21-Reinhard Heydrich


In the Nazi state, Reinhard Heydrich is considered the ideal SS man: tall, blond, ready for anything. The caring family man is the executor of Hitler’s racial fanaticism – the “blond beast” some call him. Who is the human behind the black myth?

Reinhard Heydrich: The careerist

Berlin June 9, 1942, state funeral for the SS leader and police general Reinhard Heydrich, who was assassinated. Hitler himself delivers a eulogy. “He was one of the best National Socialists, one of the strongest defenders of the German Reich idea.” Irony of fate: The honored man became a Nazi rather late and by accident.

Reinhard Heydrich

In January 1931, a young officer had to answer before a court of honor in the Reichsmarine. His name is Reinhard Heydrich. The 26-year-old lieutenant is accused of having promised marriage to a young lady, but then got engaged to another. The Navy dishonorably discharges him. The shock of his life became Reinhard Heydrich ’s strongest driving force.

There’s this key event of his discharge from the Navy, so there’s a lot to compensate for here, and he does that by wanting to be the best in everything. His fiancee Lina von Osten marries him despite his dismissal. The ardent Nazi urges her unemployed husband to apply to the SS, a paramilitary arm of Hitler’s party. Their leader is 30-year-old Heinrich Himmler. His men serve as personal bodyguards for Hitler and other prominent party speakers. Himmler wants to turn the SS into the party’s elite troops.

“I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, obedience unto death.”

In June 1931, Heydrich presented himself to Himmler and was accepted. Actually, Himmler was looking for a communications officer who could set up a secret service in the SS – but Reinhard Heydrich only had radio operator training. But his demeanor and appearance immediately convinced Himmler.

Reinhard Heydrich corresponded to the Nazi cliché: tall, blond, blue-eyed, the epitome of the figure of a master. In the shadow of Himmler, Heydrich had a rapid career. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Himmler became head of the Bavarian Political Police. He made the 29-year-old Reinhard Heydrich his deputy and actual head of the agency.

Heydrich turns the state police into an instrument of terror against political opponents. A concentration camp is set up in nearby Dachau, and the SS becomes auxiliary police. Critics of the new regime are arbitrarily locked away here. Heydrich doesn’t stop at big names either. He confiscates the property of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann and wants to arrest him because he is an opponent of the National Socialists. But the writer is already abroad. Does Reinhard Heydrich want to prove himself?

Reinhard Heydrich is driven. He was certainly not an early fighter or supporter of Adolf Hitler and in this respect there is something compensatory about it, i.e. the radicalism of the late convert.

Gradually, the SS took over command of the police throughout the Reich. It becomes the security apparatus of the new dictatorship, a state within a state. In this SS Reich Reinhard Heydrich is the undisputed number 2, Himmler’s most important man. His career in the SS also changed him internally. He makes their ideals his own. His beliefs change, but one thing stays the same: he wants to be the best.

Reinhard Heydrich: The perfectionist

Reinhard Heydrich

In 1935, Reinhard Heydrich wrote in an SS journal: “In order to prove the correctness of our principles, we must become the best in all areas.” A motto that he lives by, for example in sports. Heydrich is an enthusiastic fencer, but also a sailor, rider and modern pentathlete. An ambition with a downside. When opponents Heydrich is feared as a bad loser. The flagship athlete of the SS is more admired than liked.

Heydrich does not seem to have been a relaxed person. He didn’t tell jokes, was aloof, some people took him for a technocrat of power. But his ideology, what he wrote down, was very, very extreme and very dogmatic. He is also regarded as a role model in his private life. In 1933 Lina gave him a son. Three more children follow. He shows himself to be a caring father in the spirit of the SS.

The new family lacks for nothing. In 1937 Reinhard Heydrich bought a villa with a lake view not far from Berlin’s Schlachtensee. It pays to be part of Hitler’s elite. Even in war he wants to be a role model, not to be seen as an office worker while others risk their lives. He is privately trained as a fighter pilot and flies missions over the Eastern Front. In July 1941 he came under Soviet anti-aircraft fire. The machine is hit. Heydrich has to make an emergency landing between the fronts. A German patrol finds him. For his crash landing he received the Iron Cross First Class, which he proudly wears on his uniform from now on.

Again and again he puts his life at risk to impress others, drives in an open car without a security cohort. This will later be his undoing.

Reinhard Heydrich: The executor

Reinhard Heydrich and Himmler at Hitler’s residence on the Obersalzberg. A rare visit. Although Heydrich is a powerful man, only his superior Heinrich Himmler has direct access to Hitler. With one exception. It concerns the worst chapter in German history.

Heydrich and Hitler met maybe ten times personally, so I wouldn’t describe the relationship as personally close. However, Hitler is of course very aware of Reinhard Heydrich as a person, and Heydrich is always involved in central meetings when the Jewish question is at stake.

The madness of the Jewish world conspiracy is at the center of Hitler’s and Himmler’s thinking. Heydrich adopts their enemy image and follows up with action. During the war he expands the SS police network across German-occupied Europe. Nobody should escape the access of the SS. Reinhard Heydrich wants to ensure that all of Europe is free of Jews.
In January 1942, Heydrich called top representatives of the Reich to a meeting at Berlin’s Wannsee. The infamous “Wannsee Conference”.

He wants to clarify the further steps towards the “final solution of the Jewish question” in a relaxed atmosphere. Heydrich is clearly the one pulling the strings here. Of course, he cannot be separated from Hitler and Himmler as the inspirers and supporters of this policy, but he is the one who is taking the decisive radicalization steps. At the conference, Heydrich announces what everyone present has known for a long time. It is a working lunch, you eat breakfast together and you basically agree on things that are taken for granted.

The minutes also show that, nobody has any fundamental objections, they are informed. These are the Jews, these and the millions in the different countries and we will all deport them and you know it now. And then they all sit there and: Yes, yes, they aren’t surprised either.

The Jews are not only deported. Two months after the conference, Reinhard Heydrich ’s SS opened a new type of camp at Belzec near Lublin: an extermination camp. Today the place is a memorial. Belzec has six hectares, so that’s three or four football pitches. It’s actually nothing. And in fact, the only thing on this site that is a brick building is the gas chamber.

The unsuspecting Jews are herded into them after their arrival. It is marked with a Star of David and the inscription “Stiftung Hackenholt”. A macabre joke. Hackenholt is the name of the SS man who operates the extermination facility’s engine. He pumps carbon monoxide into the gas chamber. Up to 1500 people per shift are murdered in this way.

For Heydrich, the murdered are enemies of the Reich who must be fought mercilessly. The murder of millions of Jews was later named “Operation Reinhard” in his honour.

The Executioner of Prague

In September 1941, Heydrich was sent to Prague by Hitler. In addition to his other duties, he is tasked with suppressing the burgeoning resistance in the occupied Czech Republic. Upon his arrival, Heydrich imposed 400 death sentences and declared a state of emergency.

Heydrich introduced forced labor in the armaments industry to get the most out of it. The Skoda works in Pilsen produced important weapons that were supplied to the Wehrmacht until April 1945. He also introduced much of the anti-Jewish policy and Terezin was established under his supervision.

Heydrich wants to Germanize or expel the Czechs, to rob them of their national identity. To demonstrate his power, he asks for the keys to the crown treasury. The medieval crown of Wenceslas belongs to it. An old legend says that a curse weighs on it: whoever wears it illegally will die within a year. It is disputed whether Heydrich really crowned himself.

Eduard Benes, President of the Czech government in exile in London, wants to send a signal to the world. His people keep fighting. In the Scottish Highlands, Czech and Slovakian soldiers in exile are practicing for a special operation at home. They are to be dropped by parachute and end Heydrich’s reign.

In December 41, a British Halifax brings two agents to the Czech Republic. Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik. They are supposed to kill Heydrich. Operation Anthropoid. Anthropoid means “human-like” or “human-like”. For 5 months after their arrival in Prague, the agents lurk for an opportunity for an assassination. In May 1942 the time had come. The Prague Music Weeks take place in Palais Waldstein. The Heydrich couple is shown there on the evening of May 26, 1942. The last photo in which Heydrich can be seen alive.

The next day, at 10 a.m., Heydrich drove to the airport in an open car without an escort. Heydrich was convinced that no one would dare to attack him, simply because the leaders of the national resistance knew full well that this would result in an immense punitive expedition. In fact, the resistance in the country is against the assassination. But the government-in-exile in London ignores this.

There was a sharp turn, his Mercedes had to slow down so they could shoot him with a submachine gun. The attackers stop the car and want to shoot, but their gun jams. At first glance, it looks as if the assassination attempt went wrong. Instead of fleeing, Heydrich wants to confront the assassins. The second man throws a hand grenade. The attackers flee, Heydrich stays behind at the scene of the crime, seriously injured. A week later he dies in hospital.

He didn’t die from the wound, he died from blood poisoning. They didn’t have antibiotics, they just had sulfonamides and they just weren’t strong enough for his infection. He died a painful death. The occupiers take revenge for the attack: they level the village of Lidice, not far from Prague. Not only houses are destroyed. Lidice is a Czech trauma. 173 men are shot dead on the spot, 80 more women and men later murdered. A few of the local children are Germanized, as the saying goes. The others die in gas chambers.

Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich’s widow receives the widow’s pension of a general who died in combat, even after the war in the Federal Republic. She never utters a word of regret about her husband’s actions. He was a man of honour.

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