Crime and Punishment, Heydrich and Panenske Brezany
The village of Panenské Břežany is located about twenty kilometers north of Prague. A small place that became famous unintentionally. This was the village where Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich lived from 1939 to 1942 and where, every day, a chauffeur-driven car picked him up to take him to his office in Prague Castle. Heydrich was the most hated person in Czechoslovakia during World War II. And few Czechs regretted that, after in an assassination attempt in 1942, he died seven days later.
The Castles of Panenské Břežany
There are two castles in Panenské Břežany, horní zámek and dolní zámek, the upper castle and the lower castle. Although zámek is often translated as ‘castle’, it is not a castle that serves as a defense. A zámek is more like a large country house as can be seen in the photos below.
What to see in Panenské Břežany
1. Dolní zámek – lower castle
2. Horní zámek – upper castle
3. Crime and Punishment Exhibition
4. Panenské Břežany village-walk
photo Dolni Zamek in 2023
1. Dolní zámek
Dolní zámek, the lower castle, is a neoclassical building with a monumental staircase in Art Deco style. From 1939 to 1942, this was the residence of the Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia Reinhard Heydrich. He had to share the zámek with Konstantin von Neurath, who was appointed as his deputy (Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor) in 1941. Sharing a residence is not common for high-placed officials, but Dolní zámek is large and they each had their own wing. Since 2016, the castle has been empty and is inaccessible to the public.
photo: below Horni Zamek
2. Horní zámek
After the confiscation by the Nazis, horní zámek, the upper castle, became the seat of Karl Hermann Frank, Supreme SS, Head of Police and State Secretary of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Things ended badly for him.
In 1945, he surrendered to the American army and was extradited to Czechoslovakia. The following year he was sentenced to death, partly for his role in the destruction of Lidice, and was hanged in the courtyard of Pankrác prison in Prague. (Lidice was the village that was annihilated as a punishment for the assassination of Heydrich.
After 1945, the castle served as a training centre for officials of the regional national committee, and later it was converted into a retirement home. Now it is a museum.
3. Crime and Punishment Exhibition
‘Crime and Punishment’ is an interactive, audiovisual exhibition in the upper castle, horní zámek. You will learn everything about the events that led to the Munich Agreement and the collapse of the first Czechoslovak Republic (1938).
The replica of the Pankrác guillotine evokes the atmosphere of repression during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic (1939-1945). The room in the shape of a train wagon symbolizes the transports of Jews to concentration camps during the Second World War.
Much attention is paid to Operation Anthropoid, which resulted in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The exhibition ends with a court hearing and the punishment of war criminals and collaborators. (read here more about operation anthropoid)
4. Panenské Břežany village-walk
You won’t easily get lost in Panenské Břežany because it is very small. Hlavni (Main Street) is the ‘traffic artery’ in the village. Horní and dolní zámek are located on this road. There is a mini-supermarket near the Nepomuk statue in the middle of the village. There are no catering facilities during the week. The only restaurant is only open on Saturdays, also near the Nepomuk monument.
photo below vilage minimarket
From Kobylisy metro station take bus 373 to Panenské Břežany
It is recommended to visit Panenské Břežany on a weekday when the bus runs every 10 minutes. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a bus every two hours.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna-based Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish entrepreneur in the sugar industry, bought the upper and lower castle and the surrounding land. In those days, Panenské Břežany had some 500 inhabitants (640 in 2023), mainly farmers who started growing sugar beets.
The village became the summer residence of the Bloch family. Ferdinand renovated both zámky (castles) and the Baroque chapel and founded a primary school. Shortly after the establishment of the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, both zámky were confiscated and from 1941 prominent Nazis, including Heydrich, lived here.
After the war, the castle fell into the hands of the Communist regime and became the headquarters of the state-owned precious metals company Vyzkumny Ustav Kovu. In the 1990s, They were sold before restitution laws (returning expropriated property to its rightful owner) came into effect.
Gustav Klimt and the ‘Woman in Gold’
Ferdinand married Adele Bauer, who associated with artists such as Klimt and composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. She invited celebrities to the castle in summer. Ferdinand, who later changed his name to Bloch-Bauer, commissioned Klimt to paint two portraits of Adele. One of them became known as the ‘Woman in Gold’. It was stolen by the Nazis and returned to the family after a legal battle.
In May 1942, Heydrich was ambushed while driving from Panenské Břežany to Prague. He died from his injuries more than a week later. In retaliation, the Nazis razed the village of Lidice, arrested more than 13,000 people and killed 5,000.
Heydrich’s wife Lina continued to live in Panenské Břežany and created a mini-concentration camp for Jewish workers in the garden. She was infamous for demanding villagers to give her the Hitler salute. Lina fled in 1945 when the Nazis were expelled from the country.
Reconstruction of the assassination attempt
These photos show the location and the successive events during the assassination attempt on Heydrich, one of the initiators of the Holocaust. Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, two Czech officers, executed the attack. The photos show road and the tram from Kobylisy to Liben (two districts in Prague). The tram stop of lines 3 and 14 is just above the bend.
Shortly after half past twelve on 27 May 1942, Gabcik took his position at the edge of the sidewalk. He had an assembled-made machine gun hidden under his coat. Kubis postioned himself behind the concrete powerline.
The Mercedes with Heydrich approached the curve and the chauffeur Johannnes Klein saw tram number 3 coming towards him. To avoid a collision he had to swerve sharply to the right. Gabcik threw away his coat, his target was less than a meter away from him, pulled the trigger, but the bullet jammed. His weapon failed.
At that moment, Klein saw a man with a machine gun standing on the right side of the sidewalk and shouted, ‘Look out assassin!’ Heydrich, however, responded with the order: ‘Stop, stop immediately.’
At that moment Klein made a fatal mistake. He should have ignored Heydrich’s command, accelerated and driven away immediately. Instead, he braked sharply. Kubis, with a practiced motion, threw the ignited grenade, hitting Heydrich, who died of his wounds eight days later.