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Ultimate and Significant Heroism: Assassination of Heydrich in Prague

(Last Updated On: July 1, 2022)
SS-Brigadeführer Heydrich, head of the Bavaria...
SS-Brigadeführer Heydrich, head of the Bavarian police and SD, in Munich, 1934 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Visiting the locations in Prague where the heroes responsible for the assassination of Heydrich made their stand, we were thankful for their bravery.

Visiting the locations where the heroes responsible for the assassination of Heydrich in Prague made their stand, we were thankful for their bravery.

The world has the Czech and Slovak people to thank for eliminating Reinhard Heydrich. On June 4, 1942, twelve years to the day before my birth, Reinhard Heydrich succumbed to complications of injuries from the assassination attempt which had occurred in the previous few days. The assassination of Heydrich in Prague was perhaps overshadowed in the West by other events, but of significant importance as a turning point in WWII.

Heydrich (left) at Prague Castle in 1941. To H...
Heydrich (left) at Prague Castle in 1941. To Heydrich’s left is Karl Hermann Frank, State Secretary for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and Higher SS and Police Leader for Bohemia and Moravia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Known as “Himmler’s brain,” Reinhard Heydrich is perhaps best remembered as the chairman of the infamous Wannsee conference during which the Final Solution was wrought. However, long before that infamous meeting, Heydrich had made a name for himself as a high-ranking official in the SS, responsible for the formation and the ascent of its Gestapo, organizing Kristallnacht, and as President of Interpol. Ironically, it is believed that his ancestry was Jewish, although he took great pains to suppress any information associated with these rumors.

Named Deputy Reich Protector in 1941 of what was called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, consisting of Czech and Sudeten territory annexed by Hitler for strategic war machine purposes, Heydrich quickly imposed draconian measures designed to “Germanize the Czech vermin.” Terrorizing the population to convert “Czech garbage into Germans” was comprised of “methods based on racist thought.” In his first five months on the job, more than 5,000 people were arrested. In the weeks after February, 1942, resistance was suppressed with further brutality. Heydrich’s enthusiasm for torture, public executions and reprisals caused him to be referred to as “The Butcher of Prague.”

the assassination of heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich, Photo Credit:
Heydrich appropriated this college building as headquarters, symbolic of the Nazi thought takeover
Heydrich appropriated this college building as headquarters, symbolic of the Nazi thought takeover
The Czech resistance used this residential building. The Nazis reviled its "modern" architecture.
The Czech resistance used this residential building for clandestine radio operations. The Nazis reviled its “modern” architecture, and used the latest technology to ferret out forbidden radios from the street.
Commemorative street plaques of  Prague's Jewish Holocaust victims at their former residence - a father, mother and child
Commemorative street plaques of Prague’s Jewish Holocaust victims at their former residence – here lived a father, mother and 11 year old daughter who were deported by Heydrich

Meanwhile, in London, the exiled Czech government coordinated a plan for the assassination of Heydrich in Prague with British assistance. Paratroopers trained by British commandos were dropped into the Czech countryside near Prague on December 28, 1941, and perfected their plan while in hiding.

On May 27, 1942, on a suburban street that took a hairpin bend, the two assassins, best friends Josef Gabzik and Jan Kubis, made their move. As Heydrich’s Mercedes slowed to negotiate the turn, Gabzik raised an automatic weapon, which jammed. Heydrich inexplicably ordered his driver to stop, and raised his own weapon. At this moment, Kubis threw a bomb he had concealed in a briefcase at the car, wounding Heydrich, whose driver gave chase on foot. Gabzik returned fire, wounding the driver, as both assassins escaped.

Where in Prague was Heydrich assassinated? V Holešovi?kách 41, in the 8th District, click here to see on Google Maps.

Heydrich’s wound proved fatal. Horsehair and other material from the Mercedes seat had penetrated it, and he developed sepsis in the hospital, succumbing on June 4. In the aftermath, the SS conducted what they called a “ratissage” (literally, a rat hunt), in which over 10,000 were arrested. More than 1300 were promptly executed. Hitler personally ordered the eradication of the village of Lidice, after its entire male population was executed, with females and children taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The assassins and their fellow paratroopers were hidden in the basement crypt of the Karel Borromaeus Greek Orthodox Church, in Old Town Prague. Their betrayer was a member of the Czech resistance who wanted the Nazi-offered financial reward. After torturing the young son of a woman who had operated one of the safe houses, including showing him his mother’s severed head, the Nazis obtained their location. The resulting stand-off at the Church ended when the Czech heroes were unable to tunnel their way out under the street and committed suicide.

The hiding place of heroes
The hiding place of heroes

Heydrich had been on his way to Paris to become the Head of the SS in France on the day he was shot. Had he successfully assumed this appointment, the outcome of the war might have been totally different. As it was, Admiral Canaris (Heydrich’s rival head of the Abwehr), believing the Allies would invade France at Calais, bungled the intelligence sufficiently so that the German defensive structure on the shores of Normandy allowed the successful D-Day invasion.

Tips: We took the WWII in Prague tour. There is quite a bit of walking around Prague with this tour, as you start at the Powder Tower (Prasna brana) through Old Town, proceed to the Jewish ghetto – which Hitler wanted to preserve to glorify his eradication of Jews, the Jewish cemetery, as well as monuments to the Resistance and other memorials related to the post-war and Cold War Soviet occupation. We found the description of the final battleground in Old Town Square, in which the people rose up after Hitler’s suicide, most poignant. 

We felt a bit rushed at times, but there is a lot to cover. If you’re planning your Prague itinerary to include more than a few days, you’ll probably want to include the individual sites in more depth. Our guide, Martin, was a personable fellow with excellent English, but his heavy accent and quick delivery made him difficult to follow at times. His book of photos from the Occupation allowed us a fascinating “then and now” aspect (see examples here).

Other fun things to do in Prague.

Top ten places to stay in Prague.

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Walking Around Prague | Passing Thru

Friday 1st of July 2016

[…] tours in the Castle district and Jewish quarter, and even a beer tour. We chose to take a WWII specific tour a few days later, preferring this opportunity to wander about on our own. A Kauai friend who lived […]

alison @GreenWithRenvy

Tuesday 23rd of December 2014

Chilling how that time embodied so much evil. My son spent time in Prague in high school and came back a changed person. He spoke for many hours about the horrible events that occurred there. Thanks for sharing more details.

Betsy Wuebker

Wednesday 24th of December 2014

Hi Alison - Agreed, so much and so compressed into a relatively short period. Prague is much, much more than this story, though. How wonderful for your son to get to know the city at such a relatively young age.


Friday 19th of December 2014

Hi Betsy,

I thought I had learned a fair bit about WWll when I was in Prague a couple of years ago, but had not heard this amazing (and very disturbing history). I'm wondering if this might be a tour that started after my visit, since I don't remember seen it advertised anywhere.

Betsy Wuebker

Friday 19th of December 2014

Hi Nancie - I'm not sure how long this tour has been offered; I first noticed the brochure in our hotel's lobby and saw it again in other places. I do think it could be an entire day and still not cover everything. Overlapping our sightseeing on this tour were memorials to the student patriots of Prague Spring. That, also, could be a completely separate tour. So many layers of history in this region.

Kristin Henning

Friday 19th of December 2014

Glad you shared the details of this episode in Prague. I wasn't aware of Heydrich specifically when I was in Prague.

Betsy Wuebker

Wednesday 24th of December 2014

Hi Kristin - Thanks, glad you found it interesting. We hope to return to Prague and dig a little deeper.

Suzanne Stavert

Thursday 18th of December 2014

Fascinating yet disturbing, more people should share these stories. I have read two books in the last year that included the story of Kristallnacht. Thank you Betsy for taking the tour and for sharing the story of this horrific time.

Betsy Wuebker

Thursday 18th of December 2014

Hi Suzanne - Thank you, Suzanne. I'm very interested in fiction and non-fiction about this period and region. I am amazed at how quickly adjacent territory, like Sudetenland, was assimilated into the Third Reich. If you were an average citizen, it must have been shocking and surreal.

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