Reinhard Heydrich: the Butcher of Prague

Reinhard Heydrich

At the end of September 1941, Hitler appointed Reinhard Heydrich as acting Reichsprotektor of occupied Bohemia and Moravia. The radio reported on his inauguration at Prague Castle, and the sound of the SS military band hammering out the German national anthem followed by the Horst Wessel song still sends a shiver down the spine.

Reinhard Heydrich
Heydrich was one of the darkest figures of the Third Reich and one of the prime instigators of the Holocaust. Almost immediately he arrested the Prime Minister of the Czech puppet government, Alois Eliáš, who had maintained secret contacts with the Czechoslovak government in exile in London. On October 2 1941 the radio announced Eliáš’ execution.

But Heydrich’s reign was to be short lived. Less than eight months later, he was assassinated by Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, who had been parachuted to the Protectorate from London. He died from his wounds eight days after the attack and the Nazis gave him a huge military funeral. The entire event, attended by numerous Nazi dignitaries, was broadcast on the Protectorate radio.

In revenge for Heydrich’s death, the Nazis trumped up a connection between the assassination and the village of Lidice, west of Prague, making the following radio announcement in German:

“In the course of the search for the murderers of SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich, irrefutable proof has been found that the inhabitants of the village of Lidice near Kladno, gave the perpetrators support and help.”

The village was wiped off the map, all its men, nearly two hundred in all, were shot and most of the children were gassed in Poland, with only seventeen returning after the war. But Lidice also became a strong rallying point in the countries fighting against Hitler. This is how the Czechoslovak President in exile, Edvard Beneš, responded to the massacre on a British newsreel.

“Heydrich is dead. So are hundreds of innocent Czechs, among them women and youth under the age of eighteen. So are all the men who lived in the little village of Lidice. Their mothers, their wives and sisters are in a concentration camp, but in our own records and in the records of humanity, the name of Lidice will loom large. Lidice will live for ever.”