October 31: First Annual Spook Appreciation Day

By Piper Bayard

She’s done it again.  Anna Chapman, the cute little Russian spy the U.S. spanked and sent home, is in the news. This time it’s because the FSB (Russian version of the Soviet KGB) stripped her down and glammed her up for Maxim magazine. Now, I say the FSB did this because I’m not going to make the assumption that this girl is a ho-ho who uses her body for money. I mean, just because she has a reputation for racy photos and kinky sex, and she got her party on with rich folks while spying on them, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a hoochie mamma. . . . Well, ok. I won’t push that one, but bad on her hubby for playing Kink and Tell. (You can google that one for yourselves.)

Anna Chapman

Anyway, here’s my question for you. Why should the Kremlin’s Crimson Cupcake get all the praise and attention?

Personally, I think we should give some appreciation to our own intelligence agents who aren’t out there being eye candy for the porn mags.  There are many eyes and ears around the world who risk their lives daily to bring us the news that isn’t published on CNN or Wikileaks. Some are stationed undercover overseas, some are scientists and engineers who devote their lives to developing the technology that protects our soldiers, and some are the retired servicemen and women who manage the local grocery stores, teach at community colleges, or tend to this year’s corn harvest until they are called up to serve in the Reserves. Regular people doing their best to help keep our country safe.

That’s why I’m proposing a new holiday, Spook Appreciation Day. I thought about calling it Hug a Spook Day, but then it would turn into Out a Spook Day, and that’s not cool unless, of course, it’s to root out foreign spies like the Cupcake. More importantly, I’m guessing that people who devote their lives to unsung service wouldn’t be comfortable with overt praise. I’m sure they know better than any of us that the real heroes are the ones who aren’t here to be hugged.

So to kick off our first Spook Appreciation Day, I want to tell you about two WWII intelligence agents, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik, who pulled off one of the most daring and consequential espionage feats in history. Seriously, if someone made this up in fiction, editors would say it was just too much of a stretch and turn the book down.

These are their pictures below. Note the lack of lingerie and body oil.

Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik

What did they do that was so great? They ended the reign of one of the most prolific sociopaths in history, Reinhard Heydrich, also known as the Butcher of Prague, the Blond Beast, and the Hangman.

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich didn’t earn these titles for nothing. His entire resume of ruthless deeds is too long for this forum, but notably, he concocted the idea of the Einsatzgruppen, the death squads of the S.S. Their main mission was to eliminate all sources of resistance to German domination — to kill all “undesirable” people, including Jews, Slavs, Polish intelligensia, Communists, Roma (“Gypsies”), homosexuals, and the disabled. Yep. His idea. This is the guy who brought you the Holocaust.

To make a long, sordid story short, in 1941, Heydrich became what we would call governor of the Nazi-occupied territory between Germany and Russia. He ran his pseudo-kingdom from Prague, where he warmed his house by executing 300 Czechs within the first five weeks and imprisoning thousands more. I think even most people opposed to the death penalty could agree that the term, “Some folks just need killin’,” applied to this guy.

Enter our good guys, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik. Jan and Josef were in a Czechoslovakian infantry brigade exiled to the United Kingdom. Jan was an electrician, and Josef was a mechanic. They both fought in France in 1940 and were continuing their military service doing parachute training under British instruction. Personality-wise, they were good friends, and you might not guess it from this picture, but Jan was the straight man, and Josef was the funny guy, known for his good cheer.

They weren’t officers or Oxford grads or prominent rich folks. They were two regular guys doing their best to serve their country, who just happened to be called on to take down one of the most powerful, evil men in history. Sort of like if you were an American shoe salesman called up to the Reserves and airlifted to the hills of Pakistan to kill bin Laden.

After extensive training in commando tactics and, for Jan, riding a bicycle, the men parachuted into Czechoslovakia. Their instructions were to assassinate Heydrich and escape south to Slovakia. Under no circumstances were they to contact anyone in the Underground. They were completely alone, undercover, in Nazi-occupied territory, targeting a genocidal titan with nothing but guns, a small bomb, and a cyanide pill as a last resort should they fail.

Fortunately for Jan and Josef, as well as for the rest of the world, Heydrich was cocky. Not only did he like to ride in an open car, he kept the same routine, travelling the same roads on a regular basis. After six weeks of hiding out near Prague, Jan and Josef took their chance. On the morning of May 27, 1942, at a sharp curve on the road into Prague, Jan covered with a machine gun and Josef threw a grenade into Heydrich’s car. Then, they made their escape across the St. Nicholas bridge on bicycles. Heydrich, fatally wounded by shrapnel that imbedded the stuffing from his car seat deep in his spleen, developed septicemia and died in agony a week later. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, huh?

Himmler, himself, led the search for the assassins. For twenty days, mass arrests and mass executions were the rule, punctuated with massacres. He arbitrarily leveled the town of Lidice and plowed it into the ground, shooting two hundred men and boys, driving the women to concentration camps, and shipping the children off to Germany. Still no trace of the assassins. He  repeated this with the hamlet of Lezaky in southwestern Bohemia. After a month, he offered 1,000,000 marks for information and said that, in 48 hours, he would decimate Prague. At that, a man came forward, Alois Kral, who had served with Jan and Josef in the U.K.

On Kral’s information, the Gestapo surrounded St. Bartholomeus Orthodox Church, where Jan and Josef hid in the cellar. By coincidence, two other Czech patriots were with them, Lt. Opalka and Josef Valcik. The four men fought with machine guns and pistols as long as their ammunition held out. Then, the Germans flooded the cellar. Jan, Josef, and the other two used their cyanide pills.

The Nazis continued their retribution killings, totaling over 5,000 deaths in retaliation for Heydrich’s assassination. Some would say his assassination wasn’t worth it. To them, I would point out that Heydrich was the mastermind behind the slaughter of millions, and, at thirty-eight, he was just getting warmed up.

Like most extraordinary men, Jan and Josef were regular guys made outstanding by their circumstances. So keep that in mind this first Spook Appreciation Day. As you’re passing out candy to all of the little ghosts who come to your door, spare a thought and a thank you to all of those men and women who work in the shadows to keep our country safe from the would-be Heydrichs who are born in every generation.

Related posts:

Holocaust Education & Archive Team Research Team WordPress Blog, The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich

Cinema Free Europe, Lidice Lives Again