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Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942) second in importance to Heinrich Himmler in the Nazi SS organization and the principle planner of the Final Solution.

Heydrich Biography

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.

Heydrich seated at his deskHeydrich's 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 political prisoners.

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 new revolution.

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 recourse.

"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 declared.

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 bluntly stated.

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 against Jews.

"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 at Theresienstadt.

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 population.

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 death.

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.

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(Photo credit: US National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives)

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