Americans who, as they watch their giant screen televisions or drive their SUVs to the Outback for dinner, complain about how bad times are, should take a break to watch the new film Anthropoid about killing Reinhard Heydrich. He was Nazi chief of occupied Czechoslovakia, who was also an architect of the Holocaust, whom British intelligence, working with Czech resistance, assassinated in 1942. Heydrich was the most senior Third Reich potentate to be killed in WWII, an execution richly deserved.
Czechoslovakia had been notoriously betrayed by the West to Hitler at Munich and suffered a horrible fate under occupation, with Heydrich infamous for his unbridled brutality, having executed thousands of his subjects. The London-based Czechoslovak government in exile sought retribution, and the British dropped the assassins into their homeland, where the remnant of the resistance helped them plot Heydrich’s death, even knowing Germany’s likely reaction. Heydrich brazenly was chauffeured daily to his Prague office in an open Mercedes. His killers carefully monitored his routine and struck on a city street during one morning commute. Heydrich, who returned fire before collapsing, lingered in a hospital several days before expiring.
The Czechoslovak killers of Heydrich eventually gained refuge in the Orthodox cathedral of Prague. Upon discovery, the freedom fighters held off hundreds of German troops who racked the church with gunfire, until they were killed or took their own lives. Thousands of Czechoslovak civilians were killed in reprisal, many of their children later murdered in camps or farmed out to German parents. Two villages were razed to the ground. The horrors would have been even greater had Hitler not wanted to preserve occupied Czechoslovakian industrial production for himself.
Naturally, the cathedral priests and lay officers held responsible for harboring Heydrich’s killers were themselves executed. Bishop Gorazd, the Orthodox prelate of Prague, accepted responsibility in a bid to spare others, gaining Nazi torture and execution for himself, later deservedly declared a martyr by his church. His cathedral survived the war and is today a bullet-ridden memorial to the slain freedom fighters who died there and to their protectors.
Czechoslovakia was on the raw end of historical tragedy, having gained nationhood after WWI, lost it to a terrible betrayal and occupation in WWII, only to suffer another nearly half century under communism. Today it is two democratic nations.
Anthropoid the film should be a gripping reminder to too often forgetful and ungrateful Americans that our relative ease of life remains an astounding historical aberration. Operation Anthropoid’s successful assassination of one of humanity’s most horrendous villains, achieved by great heroism at terrible costs, should be forever recalled as a bold stroke for freedom. The resulting martyrdom of Bishop Gorazd and sacrificial deaths of so many others for their love of God and their native land should inspire all Christians who seek to bear faithful witness in adversity.