If the man who led the Nazi Party and was the brain behind the atrocities that resulted in the death of approximately six million European Jews and at least five million prisoners of war could describe you as “the man with the iron heart,” then you’re really something. So when Hitler described high-ranking SS and police officer Reinhard Heydrich as that, we know that we should expect the worst. Of all the possible reasons that he could’ve died, the reason for his death was for sure unexpected: Horsehair.

Darkest Figure of the Nazi Regime

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich was born in Halle an der Saale in 1904 to an opera singer and composer dad Bruno Heydrich and her mom, Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Heydrich. Music and wealth were part of Heydrich’s everyday life. His father founded the Halle Conservatory of Music, Theatre, and Teaching, where her mother taught piano. There was no surprise that the young Heydrich became inclined toward music and developed a passion for the violin until his adulthood.

His involvement with politics began after World War I, during civil unrest when communists and anti-communists would always clash in his hometown in Halle. At the age of 15, he joined Maercker’s Volunteer Rifles, and even when the conflicts ended, he was assigned to protect private properties, which he considered his “political awakening.” Soon, he became part of the National German Protection and Shelter League (Deutschvölkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund), which was an anti-semitic organization.

Chief of the Reich Security Main Office

Heydrich’s military path led him to become the Reich Security Main Office chief, who oversaw the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD. He was one of the main facilitators of the Holocaust and other related atrocities. His beliefs and actions, plus his prominent position with the Axis, earned him many haters and enemies who wanted him dead.

Things escalated when in September 1941, Heydrich was selected as acting Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, taking Konstantin von Neurath’s place. According to him, von Neurath was easy-going in governing the Czechs and, in turn, promoting anti-German sentiments. His solution was to carry out more brutal and more aggressive countermeasures against the resistance groups and keep up with the Czech motors and arms production quotas essential to their war effort.

Attempted Assassination

Meanwhile, in London, the Czechoslovak government understandably wanted Heydrich dead. In their operation named Anthropoid, the British Special Operations Executive (SEO) began training about two dozen exile soldiers based in Britain starting October 1941. The two chosen to carry out the assassination plan were Warrant Officer Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis.

E. Benes awards J. Gabczyk and J. Kubis (1940). (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The plan was chosen to be carried out on May 27, 1942. Heydrich was on that day riding in his open-top limousine as part of his daily routine of traveling from his house in Panenske to Prague castle when Gabcik leaped in front of the car with his Sten submachine gun. He pulled the trigger, but of all the times, it was then that his gun jammed. Heydrich drew a pistol, ready to kill his assailant, when Kubis tossed a bomb toward the car. The bomb exploded and wounded Heydrich, but he was still alive.

Reinhard Heydrich’s car destroyed after a hand grenade explosion. (German Federal Archives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

He was brought to the hospital, and x-rays confirmed that metal from the explosion shattered his rib, punctured his stomach, and driven pieces of wire and horsehair from his car’s cushion into his spleen. The metal was successfully removed from his stomach, but his wounds became infected so bad that on June 2, 1942, Heydrich fell into a comatose and died two days later. His autopsy results showed that he died of sepsis: His wounds became infected because of the strands of horsehair that got into his body.