The very solid film “HHhH”, broadcast on France 2 this January 24, evokes the destiny of the terrible Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, assassinated in Prague by the Czech Resistance in May 1942. However, the film is not the only one to evoke this event.
Far, very far from the sulphurous and toxic atmosphere of the Marseille underworld and its drug trafficking in La French, his previous film released in 2014, the French director Cédric Jimenez once again plunges the viewer into the past with HHhH, broadcast this 24 January on France 2. An eminently painful and dark past, both tragic and heroic, set against the backdrop of the Second World War and Europe, more particularly Czechoslovakia, crushed under the Nazi boot.
HHhH : curious name and acronym for a movie title. Is that it actually means “Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich”, or literally “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. This is actually the nickname the SS gave Reinhard Heydrich. Heinrich Himmler’s direct assistant from 1933, Heydrich – played by Jason Clarke in the film – played an important role in the organization of the Nazi repressive apparatus and in the elimination of the Sturmabteilung (SA) as a political force, mainly during the night of the Long Knives in the summer of 1934.
But he also had a major role in the organization of the Shoah by planning and controlling the activity of Einsatzgruppen (in French: “intervention groups”, which were militarized political police units charged, from the invasion of Poland, with the systematic assassination of opponents of the Nazi regime, and in particular of the Jews) and during of the conference Wannsee which he presided over on January 20, 1942. Placed by Hitler at the head of the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, he was the victim of an assassination attempt by the Czech Resistance in the middle of Prague on May 27, 1942, and succumbed to his wounds a week later. The Nazi repression which fell on the population was terrible: in the end it is estimated that it caused more than a thousand victims.
Below is the movie trailer …
Adapted from Laurent Binet’s first novel, published in 2010, HHhH won the Goncourt Prize for the first novel the same year and was included in the list of major novels of the New York Times. Given the somewhat delicate nature of the subject, Cédric Jimenez was keen to make the character of Reinhard Heydrick human, without humanizing him; show his reality and his existence, without finding excuses. A distance difficult to find for the director. “I wanted to show that, as bad as it is, you can meet men like him in the street: he had a wife and children and he was facing the same problems as everyone else” he explains. And add: “He is not a fairytale character or a monster from the Marvel universe: he embodies the capacity of human beings to be devoid of all morality.”
Heydrich, cinema (propaganda) figure since 1943
HHhH is not, however, the first film to evoke the fate of the one known as “the butcher of Prague” or “the Blonde Beast”. Surprisingly enough, the Allies seized on the subject as early as 1943 in two works of propaganda, which nevertheless remain very solid. First The Executioners Also Die, signed by the great Fritz Lang. If the film is mainly focused on the reprisals following the attack against Heydrich (played in the film by Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), the particularity of this work is that its screenplay was written by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. This is Brecht’s only screenplay for Hollywood cinema. Yet the Screen Writer’s Guild refused to have the playwright’s name affixed to the film, although the latter worked closely with the film’s screenwriter, John Wexley.
Classified as a subversive work by the Committee of Anti-American Activities during McCarthyism, the film was banned from American screens and only resurfaced in the 1970s. As for the screenwriter, John Wexley, he was blacklisted … Hitler’s Madman by Douglas Sirk, a filmmaker who will be famous among others for his powerful melodramas, is more centered on the character of Heydrich, played by John Carradine.
Below, the trailer for “Executioners also die” …
In 1965, it was the turn of Czech cinema to try to exorcise its old demons and to look back on a not so distant past, with Commando in Prague, directed by Jiri Sequens. The film evokes in particular the preparation of the Czech agents in England, the making contact with the resistance fighters, the attack, the repression and finally the death of the agents in the Church of Saints-Cyril and Method in Prague.
The three resistant paratroopers sent by the British SOE who committed the attack against Reinhard Heydrich took refuge in the crypt of this church, along with 4 other resistance fighters. After being discovered about three weeks after the attack, the church was besieged by nearly 800 German soldiers and police. A shooting ensued, while the Nazis attempted to flood the crypt. Three of the resistance fighters were killed; the other four occupants committed suicide so as not to be captured by the enemy.
Bishop Gorazd of Prague, whose church was the cathedral, sacrificed himself by denouncing himself to the Nazi authorities, in order to protect the priests, the sacristans of the cathedral, and the faithful of the Orthodox Church of Czechia and Slovakia . In addition to the ban on the Orthodox Church by the Nazis, the confiscation of its property and the sending to forced labor in Germany of many members of the clergy, Bishop Gorazd was arrested by the Gestapo on June 27 and executed on September 4. 1942, at the age of 63. This story is at the heart of the film Anthropoid, which uses the code name of the operation to assassinate Heydrich. Directed by Sean Ellis and notably worn by Cillian Murphy and Charlotte le Bon, the film was released in Direct to Video with us in 2016.
Here is the trailer …
Lidice, symbol of Nazi barbarism
If we can also add the film Seven men at dawn directed by the British veteran Lewis Gilbert in 1975, we will especially remember another film, released in Direct to Video in 2012 with us, under the title Operation Lidice or Lidice.
The repression carried out by the Nazis following the assassination of Heydrich was of incredible savagery and brutality. The small village of Lidice, located in the Central Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, has a horrible and painful memory. Martyr village considered to be the Czech Oradour-sur-Glane, it was completely destroyed by the Nazis on June 10, 1942: they indeed accused the inhabitants of having supported – without proof, moreover – the authors of the commando which perpetrated the ‘assassination.
Below, the trailer for the movie “Lidice” …
Surrounded by a detachment of the 7th SS Division Prinz Eugen, the village was taken over by the Nazis who killed 184 men over 16 years old. The women were deported to Ravensbrück. About ten children, corresponding to the criteria of the “Aryan race”, were placed in German families to be re-educated. The others were first deported to Lodz, then sent to the Chełmno extermination camp, where 82 children perished in gas trucks. Only 17 children survived.
After the massacre and the deportations, the Nazis made sure to eliminate all traces of the very existence of the village of Lidice, which was first burned down. Then in a few months of work, the ground was leveled with dynamite, the stones removed, the pond filled in, the road and the river diverted, while the cemetery was emptied of its dead. The place was literally atomized to the memory.
The massacre had such an impact throughout the world that the name Lidice was given to localities in Mexico, Brazil and the United States, as well as to newborn babies. British miners even organized a collection for the reconstruction of the martyr town, which began in 1947. The new village was thus rebuilt to the west of its original location, which became a high place of memory dedicated to the victims of Nazi barbarism.