I first became aware of Reinhard Heydrich in 1975 when I (still in grade school) read Gunter Peis' book "The True Story of the Man Who Started the War...moreI first became aware of Reinhard Heydrich in 1975 when I (still in grade school) read Gunter Peis' book "The True Story of the Man Who Started the War." In it, Heydrich, as one of the luminaries in the SS, was the boss of Alfred Naujocks (upon whom the book was focussed) who was tasked with staging an "incident" along the German-Polish border, which Hitler would use as a pretext for invading Poland in September 1939. Even then, Heydrich struck me as a sinister figure. But it would take years of self-study of the Third Reich and the Second World War before I could begin to grasp the enormity of the crimes this man committed for "Führer und Vaterland".
This is perhaps likely to be the most comprehensive biography of Reinhard Heydrich. It has an 88-page bibliography, which attests to the author's diligence in gathering a complete portrait of a man who became for the Nazis one of its 'patron saints' after his death in June 1942 from an assasination attempt.
Heydrich was born in Halle in 1904, the son of a composer of operas who enjoyed some measure of acclaim in Wilhelmine Germany. His father founded the Halle Music Conservatory, where Reinhard's mother taught piano. The Heydrichs were Catholic (a minority group in Halle) and enjoyed a comfortable, bourgeois existence prior to the First World War. Young Reinhard learned to play the violin with some skill. Shortly after the war, he joined a Freikorps unit in Halle (one of the many right-wing paramilitary units formed in the immediate postwar period to stamp out the spread of Communism in Germany), Later, he joined the "Deutschvölkischer Schutz und Trutzbund (The National German Protection and Shelter League)", which was an anti-Jewish organization.
Like many Germans in the early postwar years, the Heydrichs suffered materially from the ravages of hyperinflation during the early 1920s. Reinhard gained admittance as a cadet in the Navy in 1922 and threw himself into a military career. Politics at that time seemed not to figure in his life. But as he advanced in rank, Reinhard acquired a reputation for arrogance and engaging in numerous affairs. This proved to be his undoing. Prior to meeting his future wife, Lina von Osten (who was a virulent anti-Semite and fervent Nazi) in 1930, Reinhard had been engaged to another woman and broke it in haste. Soon thereafter, he became engaged to Lina. The Navy, however, looked askance at Reinhard's cavalier behavior. Reinhard refused to apologize for his conduct, and was dismissed from the Navy in April 1931 for "conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman."
Now without a career and prospects, Reinhard was devastated. But he went on to marry Lina, who later prodded him to join the SS, which at the time when Reinhard applied to join it in the summer of 1931 was the smallest organization in the National Socialist movement. (The SA or "Brownshirts" were Hitler's defacto army, with a membership larger than the 100,000 man Reichswehr, the Garman Army in the Weimar Republic.) He was personally interviewed by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who was impressed with him and immediately offered him a job.
In little more than a year, Heydrich developed an intelligence-gathering and a network of spies and informers to ferret out any "traitors" in the Nazi Party and keep tabs on its external enemies throughout Germany. At this time, rumors were spread about Heydrich's alleged Jewish blood and as a result, he was subjected to an extensive search into his family tree. Exonorated and declared a "true Aryan", Heydrich felt chastened and became more committed to the Nazis and their anti-Jewish philosophy. Indeed, "by the mid-1930s, Heyrich had successfully reinvented himself as one of the most radical proponents of Nazi ideology and its implementation through rigid and increasingly extensive policies of persecution."
Upon the outbreak of war, Heydrich created the Einsatzgruppen, militarized units of SS men who closely followed the German Army as it proceeded into Poland. There, the Einsatzgruppen rounded up as many Polish intelligensia and Jews they could find, and executed them in large numbers. The same modus operandi would be carried out on a much larger scale (with help from local auxiliaries) in the immediate wake of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
All the while persecution against the Jews (and other perceived enemies of the Reich) proceeded apace in Germany and the countries (e.g. Austria) it either subsumed into the nation proper or conquered between 1939 and 1942, there hadn't been a concerted plan for a Jew-free Europe via genocide. The expectation until Germany suffered its first serious setback on the Eastern Front in December 1941 was that most of Europe's Jews could be settled in Madagascar under SS management. And at the same time, the areas in the East under German control would be cleared of its people who did not meet the Nazi criteria for acceptability and replaced with Germans and ethnic Germans. What Heydrich regarded as "Germanization." But as the European War became a full-fledged world war with the entry of the United States into the conflict, the Germans re-evaluated its policies against the Jews to date. Heydrich convened a conference at Wannsee in Berlin, in January 1942 to hssh out ideas and develop a workable, comprehensive plan for "the Final Solution to the Jewish Question."
Heydrich, unlike most of his Nazi contemporaries, proved to be a zealous and tenacious practioner of Nazi policies in his exercise of power within the police and security apparatus he controlled with an iron hand. That is why he was marked for death by the British, who sent in a couple of Czech parachutists into the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Heydrich was appointed by Hitler as its administrator in September 1941) to assasinate him, and thus breathe new life into the Czech resistance, which had been a feeble force in 1941 and early 1942, relative to the other anti-German resistance groups in Occupied Europe.
Simply put, Reinhard Heydrich became the personification of the "face of evil" in the Third Reich, a functionary, who, without the slightest compunction or remorse, carried out Hitler's genocidal policies.
Late in 1989, when I was living and working on contract overseas, I read Albert Speer's book Inside the Third Reich, in which he described, in extensi...moreLate in 1989, when I was living and working on contract overseas, I read Albert Speer's book Inside the Third Reich, in which he described, in extensive detail, the blossoming of his career, first as Hitler's principal architect throughout the 1930s and the early war years, and later as der Führer's Minister of Armaments and War Production from 1942 to 1945. He and Hitler (who fancied himself an architect given his lifelong passion for art and architecture) had a uniquely special relationship. I was utterly enthralled with that book because it provided me with a tangible sense of how Germany functioned under Hitler and his chief lieutenants (e.g., Goering, Hess, Bormann, Himmler, and Goebbels) ---- most of whom Speer knew very well.
What is more: unlike many of his contemporaries in the Nazi Party, Speer, upon being brought to trial for war crimes at Nuremberg, was the only one who freely confessed his responsibility as Minister who used slave labour to help sustain the German war machine, and thus prolong the war. He impressed me deeply because, upon being fully apprised of the enormity of Hitler's crimes in the weeks and months following V-E Day, Speer --- normally not a person given to introspection and displays of emotion --- accepted Germany's guilt and sought to atone for that. Thus, he served a 20-year prison sentence and spent the rest of his life trying to face up to his onetime devotion and faithful service to Hitler and his regime.
This particular book gave me a rigorous, more objective look at Albert Speer (during various stages of his life), both from the vantage point of those who worked with him before and during the war, as well as his critics and detractors in subsequent years.
For all his organizational brilliance and intelligence, Speer could, at times, be arrogant, abrupt, and emotionally detached. The latter trait he recognized in himself and sought to address, with a view to self-improvement. For it was during Speer's time in Spandau prison that he made the acquaintance of a young French chaplain, with whom he became especially close (the chaplain served at Spandau for about 3 years) and gave him the impetus to strive to become a different, better person.
I'd like to cite some of Speer's own words, which I hope will convey to the person reading this review, his struggle for truth:
"I have often asked myself what I would have done if I had come to feel a share in the responsibility for the things Hitler did in areas other than those in which I was directly involved. And unfortunately, if I'm honest, my reply has to be negative --- the tasks Hitler had confided to me, first in architecture, then in government, his 'friendship,' the passionate conviction he radiated, the power his favor conferred on me, all this was quite simply overwhelming and had become so indispensable to me that to hang on to it I would probably have swallowed anything.
"True ... much later I did oppose [Hitler] in many ways. But... that cannot serve as justification of my previous passivity.... The truth is that I only woke up to what he was doing --- what he was --- when I had to acknowledge to myself that he intended to pull the German people down into perdition with him. And really, all I did then was only in an effort to prevent that."
For anyone who wants to examine the life and times of a person who turned away from having once served so faithfully one of the world's most brutal dictatorships and spent the remainder of his life in atonement [Speer gave the bulk of proceeds from his best-selling books anonymously to various Jewish charities worldwide.] and self-examination, READ THIS BOOK. I think, by so doing, you'll come to share (as I do) the author's assessment of Albert Speer:
"I came to understand and value Speer's battle with himself and saw in it the re-emergence of the intrinsic morality he manifested as a boy and youth. It seemed to me it was some kind of victory that this man --- just this man --- weighed down by intolerable and unmanageable guilt, with the help of a Protestant chaplain, a Catholic monk and a Jewish rabbi, tried to become a different man."
"THE HEALING WOUND" is a memoir that is also a reflection on a Europe that has evolved over the decades from a fractious, war-doomed continent to a vi...more"THE HEALING WOUND" is a memoir that is also a reflection on a Europe that has evolved over the decades from a fractious, war-doomed continent to a vibrant, democratic society. (less)