The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

Q1: According to Source A, what was Colin Gubbins asked to do in September 1941? What reason did Gubbins give about the possible problem with the operation?

A1: Colin Gubbins was asked by Colonel Moravec to help in "providing facilities for training and supplying any special weaponry that was required" to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich. Gubbins pointed out to Moravec "that an assassination of this sort was a purely political act which, even if unsuccessful, would result in wholesale reprisals."

Q2: Read Source B. Why did Alexander Dubček support the operation referred to in Source A? Why was it important to carefully select the two men (Source C) for the operation?

A2: Alexander Dubček thought that there was a "need for a spectacular act of anti-Nazi defiance". He pointed out that: "It was no coincidence that one of them - Jozef Gabčík - was Slovak, and the other, Jan Kubis, Czech. This pairing was meant to symbolize the continuing mutuality of Czech and Slovak national interests."

Q3: Read Source D and then answer the following questions: (i) What role did Josef Valcik and Rena Fafek play in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich? (ii) What went wrong with the plan? (iii) Why is there some disagreement about why Heydrich died?

A3: (i) Josef Valcik flashed a pocket mirror (pretending to comb his hair) when Heydrich's car came into sight. Rena Fafek was a passenger in a car that sent a message to the assassins (by wearing a hat or not) whether Heydrich was being accompanied by a protection team. (ii) Jozef Gabčík's Sten gun did not work. (iii) Heydrich officially died of septicemia. However, it was claimed at the time that the bomb that was used was poisoned.

Q4: Study Source E. Why do you think the German government published this stamp in 1942?

A4: The stamp was used to publicize the successful career of a significant Nazi leader. The decision to use a death mask rather than a photograph from life is a sign that the Nazi government was unwilling to change its policies because of the assassination of Heydrich.

Q5: Describe in your own words the actions that the German government took after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

A5: You should have included the following in your answer: (i) The courts pronounced 1,350 death sentences. (ii) Over 100 members of the Czech Resistance Movement hiding in the Church of Saint-Charles of Borromeo were killed. (iii) On the day of the assassination 150 Jews were executed in Berlin by way of reprisals. (iv) "An area of 15,000 square kilometers and 5,000 communes was searched and 657 persons shot on the spot." (v) The village of Lidice, suspected of having sheltered the assassins, was punished: "The... men and youths of more than sixteen years old were then locked up in the barns and stables while the women and children were imprisoned in the school. The following morning the men were taken out in groups of ten into the garden behind Gorak's, the mayor of Lidice, farm and shot.... Finally the village itself was razed to the ground. The houses were set on fire and dynamited and the entire village demolished."

Q6: Does the information in Source G support the information in Source F. Comment of the reliability of this source.

A6: The newspaper report confirms the action taken against Lidice: "All the men of the village have been shot. The women have been deported to concentration camps and the children sent to appropriate houses for their education. All the buildings of this village have been razed to the ground and the name of the village removed from the land registers."

The content of German newspapers during the Second World War were rigorously controlled by the Nazi government. Therefore, historians have to ask serious questions about information found in German newspapers. For example, is it true that "it was found that the population of the village of Lidice near Kladno had helped and cooperated with the perpetrators of the crime"? It seems that the German government wanted the public to know how it treated people who resisted its rule.