid being captured. Her 21 year old son and her husband were arrested, tortured, and eventually killed. This was a common scene throughout Prague. The traitor Curda didn’t know that the fugitives were hidden away deep inside a crypt in the Church of St. Cyril and St. Methodius. It didn’t matter because the Gestapo learned of their whereabouts.

Over 700 Gestapo surrounded the church. Opalka and Kubis were captured outside the crypt on a high balcony. They fought with great resolve during a two-hour long gun fight; but, they were finally killed on that balcony.

Gabcik, Valcik, and two other parachutists hid further down in a spot now known to be a lower crypt. The Gestapo threw gas bombs because bullets would not work. The men inside the crypt threw bombs back. The Gestapo found a hole in the floor and when a soldier was lowered down, the parachutists shot them.

Growing tired of the back and forth, the Gestapo finally dynamited the floor and a rainstorm of bullets filled the crypt. This siege ended with four distinct shots fired from below. It is believed that the men committed suicide with the remaining bullets they had left.

After the violence ended, the church’s Bishop Gorazd, his priests and lay leaders were executed by Nazi firing squads.

The reprisals from the Nazi’s were relentless. The village of Lidice was decimated. All 200 men were shot, infants who appeared to look Aryan were given to German families to raise. Children were sent east to extermination camps in Poland. Women were sent to Terezin to wait for their turns to travel east to the camps. The Lidice residents who were not present that day were hunted down and later executed. The village of Lezaky soon met the same fate as the residents of Lidice. All in all, thousands of people died.

At the end of the war, Prague was left with its historical integrity still intact. Berlin, however, was not so lucky. As Hitler’s last gift to the German people, he lay waste to Berlin—leaving it a massive pile of rubble. In 1947, the traitor Curda was hung for his betrayal.

In Berlin, the Allied bombers destroyed the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. Now stands a modern indoor/outdoor museum in its place. The Topography of Terror is a graphic display of the years of 1933 to 1945 that the Nazi’s were in power. Be warned, this display is not for the faint of heart. Outside the museum, there are photographic and other exhibits that fill an open air trench which was once SS prison cells.

Directly behind the trench is a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. As many people know, when the Soviets occupied East Germany after the war, the Czech people and many parts of Eastern Europe endured another 45 years of suppression. The Wall stands as a symbol of that suppression and is marked throughout the city with cobblestones along the exact path where the wall once stood.

A depiction of what happened. Filmed at the real locations.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE