Sunday, December 11, 2016

DVD: Anthropoid

Set in Czechoslovakia in 1941, Anthropoid tells the heartwrenching story of the exiled Czech government's operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the brutal commander in charge of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.

The movie opens by presenting the background story for viewers. In September of 1938, a conference was held in Munich between Adolf Hitler and the leaders of France, Italy and Great Britain. Hitler threatened to start a war unless Germany was allowed to annex Czechoslovakia. Britain agrees and the Czech army is told to stand down, allowing Germany to invade the country without a shot being fired. A year later, Germany invades Poland and World War II begins. Germany needs the Czech factories to make their armaments but Czech resistance is strong and hindering production. As a result Hitler sends his third-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich to crush any resistance. He soon earns the name the Butcher of Prague.

The setting now moves to April 1942 Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik parachute into a forest overnight. Josef has injured his ankle, so they decide to lay low. They are found by a local farmer who takes them to his house. Although he appears to be friendly, they catch him contacting the authorities. Josef shoots him while Jan chases another man who escapes. The two men flee the farm in a truck to meet their contact, Oldrich Novak in Prague.

When they arrive at the safe house, they are told that Oldrich Novak is not there but are directed to the local veterinarian, Dr. Eduard who is a "good man". Dr. Eduard quickly surmises their situation and tells them that Heydrich has succeeded in crushing the Czech resistance and that the miller, Bretislav may be able to help them. He takes them to an abandoned building where they are questioned by Ladislav Vanek and Uncle Hajsky to determine if they are legitimate resistance. Both men are the head of the Jindra Organization - the Czech resistance. Vanek tells them almost all the resistance has been taken out and that Oldrich Novak was taken away several months ago. Jindra has lost contact with the exiled government in London because their radio is broken. They hoped that Jan and Josef had brought a new crystal for the radio.But when asked what their mission is, Josef tells them, Operation Anthropoid. - there are to assassinate SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich.

Vanek tells them it is madness to attempt this because Hitler will destroy Prague. When he suggests they choose a lower ranking officer, Josef disagrees, telling them their orders are from the Czech government in London.Vanek takes them to then home of Auntie Moravec who is very welcoming and provides the two men with a room. They will stay out of sight until they get the papers they need to move about. The two men are also introduced to Mrs. Kovarnikova's daughter, Marie who is paid to help at the home. Jan is immediately drawn to her, but the more practical Josef decides that if they can get another girl to be his partner, they will look less conspicuous.Marie brings in a friend named Lenka Fafkova. The two girls invite Jan and Josef to a dance but when they show up at the club well dressed and wearing bright red lipstick, Josef becomes angry and forces Lenka to fake a scene and leave. He tells her she has to fit in, not wear bright red lipstick to attract attention.

At a meeting at Cafe Morov, Jan and Josef meet other members of the resistance where they plan how to
Reinhard Heydrich
Jewish Virtual Library
assassinate Heydrich. They know his basic routine: every day Heydrich returns to his family along Paneske Brezany, but he is heavily guarded. Once a month he travels to Berlin and it is possible to know exactly when as his personal cars are prepared in advance. However, the train and the station are also heavily guarded. Uncle Hajsky tells them he has a contact who works at the chateau who may be able to help them discover Heydrich's routine, but he warns them that they are the last of the resistance and that if they are captured they will have no hope. They will be tortured to extract information on those involved and then executed. To protect those involved Hajsky gives everyone cyanide capsules.

Marie tries to talk Jan out of the assassination, especially as the two of them fall in love and eventually announce that they are planning to marry. Lenka however tells Josef her father, who was a captain in the army was arrested in 1939 and shot along with 5000 other prisoners when Heydrich took over.

The Czech resistance, especially Vanek are increasingly against the assassination and insist that Josef and Jan allow them to contact London for further confirmation. Jan and Josef receive confirmation to go ahead but they learn from a source inside the chateau that Heydrich will be recalled to Berlin and then posted to Paris. This means that if the assassination is to go ahead it has to be done immediately.
However, Vanek tells them he has received a message telling Jindra to stand down and that there be no
action against the German Reich at this time. Josef refuses to accept this. Uncle Hajsky sides with Josef and gives him the go ahead.

The plan is set in motion and although the assassination is successful, the German Reich retaliates with
unimaginable ferocity. Heydrich's death brings about the deaths of thousands of innocent people and the traitorous actions of one of the resistance members results in the deaths of most of the remaining Czech resistance.

Discussion

Anthropoid is a stark, gripping film which realistically portrays the terrible evil experienced by the Czech people under the occupation of Nazi Germany. Betrayed by Europe and Britain, the Sudetenland was given to HItler in an effort to appease his threat of war. With the loss of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia was unable to resist Hitler's invasion of the remainder of the country in March of 1939. Hitler set up the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and he chose as his Reich Protector, the cruel and completely immoral Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich's mandate was to regain control of the Czech population which had resisted by killing Reich officers and sabotaging factory production so necessary to the Nazi war machine. He began to eliminate the Czech intelligentsia and brutally crush the Czech resistance. The Czech government in exile in Britain realized that they needed to do something and a plan was conceived to murder Heydrich. Initially Warrant Officer Josef Gabcik and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda were chosen to undertake the mission. However, Svoboda received a head injury during training and was replaced by Jan Kubis. Before leaving Britain on December 28, 1941, both men made out their last will and testament in what would likely be a suicide mission.

Anthropoid portrays their mission in a somewhat simplistic manner but does capture the essence of how dangerous the operation was in a country under the iron grip of Heydrich and the ruthless retaliation of the Nazis as they systematically hunt down those responsible for his murder. In this regard the last part of the movie following the attack on Heydrich becomes increasingly violent, showing the torture of young Ata Moravec and the final bloody battle in the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. The movie's final scene is horrific, portraying the brutal deaths of all the resistance members. Viewers are left aghast and feeling like they have some sense of the savagery of the Nazis, now mostly forgotten, two generations away from events like this. We need to remember the truth about what happened during this era.

Cillian Murphy was cast as the determined Josef Gabcik, Jamie Dornan portrayed a quiet, suave Jan Kubis who struggled with killing another human being, and Toby Miller played Uncle Hajsky as cautious and wise.  The film doesn't touch too deeply on the morality of killing Heydrich who was known as the Butcher of Prague and who was the architect of Nazi Germany's "Final Solution" - the extermination of all Jews in Europe. But viewers aren't really given a sense of WHY this man was so horrible. Instead we are told this in the opening panels which provide the background for the movie.

Anthropoid is well worth viewing, if only to learn more about Operation Anthropoid and the heroes of the Czech resistance, Josef Gabcik, Jan Kubis, Adolf Opalka, Josef Bublik and Josef Valcik.


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