The Reinhard Heydrich assassination site is one of the most compelling historical places to visit in Prague.
The Czech capital didn’t see a great deal of action between 1939 and 1945, so there aren’t that many Prague World War 2 sites to see.
The mission to carry out this assassination was codenamed Operation Anthropoid. The 2016 movie Anthropoid brought this event to a wider audience, and more and more visitors now seek out the Heydrich assassination location in Prague.
As a historian by trade – and a Prague resident – I was also keen to seek it for myself. I researched the site, but nothing really went into the practicalities of getting there, and what the site looks like today. I went there en route elsewhere with my son, and found there was more to see at the location than I had realised. So I thought I’d post this short article to give you a better overview of the site.
- 1 Who was Reinhard Heydrich?
- 2 Why Was It Decided To Assassinate Him?
- 3 Operation Anthropoid – The Preparation
- 4 The Assassination of Heydrich
- 5 Where Is The Heydrich Assassination Site?
- 6 How Do You Get There?
- 7 Has The Site Changed Much Since 1942?
- 8 Is It Free To Visit?
- 9 What Became of The Assassins?
- 10 Reprisals
Who was Reinhard Heydrich?
Reinhard Heydrich was a high-ranking Nazi who became to all intents and purposes the dictator of much of Czechoslovakia between 1941 and 1942.
His official title was Acting Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, and he set about increasing the local contribution to the war effort, as well as brutally suppressing any trace of dissent or Czech culture.
His nicknames included the Butcher of Prague and the Hangman.
The Nazis’ campaign of genocide against the Jews of Europe was also led by Heydrich. He chaired the infamous Wannsee Conference of January 1942 which rubber-stamped the ongoing ‘Final Solution’. The construction and implementation of the initial Nazi extermination camps – Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno nad Nerem – was named Operation Reinhard, after him.
He was a ruthless mass murderer, and one of the worst in history at that.
Why Was It Decided To Assassinate Him?
Unsurprisingly, Heydrich was hated in the lands he ‘protected’. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile, led by Edvard Beneš, was also keen to carry the mission out as a statement of their resistance to Nazi occupation – their country had been taken over by Hitler in March 1939 with no armed resistance, and was under occupation for almost six months before World War I was declared in September of that year.
Some members of the Czech Resistance were against the plan, fearing reprisals by the Nazis, and these followed as predicted.
This thorough Czech Army account covers the historical background and lead-up to the attempt on Heydrich’s life, as well as the tragic aftermath.
Operation Anthropoid – The Preparation
Two Czechoslovak soldiers, Jozef Gabčik and Karel Svoboda, were trained in the UK by the SOE (Special Operations Executive) from October 1941 onwards. Svoboda had to pull out of the operation – codenamed Anthropoid – due to injury, and he was replaced by Jan Kubiš. They were parachuted into Czechoslovakia on 28th December 1941, and made their way to resistance contacts in Plzen.
They looked at various options before deciding on the location in Libeň. It was on his regular route from his residence in the village of Panenské Břežany to his office in Prague Castle.
He would sometimes drive himself, and would sometimes be driven, in an open-topped Mercedes Benz Cabriolet. The driver would have to slow right down on what was almost a hairpin bend before joining the main road. This was where Heydrich would be at his most vulnerable.
See Also: 15 Prague World War 2 Sites To Visit
The Assassination of Heydrich
The planning was spot-on, but on the morning of the attempt on 27th May 1942, Heydrich was around an hour late. Gabčik and Kubiš waited at the foot of the slip road close to the hairpin corner, and got the signal that their target was heading down the hill.
As Heydrich’s car approached, Gabčik tried to shoot Heydrich with a Sten machine gun, which jammed. Heydrich yelled at the driver, Klein, to stop. As he did so, Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade – hidden inside a briefcase – which didn’t reach its intended target inside the vehicle. Instead it hit the rear of the car, causing a large explosion. Heydrich suffered shrapnel wounds but tried to shoot Kubiš, and ordered Klein to chase after Gabčik. He eventually collapsed, where he was helped by a passer-by and taken to nearby Bulovka hospital.
The mission had seemingly failed. Heydrich had his spleen removed, and suffered serious damage to his diaphragm and lung. His body had been pierced by shrapnel and also upholstery from the car seat – believed to be horsehair. His treatment seemed to progress well at first, but a week after the attack he suddenly collapsed. He died the following day, June 4th 1942.
It is not known for certain what the cause of death was. It is possible that fragments of horsehair could have caused a severe infection. Others have postulated that he may have suffered botulinum poisoning. Insufficient records survive, so we will never know for sure.
Where Is The Heydrich Assassination Site?
The site is on a traffic junction in the suburb of Libeň, in the Prague 8 district. It is right across the busy dual carriageway Pražsky okruh from the Bulovka Hospital, where Heydrich was to die of his wounds a week after they were inflicted.
The current Google map (date of writing 14/12/2020) is a little misleading as it places the Memorial (Pamatnik) on the wrong side of the road, where the Hospital is located. It is actually on the north side of the road, and not the south, as indicated by Google Maps (direction Kobylisy for tram 3).
The DD (decimal degrees coordinates for the site are 50.117666196 14.458831498.
How Do You Get There?
Catch either tram 3 or 10 from Prague city centre to Vychovatelna and alight there. Both trams stop at Palackého náměstí and Karlovo náměstí before their routes diverge. Tram 10 runs through Vinohrady and Žižkov, while tram 3 continues through the city centre, passing Vaclavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) on the way.
Cross the tram tracks and walk slightly uphill on the opposite platform, where you’ll reach the entrance to a subway. Walk down the stairs and you’ll find a tunnel where a series of murals tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, from parachute landings to a damaged car and Nazi reprisals that followed.
Turn left out of the tunnel then continue left, with the road (down which Heydrich travelled) and then a pedestrian walkway on your right. You’ll reach a red sign with an explanation of the site in Czech, and the modern Monument is a little further down the hill, adjacent to the Pražsky okruh road.
Has The Site Changed Much Since 1942?
Yes, it has been significantly remodelled since then, and street names have changed.
Firstly, the road layout has changed, and the hand-drawn map illustrates how. The approach road down which Heydrich’s driver Klein travelled was a little steeper than the present road, and followed the line of what is now a side road. The original road continued to the corner, leading to V Holešovickach, the main road now called Pražsky okruh. However the turn was considerably sharper in 1942 than it is now, forcing the driver to slow right down before joining the main route. The Anthropoid operatives had done their reconnaissance very well – this was the ideal spot to shoot him.
The building on the corner of the street – to the car’s right as it approached the bend – was there in 1942. However the rest of the site is significantly different, with a pedestrian underpass replacing the previously empty ground behind. Bulovka Hospital has also greatly expanded since then, and now reaches to the other side of the main Pražsky okruh road.
Is It Free To Visit?
What Became of The Assassins?
Gabčik and Kubiš managed to flee the site and went into hiding, initially with families in local safehouses, then in what is now the Orthodox Cathedral of SS Cyril and Methodius, one of the most intriguing churches in Prague, on Resslova in the centre of Prague.
They were holed up in the latter when the Operation was betrayed by Karel Čurda, a Czechoslovak soldier turned informant. Over 700 heavily armed SS soldiers – equipped with tear gas and attempting to flood the church and crypt with the enforced help of the Prague Fire Brigade – attacked the small group of fugitives, but after a long battle they were unable to capture any of them alive.
You can almost go door to door from the assassination site to SS Cyril and Methodius Church by both trams 3 and 10. They take different routes into the city but both stop on Karlovo náměstí. Alight there and walk 2-3 minutes along Resslova towards the river – the Operation Anthropoid church is halfway along on the right.
The Nazi response was grossly disproportionate. Within a few days, they had massacred all males over the age of 16 in the Bohemian villages of Lidice and Ležaky, deporting the women en masse to concentration camps. They also shot up to 500 people at the Kobylisy Shooting range in the north of Prague, including many prominent members of the Czech intelligentsia.