September 1941: “Butcher” Heydrich becomes Nazi governor of Czech lands

Reinhard Heydrich

Senior Nazi Reinhard Heydrich became acting governor of Bohemia and Moravia on a symbolic date, 28th September – St. Wenceslas’ Day – 1941. As soon as he was installed he declared martial law and oversaw mass arrests, executions and deportations to Mauthausen and Auschwitz.

Heydrich, who was one of the architects of the Holocaust, earned the nickname the Butcher of Prague for the brutality of his approach to the position of “Reichsprotektor” of Bohemia and Moravia.

The Czech prime minister of the Protectorate, Alois Eliáš – who had been under surveillance over his contacts with the resistance – was arrested and later executed.

Heydrich's car after the assassination | Photo: Bundesarchiv,  Bild 146-1972-039-44,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC-BY-SA 3.0

In Heydrich’s four-month period of martial law, 486 death sentences were handed down (including for minor transgressions that did not normally carry the death penalty). Over 2,100 Czechs ended up in concentration camps and the resistance was dispersed.

The Czechoslovak government in exile in London decided to have Heydrich killed by  specially trained airborne soldiers and the assassination took place on May 27, 1942.

He was the highest-ranking Nazi killed by the resistance. The daring operation led the Allies to declare the Munich Agreement invalid and again recognize Czechoslovakia’s pre-war borders.

However, those in Bohemia and Moravia paid a huge price. In retaliation for Heydrich's death, the Germans exterminated the villages of Lidice and Ležáky; in October 1942, 262 people were murdered in Mauthausen for helping the paratroopers who carried out the assassination.