Heydrich, Reinhard (1904–1942)

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Chief of the German Security Police and the Security Service of the SS.

The son of an opera singer and music teacher, Reinhard Heydrich went to a gymnasium and developed into a talented musician and sportsman. He first joined a right-wing organization at the age of sixteen. After passing his Abitur exams in 1921, Heydrich entered the German navy (Reichsmarine) in Kiel in 1922, where he served on several ships and started a career as a radio communications officer, eventually reaching the rank of Oberleutnant (first lieutenant). In April 1931 a naval court dismissed him from the navy on the charge of a breach of promise to marry the daughter of a marine official. In July 1931 he joined the Nazi SS in Hamburg and was hired by the SS leader Heinrich Himmler to create an intelligence service inside the organization. Rumors concerning Heydrich's "non-Aryan ancestry" were proven wrong in an investigation. Heydrich built the so-called Ic Service of the SS, from July 1932 called Sicherheitsdienst der SS (SD; Security Service of the SS), which in the beginning served as a surveillance organ inside the Nazi Party.

After the Nazi seizure of power, Heydrich also served on Himmler's staff. As a member of the German delegation for the League of Nations, Heydrich caused a scandal in Geneva by raising the Nazi flag. In March–April 1933 he took over the political police in Munich and Bavaria, gaining control of the political police in all other German states in 1934, ending with the Geheime Staatspolizei Amt in Prussia (the Prussian Gestapo). Thus Heydrich obtained both party (SD) and state (Gestapo) functions at the same time. In 1934 the SD gained a monopoly in party intelligence work, and from the mid-1930s it extended its surveillance and racial planning to the whole German population and, from 1938, to annexed and occupied countries as well. Most of the civil foreign intelligence was also taken over by the SD. In 1936 Heydrich officially united the Gestapo and criminal police as Sicherheitspolizei. He held the high offices of both the SD and the Sicherheitspolizei. During the second half of the 1930s, the SD and Gestapo under his leadership developed new institutional and policing patterns, not only aiming at alleged resistance but also trying to intervene in all spheres of public life and keep the "racial body" of German society "clean" by combating all alleged racial enemies, such as Jews, Gypsies, and so-called asocials.

In September 1939 both the SD and Sicherheitspolizei were put under the direction of a new central institution, the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, under Heydrich's leadership. From the beginning of the war, Heydrich organized mass murder in the occupied countries, especially in Poland, and in concentration camps; his Sicherheitspolizei also organized the mass deportations in annexed territories until the spring of 1941. Despite the failure of his efforts to take over large parts of the occupation policy and even military intelligence, Heydrich became the central organizer of repression in Nazi-occupied Europe, especially against eastern European elites and alleged resisters, but from 1941 focusing on European Jewry. Heydrich instructed the Einsatzgruppen (mission groups) in the war against the Soviet Union and coordinated the deportation and mass murder of all European Jews. He organized the so-called Wannsee Conference in January 1942 in order to coordinate all institutions in regard to the "Final Solution," the program for exterminating all Jews in Europe. Named SSObergruppenführer und General der Polizei in September 1941, he also served as acting (officially deputy) Reichsprotektor in Bohemia and Moravia, where he pursued a policy of both compromising with the workforce and terrorizing the Czech population. He was wounded in an assassination attempt by the Czech exile resistance on 27 May 1942 in Prague and died a week later in a hospital. Following his death a foundation for SS racial research, the Reinhard Heydrich-Stiftung, was installed in Prague, and apparently the murder of most Polish Jews was named after him—"Aktion Reinhard."

Heydrich's career seems rather atypical: he was neither one of the old police officials from the Gestapo nor a young academician like in the SD elite. He was considered one of the few Nazi leaders who physically resembled the "Aryan ideal." But most important were his extreme National Socialist beliefs and his absolute ruthlessness, which was even feared among some Nazi functionaries. Heydrich was highly energetic in both conceptualizing and enforcing racist police policy. He created new party-state organizations, radicalized the whole Nazi regime, and organized mass murder on an unprecedented scale.

See alsoGestapo; Holocaust; Nazism; SS (Schutzstaffel); Wannsee Conference.


Calic, Edouard. Reinhard Heydrich: The Chilling Story of a Man Who Masterminded the Nazi Death Camps. New York, 1985.

Deschner, Günther. Reinhard Heydrich: A Biography. New York, 1981.

Herbert, Ulrich. Best: Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft, 1903–1989. Bonn, Germany, 1996.

Wildt, Michael. Generation des Unbedingten: Das Führungskorps des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes. Hamburg, Germany, 2002.

Dieter Pohl