“Reinhard Heydrich (7 March 1904 – 4 June 1942) was a high-ranking German Nazi official during World War II, and one of the main architects of the Holocaust. He was SS-Obergruppenführer (General) and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD) and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia (in what is now known as the Czech Republic). Heydrich served as President of Interpol (the international law enforcement agency) and chaired the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, which formalised plans for the final solution to the Jewish Question—the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory.
Historians regard him as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite; Adolf Hitler christened him ‘the man with the iron heart’. He was the founding head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), an intelligence organisation charged with seeking out and neutralising resistance to the Nazi Party via arrests, deportations, and killings. He helped organize Kristallnacht, a series of co-ordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938. The attacks, carried out by SA stormtroopers and civilians, presaged the Holocaust. Upon his arrival in Prague, Heydrich sought to eliminate opposition to the Nazi occupation by suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. He was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special task forces that travelled in the wake of the German armies to round up and kill Jews and others deemed undesirable by the regime.
Heydrich was attacked in Prague on 27 May 1942 by a British-trained team of Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill him in an operation code named Operation Anthropoid. He died from his injuries a week later. Intelligence falsely linked the assassins to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. Lidice was razed to the ground; all adult males were executed, and all but a handful of its women and children were deported and killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Historians regard Heydrich as the most fearsome member of the Nazi elite. Hitler called him ‘the man with the iron heart’. He was one of the main architects of the Holocaust during the early war years, answering only to, and taking orders from, Hitler, Göring, and Himmler in all matters pertaining to the deportation, imprisonment, and extermination of Jews. Heydrich was one of the organisers of Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews throughout Germany on the night of 9–10 November 1938. Heydrich sent a telegram that night to various SD and Gestapo offices, helping to coordinate the program with the SS, SD, Gestapo, uniformed police (Orpo), SA, Nazi party officials, and even the fire departments. It talks about permitting arson and destroying Jewish businesses and synagogues, and orders the confiscation of all ‘archival material’ out of Jewish community centres and synagogues. The telegram ordered that ‘as many Jews – particularly affluent Jews – are to be arrested in all districts as can be accommodated in existing detention facilities… Immediately after the arrests have been carried out, the appropriate concentration camps should be contacted to place the Jews into camps as quickly as possible.’ Twenty-thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps in the days immediately following; historians consider Kristallnacht the beginning of the Holocaust.
When Hitler asked for a pretext for the invasion of Poland in 1939, Himmler, Heydrich, and Heinrich Müller masterminded a false flag plan code-named Operation Himmler. It involved a fake attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz on 31 August 1939. Heydrich masterminded the plan and toured the site, which was about four miles from the Polish border. Wearing Polish uniforms, 150 German troops carried out several attacks along the border. Hitler used the ruse as an excuse to launch his invasion.
On Himmler’s instructions, Heydrich formed the Einsatzgruppen (task forces) to travel in the wake of the German armies at the start of World War II. On 21 September 1939, Heydrich sent out a teleprinter message on the ‘Jewish question in the occupied territory’ to the chiefs of all Einsatzgruppen with instructions to round up Jewish people for placement into ghettos, called for the formation of Judenräte (Jewish councils), ordered a census, contained Aryanization plans for Jewish-owned businesses and farms, among other measures. The Einsatzgruppen followed the army into Poland to implement the plans. Later, in the Soviet Union, they were charged with rounding up and killing Jews via firing squad and gas vans. By the end of the war, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered over one million people, including over 700,000 in Russia alone.
On 29 November 1939, Heydrich issued a cable about the ‘Evacuation of New Eastern Provinces’, detailing the deportation of people by railway to concentration camps, and giving guidance surrounding the December 1939 census, which would be the basis on which those deportations were performed. In May 1941 Heydrich drew up regulations with Quartermaster general Eduard Wagner for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, which ensured that the Einsatzgruppen and army would cooperate in murdering Soviet Jews. On 10 October 1941, Heydrich was the senior officer at a meeting in Prague that discussed deporting 50,000 Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to ghettos in Minsk and Riga. The officers also discussed taking 5,000 Jews from Prague “in the next few weeks” and handing them over to the Einsatzgruppen commanders Arthur Nebe and Otto Rasch. Establishing ghettos in the Protectorate was also planned, resulting in the construction of Theresienstadt, where 33,000 people would eventually die. Tens of thousands more passed through the camp on their way to their deaths in the East. In 1941 Himmler named Heydrich as ‘responsible for implementing’ the forced movement of 60,000 Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia to the Lodz (Litzmannstadt) Ghetto in Poland.
On 20 January 1942, Heydrich chaired the Wannsee Conference, at which he presented his plan to deport and transport 11 million Jews from every country in Europe, to be worked to death or killed outright in extermination camps:
Under suitable direction, the Jews should be brought to the East in the course of the Final Solution, for use as labour. In large labour gangs, with the sexes separated, the Jews capable of work will be transported to those areas and set to road-building, in the course of which, without doubt, a large part of them (‘ein Großteil’) will fall away through natural losses. The surviving remnant, surely those with the greatest powers of resistance, will be given special treatment, since, if freed, they would constitute the germinal cell for the re-creation of Jewry.
— from Heydrich’s speech at the Wannsee Conference, January 1942”
Portrait of Reinhard Heydrich c. 1940
SS-Brigadeführer Heydrich, head of the Bavarian police and SD, in Munich, 1934
Reinhard Heydrich’s car (a Mercedes 320 Convertible B) after the 1942 assassination attempt in Prague. Heydrich later died of his injuries.
July 1941 letter from Göring to Heydrich concerning the “final solution” of the Jewish question: “In addition to the task you received with the order of January 24 1939 to solve the Jewish question of emigration or evacuation in a manner feasible according to the temporal circumstances, I hereby command you to make all necessary organizational, functional, and material preparations for a complete solution of the Jewish Question in the German sphere of influence in Europe.”
1938 telegram giving orders during Kristallnacht, signed by Heydrich (pg. 1 of 4)
Men massacred in village Lidice, 10 June 1942.