Alois Eliáš was in a difficult position to say the least; he was the puppet Prime Minister of a Nazi-occupied state whilst being active in sabotage and aiding the underground resistance. Eliáš didn’t just make life easier for the renegades — he was a part of the resistance himself.
All of which is a far cry from the academic surroundings of the Czech Technical University, the oldest non-military technical university in Europe. Eliáš went off to find work in railway construction in Bosnia, although his dreams of a peaceful engineering existence were squashed by the onset of World War II. Eliáš was called up to fight for the Austro-Hungarians, which he did briefly before refusing to take further part and being taken prisoner by the Russians. His POW status didn’t last, and he was soon fighting for the Czechoslovak Legion in France.
Czechoslovakia rose from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Eliáš found himself as a popular general in the fledgeling state. In 1938 he was appointed commander of the 5th Army Corps, the first of many promotions for Alois Eliáš. Following the Munich Agreement he found himself as Defence Minister, which led to a position as Transport Minister, before finally being chosen by the Nazis to be Prime Minister of what they dubbed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. It was quite a rise for the young man, although he now found himself in a rather unenviable position. Eliáš played ball with the Nazis for the beginning, but he did so with no small amount of rebellion. He kept shortwave radio contact with Czechs living abroad, and he saw his role as something of a poisoned chalice — this was his chance to help the country at its most desperate time. Eliáš believed that a group of seven pro-Nazi Czech journalists were having a little too much influence on the populace, and he decided to do something about it. Rather than have them fired, a possibility but one that would have clearly aroused suspicion regarding his loyalty, Eliáš decided to poison them instead. Why not?! Go hard or go home, and all that jazz. The seven were invited to government headquarters, ostensibly to discuss the imminent offensive in Russia, and fed sandwiches laced with botulism, tuberculosis and typhus. Remarkably, only one of the journalists died with three others falling ill. The plan had failed.
Reinhard Heydrich came into his role as Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia on September 27, 1941, immediately said ‘We will Germanize the Czech vermin’, and set about quashing any and all rebellion. To be blunt, Eliáš was stuffed. On September 28 Eliáš was removed from his position and arrested, going to trial just three days later. Alois Eliáš was found guilty of espionage, abetting the underground and aiding the escape of individuals, along with various charges of withholding information from the Germans. He was sentenced to death, a death that wouldn’t come until Heydrich himself had met his maker. On June 19, 1942, Alois Eliáš became the only European wartime premier to be executed during World War Two.
Eliáš’s execution took place in the middle of 33 intense days of murder, one of 463 men to join the 76 women who were all shot at Kobylisy shooting range between May 30 and July 3, 1942. A poignant memorial now stands on the site of the range, paying tribute to those whose lives were snatched away by one of the cruellest regimes to ever gain power in the modern world. The range is a short walk from Kobylisy metro station, and a 20-minute walk in the opposite direction will bring you to the spot where the Butcher of Prague was assassinated.
Reinhard Heydrich had many nicknames. He was the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, the Hangman, the Young Evil God of Death and more, all of which paint a fairly accurate picture of a man considered to be the cruellest of all the Nazis. Imagine that, being the worst Nazi? Blimey. Heydrich was a relentlessly sanguinary man, the son of wealthy German nationalists who lost much of their wealth following the German economic collapse of the 1920s. Heydrich himself was kicked out of the Navy for breaking off an engagement to get hitched to someone else, and he celebrated his discharge by joining the Nazi Party straight away. He was seen by many to be Hitler’s successor and was one of the main architects of the Final Solution. In short, he was an absolute shit.
In 1941, he became the de facto military dictator of Czechoslovakia, which the Nazis referred to as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He let everyone know his intentions from the get-go, stating that ‘this area will one day be entirely Germany, and the Czechs can expect nothing’, along with the whole ‘Czech vermin’ thing mentioned earlier. He stifled Czech culture and went to great lengths to end resistance to Nazi rule in the country, lording over the area with an iron fist. Many believed that his cold-blooded and violent ways came from rumours within the corridors of Nazi power that Heydrich might have Jewish ancestry, but then he might have just been a complete bastard. He was incredibly confident in his own rule too, swanning around Prague in an open-top car with no armed guard.
While it would be a stretch to refer to Heydrich as a sitting duck, it is difficult to imagine a more reckless way to live one’s life as a much-despised dictatorial figure. It is only surprising that there were not more attempts on his life. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile wanted to make a statement by taking Heydrich out, a statement that would come with the added bonus of, you know, killing the horrible man, and plans were put in place to assassinate him in 1941 on the anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s independence. An injury in the team put this back, but by spring of 1942, the plan was back on. Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčik had been trained and were in Prague ready, waiting, Cain and able. Operation Anthropoid was about to commence.
As Reinhard Heydrich made his usual commute on May 27, 1942, he had no idea that death was waiting around the corner. The corner in question was a hairpin bend in Libeň, and his Mercedes-Benz Typ320 was met with the strange sight of Jozef Gabčik and his Sten machine gun. The gun was jammed, surely the last thing you’d want when about to shoot an immensely cruel man, but instead of instructing his driver to speed off the arrogant Heydrich instead demanded the car be stopped so he could shoot this fool. As he did that, Jan Kubiš lobbed an anti-tank grenade at the car, which exploded and subsequently ripped shrapnel through the body of Heydrich. Somehow the German retained enough about him to give chase before he collapsed in the street. He died 10 days later, an autopsy concluding that sepsis was responsible for his death. I’d wager that the anti-tank grenade was probably most responsible, but there we go.
The reprisals were immediate, and the reprisals were inhumane. Botched Nazi intelligence linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky, and both were summarily razed to the ground, their entire populations decimated. The murders at Kobylisy were also ramped up, as the vile Nazi war machine went red with violent revenge. The shooting range is a place of sombre remembrance today, a far cry from the graceful elegance of the metro station that shares its name.
In Via The Left Bank of the ‘90s, John Bills takes the reader on a tour of Prague using the underground network as his guide, from the birth of the city at Vyšehrad through to the Velvet Revolution at Národní Třída and everywhere in between, including blokes who loved orchids and no small amount of executions. This is everything you ever wanted to know about Prague, and then some. The eBook available in our splendid little shop here.