HHhH, by Laurent Binet
I came to Laurent Binet’s book about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich late; it was published in 2012 in English, and attracted largely positive attention then. It takes up the true story of a British-aided 1942 mission by the Beneš government-in-exile to kill Heydrich, then Hitler’s satrap in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as well as SS-leader Heinrich Himmler’s number two (Binet’s book says the title comes from the phrase, Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich: Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich). Binet manages remarkably to make the book both a well told thriller and an extended mediation on the writer’s relation to history and the fiction he is making of it.
Together with some other British-trained Czechoslovak commandos on other missions, two assassins – Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík; a Czech and a Slovak – parachuted from a Halifax into a field near Prague, made contact with the resistance, and eventually ambushed and waylaid Heydrich’s Mercedes. Gabčík faced down the car with a Sten gun, which jammed and failed to fire. Kubiš charged from the rear with a grenade, which went off near the car’s rear wheel, driving fragments of the vehicle into Heydrich’s body. The assassins fled. Heydrich tried to shoot Gabčík, then collapsed. Taken to a hospital, Heydrich received good treatment but afterward died of an infection. Hitler and the Nazi high command gave him a martyr’s funeral. On the strength of a spurious connection, the Germans destroyed the city of Lidice, killing its inhabitants, razing it to the ground, and salting the earth. They also named an expanded program for carrying out the Final Solution (of which Heydrich had been a principal engineer) “Aktion Reinhard”. With the help of a parachutist who decided to betray his fellows, the Germans discovered Kubiš and Gabčík, together with a number of their colleagues, holed up in a Church and, over many blundering and violent hours, eventually smoked, flooded, and blasted them out of hiding; the commandos died rather than suffer capture.