Human Lives Human Rights: SS General Reinhard Heydrich was chief of:
- The Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS (Sicherheitsdienst; SD) from 1931 until 1942.
- The German Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei; Gestapo) from 1934 to 1936.
- The German Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei; SiPo), which consisted of the Gestapo and the criminal police detective forces (Kriminalpolizei; Kripo), from 1936 until 1942.
- The Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA); after September 1939, the Security Police and SD were formally unified under Heydrich’s command in the RSHA. The RSHA was the SS and police agency most directly concerned with implementing the Nazi plan to murder the European Jews during World War II.
While still chief of the RSHA, Heydrich served as Acting Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1941 until 1942.
Reinhard Heydrich was born on March 7, 1904, in Halle an der Saale, 20 miles northwest of Leipzig, in the German state of Saxony. He was baptized a Roman Catholic. His father, Bruno Heydrich, was an opera singer. He was the director of the music conservatory in Halle, which he had founded in 1901.
During World War I and its aftermath, Bruno Heydrich could barely keep the conservatory open due to economies imposed by the war. As his family struggled economically, Heydrich, still in his teens, was attracted to racist nationalism. He watched demonstrations, strikes, and street battles in Halle during the last year of the war and the revolutionary chaos that followed. Reinhard Heydrich earned his high school diploma in the spring of 1922. Instead of fulfilling his father’s hopes that he would make a career in music (Heydrich was a gifted violinist), he enlisted in the German navy on March 30, 1922, less than a month after his 18th birthday.
As a naval officer, Heydrich specialized in signals and communications. He left the daughter of a senior naval officer to whom he had promised marriage for another woman, Lina von Osten, whom he would later marry. A military court of honor, scandalized by his disrespectful behavior during his hearing, found him to have dishonored the officer corps of the Reich Navy and compelled him to resign his commission in April 1931. His new bride was a fanatical National Socialist.
Creating a Nazi Party Intelligence Service
Heydrich was introduced to SS chief Heinrich Himmler in Munich by a family friend. At that time, Himmler was seeking to create an internal intelligence service for the Nazi Party. Himmler was so impressed by Heydrich’s proposals that he brought him into the SS in August 1931 and tasked him with developing the Security Service (SD). By January 1933, the SD under Heydrich’s leadership had become the most significant intelligence agency within the Nazi Party. In June 1934, the party Deputy Chief Rudolf Hess named it the sole agency authorized to gather political intelligence inside the Third Reich.
Formation of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA)
When Himmler was appointed commander of the Bavarian political police detective force on April 1, 1933, he appointed Heydrich his deputy. Himmler and Heydrich centralized the political police departments of Germany into the Gestapo. When Himmler’s SS became independent of the SA after the purge of SA chief of staff Ernst Röhm and the top SA leadership on June 30-July 2, 1934, Heydrich took command of the Gestapo View This Term in the Glossary while remaining chief of the SD. Nine days after his appointment as Reichsführer SS and Chief of German Police on June 17, 1936, Himmler appointed Heydrich chief of the newly established Security Police Main Office which brought together into one agency the Gestapo and the Criminal Police detective forces.
From 1936 until 1939, Heydrich’s formal title was “Chief of the Security Police and the SD.” After Nazi Germany unleashed World War II by invading Poland, Himmler formally linked the Security Police and SD by decreeing the establishment of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) on September 27, 1939, under Heydrich’s command.
Suppressing Internal and External Enemies of the State
Under Heydrich, the Security Police and the SD was the primary agency responsible for intelligence analysis and executive measures in suppressing numerous internal and external enemies of the Nazi state.
The SD established intelligence departments to study the alleged long-term plots of each of the Reich’s enemies:
- “World Jewry”
- “Marxists” (Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists)
- “Political churches” (e.g., Lutherans and Catholic clergy who opposed the regime as well as members of other Protestant denominations—such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses—whose members did not accept the authority of the Nazi state)
- right-wing nationalist opponents
The Gestapo arrested these political opponents and, where deemed appropriate, incarcerated them in concentration camps using the police authority granted by an order of Protective Custody.
The Kripo investigated so-called non-political criminal acts and behavior. Kripo officers arrested those whose alleged criminal or anti-social behavior was deemed dangerous to the Reich. In addition to persons with past criminal records, Kripo officials arrested homosexuals, Roma View This Term in the Glossary and Sinti (Gypsies), and people who engaged in whatever the Kripo deemed to be “asocial” behavior. Analogous to the Protective Arrest Order, the Kripo used a Protective Detention Order as the instrument of indefinite arrest and incarceration.
Heydrich and Himmler had a shared view both of the identity of the long-term enemies of the German race and of the measures to be taken against them. Like Himmler, Heydrich believed that the destruction of overt, “visible” opponents was not sufficient to guarantee the security and survival of the German race as the Nazis defined it. These “visible” opponents included:
- Communist and Social Democratic activists
- intellectual and organizational adherents of liberal democracy, traditional conservative nationalism, and Christian values
- Jews who held leading positions in the Marxist and liberal democratic movements in Germany and Austria as well as non-affiliated Jewish intellectuals who opposed the Nazi regime
Heydrich explained in April 1936, racially conscious Germans must realize that “effective struggle against the enemy must derive from recognition of the fact that all visible, apparent enemies are but the tip of the iceberg of eternal, unchanging dangerous spiritual forces.”
The enemies themselves were “eternally the same”: “the Jew, the Freemason, and the politically-oriented cleric.” The “invisible,” submerged, camouflaged ideological wellsprings of these “enemies” lay in the “infectious residue” of “Jewish, liberal and Freemasonic spirit,” modes of thinking (democracy, communism, Christian and liberal individualism) that were outgrowths of allegedly inherited racial characteristics. Only the complete destruction of the “biological sources” of such thinking would eliminate the danger presented by such influences.
Ultimately, “invisible” Jewish opponents were the Jewish people themselves—as the Nazis defined them—and those who “thought like Jews”: Communists, liberals, democrats, champions of minority rights, Freemasons, Christian clerics who opposed the regime, Soviet communists, and the US and British leadership classes who opposed the “natural” expansion of Nazi Germany. To be absolutely safe, the Nazis had to destroy the members of the so-called Jewish race, whose genetic makeup created the basis for such thinking, as well as the Slavic and Asiatic leadership classes, whose heredity incorporated a propensity to follow that Jewish leadership.
Heydrich developed some of these themes in his writings of the mid-1930s and used them to advocate Security Police and SD leadership in “solving the Jewish Question.” In 1938, SD “experts,” led by then SS First Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann, demonstrated imaginative leadership in “Jewish matters” by establishing a one-stop station in Vienna. This office aimed to facilitate the forced emigration of Jews from Austria and to finance those operations by extorting funds from wealthier members of the community.
The SS and police both steered the violence of Kristallnacht (“Night of Crystal,” commonly known as “Night of Broken Glass”) directly and exclusively at Jews. In the wake of the pogrom, they implemented the first roundup of Jews—nearly 30,000 —simply because they were Jewish. The SS and police incarcerated the victims of this first internal “deportation” in the hopes that a stay in concentration camp would accelerate the decision to emigrate and make leaving assets behind seem less significant.
Heydrich gained a reputation for stubbornness and imprisoned a man for declaring that Heydrich was not of Aryan ancestry. He spent two years creating and establishing the SD, a Nazi intelligence agency. Under Heydrich, the SD sought dissent within the party and created files on all German Jews. Over time, Heydrich and Himmler used the power of the political police forces to consolidate Nazi control throughout Germany.
Over time, Heydrich and Himmler used the power of the political police forces to consolidate Nazi control throughout Germany. By April 1934, Heydrich ran the Prussian Gestapo, the largest political police force in the Reich, also known as the Security Police. In 1935, he described the police as “the state’s defensive force that could act against the legally identifiable enemy” with the SS as “the offensive force that could initiate the final battle against the Jews.”
As violence against Jews grew with Kristallnacht in 1938, Heydrich continued to control the police force. His orders included: “Whatever actions occurred should not endanger German lives or property; synagogues could be burned only if there was no danger to the surrounding buildings. Healthy, nonelderly adult Jewish males were to be seized first, and concentration camps notified.”
On September 21 1939, Heydrich hosted a conference at which he stressed the necessity of keeping the Jews in “as few concentration centers as possible,” as a prerequisite for the “ultimate aim.” He also mandated the creation of a Council of Jewish Elders to ensure that all orders given to the Jews were executed. If they were not, the Council members were to be threatened with “the severest measures.”
At a meeting on November 12, 1938, Heydrich stated that simply restricting the Jews, whom he called “the eternal subhumans,” was insufficient, one had to completely get rid of them. On January 24, 1939, Field Marshal Hermann Goering told Heydrich to solve the “Jewish problem” by “emigration and evacuation.” Goering created an agency for Jewish emigration and gave it over to Heydrich. In June 1940, after 200,000 Jews had emigrated, Heydrich wrote to the Reich Foreign Secretary Joachim von Ribbentrop that emigration alone could not take care of all the Jews and that “A territorial Final Solution has thus become necessary.” In May 1941, Heydrich sent his underlings out with the message that due to the pending “Final Solution,” emigration of Jews from France and Belgium was forbidden.
Heydrich was involved in the execution of this “Final Solution” from the start. In the summer of 1939, Himmler assigned the job of mass murder to the Einstatzgruppen, killing squads under the control of Heydrich’s security police. Most of the commanders came from Heydrich’s SD. Heydrich oversaw the massacre of thousands of Jews, Polish leaders, communists and clergymen. He once commented, “We have had to be hard. We have had to shoot thousands of leading Poles to show how hard we can be.” In 1941, after the SS established extermination camps in Poland, Heydrich took the job of coordinating the deportation of European Jews to these camps.
On January 20, 1942, Heydrich invited senior officials from state and party offices to a conference in Wannsee, Berlin. He revealed to them his plan for the “Final Solution,” which included Europe being “combed through from west to east for Jews.” According to Heydrich, these eleven million Jews would be held in transit ghettos, then sent east to form work gangs to build roads. Many would “doubtless …fall away through natural reduction” and those who survived would “be dealt with appropriately.” Heydrich did not mention the fate of Jews who were not fit to work, but according to attendee Adolf Eichmann, Heydrich’s murderous intentions were obvious and understood.
On September 24, 1941, Hitler appointed Heydrich Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia. This position gave Heydrich the power to crush Czech resistance and to push for deportations of Czech Jews to Poland.
On May 27, 1942 at approximately 10:30 am, two Czech patriots, Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik, parachuted from Britain into Prague, ambushed Heydrich’s Mercedes and threw a bomb into the front seat. Heydrich was seriously wounded and the driver of a baker’s van took him to the Bulkova hospital. He remained in critical condition for days. On May 29, Joseph Goebbels blamed Jewish terrorists for the attack, arrested 500 Berlin Jews and warned the leaders of the Jewish community that “for every Jewish act of terrorism or sedition, one hundred or one hundred fifty of the Jews in our hands will be shot.” He also charged a crowd of Jews in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp with conspiracy and shot them on the spot. Nazi leaders proclaimed a state of emergency and a curfew in Prague. They offered a reward of 10,000,000 crowns for the capture of Heydrich’s attackers. A wave of Nazi executions swept the Czech areas and the entire villiage of Lidice was wiped out. An SS general in charge of the deportation of Jews to Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor named the operation “Operation Reinhard” after Heydrich. Meanwhile, Heydrich’s condition deteriorated and he died on June 4 from “wound infection.”