A series of events held in Prague and elsewhere over the weekend marked the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, a top ranking Nazi official and the ruler of the occupied Czech lands. While dozens of people came to see a reconstruction of the assassination, a mock concentration camp was erected in central Prague in the memory of the victims of Nazi retaliation.
An original Czech Radio recording from June 1942 lamenting the death of Reinhard Heydrich is an impressive backdrop to a partial replica of a concentration camp erected in Prague’s central Karlovo náměstí. Complete with wooden barracks, a watch tower and barbed wire, the site is dedicated to the people who helped the British-trained Czech and Slovak commandos with their mission, and were often murdered in the aftermath. Mikuláš Kroupa from the Post Bellum is one of the organizers.
“One of the stories people might remember is that of Oldřich Frolík whom the Gestapo came to arrest in 1942. When the officers banged on his door, he opened and said, ‘Just a moment, I will just get my coat’. He reached for his gun and shot two of the three Gestapo men dead, while the third ran away. Frolík came down the stairs and drove off in the Gestapo car.”
Oldřich Frolík helped the Czech paratroopers with food and weapons, and provided a hiding place for them. The Nazis captured him some time after his heroic escape, and executed him along with his entire family.
An estimated 5,000 Czechs paid for Heydrich’s death with their lives, including 3,000 Czech Jews who were immediately sent to Nazi death camps in occupied Poland. Eduard Stehlík is a historian for the Czech Army’s historical institute.
“The reprisals were truly terrible. Some 300 people were murdered because they were relatives of those who helped the commandoes. Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, who carried out the assassination, were certainly brave soldiers but they could have never achieved this without the help of these ordinary people.”
Historian Eduard Stehlík has in fact come up with an alternative theory about the event. The traditional account of the attack, based on a Gestapo report, says that Jan Kubiš threw a bomb that mortally wounded Heydrich only after Jozef Gabčík’s gun malfunctioned. But military logic along with archive documents lead Mr Stehlík to believe the attack unfolded differently.
“During their training, the commandoes were taught to attack in the following way: first to attack with two bombs – one was to hit the front of the car, stop the vehicle and kill the driver, while the other was to be aimed at Reinhard Heydrich. If he survived this, he was to be killed by gunfire. The materials specifically mention Sten guns as optional weapons.”
Despite the malfunctioning gun, the attack was indeed successful as Reinhard Heydrich died of his injuries eight days later.