Reinhard Heydrich

From Academic Kids

Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (sometimes incorrectly spelled as Reinhardt, March 7, 1904June 4, 1942) was an Obergruppenführer in the Nazi German paramilitary corps—the SS led by Heinrich Himmler. He was nicknamed The Blond Moses, The Butcher of Prague, The Blond Beast and Der Henker (German for the hangman). Heydrich was one of the architects of the Holocaust, in spite of the fact he had a Jewish grandparent, a fact he unsuccessfully tried to keep secret from Himmler and other Nazi leaders.


Early Life

He was born in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. His father and mother were both very heavily musically involved (his father was a composer), and Heydrich developed a passion for the violin, which was to continue throughout his life. Although Heydrich was a shy boy, he excelled physically and grew up to be handsome and fit. He was an impressive athlete, excelling in fencing and swimming.

Heydrich participated in the freikorps when he was young. In 1922 he joined the navy; however, he was later dismissed when he had a brief liaison with a shipyard director's daughter and subsequently became engaged to a young woman, Lina von Osten. The daughter told her father of her anger over the incident, and he was subsequently charged with "conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman". His behavior in court was apparently so disdainful that the court also rebuked him for insubordination. Heydrich was left with no career prospects. However, he remained engaged to von Osten, whom he married in 1931.

Nazi Party and the SS

In 1931, Himmler began to set up a counter-intelligence division of the SS. Acting on a friend's advice, he interviewed Heydrich, and after a twenty minute test whereby Heydrich had to outline plans for the new division, Himmler hired him on the spot. In doing so Himmler also effectively recruited Heydrich into the Nazi Party.

At this time he was relatively insignificant within the Nazi intelligence apparatus. He and his staff spent their time building up a card-file system on all persons who were considered a threat to the Party, often including party officials themselves. Heydrich supported his family on a meagre salary and worked in a tiny office.

In July 1932 his division took on the title of Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Heydrich built up a mutually beneficial partnership with Himmler. Later he became the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), of which the SD, the Gestapo and the Einsatzgruppen were parts.

Upon the establishment of the Third Reich, Heydrich helped Adolf Hitler 'dig up dirt' on many political opponents, keeping an impressive filing system listing individuals and organizations opposing the party and the regime. He was also instrumental in establishing the false 'attack' by Poland on German national radio at Gleiwitz, which was to be the beginning of World War II.

Missing image
Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and Heydrich

Heydrich also served briefly in the war as a Luftwaffe pilot and won several decorations for bravery: Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Front-Line Combat Badge, and the Wound Badge. His flying career came to an abrupt end when he was shot down by Russian AA fire in late 1941, and he had to swim across a river to safety. This was too much for Himmler and he was grounded.

Heydrich was one of the main architects of the Holocaust during the first years of World War II and chaired the Wannsee Conference, at which plans for the deportation of the Jews to extermination camps were discussed.


In September 1941 Heydrich was appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, replacing Konstantin von Neurath whom Hitler considered insufficiently harsh. During his role as de facto dictator of Bohemia and Moravia, Heydrich often drove alone in a car with an open roof — a show of confidence in the occupational forces and the effectiveness of their repressive measures against the local population.

On May 27, 1942, a team of British-trained agents of the Czechoslovak government in exile carried out the assassination of Heydrich in Operation Anthropoid. The team comprised Adolf Opálka (the leader), Josef Valčík, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík. Heydrich's car, driven by SS-Oberscharführer Klein, had to slow down to take a sharp bend where the Czech team waited. As the car approached, Gabčík took aim and pulled the trigger of his Sten, but the gun failed and did not fire. Klein, believing Gabčík to be alone, stopped to shoot at him. Heydrich stood up and took out his pistol, trying to shoot Gabčík. Kubiš then threw an anti-tank grenade at the car. This exploded and severely wounded Heydrich, forcing car seat material including horse hair into his spleen. Evidence suggests that if Heydrich had remained seated, he would have lived. The Czech agents were later tracked down by occupation forces to a nearby church in Prague and committed suicide to avoid capture.

Despite Himmler sending his best doctors, Heydrich died in agony in a Prague hospital at 4:30 a.m. on 4 June at the age of 38. Although the exact cause of death has not been definitively established, the autopsy states that Heydrich's death was most likely septicemia caused by bacteria and toxins from grenade splinters. A highly elaborate funeral was staged for him in Berlin, with Hitler attending (and placing on Heydrich's funeral pillow displaying his decorations the highest grade of the German Order and the Blood Order Medal). Hitler himself perhaps best encapsulated Heydrich's general attitude in his acknowledgment that Heydrich was partly to blame for his own death through arrogance and a blasé attitude:

"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."

Lina Heydrich later stated that she believed Heydrich had expected a young death, saying that she saw his frequent unnecessary risk-taking (such as his valiant adventures in his Luftwaffe Me 109) as an attempt to ensure that, should he die, his would be a dramatic death.

The Nazi retaliation was savage and a brutal warning against further armed resistance. On June 10 all males over the age of 16 in the village of Lidice, 22 km north-west of Prague, were murdered a day after the town was burned. It has been reported that over 15,000 Czechs were killed in reprisals.

Heydrich's eventual replacement was Ernst Kaltenbrunner as the chief of RSHA and Karl Hermann Frank as the new protector.

After Heydrich's death, 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.

Summary of SS Career

Dates of Rank

Service History

  • July 1931: Appointed as an SS member under SS Number 10120
  • August 1931: Appointed as SS officer and tasked with forming the SS Security Service
  • July 1932: Founds the Sicherheitsdienst
  • June 1934: Appointed Commander of the Sicherheitspolizei
  • September 1939: Founder and first Commander of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt
  • September 1941: Appointed as Deputy Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia
  • January 1942: Chairman of the Wannsee Conference
  • May 1942: Attacked by British supported Czech partisans in Prague
  • June 1942: Dies from wounds received in partisan attack

Notable decorations

  • German Order (Posthumous)
  • Blood Order (Posthumous)
  • Golden Nazi Party Badge
  • Iron Cross (First and Second Classes)
  • Luftwaffe Pilot's Badge
  • Luftwaffe Reconnaissance Flying Clasp
  • Danzig Cross (First Class)
  • Anschluss Medal
  • Sudentenland Medal with Prague Castle Bar
  • Memel Medal
  • Olympic Games Decoration (First Class)
  • Social Welfare Decoration (First Class)
  • NSDAP Long Service Ribbon for 10 years service
  • Police Service Ribbon for 18 years service

Additional service

Reinhard Heydrich also served as Reserve Hauptmann in the Luftwaffe. He flew combat missions in Poland, France, and Russia before being forbidden to fly by Adolf Hitler as it was realized that Heydrich's capture as a POW would be a major security breach to Germany.


The events of the Wannsee conference are recreated in the 1984 TV Movie Wannseekonferenz (The Wannsee Conference)[1] ( directed by Heinz Schirk, and remade in 2001 under the title Conspiracy [2] (, with Kenneth Branagh playing Reinhard Heydrich. The Conference was also the subject of a 1992 English language documentary film entitled The Wannsee Conference directed by Dutch director Willy Lindwer [3] (

The plot to kill Heydrich is central to the plot of the 1998 novel As Time Goes By, a sequel to the movie Casablanca, written by Michael Walsh. (ISBN 0446519006). The assassination itself has been dramatised in the 1943 Fritz Lang film Hangmen Also Die (written by Bertolt Brecht) [4] ( and the 1975 film Operation Daybreak, starring Anthony Andrews (Jozef Gabcík), Timothy Bottoms (Jan Kubis), Martin Shaw (Karel Curda) and Anton Diffring (Heydrich) [5] (

Heydrich plays a leading role in March Violets and The Pale Criminal, the first two novels in Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy (ISBN 0140231706), 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 embroil him in the internal feuding of the Nazi high command.

Heydrich and the events of the Wannsee conference are also the subject of Robert Harris' book Fatherland.


  • The Killing of Reinhard Heydrich: The SS "Butcher of Prague", by Callum McDonald. ISBN 0306808609
  • Assassination : operation Anthropoid 1941-1942, by Michael Burian. Prague: Avis, 2002.
  • The Face of the Third Reich: Portraits of the Nazi Leadership, by Joachim Fest, Da Capo Pressda:Reinhard Heydrich

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