The persistence of evil

Possibly the only thing the British SOE did that was worth a damn during World War 2 was assassinate Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was bright, athletic, musically trained son of a composer who also turned out to have an aptitude for cruelty, blackmail and secret policework. When his family was bankrupted by the economic collapse of Germany following its defeat in the Great War, Heydrich did what several ambitious, ruthless and brainy men of period did. He attached himself to a rising star: the Nazi movement. Soon he was in his element. He helped crush the SA.  By 1939 the 35-year old Heydrich commanded the “SD, the Gestapo, and the Criminal Police” and was widely expected to succeed Hitler himself. At the apex of the Third Reich’s fortunes, with its armies at the gates of Moscow Heydrich was made Hitler’s proconsul in occupied Czechkoslovakia. He now had his own country to play with.


The rest of the story is dramatic, moving and familiar. Czech President in exile Edvard Benes was determined to prove his country a worthy ally at a time when London was overrun by Czech politicians bent on enlarging their purses. Therefore he ordered his military chiefs to plan a dramatic operation. The assassination of various Czech Quislings was considered and rejected. The only action that would suit Benes’ purpose was the assassination of Heydrich himself. Two volunteers were found from the single Czech brigade in England. They were trained by the British SOE and dropped — about seventy miles off target — into Czechkoslovaka without a hope of success.  But the Anthropoids, or so they were code-named, made their way to Prague, where they cobbled together a support network from elements of the Czech resistance. Posing as workers cycling to work, they studied Heydrich’s route from his SS guarded mansion to his office. At a tight bend, where Heyrich’s Mercedes would have to slow, the Anthropoids planned to attack.

When Heydrich’s staff car turned the corner, one of the men, Jozef Gabčík, stepped up to the open car to open fire with a Sten. It jammed. The Germans stopped the car and lit out in pursuit, providing the second man, Jan Kubiš, with chance to follow up with an anti-tank grenade. The explosion wounded Heydrich, who died in great pain from blood poisoning some days later.  Now bravery retired from the stage and cruelty’s turn to hold forth.  Hitler ordered the Gestapo “to wade in blood”; to find the man who killed Heydrich and teach the Czechs a lesson they would never forget. The Nazis began a policy of selective terrorism: that is, they began shooting people until somebody turned on the Anthropoids. They enlisted suspense, publishing the names of those they shot each day. The bulletin boards were thronged by crowds looking to see if someone they knew had been killed. Two weeks after the attack on Heydrich the entire village of Lidice was destroyed. All the men were shot; the women deported to concentration camps; and all the children given over to adoption.


Eventually some suspects were found and the Nazis easily demonstrated what no one who has ever operated a safe house in the underground doubts. They followed the line of safe houses and interrogated each in turn until they eventually found the hideout of the Anthropoids. Torture works. That’s why the resistance people had cyanide capsules.

Curda betrayed several safe houses provided by the Jindra group, including that of the Moravec family in Zizkov. At 5 a.m. on June 17, the Moravec apartment was raided. The family was made to stand in the corridor while the Gestapo searched their apartment. Mrs. Moravec was allowed to go to the toilet, and killed herself with a cyanide capsule. Mr. Moravec, oblivious to his family’s involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Peček Palác together with his son Ata. Here, Ata was tortured throughout the day. Finally, he was stupefied with brandy and shown his mother’s severed head in a fish tank. Ata Moravec told the Gestapo all he knew. SS troops laid siege to the church, but despite the best efforts of over 700 Nazi soldiers, they were unable to take the paratroopers alive; three, including Heydrich’s assassin Kubiš, were killed in the prayer loft (Kubiš was said to have survived the battle, but died shortly afterward from his injuries) after a two hour gun battle. The other four, including Gabčík, committed suicide in the crypt after fending off SS attacks, attempts to smoke them out, and fire trucks being brought in to try to flood the crypt. The Germans (SS and Police) also had casualites; SS casualties being 14 killed and 21 wounded.  Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the Church on himself, even writing letters to the Nazi authorities. On June 27, 1942, he was arrested and tortured. On September 4, 1942, he, the Church priests, and senior lay leaders were executed by firing squad.


Every year flowers are still laid at the site of the last stand of the Czech parachutists, a shrine to valor, faith and martyrdom. In 1964 the Czechs produced a movie commemorating the action. There are two YouTube videos from that movie depicting the last stand of the Anthropoids in choir loft and crypt.  As they say, if there’s a Valhalla the Anthropoids will sit above the rest. But these memorials obscure the fact that the Nazis operationally got the better of the exchange. One academic wrote:

the Gestapo eliminated their entire network. It seems that because of the fear of reprisals, most of the Czech public was also against the SOE agents. … The post-Heydrich reprisals greatly weakened the Czech resistance movement.

In other words, it would have been better if Benes had just left things alone. Just two weeks after the magnificent last stand of the Anthropoids at the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a huge rally in support of the Third Reich was held in Wenceslas Square, as this video shows. The Nazis gloated that “terror has produced the desired results”. It did, even politically. Benes himself was taken to task after the war for launching the operation on Heydrich without considering the consequences on the Czechs. In the end, as Camus observed, it is always innocence and not guilt that is called on to justify itself. Guilt doesn’t give a damn.

Even today it is common to hear that there was never a bad peace or a good war. Better Red than Dead. The West’s aversion to fighting, even against evil, stems from the certainty that resistance will bring punishment. And that punishment will be visited, as at Lidice, on the innocent and the children. It is the inescapability of reprisal that makes the public willing to take a chance on “getting along” rather than endure the inevitable response even to justified resistance. Caroline Glick, for example, describes how the Arab population of Jerusalem is gradually retaking it from Israel. Their methods are no secret. Intimidation. It simply works.


Livni made clear that partitioning the city – that is, giving the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Arab neighborhoods – is so central to her preferred foreign policy that she could not budge on the issue despite her obvious desire to take up residence in the Prime Minister’s Office. … If the Left can convince a sufficient number of voters that a united Jerusalem is a drain on the country’s resources or that it is impossible to enforce Israeli law among an increasingly lawless and irredentist Arab population, then it will have a fighting chance of winning the elections. …

Jerusalem’s ranking today as the poorest city in the country redounds to the fact that that the majority of its residents are Arab and haredi. These two sectors by and large do not work and do not pay municipal taxes. As a consequence, the municipal tax burden falls on the plurality of Jerusalemites who work and pay taxes – mainly religious Zionists and non-observant Jews. Due to the unfair tax burden, recent years have seen a steady stream of the city’s productive residents migrating to surrounding communities where the tax burden is more evenly distributed and municipal services are consequently better.

Beyond the chronic problem of under-collection of taxes, Jerusalem suffers from problems of lawlessness among its Arab residents not unlike the problems that affect all cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations. This Arab lawlessness is facilitated on a national level by the government’s refusal to order the police and the State Attorney’s Office to enforce and apply the law equally to Arab citizens.

Jerusalem also suffers from unique problems with lawlessness and underdevelopment. These problems have been created by successive governments that have silently encouraged the partition of the city by both enabling the PA to field militiamen in the city’s Arab neighborhoods and discouraging and indeed prohibiting Jewish building in areas the government foresees being transferred to Palestinian sovereignty. These manufactured problems have retarded development and expansion plans. They have also artificially raised housing prices for the city’s Jewish residents.


No one wants to get in the playpen with bad guys. Almost anything but that. We remember the Anthropoids today only because the Soviet Army and the Western Allies of the time were willing to generate more violence against the Third Reich than it could generate against them. If Hitler had won the war, Benes would have been the goat. Well, give it time and he will be the goat still. Dennis Kucinich’s proposed new  Department of Peace and Nonviolence will convince us all that resistance, if not futile, opens all of us up to reprisal. That’s called the Cycle of Violence.


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