Monday Morning Brief | Assassinating ‘The Butcher of Prague’

Jun 12, 2017, 4 AM

On May 17, the Czech Republic issued a souvenir sheet commemorating the 75th anniversary of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Scott catalog new-issues editor Marty Frankevicz recounts the clandestine plan, dubbed Operation Anthropoid, that eliminated what he calls “one of the nastiest Nazis to walk the face of the earth.”

Full Video Transcript:

Good morning and welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for June 12, 2017.

On May 17, the Czech Republic issued a souvenir sheet of one stamp commemorating the 75th anniversary of Operation Anthropoid, the mission to kill one of the nastiest Nazis to walk the face of the earth — Reinhard Heydrich.

This creature of Hades endeared himself to Adolf Hitler by organizing Kristalnacht and chairing the Wannsee Conference, which set in motion the “Final Solution” for the Jews.

So, in late 1941, the Führer chose Heydrich, “the man with the iron heart,” as the new Acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, where he could use his Gestapo and spying expertise to eliminate all Czech resistance to Nazi rule, and Germanize “the Czech vermin” (Heydrich’s words) so the production of goods needed for the Nazi war effort could be increased.

It didn’t take long for Heydrich to become known as “The Hangman,” “The Butcher of Prague,” and “Young Evil God of Death.”

Soon after learning of Heydrich’s new posting, exiled Czechs and the British began work on a plan to assassinate him. An elite crew of nine Czech soldiers was selected to train for the mission.

On December 28, 1941, the team parachuted into Czechoslovakia to find the best way to proceed. After weighing various options, a plan was chosen.

On May 27, 1942, two team members, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, stood at a sharp curve on a road near a tram stop in Prague, waiting for Heydrich’s convertible to approach on the way to his office at Prague Castle.

As the car slowed for the curve, Gabcik stepped in front and pointed his machine gun at Heydrich. Gabcik pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed.

But Heydrich did not order his driver to leave. He stood up in the car and pointed his pistol at Gabcik. And that’s when Kubis flung a briefcase at Heydrich.

The wild toss missed its mark and hit the ground near the rear bumper. However, the briefcase, which had a modified anti-tank grenade inside, exploded. Shrapnel sprayed, hitting Kubis, and his target, Heydrich.

The Czechs fired guns at Heydrich but continued to miss, and the injured Heydrich returned fire while chasing Gabcik. Heydrich’s car, Gabcik’s machine gun, and Kubis’ grenade are shown on the stamp.

Heydrich made it to the hospital, but died of his wounds June 4. Assassination team members were cornered in a Prague cathedral, and a gun battle ensued. Gabcik committed suicide and Kubis died of his wounds shortly after his capture.

And then came the retribution. Nazis rounded up the families and friends of the assassination team members and either killed them or sent them to concentration camps.

After hearing incorrectly that assassination team members had stayed in two nearby towns, Lidice and Lezaky, Nazis massacred the adults and ordered the towns razed. The Czechs have for many years remembered these two towns on postage stamps.

Heydrich’s death mask was shown on a stamp issued by the Bohemia and Moravia Nazi government on the first anniversary of the assassination. A souvenir sheet containing that stamp is rare. Given only to a small number of high-ranking Nazi officials who attended the memorial ceremony, its value of $15,000 makes it one of the rarest philatelic items of the Nazi era.

But knowing that any example was once touched by a real Nazi makes for a rather undesirable provenance.

For Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott Catalogues, I’m Marty Frankevicz. Enjoy your week in stamps.