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.