Sunday, May 29, 2016

29 May 1942: The New York Times reports on reprisals for the Heydrich Assassination

Two days after the assassination of the acting Nazi "Reichsprotektor" of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, the New York Times reported that reprisals were taking place, and added more details to what was known of the incident.

The emphasis was on the initial executions but information about both the crime and the reprisals was still sketchy.

Seventh Person Put to death in Attack on Heydrich, Who Is Reported Dying
By Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

   BERNE, Switzerland, Friday, May 29— Vengeance executions for the attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich began in Bohemia early yesterday morning with the execution of six members of one family, including two women and another person declared implicated for failing to denounce to the authorities the two men who late Wednesday afternoon attacked the car in which the deputy Gestapo chief was traveling.
(The report then discusses the attack itself, returning to that topic later in the article.)
More Killings Threatened
   The German "vigilance committee," headed by Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo Chief, rapidly completed arrangements for what appears to be the beginning of one of the worst bloodbaths in Czech history. A decree ''issued by local authorities'' in the Province of Prague ordered all civilians over the age of 15 to report to the police before midnight tonight and obtain a certificate of registration. Past that hour, any one failing to possess such a card or found harboring a person without such a card will be shot, "with his entire family."

   Throughout the protectorate groups of military patrols accompanying police and Gestapo men are stated to be arresting people by the hundreds as house-to-house searches are being made in a wide area around which a cordon has been thrown.
(The report goes on to provide details on the curfew and martial law decree.)

The coverage here is reasonably accurate, under the circumstances. In his anger at the assassination, Hitler had initially ordered the arrest of 10,000 Czechs and execution of political prisoners already in custody, but shrewder heads prevailed, arguing for the continuation of Heydrich's policy of targeted terror combined with coopting of the general population. Still the reaction was harsh: Fearing that the assassination was the beginning general insurrection, the authorities took no chances.

21,000 German and Czech police, Waffen SS, and German soldiers carried out the manhunt. Callum MacDonald describes the Germans as "vengeful and trigger-happy," citing an escaped British POW's description . Even German detectives described "random shooting at open or lighted windows," saying the troops (a direct quote) "are completely mad." MacDonald speaks of a wave of executions, including "those convicted of marital law offences or who had merely expressed approval of the act," but dates the first family execution from only May 31.

Regarding the attack itself, the report includes an initial background summary and an update:
From indications received here this morning it now develops that the attack occurred about eighteen miles east of Pilsen on the Prague-Munich road at a town called Rotkitzen, which was the place of residence of all of the seven executed.

Meanwhile, from a German radio broadcast to the German people it was learned this morning that Herr Heydrich had been so badly injured that it was deemed necessary to issue a bulletin on his condition, which was stated to be "stationary." Another bulletin announced that he was under the care of Adolf Hitler's personal physician. Herr Heydrich was believed to be hovering between life and death. A report on a Balkan radio early this morning stated that his condition had taken a turn for the worse.

[Three bullets that had injured Herr Heydrich's spine and spinal cord were removed by a specialist, The Associated Press reported today, quoting Exchange Telegraph, British news agency.]
section is more problematic. The only really accurate statement is that Heydrich's life hung in the balance. The asserted location is completely wrong, for the attack took place as Heydrich's car, traveling from his outlying estate, was entering the northern Prague district of Libeň. Heydrich was not hit by bullets, for the first assassin's Sten gun had jammed, and none were fired. The injuries came from a grenade and injured a rib and internal organs, but not the spine. The physician sent from the Reich was Himmler's not Hitler's.

The update is generally more accurate.
Preliminary reports from usually well-informed German quarters as to exactly how the attack on Herr Heydrich was made indicates that at least two men were involved. One is stated to have thrown a bomb at Herr Heydrich's moving automobile, which swerved to avoid being hit. A second man is then reported to have stepped out from concealment with a submachine gun or automatic pistol and to have fired several shots into the automobile as it rolled into the ditch.

The assassins are then reported to have escaped by bicycle. Another bicycle, a briefcase and a raincoat were found near the scene. These articles are now being shown to persons suspected of knowing who the criminals might be. An official announcement warns that anyone recognizing the articles and not giving information will be shot. News of the attempt to assassinate Herr Heydrich was published in Germany in a brief communique only, and the press so far has not ventured any comment of an authoritative sort.
Two paratroopers did indeed carry out the attack, but in the reverse of the order described here. Jozef Gabčík made the first, failed attempt with the Sten gun, and when Heydrich ordered the car to stop, Jan Kubiš threw the bomb (a modified anti-tank grenade). Because the attack took place in the city, the car did not roll into a ditch, and instead, came to a stop in the gutter near the curb.  By contrast, the description of the paratroopers' belongings and the threats of reprisal are reasonably accurate. The two men arrived on bicycles, but only Kubiš managed to escape on his, whereas Gabčík had to flee on foot. accurate. Although the weather was temperate, Gabčík had brought along a raincoat to hide his motions as he assembled the Sten gun carried in his briefcase. The Germans, noticing the British origin among the items found at the scene, quickly deduced that the attackers were paratroopers. They placed the objects on display in a downtown store window and distributed photographs throughout the Protectorate in an attempt to solicit or coerce information from the public.

Further pieces on this topic.

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