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Reinhard Heydrich: Part I

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By Wilfried Heink-

Reinhard Heydrich: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R98683 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons

Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942)

Even though Heydrich was a high ranking official in the Third Reich (1933-1945) and “one of the main architects of the Holocaust” (Wikipedia), relatively little is known about him. He was chief of the security police, the security service (SD), the secret state police (Gestapo), and president of Interpol, the international police force. He is mentioned as the founder of Dachau – the first concentration camp – of the EG (Einsatzgruppen – rapid deployment force) and as the chair of the Wannsee Conference. One would think libraries would be filled with books about him, not so. Sure, information about Heydrich as a cold blooded mass murderer void of any conscience is available, but very few made an effort to look closer. This is confirmed in the September 2011 edition of Der Spiegel (German news magazine), were we read in an article by Georg Bönisch titled “The First In-depth Look at a Nazi ‘God of Death’ “: “Still, until now, almost 70 years after Heydrich’s death, there has never been a serious biography of this cold-blooded architect of mass murder that met high scholarly standards. German historian Robert Gerwarth has stepped in to meet this need.” ( The title of the book simply “Reinhard Heydrich: Biographie”(available now in English: “Hitler’s Hangman”), and of course the cold-blooded architect of mass murder part has to be included.

I have not read the book by Gerwarth yet, but plan on doing so for comparison. Herr Bönisch is however ignoring the book by Günther Deschner Reinhard Heydrich. Statthalter der totalen Macht. Biographie (R.H. Representative of total power. Biography, Bechtle Verlag, 1977), and it is this book my essay is based on. The book apparently ignored because it does not meet the ‘high scholarly standards’ set by quack historians and Deschner coming too close to the truth. I was made aware of it while looking through the IfZ (Institute für Zeitgeschichte) archives and coming across an article by Gustav von Schmoller Heydrich im Protectorat Böhmen und Mähren (Heydrich in the protectorate Bohemia and Moravia). Schmoller took issue with the Deschner book, and since the IfZ (maliciously called the ‘institute for contemporary legends’) is not known for objectivity regarding issues of the Third Reich, I decided to buy the book, considering the Schmoller slurs to be evidence of Deschner’s honesty as much as it is possible in the “freest Germany ever”. And I was not disappointed, Deschner tries hard to tow the line, the 1970s the last decade in which writings close to the truth were still published. But throughout the book he struggles with the obvious contradictions, trying to ‘fit’ them in, to make sense of them, explain them. On p.203 he quotes the historian Hans Buchheim, who wrote that the deportation of Jews and mass shootings by the EG were the responsibility of Heydrich’s security forces, the gassings however were ordered by Himmler (SS und Polizei im NS-Staat, Bonn 1964). This provision, i.e., having Heydrich not responsible for the (alleged) gassings, is of importance according to Deschner, because it provides a different picture of ‘Heydrich the fanatical Jew killer’ as he is depicted by historians to this day. But, Deschner continues:

Indes, es bleibt genug an rigoroser Mittäterschaft Heydrichs bestehen. Sofern man den Nürnberger Prozessen überhaupt einen Sinn von Gerechtigkeit unterlegen will, dann hätte Heydrich mit Sicherheit zu den überzeugenderen Angeklagten gehört. Ein Todesurteil gegen ihn hätte nicht entfernt den Ruch der Siegerwillkür behaftet, wie das Urteil etwa gegen Feldmarschall Jodl oder die lebenslange Rachevollstreckung an Rudolf Heß.“(p.204)

Just roughly: Nevertheless, enough remains to accuse Heydrich of rigorous complicity. In as far as one can attribute even a sense of justice to the Nuremberg trials, Heydrich should have been among the accused, and a death sentence would not have omitted the foul smell of victors justices as did was the Jodl sentence or the livelong revenge based sentence of Rudolf Heß. Deschner even questions the IMT proceedings, wrapped in a contribution to the Zeitgeist. But he is not done and continues:

“…Nur zehn Jahre liegen zwischen seinem 1932 geäußerten Zweifel, er habe mit seiner Hinwendung zum nationalsozialistischen Antisemitismus , »vielleicht doch auf dem falschen Bahnsteig Hurra gebrüllt« und der Runde Schnaps auf die reibungslos verlaufene Wannsee-Konferenz. ‘Dazwischen stehen auf der einen Seite Heydrichs Bekenntnis zum selbständigen Judenstaat in Palästina, seine an Bewunderung grenzende Sympathie mit der Wiederentdeckung der jüdischen Nation und Rasse durch einen großen Teil der zionistischen Bewegung, sein Abscheu vor der »Kristallnacht« und schließlich seine ernsthafte Förderung des rettenden Madagaskarplans… Was hat der Mann dabei empfunden, der von sich selbst behaupten konnte, als Nationalsozialist sei er »Zionist«? Wir kennen die vollständige Antwort auf diese Frage nicht. Aber von dem wenigen, das festgehalten ist, bleibt doch der Eindruck, daß der blutige Teil seiner schicksalhaften Begegnung mit dem Judentum weder sein auf Zwecknotwendigkeiten und Rationalität begründetes Denken befriedigte, noch daß ihm seine Mitwirkung an den Massentötungen irgendeinen Grad von innerer Zustimmung abgewann.“(pp.204/05)

(Only ten years have passed since his expressed doubt, that by an amalgamation with NS anti-Semitism “he may have yelled ‘Hurray’ on the wrong platform” and the round of drinks following the successful conclusion of the Wannsee-Conference. In between we have the commitment by Heydrich to an independent  Jewish state in Palestine, his admiration, bordering on sympathy,  concerning the rediscovery of the Jewish nation and race, in large part through the efforts by the Zionist movement, his abhorrence regarding the “Kristallnacht” (Night of broken glass, Nov. 9/10 1938), and finally his determined promotion of the saving Madagascar plan…What did the man, who claimed that by being a National Socialist he was also a Zionist, feel (re. the alleged liquidation of Jews. Wilf)?We don’t have an answer to that. But from the little that has been recorded we gain the impression that the bloody part of his fateful encounter with Jewry did not satisfy his mentality based on purpose and rational, nor did he take pleasure in the mass killings)

Here he tells us that the contradiction can not be explained but he is not able – either because of the political climate or because he believes in the ‘Heydrich the mass murderer’ story – to come to the logical conclusion: Heydrich was not a mass murderer. Did he order executions? Of course he did, some criminals were executed, the EG shot partisans, saboteurs, instigators, as well as other undesirables. But since there is no substantial evidence of “The Holocaust”, Heydrich could not have been involved in any mass murder of Jews, end of controversy.

Now to the book and I will just tell the story based on Deschner’s book with my comments, if necessary, added separately. In the first chapter of the book we learn that Heydrich was one of the most controversial persons in the Third Reich (TR), some see him as the instigator of the Holocaust, others claim that his grandmother was Jewish. He could play the violin to reduce his listeners to tears – but with one signature could also condemn thousands to a life in concentration camps. It was this nimbus that surrounded Heydrich, this nonconformity between his personality and his actions. It is this mysteriousness that prevented historians from dealing with him, and if they did they used words portraying the sinister as noncommittal, the clearly measurable as unfathomable.

His alleged Jewish ancestry is used to explain his ‘split personality’, his hunger for power, his compliance with Hitler and Himmler and his over eagerness concerning the liquidation of Jews.  But without that, there is enough controversy surrounding Heydrich’s personality. For instance, the foreign press and the Czech resistance called him “The butcher of Prague”, the Czech press on the other hand “The darling of the Czech workers”.

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, born on March 7, 1904 in Halle/Saale and baptized four days later in the only Catholic Church in the city, was a child of his time. His mother called him Reinhard, ‘strong in giving advice’, named after a hero in one of his fathers operas. His Dad wanted Tristan as in the Wagner opera and finally Eugen, named after his grandfather on mothers side who, as professor and royal advisor on the Saxon court, had founded the world renowned Dresden Conservatory. His dad, Richard Bruno, had also founded a Conservatory in Halle. Bruno made his living as a musician and opera tenor, his Conservatory a private school for music and theater. He was also an actor and often performed privately as “Isodor”, as Jews were called at that time, and with his black hair he came across as a Jew. The Heydrich’s were part of the upper society of Halle, Bruno the co-founder of the lodge “Schlaraffia”, Reinhard later suspected it as a Masonic lodge (Eichmann also visited it, or belonged for a while. Wilf). He also belonged to the Mason Lodge “Zu den drei Degen”, his wife a devout Catholic was not in favor.

Reinhard played piano before he entered school and later took violin lessons. He was a ‘very good’ student, according to his classmates, and aside from the regular curriculum was also taught  French, Latin and English. But his voice remained high pitched, earning him the nickname “Hebbe” (goat), doing nothing for his self esteem. But the second nickname “Isi, Isi”, for Isodor, i.e., Jew, hurt even more, his younger brother Heinz-Siegfried ending the taunts by threatening reprisals with his knife. The sons and daughters of Jews studied on Bruno’s conservatorium and Jews were among the Heydrich social circle. Reinhard was also treated as an outsider because of his Catholic faith, that part of Germany staunchly Protestant. Holidays at a forester family, in the summer of 1918 for the last time, took him away from his pious, musician home and here he could be himself, gaining self esteem. The revolutions following WWI also of course had an effect on the Heydrich’s, they destroyed the noble world of his Mother and had a lasting effect on Reinhard. In March 1919 during an attempt by communists to establish a Soviet Republic (Räterepublik) in Saxony, the free corps of general Maerker intervened and prevented it. Reinhard later claimed to have served in that free corps, but that could not be confirmed. He did however serve in the Halle free corps, as did most of Halle’s young men, that corps established by Maerker.

After graduation from an advanced secondary education school (Gymnasium) Reinhard joined the navy to become an officer. His family was taken aback, his Dad had hoped that he would succeed him as director of the conservatory. He was not well suited for soldering, 1.84m (a little over 6’) tall, skinny with seemingly uncoordinated limbs and carrying his beloved violin with him, the rest of the recruits thought he had gotten lost. The first six month were not easy, his alleged Jewishness also an issue. A Jewish historian (Shlomo Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich und die Frühgeschichte von Gestapo und SD, Stuttgart 1971) writes that according to a crew member Heydrich was taunted by a student during leave in Halle: „Look here, young Itzig Süß in navy uniform”. When his comrade asked him what he did about it, Heydrich is supposed to have said: “What was I to do”? The crew member never spoke to him again, Heydrich having forfeited his honor.

This is perhaps the place to take a look at Heydrich’s “Jewish question”, Deschner devotes chapter 6 to it, captioned Der engebildete Jude (The imagined Jew), but it will fit in here nicely. On June 8, 1932 (Heydrich was on the way up then. Wilf) Gregor Strasser received a letter from Rudolf Jordan, Gauleiter (governor) of the Halle-Merseburg district, Jordan asking if a certain Heydrich is in the leadership of the party. His dad lives in the territory, the letter continued, and “there is reason to suspect that Bruno, the father of Heydrich, is Jewish”. As evidence he attached an excerpt from the Riemanns Musik Lexikon in which Heydrich was listed with the addition following his name “née Süß”. The authority re. questions of ancestry, Dr. Achim Gercke, was informed and two weeks later assured the party leadership that “Heydrich is of German origin with no trace of any colored or Jewish blood”. Heydrich’s grandma had indeed been married to a mechanic Gustav Robert Süß, and she had referred to herself on occasion as Süß-Heydrich. But, this particular Süß was not Jewish, according to Gercke.

This should have settled the matter, but didn’t. Even after the war some Halle citizens asserted that it was well known that Bruno Heydrich was half-Jewish. Reinhard Heydrich on several occasions took legal actions, one against a baker Johannes Pabst with the latter found guilty of slander. Deschner then quotes former SD officer Dr. Wilhelm Höttl, I do have the book, here is the part concerning the (alleged?) obliteration of evidence by Heydrich:

“What Heydrich had done was ruthlessly simple. He had ordered his trusty henchman, an S.S. sergeant major from the old Hamburg, days, to break in and steal all documents and registers that might give any pointer to his father’s ancestry, and to destroy them. He quite forgot, however, that in Leipzig there existed a gravestone with the name Sarah. Heydrich. Later, when it did occur to him, he sent the same henchman to obliterate this piece of evidence as well. One night the gravestone of the Jewish grandmother disappeared; it was removed from the cemetery in a lorry and pitched into a neighboring river, and, leaving nothing to chance this time, Heydrich replaced it with another stone bearing the discreet inscription “S. Heydrich.” The bill for this latter was still in existence in Heydrich’s personal Office in 1945.

Had Heydrich thus succeeded in obliterating all possible traces? The indications are that he had not. In Meissen, where both his father and his grandmother Sarah had lived for a long while, there were plenty of indications proving the Jewish origin of the Chief of the German Security Police, and these, apparently fell into the hands of his foremost Opponent, Admiral Canaris. (Secret Front, enigma books 2003 [1953 Weidenfeld & Nicolson], p.15)

Höttl, the inventor of the ‘6 million’ is not the most reliable witness, the reference to Canaris is of interest however. For, and now back to Deschner, the former intelligence aide Helmut Maurer claims to have found incriminating material at the Halle registrars office (Standesamt) in 1940 re. Heydrich’s ancestry. “If I remember correctly”, so Maurer, “the Jewish blood originated from his Fathers site”. Canaris was aware of this and that prevented Heydrich from “shooting him down”. Then we have the English journalist Charles Wighton who comes up with yet another version. His claim is that Heydrich’s mothers ancestry was never considered by Gercke, and even though his mother was mentioned – her mother and grandmother were missing. Heydrich knew that Bormann had that material in his safe, the contents of said safe unknown however. Wighton’s evidence: 1. The first name of this mysterious grandmother was Mautsch. 2. She brought the money into the family. But, Wighton can not swear to it, it results however in a “strong, prima facie case”(Deschner refers to a Spiegel article of Feb. 9,1950, no other details provided). Hugh Trevor-Roper claims that the fear of being exposed drove Heydrich on (T.-R. in Times of June 3, 1962), adding that he declares this “with all the authority that I possess” (Foreword of the English edition of Kersten’s memoirs). Michael Freund also chimed in, as does the intelligence (Abwehr) historian G. Buchheit: “His Aryan evidence was forged”(Karl Dietrich Bracher, Die deutsche Diktatur, Köln-Berlin 1969, pp.60f).

It continues, with Joachim Fest claiming that Heydrich was a marked man: he had Jewish ancestors and therefore needed to murder Jews to cleanse himself (Das Gesicht des dritten Reiches, München 1963, pp.142f). H.G. Adler writes that Heydrich carried the hated Jewish virus and tried to prevail by murdering all available Jews (Theresienstadt, Tübingen 1955, p.645).

Then we have this from Master Spy, by Ian Colvin (McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York, London, Toronto, 1952):

“Heydrich had come to Canaris asking for access to the files of Abwehr III, where the agents of foreign powers in Germany were listed and classified. This had been the subject of his contention with Captain Patzig, and he gave the new man no respite. He wanted to know who were the foreign agents in Germany, and a scandalous espionage affair that had been tried secretly during 1934 lent weight to his request. It concerned the Poles.

It was noticeable that Canaris treated Heydrich on the footing of an officer who had been at sea with him. He remembered Heydrich from the year 1922, when he had been First Lieutenant of the training cruiser Berlin, and Heydrich a naval cadet. No doubt he said so, leaving Heydrich to guess what was in his mind. He had obtained Heydrich’s service papers from the German Admiralty and refreshed his memory on the court-martial that had found Heydrich guilty of moral delinquency, in the late 1920′s, which had led to his dismissal from the naval service (details to follow). The papers showed Canaris another interesting fact; the father of Heydrich, an operatic tenor in Halle-an-der-Saale, was half Jewish. Canaris gave the service records of Heydrich to a staff officer and instructed him to keep them in his safe. He noted of Heydrich in his diary, “a violent and fanatical man with whom it will be impossible to work at all closely.”(p.20)

So, was Heydrich part Jewish? And is this why he did not move against Canaris even though he must have been aware of his treacherous activities (to be addressed later)? Or was it because of his old friendship with him (details to follow)? Or is it that quack historians who are unable to explain the contradictions away, but have to make a case for “Heydrich the mass murderer of Jews”, need Heydrich to be part Jewish? We will never know for sure, but Deschner does not believe Heydrich was part Jewish.

Back to Heydrich’s career in the navy. Following three month of training on the sailing vessel “Niobe”, he was transferred to the battle cruiser “Berlin”. At the same time Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Canaris was also assigned to the “Berlin” and their path’ crossed for the first time. Canaris soon noted the special talent of the recluse recruit Heydrich – his violin play. Up to now his play had only earned him ridicule, but now it turned into an advantage. The wife of Canaris had assembled a string quartet and was at this time in need of a second violin. Heydrich was invited into the Canaris home and Frau Canaris was soon enchanted with his masterful play. Heydrich spend many weekends in the Canaris house, as well as in the houses of other officers families in the port city of Kiel. It is likely that Canaris told Heydrich about his service on the “Dresden” in WWI, the only vessel surviving the battle at the Falklands. The “Dresden” was later sited by the British navy, and badly damaged as it was, scuttled. Canaris survived and returned to Germany, his adventures no doubt making an impression on young Reinhard.

His training took the edges of Reinhard, he advanced, was promoted but never comfortable in those surroundings. Even later in the rank of an SS general he tried to avoid social gatherings, sending his second in command. On October 1, 1926 he was promoted to Lieutenant and trained as a short wave operator. He participated in various sports, fencing his favorite but excelled in other disciplines as well. He also furthered his language skills, getting fluent in English, French and Russian. He was an above average radio communications officer, and promoted to Senior Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) in 1928.

Heydrich dreamt of becoming an Admiral, but his dream ended suddenly. On December 6, 1930 he met the blond beauty Lina von Osten at a ball in Kiel, they fell in love and secretly engaged on the 18th. Heydrich visited the von Osten’s at Christmas and for the first time came in contact with National Socialism. His future brother in law, Jürgen von Osten, having joined the NSdAP (National socialist German workers party), as well as the SA (storm troopers), in 1928. The von Osten family, strictly nationalist, considered Hitler to be the only one who could save Germany. Lina joined the party in 1929, membership number 1,201,380. Heydrich in contrast was not enchanted with Hitler, scorned political parties in general and in reality was politically naïve at that time anyway, according to his widow. On the second day of Christmas (boxing day) they were officially engaged, Heydrich sending the engagement notice also to a former girl friend he had courted. This girl was the daughter of an influential navy official in Berlin who in turn knew Admiral Raeder. Heydrich had visited the girl (Deschner provides no name) and she saw herself already at the side of the adored marine officer and was shocked by the notice of his engagement, arriving without any commentary. Her father complained and Heydrich had to appear before a navy honor/disciplinary commission (Ehrenrat der Marine), and considering the whole affair as a nuisance, performed badly. He was suspended from duty during the investigation, at the end the commission only put in question Heydrich’s stay in the navy, but send the report to Raeder. Rader without hesitation decided against Heydrich and in April 1931 he received notice of his dismissal from the navy, citing ‘behavior not becoming an officer” as the reason. One year before becoming eligible for a pension his career in the navy came to an end. Christmas 1931Lina and Reinhold were married, with Heydrich now a member of the SS, more on that to come.

Comment: Heydrich should have been aware of the standard’s of honor of the time, the navy still operating in the Royal traditions as mentioned by Deschner. But perhaps because of his upbringing, his Dad the bohemian type, he had a healthy distain for traditions and showed it. Fact is, he behaved like a klutz sending his former girlfriend the notice of his engagement to another woman without any explanation. Being tossed out of the navy for it is undoubtedly too harsh a punishment, but he apparently did nothing to avoid it.

To be continued…

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