A New Film Explores the Moral Calculus behind the Assassination of a High-Ranking Nazi

Aug. 26 2016

In 1941, two Czechs trained by British special forces parachuted into their German-occupied homeland and, coordinating with the local pro-Allied underground, carried out a daring plan to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, who was Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man. The Nazis memorialized Heydrich, whose responsibilities included organizing the murder of European Jewry, by naming three death camps after him. To punish the Czechs, they also carried out a horrifying massacre in the village of Lidice, sending the surviving women to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and the children to the gas chambers. Anthropoid tells the story of the assassination and its aftermath while, according to James Kirchick, handling with subtlety the moral complexity that goes into resisting evil when one knows full well that there will be a high price to pay:

To be sure, the predicament Czechs faced on the question of resistance was far [removed from] that confronted by Jews, whose fate under the Nazis was everywhere the same: death. . . . The Nazis’ ultimate plan for the Czechs, however, did not involve extermination, and so the question of how to resist a far more powerful adversary, if at all, was hardly so [clear-cut]. . . .

Some leaders of the Czech underground counseled against [the plot on Heydrich’s life].

Yet blaming the Czech government-in-exile or [Heydrich’s assassins] for the massacre at Lidice and other atrocities absolves the Nazis of their own barbarism. It also betrays a seductively reductionist logic in which questioning the wisdom of certain acts of resistance can lead easily to utter passivity in the face of tyranny. . . .

In light of the ways in which Heydrich had all but eliminated Czech resistance to the German war machine, to kill him and send the message that not even high-ranking Nazis were safe in places they thought they controlled served an important strategic goal. . . .

[Furthermore, prior] to his assassination, Heydrich had ordered the execution of thousands of Czech intellectuals and political opponents. Who is to say that, absent his premature death, he would not have ordered the execution of thousands more on a similar whim? . . .

[T]here exists no simple arithmetic that one can employ to justify or condemn an undertaking like the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich; there is no easy way of concluding that, were a few dozen Lidice women sent to Auschwitz [where they would have been killed] instead of to Ravensbrück [where they were likely to survive], the mission would have been immoral, but were a few dozen of the village’s men sentenced to hard labor instead of execution, it would have been vindicated. Besides, such questions miss the forest for the trees. For if there is an overarching lesson to be gleaned, . . . it is the enduring responsibility of those who have power to protect those who don’t.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Czechoslovakia, Film, Holocaust, World War II

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy