May 27, 1942 -- Highest Ranking Nazi Killed in WWII - Reinhard Heydrich -- Seventy- One Years Later: Could Author Joanie Schirm Have Uncovered the Secret Cause of Death?
By Joanie Holzer Schirm www.joanieschirm.com
Of all the stories told to me by my Czech-American father as I grew up, the most fascinating tale was about the real demise of the highest ranking Nazi officer assassinated during World War II -- Reinhard Heydrich. I just didn't realize the significance until now. When I recorded my father's story on tape some twenty years ago, the name Reinhard Heydrich meant little to me. The story, told after the war to my father by a very credible friend, took on new meaning as I studied Czech and WWII history as background for my newly published book: Adventurers Against Their Will.
Heydrich, described by WWII historians as the "mastermind" or "architect" of the Final Solution, chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference of senior officials of the Nazi regime where the deportation and extermination of Jews in German occupied territory was put in to high gear. No longer was concentration just the Nazi answer to ridding themselves of Jews in German territory, genocide was formally approved with the construction of three death camps, Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor.
Although ranked by website Listverse as #3 (behind Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler) on a 2010 list of "Top 15 Most Evil Nazis," Heydrich is oddly not well known to most Americans. Most recognize the names of Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, and Hermann Göring. Few recognize Heydrich who became known as the "Butcher of Prague" during his blood-thirsty role as Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, the part of Czechoslovakia incorporated into the Third Reich. His "Butcher" title earned through his brutal regime against the Czechs with executions and arrests.
My strong personal connection to Heydrich is that his leadership led to the development of Sobibor, the death camp in eastern Poland where my grandparents, Arnost and Olga Holzer, likely met their demise on May 27, 1942. In some small piece of justice, this was the same day Heydrich was attacked by British- trained Czech agents and taken to Prague's Bulovka Hospital for treatment. One week later, Heydrich died there from complications arising from his injuries. Or did he?
For the past seventy years, historians and biographers' most generally accepted theory is that Heydrich was weakened by infection caused by foreign mater -- perhaps bits of the car's horsehair upholstery -- thrust deeply into his wounds by the explosion of a hand grenade tossed in his automobile by the Czech agents.
The story in Chapter 9 of my book, Adventurers Against Their Will disputes that current cause-of -death theory. One of my Czech translators called it a "bomb in history" as he described Heydrich a likely successor to Hitler as Fuehrer if anything had happened to him during the war. We agreed I should use the story in my book so that experts can fully debate the possibility.
Told to my father after the war by his very credible friend and 1930s classmate at Charles University Medical School, Dr. Vladimir Wagner was a non-Jewish hematologist working at the hospital at the time Heydrich was admitted. An emergency surgery was performed by a non-Jewish Czech doctor working in the hospital. Directed by Heydrich's boss Himmler soon after, only German doctors were reportedly allowed near Heydrich in the hospital.
In my research to establish whether it was possible that Czech resistance could have a played a role in Heydrich's demise, I studied what I could learn about the background of my father's old friend " Vla'ďa " and tried to locate him in Prague. I learned from an article that he had died in March 2008. I also discovered tantalizing facts from this article:
Čechurova', John: War memories prof. Vladimíra Wagnera [I]. Vladimir Wagner [I]. (The War Remembers of Prof. Vladimír Wagner): In: Časopis Na'rodního muzea, řada historicka' Vol. 169., 2000, No.1-2., s. 97-106, ISSN 0139-9543 Anotace: Studie je z větší ča'sti edicí pamětí univerzitního profesora Vladimíra Wagnera, jenž se za druhe' světove' va'lky zapojil do odbojove' činností. (Remembers The War of Prof. Vladimir Wagner): In: Journal of the National Museum, Vol many historic 169th, 2000, No.1-2., P. 97-106, ISSN 0139-9543 Abstract: The study is largely editions memories university professor Vladimir Wagner, who during World War II involved in resistance activities. Zbraní se mu stala vlastní profese - bakteriologie (This study is in the most part the edition of the memories university professor's V. Wagner, which joined in revolting activity during the Second World War. His weapon was his own profesion - bacteriology) Weapons became his own profession - Bacteriology (This study is the bridge part in the edition of the memories of the University's Professor V. Wagner, Which joined in Revolting activity during the Second World War. His weapon was his own profession - bacteriology)
Vla'ďa's work in the resistance gave credibility to the story he shared with my father. He used his positions as a hematologist in the Bacteriological and Serological Institute of Charles University and at the State Health Institute to further anti-Nazi resistance. As a part of the underground, Vla'ďa's activities varied from intelligence gathering to preparation of bacteriological materials for use in assassination of several journalists who collaborated with the Nazis: they were served poisoned food at a state dinner.
My research is presented in the following excerpt from my book:
In the 1960s, Vla'ďa described his various clandestine efforts to my father, who subsequently told me about them in interviews I taped in 1989. One incident at Bulovka Hospital involved a doctor who had graduated from medical school in 1934, two years before Vla'ďa. He was a leader in the Czech Fascist Youth and became friendly with the German Nazis who occupied Bohemia and Moravia, renaming those lands the Protectorate. He was apparently carrying news from the hospital to the Germans, so the Czechs wanted to get rid of him. They got a pure TB culture from the lab and put it in his milk one morning. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis about ten days later.
Toward the end of WWII, Vla'ďa's specialty involved the German blood-transfusion supply chain. His secret laboratory work rendered blood useless for a period of up to three weeks by purging the antibodies necessary for crucial blood-typing diagnostics. The time allowed the blood serum to make it from the hospital through Nazi inspection on its way to the front. For that limited time, the serum was unusable for determination of correct blood groups of Wehrmacht members. When Dad told me this story, he said when he told Vla'ďa he "thought it was a kind of dirty business," Vla'ďa responded, "Well, it was a dirty war." That it was.