(born March 7, 1904, Halle, Ger.—died June 4, 1942, Prague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) German Nazi official. He resigned from the navy in 1931 to join the SS, becoming SS chief for Berlin (1934), head of the Reich Security Central Office (1939), and Heinrich Himmler's chief deputy. Noted for his ruthlessness against “enemies of the state,” in the early years of World War II he organized mass executions in the German-occupied territories and became known as “the Hangman.” In 1942 he chaired the Wannsee Conference. Appointed deputy administrator of Bohemia and Moravia, he was assassinated by Czech patriots; in retaliation the Gestapo demolished the village of Lidice and executed its male population of about 200.
Learn more about Heydrich, Reinhard (Tristan Eugen) with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (7 March 1904 – 4 June 1942) was an SS-Obergruppenführer, chief of the Reich Security Main Office (including the Gestapo, SD and Kripo Nazi police agencies) and Reichsprotektor (Reich Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia. Adolf Hitler considered him a possible successor. When the Nazis moved the headquarters of Interpol to Berlin he was chosen as the President of that international law enforcement agency. Heydrich chaired the 1942 Wannsee conference, which discussed plans for the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. Heydrich was attacked by assassins in Prague on 27 May 1942 and died over a week later from complications arising from his injuries.
His father was a German Nationalist who instilled patriotic ideas in the minds of his three children. The Heydrich household was very strict and the children were frequently disciplined when needed. As a youth, Heydrich engaged his younger brother, Heinz, in mock fencing duels, thus developing strong fencing skills. Heydrich was very intelligent and he excelled in his schoolwork at the Reform-Realgymnasium. He was also a talented athlete and he became an expert swimmer and fencer. However, he was a shy, insecure boy who was frequently bullied for his high-pitched voice and his family's Catholicism (The community was at the time largely Protestant). It was also rumored that he had some Jewish ancestry — his grandmother's second husband had a Jewish-sounding last name — and these rumors were later used by Heydrich's superiors in the Nazi Party to exercise a measure of control over him.
When World War I broke out in 1914, 10-year-old Heydrich was too young to enlist for military service. He joined the Maracker Freikorps, a right-wing paramiltary group that strongly opposed the Communists. He also joined the Deutscher Schutz und Truzbund, an anti-Semitic organization. In 1918, the war ended with Germany's defeat. Due to the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, inflation spread across Germany and many families — including Heydrich's — lost their life savings.
In 1922, he joined the Navy, taking advantage of the free education and guaranteed pension it offered. He became a naval cadet at Germany's chief naval base at Kiel. Heydrich was unpopular among his fellow cadets, however, as rumors of his supposed Jewish ancestry resurfaced. In 1926, he advanced to the rank of second lieutenant and was assigned as a signals officer on the battleship Schleswig Holstein. Finding himself with considerable authority over the subordinate officers who had once bullied him, he got his revenge by ordering them around and treating them like lowly subjects.
Heydrich became a notorious womanizer, having countless affairs. One night in 1930, he attended a rowing club ball and met a young woman named Lina von Osten. The two became romantically involved and soon announced their engagement. A former lover, the daughter of a shipyard director, became infuriated that Heydrich was going to marry another woman, and lamented to her father, a friend of Erich Raeder, the commander-in-chief of the German Navy. A formal complaint was lodged against Heydrich for insulting the honor of a young woman. He was charged with "conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman" and an investigation ensued. Heydrich was called before a court of honor and he protested his innocence, accusing the woman of lying. Though he was exonerated, the officers demanded that he be cashiered for "conduct unbecoming a naval officer". In April 1931, Raeder sentenced Heydrich to "dismissal for impropriety." He was dismissed in 1931. Heydrich was devastated, but he remained engaged to Lina von Osten. He now found himself with no prospects for a career.
In 1931, Heinrich Himmler began to set up a counter-intelligence division of the SS. Acting on a friend's advice, he interviewed Heydrich. One version states that he arranged for an interview with Heydrich and was instantly impressed, hiring him on the spot. His pay was 180 reichsmarks per month [$ 40.00]. In doing so Himmler also effectively recruited Heydrich into the Nazi Party. He would later receive a Totenkopfring from Himmler, for his service.
To begin work, Heydrich set up his office at the Brown House, the Nazi party headquarters in Munich. He set about creating a counterintelligence service to be reckoned with.
At this time, he was relatively insignificant within the Nazi intelligence apparatus. Heydrich created his own network of spies and informers and sent them out to dig up information that could be used as blackmail, going after the Party's opponents; as well as high-ranking nazis themselves.
In December 1931, Heydrich and Von Osten married. That same year, he was promoted to SS major. As early as 1931, Heydrich was becoming one of the most dangerous men in the Nazi party; With his list of cross indexed cards, the fate of Nazi opponents rested with him.
In 1932, however, Heydrich was given a taste of his own medicine by Adolf Hitler. A number of Heydrich's enemies had discovered the old rumors of his Jewish ancestry and began to spread them around. Within the Nazis' organization, such innuendo could be deadly, even for the head of the Reich's counterintelligence service. An investigation was conducted into Heydrich's genealogy, and he was found to be free of "colored or Jewish blood". Nevertheless, Himmler was distressed by the mere suggestion of a Jew heading his counterintelligence service and he even played with the idea of dismissing Heydrich. Hitler considered Heydrich useful, however, and reasoned that the threat of having his "secret" exposed would keep him in line. From that time on, Heydrich's power over other high-ranking Nazis was cowed somewhat.
With Hitler agitating for absolute power in Germany, Himmler and Heydrich wished to control the political police forces of all 17 German states, and they began with the state of Bavaria. In 1933, Heydrich gathered some of his men from the SD and together they stormed police headquarters in Munich and took over the police using intimidation tactics. Himmler became commander of the Bavarian political police with Heydrich as his deputy. From there, the duo moved on to the police forces of the 16 remaining German states. With 15 states under their control, they locked horns with Hermann Goering in Prussia.
Goering controlled the Prussian political police, and he disliked both Himmler and Heydrich. Goering's intentions were that his police force would stand apart from any other police organization and that its officers would obey no laws, they would be a law unto themselves. He named his organization Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police). For the purpose of a franking stamp, a postal clerk abbreviated the name to Gestapo. Goering wanted to transfer them out of police headquarters and give them their own command center.
In 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, but he still did not have the dictatorial powers that he desired. In order to give himself more power, he pressured President Paul von Hindenburg to sign a series of decrees which would hamper opposition parties such as the Communists and Socialists. With these decrees, the police had the authority to conduct searches, confiscate property, and arrest and detain people without allowing either a hearing or a trial. Heydrich consulted his list of index cards and supplied the SS and the brown-shirted SA with lists containing the names of "offenders" to be arrested. Since Heydrich's index cards numbered in the thousands, the prisons were soon overflowing and the first concentration camps were established in order to deal with the overflow of prisoners.
Heydrich had his men uncover false "evidence" that SA leader Ernst Röhm was plotting to overthrow Hitler. Heydrich and Himmler put pressure on Hitler to purge the leading members of the SA, and they assured him that the SS would carry out the murders. Heydrich drew up lists of all of the powerful SA men to be killed along with Röhm. On 30 June 1934, the SS attacked the SA in a coordinated mass arrest that continued throughout the entire weekend. Röhm was shot without trial along with all of the important members of the stormtroopers in this bloodbath, which the Nazis coined the Night of the Long Knives.
With the SA out of the way, Heydrich began building the Gestapo into an instrument of fear. He improved his index card system; Since he created more categories of offenders, the cards were now color-coded. The Gestapo had the authority to arrest citizens on the mere suspicion that they might commit a crime, and the definition of a crime was at their discretion; Hitler himself said of the agency that "all means, even if they are not in conformity with existing laws and precedents, are permitted if they serve the will of the Führer". People began disappearing throughout Germany, never to be seen again. At a later date, their families would receive an urn containing their ashes. Under Himmler and Heydrich, Germany became a police state.
- Ordnungspolizei (ORPO) which consisted of the national uniformed police and the municipal police.
- Sicherheitspolizei (SIPO) which consisted of the Gestapo and the Criminal Police.
Heydrich was placed in charge of the Sicherheitspolizei. In 1939, the SD, the Gestapo, and the Criminal Police were unified under one office, the Reich Central Security Office RSHA, which was placed under Heydrich's control.
On 27 September 1941 Heydrich was appointed acting Reichsprotektor in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (the part of Czechoslovakia incorporated into the Reich on 15 March 1939). He replaced Konstantin von Neurath, whom Hitler considered ineffective. (Neurath remained titular Protector until 20 August 1943). Heydrich came to Prague to restore production quotas.
As the governor of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich applied "carrot-and-stick" methods. The black market was suppressed, food rations and pensions were increased, and unemployment insurance was established for the first time. Those associated with the resistance movement or the black market were tortured or executed. Under Heydrich, conditions in Prague and the rest of the Czech lands were relatively peaceful and industrial output went up. Because of his success in Prague, Hitler considered making Heydrich the governor of Paris.
Heydrich was, for all intents and purposes, military governor of Bohemia and Moravia; He exercised real executive power above the President and Prime Minister of the Protectorate. He often drove alone in a car with an open roof — a show of his confidence in the occupation forces and in the effectiveness of his government (See Czech resistance to Nazi occupation).
In London, the Czechoslovak government in exile (Prozatímní státní zřízení) was plotting to assassinate Heydrich. Two specially trained men, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, were chosen for the operation. After receiving training from the British, they returned by parachute in December, dropped from a Whitley of 138 Squadron RAF.
On 27 May, 1942, Heydrich was scheduled to attend a meeting with Hitler in Berlin. Heydrich would have to pass a section where the Dresden-Prague road merged with a road leading to the Troja Bridge. That intersection was a perfect spot for the attack because Heydrich's car would have to slow down to make a hairpin turn. The attack was, therefore, scheduled for 27 May. On that date, Heydrich was ambushed while he rode in his open car in the Prague suburb of Kobylisy. As the car slowed to take the hairpin bend in the road, Gabčík took aim with a Sten sub-machine gun, but it failed to fire. At that very moment, instead of ordering his driver to speed away, Heydrich called his car to a halt in an attempt to take on the two attackers. Kubiš then immediately threw a bomb (a converted anti-tank mine) at the rear of the car. The explosion wounded Heydrich and also Kubiš himself.
It is alleged that when the smoke cleared, Heydrich emerged from the wreckage with his gun still in his hand and he gave chase after Kubis and tried to return fire, but his pistol was not loaded. He ran for half a block, became weak from shock, and sent his driver, Klein, on foot to chase Gabčík. In the ensuing firefight, Gabčík shot Klein in the leg and escaped. Heydrich appeared not to be injured seriously.
One version suggests that a Czech woman went to Heydrich's aid and flagged down a truck delivering floor polish. First, Heydrich was placed in the back seat, but after complaining that the movement of the truck was causing him pain, he was placed in the back of the truck, lying on his stomach, and he was taken to Bulovka hospital. He suffered a severe injury to the left side of his body with major damage to his diaphragm, spleen, and lung, as well as a broken rib. The doctors immediately performed an operation and, despite a slight fever, his recovery appeared to progress quite well. On 2 June, during a visit with Himmler, Heydrich reconciled himself with his fate by reciting a part of one of his father's operas:
"The world is just a barrel-organ which the Lord God turns Himself. We all have to dance to the tune which is already on the drum.
Heydrich was buried in Berlin's Invalidenfriedhof, on the border between West and East Berlin. His plot was between those of two famous German war heroes, Adolf Karl von Oven and Gerhard von Scharnhorst. In 1945, however, his headstone and grave marker were removed by the Allies, who feared his tomb would become a rallying point for Neo-Nazis. During the time when the Berlin Wall was standing, the grave was part of the so-called "death strip" between the two Berlins and inaccessible to the public.
Upon Himmler's orders, the Nazi retaliation was brutal. About 13,000 people were arrested, deported, imprisoned or killed. On 10 June all males over the age of 16 in the village of Lidice, 22 km north-west of Prague, and another village, Ležáky, were murdered. The towns were burned and the ruins leveled.
Heydrich's assassins took refuge in the crypt of an Orthodox church in Prague. The Nazis surrounded the church and started firing on it. Rather than surrender, the assassins took their own lives. Among those tortured and killed was the church's leader, Bishop Gorazd, who is now revered as a martyr of the Orthodox Church.
There is a special memorial to both the assassins and the dead of Lidice and Lezaky in Jephson Gardens, Royal Leamington Spa, where the Czech forces were stationed during the war, and where their training took place. The memorial fountain is in the form of a parachute, with water running over the centre fold. Planted around the fountain is the special white Lidice Rose, grown in commemoration of the dead. This memorial is believed to be the only place outside of Czechoslovakia where the special rose is grown. The fountain was designed and is maintained by Warwick district council.
An elaborate funeral was conducted for Heydrich in Prague and Berlin, with Hitler attending (and placing Heydrich's decorations on his funeral pillow, the highest grade of the German Order and the Blood Order Medal). Although Heydrich's death was employed as pro-Reich propaganda, Hitler seemed privately to blame Heydrich for his own death, through carelessness:
Since it is opportunity which makes not only the thief but also the assassin, such heroic gestures as driving in an open, unarmoured vehicle or walking about the streets unguarded are just damned stupidity, which serves the Fatherland not one whit. That a man as irreplaceable as Heydrich should expose himself to unnecessary danger, I can only condemn as stupid and idiotic.
Heydrich's eventual replacements were Ernst Kaltenbrunner as the chief of RSHA, and Karl Hermann Frank 27 - 28 May 1942 and Kurt Daluege 28 May 1942 - 14 October 1943 as the new acting Reichsprotektors.
After Heydrich's death, his legacy lived on; the first three "trial" death camps were constructed and put into operation at Treblinka, Sobibór, and Belzec. The project was named Operation Reinhard in Heydrich's honor.
Heydrich and Himmler had an odd but practical working relationship. Although Himmler was the boss, Heydrich was the true force behind the SD. While they personally disliked each other, the two men formed a solid partnership and became a force to be reckoned with in the Party. Their thirst for power took them beyond the periphery of the SD.
While Heydrich's abilities were never doubted by superiors and subordinates alike, his arrogance and combativeness won him few supporters within the Party and occasionally embarrassed Himmler, who had to clean up the messes. Himmler would occasionally lose his patience with Heydrich, berating and abusing him, sometimes calling him "Genghis Khan".
In light of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, Heydrich braced himself for the possibility of Himmler firing him. Himmler did not fire Heydrich, but he was clearly angered. In a public speech, Himmler stated that he was misguided by his incapable subordinates; Although he did not name Heydrich specifically, Heydrich knew that he was one of them.
Upon the establishment of the Third Reich, Heydrich helped Hitler and Himmler gather information on many political opponents, keeping an extensive filing system listing individuals and organizations who opposed the party and the regime. He is believed to be the creator of the forged documents of Russian correspondence with the German High Command. While it is now known that the Stalinist Great Purge of the Soviet military officer corps was at most tangentially related to these forgeries, at the time it was widely believed to have resulted from Heydrich's actions, enormously adding to his prestige. He was also instrumental in establishing the false 'attack' by Poland on German national radio at Gleiwitz, intended to provide the Nazi justification for the beginning of World War II. This failed miserably, however, and only came to light after the war, when Allied investigators began researching the captured German documents.
Heydrich's younger brother Heinz Siegfried (29 September 1905 in Halle/S), though initially a fanatical Nazi, gradually became disenchanted with the Party and even became involved in obtaining false identification documents for Jews to save them from persecution. When his activities were uncovered by the Gestapo he was given the choice of committing suicide rather than face trial. He shot himself on November 19, 1944.
Heydrich had four children: Klaus, born in 1933; Heider, born in 1934; Silke, born in 1939; and Marte, born shortly after her father's death in 1942. In 1943, Klaus was killed in a traffic accident. In 1944, Lina Heydrich had Heider removed from the Hitler Youth out of fear that he might meet the same fate as his father.
At the end of the war, Heydrich's widow returned to the island of Fehmarn with her surviving children. She owned and ran a hotel and restaurant. The Finnish theatre director and poet Mauno Manninen (1915-1969), a nephew of the composer Sibelius, was a frequent guest at the hotel. He took pity on the difficulties she experienced as a result of her infamous name and offered to marry her to enable her to change it. They married in 1965 but did not live together. She died in 1985, claiming till the end that she had known nothing about the atrocities that her first husband had committed and ordered.
Heydrich had four children:
As of 2008, Heider, Marte and Silke are reported to still be alive.
The events of the Wannsee conference are recreated in the 1984 TV Movie Wannseekonferenz (The Wannsee Conference) directed by Heinz Schirk and starring Dietrich Mattausch as Heydrich; It was remade in 2001 under the title Conspiracy, with Kenneth Branagh playing Heydrich. The conference was also the subject of a 1992 English language documentary film entitled The Wannsee Conference directed by Dutch director Willy Lindwer.
Anton Diffring played Heydrich in the film Operation Daybreak, about the assassination of the Reichsprotektor. Diffring was 57 years old when he shot this movie; Heydrich died at 38.
Heydrich was portrayed by David Warner twice: in the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust, and in the 1985 TV movie Hitler's S.S.: Portrait in Evil. The movie followed the career of his subordinate Helmut Hoffmann, played by Bill Nighy.
Heydrich, as the "Reich's Crown Prince of Terror", plays a leading role in March Violets and The Pale Criminal, the first two novels in Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy (ISBN 0-14-023170-6), in which Bernie Gunther, a Berlin private eye in the tradition of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe who left the Berlin police when the Nazis came to power, finds his investigations embroiling him in the internal feuding of the Nazi High Command.
Heydrich and the events of the Wannsee conference are also the subjects of Robert Harris' novel Fatherland. The book portrays an alternate history where Heydrich is promoted to the rank of Reichsführer-SS (4-star General) after Himmler's death. For a brief three seconds at movie's end (an ending in direct contradiction to that in the novel) he is shown standing with two other officials while the evidence of the Holocaust is given to U.S. President Joseph P. Kennedy.
The Man in the High Castle, an alternate-history novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick set in the 1960s, describes Heydrich as head of the SS and maneuvering to become Reich Chancellor after Hitler and his immediate successor, Martin Bormann, are dead.
In the Robert Ludlum novel The Tristan Betrayal, Heydrich plays a small but pivotal role. In this thriller, Heydrich is the master and father figure to a German assassin, Kleist, who serves as one of the antagonists of the novel.
Heydrich also plays a pivotal role in William Harrington's novel The English Lady.
"The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich" is a short story by Jim Shepard which explores the plot to assassinate Heydrich from the conspirators' perspective.