In this line of work I have been fortunate to meet some of the most interesting and intelligent folks to walk this planet. One such gent I’ve more recently had the pleasure of speaking with on a regular basis is the extraordinarily eloquent mind of Tim Price of Price Value Partners.
Some time ago Tim wrote this piece I’d like to share with you. It is as extraordinarily timely right here, right now.
This is not some game. You get noticed, and that gets us noticed. And us being noticed gets us all shot. Josef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy), in Sean Ellis’ 2016 film Anthropoid.
Reinhard Heydrich was without doubt one of the most evil men ever to have existed.
Dubbed by Adolf Hitler “the man with the iron heart”, Heydrich helped organise Kristallnacht, a coordinated anti-Jewish pogrom across Nazi Germany and Austria on 9-10 November 1938, and was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, death squads that followed the German army into foreign territory, and which are held accountable for more than two million deaths.
Heydrich also chaired 1942’s Wannsee Conference, at which the Nazis formalised plans for their “Final Solution”.
SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich was Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand man. As head of the Reich’s main security office, he was in control of the most terrifying arms of the Nazi regime, including the SD (intelligence), Gestapo (secret police), Sipo (security police) and Kripo (criminal police).
Under the guise of Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, he also became known to Czechoslovaks as “the Butcher of Prague”.
And on 27 May 1942, Sergeant Josef Gabčík and Sergeant Jan Kubiš from the 1st Czechoslovak Mixed Brigade, under the direction of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), set out to assassinate him.
Heydrich would make a daily commute from the centre of Prague to his office in Prague Castle. As a sign of his overconfidence – and of his command over the occupied territory – he would travel in an open-top Mercedes (registration number “SS-3”).
At 10:35am, as the car slowed to take a hairpin bend in the road, Gabčík stepped out in front of it, took out a Sten submachinegun, and fired.
The gun jammed.
Heydrich vaingloriously leapt out in pursuit, Luger in hand. Kubiš then threw a modified tank grenade at him.
But the grenade came to rest against the rear wheel and exploded. Heydrich gave chase, but then suddenly collapsed. A piece of the car’s metalwork had shattered one of his ribs and wedged itself in his spleen, together with some of the car’s horsehair upholstery.
Himmler, Heydrich’s superior, sent his personal physician, Karl Gebhardt, to attend on him. Although it initially seemed as if he would pull through, on 3 June while having lunch in his hospital bed, Heydrich went into shock. He slipped into a deep coma, and died on the morning of 4 June.
Hitler’s rage was uncontrollable. He ordered widespread reprisals. More than 13,000 were arrested.
Thousands more would probably have been killed, but Hitler was ultimately persuaded to limit his fury, if only to maintain industrial productivity in the region, a key engine of the German war effort.
Gabčík and Kubiš managed to elude their captors for three weeks, but were eventually betrayed by a countryman lured by the promised one million Reichsmarks bounty. They were ultimately surrounded by 750 members of the Waffen-SS in Prague’s Orthodox Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
Kubiš died during the subsequent exchange of fire; Gabčík ended up committing suicide rather than be taken alive. The Nazis vowed revenge.
Beginning on 10 June, all males over the age of 16 in the Czech villages of Lidice and Ležáky – erroneously believed to have links with the assassins – were murdered. Several thousands were massacred during the bloodletting. The final tally will likely never be known, nor the precise consequences of the ultimately successful plot.
Although the first three true death camps (Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec) were built after Heydrich’s assassination, his removal from the murderous regime also probably saved thousands of others, emboldened the Czech and wider European will to resist Hitler, and led to the repeal of the infamous Munich Agreement that had parcelled out so much of Czechoslovakia in the first place.
Hollywood, perhaps understandably, has been irresistibly drawn to the story. Within a year of Heydrich’s death, both Fritz Lang (Hangmen Also Die) and Douglas Sirk (Hitler’s Madman) had made films about it.
1975 brought Operation Daybreak. 2016 saw the release of Sean Ellis’ Anthropoid, starring Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy and Toby Jones.
I can’t speak for the others, but the 2016 version is quite simply shattering to watch, especially as events spiral down to their sombre, inevitable denouement.
One question, above all, remains. In the light of all that followed in its aftermath, was Operation Anthropoid worth it?
Could anyone, before the fact, have rationally assessed all the attendant risks?
Happily, as investors, the challenges we face in our day-to-day activities are somewhat more mundane. But the lingering role of risk is ever-present as we try to shepherd our scarce savings and investments from today to tomorrow and thereafter.
Some things are forecastable.
Others – and Coronavirus seems a reasonable present day example – are not.
So, for investors, what is risk?
Photo credit: Abolarinwa Babafemi on Unsplash