Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Early Nazi Leaders
Nazi Racial Laws
Sinti & Roma
Reinhard Heydrich was born on 7 March 1904 in the German town Halle, and baptized Reinhardt Eugen Tristan. It was his given name of "Reinhardt" that would become synonymous (besides Auschwitz) with the deportation, mass shooting and systematic slaughter of European Jews and Romanies in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek.
They maintained an upper class lifestyle enjoying privileged status among the community. Heydrich attended the best schools and excelled in academics. Fiercely self-driven he also displayed natural athletic ability, especially in the art of fencing for which he received several awards; in his later years he would also become an accomplished pilot.
As a teen he was plagued by rumours of Jewish ancestry that allegedly stemmed from his fathers bloodline. These rumours continued on through his adult life resulting in an investigation ordered by Gregor Strasser in 1932, at the instigation of Rudolf Jordan, the Gauleiter of Halle-Merseburg.
A report was submitted to the information office of the NSDAP center in München (Munich). However, it dealt only with the parental line, since Jordan's suspicions were based primarily on the fact that the father, Bruno Heydrich, was described in Riemann's musical encyclopedia of 1916 as "Heydrich, Bruno, real name Süss". The report came to the conclusion that the name "Süss" was not incriminating and that Bruno Heydrich's son was free from any "Jewish blood".
At the age of 16 Heydrich took up with the local Freikorps and became strongly influenced by the racial fanaticism of the German Volk movement and their violent anti-Semitic beliefs. Two years later he left Halle to pursue a Naval career as a signals officer, and by 1926 he had risen to the rank of second lieutenant in the Baltic Command of the German Navy (Admiralstabsleitung der Marinestation Ostsee). It was here that he first made contact with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris of the German Military Intelligence. The two became close friends, but later bitter rivals.
Out of work and with few options open he joined the Nazi party with the number of 544,916. In 1931, at the age of 27, he became a member of the SS, registration number 10,120. It wasn’t long before his Aryan looks and strict attention to detail caught the eye of the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, with whom he managed to secure an interview for the role of SD Chief.
The SD (Sicherheitsdienst) was to be the new intelligence service for the SS and Himmler was looking for the right man to run it. The interview took place on 14 June 1934, and lasted twenty minutes. Legend has it the interview itself consisted of only a single question put forth by Himmler: How an Intelligence organization should be structured? Heydrich responded quickly and decisively. He called on his experience as a Naval Signals Officer and his passion for British spy novels. Armed with this pool of knowledge both factual as well as fictional, he provided an outline that met with an enthusiastic Himmler’s immediate approval. Heydrich’s star was on the rise.
In 1933, Heydrich, then SS-Oberführer, became first Chief of the Political Department of the München Police, later Chief of the Bavarian Police, and in 1935 Chief of the whole German Security Police (incorporating Gestapo and SD).
Heydrich earned a reputation as ruthlessly efficient killer. Gestapo tactics of indiscriminate arrest, torture, intimidation, extortion and blackmail made him many enemies within the Third Reich as well as abroad. "Nacht und Nebel" (night and fog), the right to seize "persons endangering German security", who were not to be executed immediately but were to vanish without a trace, although not officially decreed until 7 December 1941 was in practice by Heydrich and his SD long before then.
Heydrich’s schemes also helped to guide his meteoric rise to power. Requiring little prompting from Himmler, he took the offensive against anyone deemed in opposition to the SS, both real and assumed. Among those who met their political demise as a direct result of his intrigues were War Minister Field Marshall Werner von Blomberg, and General Werner Freiherr von Fritsch. When Hitler needed a pretense to invade Poland he turned to the master of intrigue and Heydrich delivered.
Hitler promised the allies that he didn’t seek more territory in Europe. He needed an excuse; it came to him in the form of a phony attack by Polish soldiers on a German radio station in Gliwice (Gleiwitz). Heydrich engineered the entire plot. He had SD-men, lead by Alfred Naujocks, dressed in Polish uniforms to stage an attack on the station. They used bodies of murdered prisoners from KZ Sachsenhausen which the SS referred to as "canned goods" to appear as casualties.
Radio Cologne announced that German police was repelling the attackers at Gliwice (Gleiwitz). The BBC also broadcasted a statement, which read:
"There have been reports of an attack on the Radio Station Gliwice, which is just across the Polish border in Silesia. The German News Agency reports that the attack came at about 8.00 p.m. this evening when the Poles forced their way into the studio and began broadcasting a statement in Polish. Within quarter of an hour, says reports, the Poles were overpowered by German police, who opened fire on them. Several of the Poles were reported killed, but the numbers are not yet known."
Later that year Heydrich expanded the SD’s role to international espionage and kidnapping in what became known as the Venlo Affair. His agents succeeded in convincing British agents of a plot by the General staff to overthrow Hitler. The incident concluded with two British agents being kidnapped at the Dutch border and brought to Germany as spies. Heydrich managed to further exploit the incident when he led Hitler to believe there is a connection between the British agents and an assassination attempt on his life at a beer hall in München.
There are little questions that a significant number of Jews were in the list of victims. However, the apparent purpose, initially, was political.
Heydrich mandated in a document, dated 21 September 1939:
"To the Chiefs of all Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police.
Subject: Jewish Question in the Occupied Territory.
1. The final aim (which will require extended periods of time) and the stages leading to the fulfillment of this final aim (which will be carried out in short periods). It is obvious that the tasks ahead cannot be laid down from here in full detail. The instructions and directives below must serve also for the purpose of urging chiefs of the Einsatzgruppen to give practical consideration to (the problems involved).
On 27 September 1939, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) was established, Heydrich became its chief.
"Unternehmen Barbarossa", the invasion of the Soviet Union, began on 22 June 1941. This dramatically changed the scope of Einsatzgruppen activity with the addition of millions more Jews throughout the German sphere of influence. The plan now moved from one of forced deportations and concentration of Jews to ghettos throughout the Generalgouvernement and Warthegau regions, to one with a more sinister and final conclusion.
In July 1941, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring officially charged Heydrich with the overall concept, organization, and material arrangements to execute the "Final Solution". This was the very first time the term "Final Solution" was used in an order for the systematic mass murder of every single Jew that could be found on the European continent.
"Jews will be taken east, separated by sex, those capable will work, those not will fall away through natural reduction. Death by the hands of the German's would now be unifying all resources towards an orderly, efficient, coordinated and mechanical process for destroying the Jews... All to be carried out under the auspices of Eichmann."
Late in 1941, Hitler appointed Heydrich as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia" encompassing much of what is now the Czech Republic. Himmler approved of this appointment as he himself feared Heydrich’s ambition. Safer to have him outside of Berlin; with less direct access to Hitler. Replacing Baron Konstantin von Neurath whom Hitler viewed as too lenient.
Heydrich together with his subordinate Karl Hermann Frank wasted no time in demonstrating to the Czech people just whom their masters really were. Within weeks of his appointment he ordered the hanging of 200 Czech civilians. He outlawed all Czech cultural groups, began the immediate deportation of Jews to Poland and ordered the Gestapo to increase arrests and executions.
Back in Praha, his method of Carrot and Stick had the desired effect on the population and now seen as a primary target by the Czech government in exile, it was decided that he had to go. Czech assassins Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik were trained by British commandos and dropped by parachute into the Bohemian countryside. There they made contact with the local resistance and on 27 May 1942, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Jan Kubis and his comrades mounted an attack on Heydrich's car.
As his comrade’s STEN gun failed to fire, Jan Kubis hurled a grenade which exploded against the rear wheel well of the car. Both assassins escaped the scene of the attack although Kubis was slightly wounded. Heavily injured Heydrich died ten days later due to infection in his spleen caused by wounds sustained in the attack. He left behind a wife and four children.
Himmler ordered a full scale round up and investigation. Praha was effectively sealed until all conspirators were captured. The Gestapo offered 10,000,000 Kronen (crowns) for information leading to the arrest of the assassins. Eventually the parachutists were betrayed by two of their own team. Kubis and Gabcik took refuge at the Church of St Cyril and Methodius (Karel Boromejsky) on Resslova Street in Praha. Nazis learned of he hideout and on 18 June 1942 SS-troops surrounded the church. Trapped in the crypt parachutists fought until dawn, and in the following morning in a final act of defiance they committed suicide.
Typical with Nazi "Modus Operandi" reprisals were swift. The entire village of Lidice, with a suspected connection to Jan Kubis, was razed to the ground on Hitler’s orders. All male inhabitants were shot, and the women and children sent to concentration camps.
With Heydrich’s death the SS went into mourning. At his funeral both Hitler and Himmler eulogized him with great praise. He was to have a monumental tomb at the Invaliden cemetery in Berlin but the construction failed to commence as the war took higher priority over memorials.
Heydrich didn’t live to see the mass murder of Jews fully implemented, but the Nazis had gotten this (his) plan already on the way: The death camps Belzec and Sobibor were already "in action", and Treblinka was in the planning stage.
Until today nobody knows who came up with the term "Einsatz Reinhard(t)" or "Aktion Reinhard(t)" but it can be assumed that this term for the Holocaust in the Generalgouvernement and the Bialystok area was invented in memory of its chief planner Heydrich. A certain thought of revenge must have been implied.
Similar to this is the marking "AaH" ("Attentat auf Heydrich" / assassination on Heydrich) for the deportation train from Praha which left the town on 10 June 1942, carrying 1,000 Jews to the East. Most probably this train arrived at Majdanek (on 12 June) where around 100 persons were selected for work. After another horrible day it arrived at its final destination, the Sobibor death camp.
The Aktion Reinhard chief architect had gone, and those who succeeded him carried out his plans with zeal and efficiency, leaving millions of murdered Jewish men, women and children behind them.
Wannsee and The Holocaust: Steven Lehrer
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