Nicknamed "The Blond Beast" by the Nazis,
and "Hangman Heydrich" by others, Heydrich had insatiable greed
for power and was a cold, calculating manipulator without human compassion.
After joining the SS in 1931, at age 27, Heydrich proceeded to create
the intelligence gathering organization known as the SD (Sicherheitsdienst),
or SS Security Service.
It began in a small office with a single typewriter. But Heydrich's
tireless determination soon grew the organization into a vast network of
informers that developed dossiers on anyone who might oppose Hitler and
conducted internal espionage and investigations to gather information down
to the smallest details on Nazi Party members and storm trooper (SA) leaders.
ruthless diligence and the rapid success of the SD earned him a quick rise
through the SS ranks - appointed SS Major by Dec. 1931, then SS Colonel
with sole control of the SD by July of 1932. In March of 1933, he was promoted
to SS Brigadier General, though not yet 30 years old.
The only stumbling block occurred as rumors surfaced about possible
Jewish ancestry on his father's side of his family. Heydrich's grandmother
had married for a second time (after the birth of Heydrich's father) to
a man with a Jewish sounding name.
Both Hitler and Himmler quickly became aware of the rumors, which were
spread by Heydrich's enemies within the Nazi Party. Himmler at one point
considered expelling Heydrich from the SS. But Hitler, after a long private
meeting with Heydrich, described him as "a highly gifted but also
very dangerous man, whose gifts the movement had to retain...extremely
useful; for he would eternally be grateful to us that we had kept him and
not expelled him and would obey blindly."
Thus Heydrich remained in the elite Aryan order but was haunted by the
persistent rumors and as a result developed tremendous hostility toward
Jews. Heydrich also suffered great insecurity and some degree of self loathing,
exampled by an incident in which he returned home to his apartment after
a night of drinking, turned on a light and saw his own reflection in a
wall mirror then took out his pistol and fired two shots at himself in
the mirror, uttering "filthy Jew!"
Following the Nazi seizure of power in January, 1933, Heydrich and Himmler
oversaw the mass arrests of Communists, trade unionists, Catholic politicians
and others who had opposed Hitler. The total number of arrests were so
high that prison space became a problem. An unused munitions factory at
Dachau, near Munich, was quickly converted into a concentration camp for
The gates at Dachau bore the cynical slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei"
(work sets you free). Political prisoners who survived the 11 hour workday
and meager amounts of food were frightened and demoralized into submission,
then eventually released. After Dachau, large concentration camps were
opened at Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Lichtenburg.
By April 1934, amid much Nazi infighting and backstabbing, Himmler assumed
control of the newly created Secret State Police (Gestapo) with Heydrich
as his second in command actually running the organization.
Two months later, in June, Himmler and Heydrich, along with Hermann
Göring, successfully plotted the downfall of powerful SA chief Ernst
Röhm by spreading false rumors that Röhm and his four million
SA storm troopers intended to seize control of the Reich and conduct a
During the Night of the Long Knives, Röhm and dozens of top SA
leaders were hunted down and murdered on Hitler's orders, with the list
of those to be murdered drawn up by Heydrich. As a result, the SA Brownshirts
lost much of their influence and were quickly overtaken in importance by
the black-coated SS.
In June of 1936, all of the local police forces throughout Germany along
with the Gestapo, the SD, and the Criminal Police, were placed under the
command of SS Reichsführer Himmler, who now answered only to Hitler.
By 1937, any remnants of civilized notions of justice were thrown out
as the police, especially the Gestapo, were placed above the law with unlimited
powers of arrest. Anyone could be taken into Schutzhaft (protective custody)
for any reason and for any amount of time without a trial and with no legal
"We know that some Germans get sick at the very sight of the (SS)
black uniform and we don't expect to be loved," said Himmler.
All over Germany, Heydrich's SD and Gestapo agents used torture, murder,
indiscriminate arrests, extortion and blackmail to crush suspected anti-Nazis
and also to enhance the immense personal power of Heydrich, now widely
feared throughout Germany.
Following the Nazi annexation of Austria in March, 1938, the SS rushed
in to round up anti-Nazis and harass Jews. Heydrich then established the
Gestapo Office of Jewish Emigration, headed by Austrian native, Adolf Eichmann.
This office had the sole authority to issue permits to Jews wanting to
leave Austria and quickly became engaged in extorting wealth in return
for safe passage. Nearly a hundred thousand Austrian Jews managed to leave
with many turning over all their worldly possessions to the SS. A similar
office was then set up back in Berlin.
On November 9/10, 1938, Kristallnacht occurred with the first widespread
attacks on Jews and mass arrests throughout the Reich. On Heydrich's order,
25,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.
After the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the start of World War Two,
Heydrich was given control of the new Reich Main Security Office (RSHA)
which combined the SD, Gestapo, Criminal Police, and foreign intelligence
service into an enormous centralized organization that would soon terrorize
the entire continent of Europe and conduct mass murder on a scale unprecedented
in human history.
In Nazi occupied Poland, Heydrich vigorously pursued Hitler's plan for
the destruction of Poland as a nation. "...whatever we find in the
shape of an upper class in Poland will be liquidated," Hitler had
Heydrich formed SS Special Action (Einsatz) Groups to systematically
round up and shoot Polish politicians, leading citizens, professionals,
aristocracy, and the clergy. Poland's remaining people, considered by the
Nazis to be racially inferior, were to be enslaved.
German-occupied Poland had an enormous Jewish population of over 2 million
persons. On Heydrich's orders, Jews who were not shot outright were crammed
into ghettos in places such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Lodz. Overcrowding and
lack of food within these walled-in ghettos soon led to starvation, disease,
and the resulting deaths of half a million Jews by mid 1941.
After the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941, Heydrich
organized four large SS Einsatz groups (A,B,C,D) to operate in the Soviet
Union with orders stating "... search and execution measures that
contribute to the political pacification of the occupied area are to be
undertaken." As a result, all Communist political commissars taken
into custody were shot along with suspected partisans, saboteurs, and anyone
deemed a security threat.
As the German Army continued its advance deep into Soviet territories
and the Ukraine, the Einsatz groups followed, now aided by volunteer units
of ethnic Germans who lived in Poland, and volunteers from Latvia, Lithuania,
Estonia, and the Ukraine.
"The Führer has ordered the physical extermination of the
Jews," Heydrich told his subordinate Adolf Eichmann, who later reported
that statement during his trial after the war.
The Einsatz groups now turned their attention to the mass murder of
Jews. At his trial in Nuremberg after the war, Otto Ohlendorf, commander
of Einsatzgruppe D, described the method...
"The unit selected would enter a village or city and order the
prominent Jewish citizens to call together all Jews for the purpose of
resettlement. They were requested to hand over their valuables and shortly
before execution, to surrender their outer clothing. The men, women, and
children were led to a place of execution, which in most cases was located
next to a more deeply excavated antitank ditch. Then they were shot, kneeling
or standing, and the corpses thrown into the ditch."
Einsatz leaders kept highly detailed records including the daily numbers
of Jews murdered. Competition even arose as to who posted the highest numbers.
In the first year of the Nazi occupation of Soviet territory, over 300,000
Jews were murdered. By March of 1943, over 600,000 and by the end of the
war, an estimated 1,300,000.
On July 31, 1941, on Hitler's command, Hermann Göring issued an
order instructing Heydrich to prepare "a general plan of the administrative
material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired
final solution (Endlösung) of the Jewish question."
As a result, on January, 20, 1942, Heydrich convened the Wannsee Conference
with 15 top Nazi bureaucrats to coordinate the Final Solution in which
the Nazis would attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish population of
Europe and the Soviet Union, an estimated 11,000,000 persons.
"Europe would be combed of Jews from east to west," Heydrich
The minutes of that meeting, taken by Adolf Eichmann, have been preserved
but were personally edited by Heydrich after the meeting using the coded
language Nazis often employed when referring to lethal actions to be taken
"Instead of emigration, there is now a further possible solution
to which the Führer has already signified his consent - namely deportation
to the east," Heydrich stated when referring to mass deportations
of Jews to ghettos in Poland then on to planned death camps at Belzec,
Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Heydrich also took cynical delight in forcing the Jews themselves to
partially organize, administer, and finance the Final Solution through
the use of Jewish councils inside the ghettos.
By mid 1942, mass gassing of Jews using Zyklon-B began at Auschwitz
in occupied Poland, where extermination was conducted on an industrial
scale with some estimates running as high as three million persons eventually
killed through gassing, starvation, disease, shooting, and burning.
In September of 1941, the ever-ambitious Heydrich had achieved favored
status with Hitler and was thus appointed Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia
and Moravia in former Czechoslovakia and set up headquarters in Prague.
Soon after his arrival, he established the Jewish "model" ghetto
SS Obergruppenführer Heydrich was by now a supremely arrogant young
man who liked to travel between his country home and headquarters in Prague
in an open top green Mercedes without an armed escort as a show of confidence
in his intimidation of the resistance and successful pacification of the
On May 27, 1942, as his car slowed to round a sharp turn in the roadway
it came under attack from Czech underground agents who had been trained
in England and brought to Czechoslovakia to assassinate him. They threw
a bomb which exploded, mortally wounding him. Heydrich managed to get out
of the car, draw his pistol and shoot back at the assassins before collapsing
in the street.
Himmler rushed his own private doctors to Prague to help Heydrich, who
held on for several days, but died on June 4 from blood poisoning brought
on by fragments of auto upholstery, steel, and his own uniform that had
lodged in his spleen.
In Berlin, the Nazis staged a highly elaborate funeral with Hitler calling
Heydrich "the man with the iron heart."
Meanwhile the Gestapo and SS hunted down and murdered the Czech agents,
resistance members, and anyone suspected of being involved in Heydrich's
death, totaling over 1000 persons. In addition, 3000 Jews were deported
from the ghetto at Theresienstadt for extermination. In Berlin 500 Jews
were arrested, with 152 executed as a reprisal on the day of Heydrich's
As a further reprisal for the killing of Heydrich, Hitler ordered the
small Czech mining village of Lidice to be liquidated on the fake charge
that it had aided the assassins. As a result, 172 men and boys over age
16 in the village were shot on June 10, 1942, while the women were deported
to Ravensbrück concentration camp where most died. Ninety young children
were sent to the concentration camp at Gneisenau, with some taken later
to Nazi orphanages if they were German looking.
The village of Lidice was then destroyed building by building with explosives
and completely leveled until not a trace remained, with grain being planted
over the flattened soil. The name was then removed from all German maps.
For months after Heydrich's death, Himmler hesitated on appointing a
successor, finally settling on Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a trained lawyer (and
alcoholic) who possessed little of his predecessor's skills for intrigue.
Thus after Heydrich's death, Himmler's personal power vastly increased
as he took over many of Heydrich's duties.
The Final Solution plans begun by Heydrich were further developed and
implemented by Himmler, Kaltenbrunner, and Eichmann, with the help of SS
subordinates, Nazi bureaucrats, industrialists, scientists, and collaborators
from occupied countries.