Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 1942: Rommel and Heydrich in the News

On June 6,1942, the Illustrated London News ran a little feature on "British and German Personalities in the Public Eye To-Day."

The two "German personalities" were General Erwin Rommel and Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, and the emerging stories would become among the most important of the war.

Rommel was "again in the news" because he had "launched his long-awaited offensive against the Allies in Libya." Already a week earlier, the New York Times headline announced, "Nazi Tanks Push Toward Tobruk." Rommel's forces captured the crucial port on 20 June, taking over 33,000 Allied prisoners. The victory earned him promotion to Field Marshal.

The Heydrich story was more dramatic news: an assassination attempt, which, the magazine observed with satisfaction, meant that he had "reaped his just deserts." Like most  reports on the attack, this one was based on speculation or fragmentary and often inaccurate information. The magazine explains that Heydrich was wounded on 27 May but describes the incident as a shooting by a Czech patriot, implying a local resistance fighter. In fact, he was the victim of a bomb attack by Czechoslovak paratroopers. Because so little was known, the report hedges its bets by adding, "some say by Nazis." Although the assertion had no basis in fact, it was not quite as far-fetched as it sounds. The ruthless Heydrich had many enemies, and given the failure of the authorities to make any progress in tracking down the assailants, some Germans began to murmur that they must have come from within the Nazi hierarchy.

The report correctly notes Heydrich's role as Himmler's protégé and his reputation for brutality. Indeed, in February, his portrait was featured on the cover of Time magazine, surrounded by hangman's nooses.

However, the report incorrectly ascribes to him the creation of Dachau concentration camp. In fact, Heydrich's role in the Nazi terror apparatus was far greater. As head of the Reich Main Security Organization, not only was he responsible for the operations of the Security Service and Security Police: he also played a crucial role in the emerging Holocaust, a story that was not yet known and as yet had no name. In January, Heydrich had secretly convened a conference of top German officials, which decreed the extermination of the European Jews.

By the time the report appeared, Heydrich was in fact already dead, having succumbed to his wounds on 4 June. The vicious reprisals that followed would be a bigger news story than the assassination itself.

Further pieces on the Heydrich assassination

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