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It was only after Wannsee that mass murder became the preference. The policy transition from deportation to genocide was prompted by the assassination of Heydrich in Jun There was no great Czech resistance but Heydrich still arrested thousands and executed hundreds. Nearly men were shot and its women deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp.


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How do you write a biography of a monster? Gerwarth rejects the idea that Heydrich was psychotic or an unfeeling technocrat. Heydrich, says Gerwarth, was a Nazi zealot, a true believer. Heydrich was a late convert to the Nazis, joining the SS in following his discharge from the navy. Heydrich compensated for his lack of party credentials by adopting radical ideological positions when he joined the SS.

His biography of Marshal Zhukov will be published in June. Eduard Benes, its president-in-exile, was deeply embarrassed. He was also gravely concerned that the Allies, if his people failed to fight, might give short shrift to any Czech claims after the war. He told his intelligence chief, General Frantisek Moravec, to order an intensification of resistance activity. But it was difficult enough to get even a parachuted courier or coded radio message past the wary Heydrich. Nothing happened in response. Then President Benes hit upon the idea of contriving to assassinate a prominent Nazi or Quisling inside the tight dungeon of the Protectorate; such a bold stroke would refurbish the Czech people's prestige and advance the status of their government in London.

The German retaliation would be brutal, of course, but its brutality might serve to inflame Czech patriotism. Who should be the target? General Moravec first nominated the most prominent of the Czech collaborators, an ex-colonel whose fawning subservience to his Teutonic masters left the London Czechs nauseated and ashamed. The general also had a personal reason for his choice: the name of the Czech Quisling was Emanuel Moravec, a coincidence that had plagued the general for years.

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But Emanuel, called the Greasy, was not the right man for the purpose. He was not well known abroad, and Czech prestige would not be raised significantly by crushing a worm. The Germans, too, were likely to regard his death as no great loss; he was only a minister of education, easy to replace, and even the Nazis despised traitors. Heydrich was totally different. His unique combination of: brilliance and brutality had no peer even in the Third Reich.

He had been personally responsible for the execution of hundreds of Czechs and the imprisonment of thousands. The shot that killed him would be heard in every capital of the world. There could be no other choice. General Moravec so recommended, President Benes agreed, and the planning of Operation Salmon began in tense secrecy.

The first problem was finding one or two men who could and would do the job. It must have seemed to General Moravec, at least at the outset, an almost impossible task. The many Czech politicians in London were preoccupied in the unending scramble for posts in the provisional government. There were quite a few Czech businessmen in England, but most of them were too busy making a fast koruna to be interested.

There were brave and patriotic Czechs serving in fighter and bomber wings attached to the Royal Air Force, but the Air Ministry would never let them go. And so the choice narrowed to the single infantry brigade of about 2, men encamped near Cholmondly.

National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror in Prague

This pool of prospects had its own disadvantages. An encampment of 2, is like a town of that size: everyone knows everyone else and is full of curiosity about everything that anyone does. Here this inquisitiveness was also undissipated by outside contacts, the Czech soldiers speaking little or no English and having few interests beyond the limits of the camp. Each transfer, trip, or trifle thus became news, something to discuss and analyze. For screening purposes the personnel files of the brigade contained only what each man had told about himself or, in rare instances, about others whom he had known earlier, at home.

There was no way to check police files, run background or neighborhood checks, or otherwise obtain independent verification of loyalties. Under such circumstances it is a tribute to General Ingr, Minister of Defense in the exiled government, to General Moravec, and to their subordinates that of parachutists flown from England and dropped into Czechoslovakia, only three proved turncoats.

How many people would have to know? Stragmueller, and Major Fryc, chief of operations. Of these, President Benes and General Ingr needed to know only the purpose of the operation and the names of the men chosen to carry it out. Others, required for instruction, would necessarily know that certain men were entering Czechoslovakia to carry out a clandestine action, but not their precise intent.

Four instructors would be needed, experts respectively in parachute work, in the terrain of the area, in cover, documentation, clothing, and equipment, and in commando techniques. Several British officers, representatives of MI-6, would participate in this training. The crew of the plane carrying the men into Czechoslovakia would know where and when they were going, though not their identities or mission. And finally, a large number of men in the brigade personally acquainted with the candidates could be expected to make guesses of varying degrees of accuracy as the preparations for assassination progressed.

Because the number of persons who would be partly or fully informed was so unavoidably much too large, it was essential that the men finally chosen should be as discreet as they were brave. Of the 2, Czech soldiers in the brigade some , most of them volunteers, were already engaged in parachute training under British instruction.

Two officers were assigned to the brigade, one to the parachutists and the other to the ground troops, ostensibly as aides but actually as spotters. These two officers knew only that they were to choose the best candidates for a dangerous assignment. Men recommended by the spotters were interviewed singly by Lt. Some were asked whether they would volunteer for special training. Almost all those asked agreed, and they were sent in groups of ten for vigorous physical conditioning and thorough schooling in commando tactics--the use of a wide assortment of small arms, the manufacture of home-made bombs, ju-jitsu, cover and concealment, and the rest.

During this intensive drilling the ten-man teams were kept under close observation.

(1904 - 1942)

It was essential to discover not only the bravest and most capable but also--it having been decided that the assassination was a two-man job--those who worked best in pairs. Other considerations also came into play; men from Prague, for example, were automatically eliminated because of the danger of recognition after arrival. By now the choice had narrowed to eight men in half as many groups.

General Moravec visited these four groups, along with all the others, on a regular schedule. On his orders the instructors drew the eight candidates aside one at a time and passed each a piece of juicy, concocted information with the warning not to mention it to anyone. Each tidbit was different. Soon two new rumors were circulating, and two men were eliminated.


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One of the remaining six was disqualified by marriage; another was suddenly incapacitated by illness. General Moravec interviewed the remaining four. Two of them, non-coms, met all tests and were also good friends. Their names were Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik. Kubis was born in Southern Moravia in After some ten years of schooling he had gone to work as an electrician.

Did Reinhard Heydrich aspire to replace Hitler?

He had been in the Czech Army since and had fought in France in His excellent physical condition made his pounds, at 5'9", look lean. Slow of movement, taciturn, and persevering, he was also intelligent and inventive. Gabcik was a year younger than Kubis. An orphan from the age of ten, he too had left school at sixteen. After working as a mechanic for four years, he had entered the Czech Army in He had been given the Croix de Guerre in France in He was strong and stocky, an excellent soccer player, and like Kubis lean for all his pounds on a 5'8" frame.

His blue eyes were expressive, and his whole face unusually mobile. Talented and clever, good-natured, cheerful even under strenuous or exasperating circumstances, frank and cordial, he was an excellent counterpoise for the quieter, more introverted Kubis. Both men had gone through the arduous training without illness or complaint. Both spoke fluent German. Both were excellent shots. General Moravec spoke separately to each of them. He explained that the mission had the one purpose of assassinating Heydrich.

He stressed to each of the young men the great likelihood that he would be caught and executed. Escape from encircled Czechoslovakia after Heydrich had been killed would be practically impossible.

Reinhard Heydrich

And the survival of either, hiding inside the country until the war ended, was extremely unlikely. The probability was that both would be killed at the scene of action. Although neither man had relatives or friends in Prague, both had relatives in the countryside; and the general reminded them of what had happened to the family of a Czech sent from London on a successful clandestine mission to Italy. Somehow the Gestapo had learned his identity and executed all of his relatives in Czechoslovakia, even first and second cousins. You have proved that you are brave and patriotic.

I am telling you that acceptance of this mission is almost certainly acceptance of death--perhaps a very painful and degrading death--because I do not believe that the man who tries to kill Heydrich can succeed if the awful realization that he too will die comes too late, and unnerves him.