Childhood & Early Life
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich was born on March 7, 1904, in Halle an der Saale, to Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Heydrich and Richard Bruno Heydrich. His father founded the Halle Conservatory of Music, Theatre, and Teaching, and his mother taught piano there. He had two siblings.
He was named after different people and characters—Reinhard referred to the hero from his father's opera, ‘Amen,’ and Tristan comes from Richard Wagner's ‘Tristan und Isolde.’ Eugen was his maternal grandfather's forename, who was the director of the Dresden Royal Conservatory.
He loved playing the violin, and impressed listeners with his musical talent. He studied in Reformgymnasium, and was good in studies, especially in science. He was a good athlete, and was an expert swimmer. He was shy, and was often bullied for his high-pitched voice.
When Heydrich was 15, his hometown Halle witnessed civil unrest after World War I. He then joined Maercker's Volunteer Rifles, and was a part of the force that protected private property. He then joined the National German Protection and Shelter League, an anti-Semitic organization.
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In 1922, Reinhard Heydrich joined the German Navy, and became a naval cadet. In 1924, he was promoted as senior midshipman, and in 1926, he was assigned as a signals officer on a battleship. In 1928, he became sub-lieutenant. However, in 1931, he was dismissed from the navy for breaking an engagement promise to a woman.
In 1931, he was hired in the security service division of the SS. He began his job as chief of the new 'Ic Service', and set up an office at the Nazi Party headquarters in Munich. He created a network of spies to obtain information to be used as blackmail for political gains. In December, he was promoted to the rank of SS-major.
In 1932, his enemies spread the rumor that he had Jewish ancestry. However, after investigation, it was proved that he was of German origin. In the same year, he was appointed chief of the security service, SD.
He turned the intelligence service into an effective machine of terror and intimidation. Heydrich and Himmler, the head of SD, controlled the political police forces of all the German states. In 1933, Heydrich, with his men from SD attacked the police headquarters in Munich, and took it over. Himmler became the Munich police chief, and Heydrich became the commander.
In 1933, Hermann Göring founded the Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe, and in 1934, Heydrich became the head of this instrument of terror. In the same year, SD became the official Nazi intelligence service.
In 1934, Hitler asked Heydrich and Himmler to develop a dossier on Ernst Röhm, Sturmabteilung (SA) leader, in order to remove him. The SS was then a part of SA. Heydrich and Himmler prepared lists of those whom Hitler wanted to remove, including the top SA officials. In June, mass arrests were made, and Röhm was shot, along with the SA leader. About 200 people were killed in the action. SA was then converted into a sports and training organization.
In 1936, all police forces across Germany were united, and Himmler became the Chief of German Police, and Heydrich became his deputy. The police was reorganized into two groups—Order Police, Orpo, and Security Police, SiPo. Heydrich headed the SiPo and SD.
Heydrich helped organize the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, which was used to promote the propaganda of the Nazi regime. Ambassadors were sent to countries that wanted to boycott the Olympics. Anti-Jewish violence was forbidden for the time being, and ‘Der Stürmer,’ the official Nazi tabloid, was not displayed at newsstands. Heydrich was awarded with German Olympic Games Decoration (First Class) for his contribution in the games' success.
In 1937, he directed the Gestapo to carry out house searches, and make arrests, in an effort to crush public opinion. In 1938, when Austria resisted Hitler's merger efforts with Germany, he pressurized Austria by making propagandas in Vienna, emphasizing that the two countries share the same Germanic blood.
In 1939, SD and SiPo were merged into the new Reich Main Security Office, which was headed by Heydrich. He was given the title of Chief of Security Police and SD. In 1940, he became the president of ICPC, later known as Interpol. He was promoted to General der Polizei in 1941.
In 1941, he and his SD carried out the Night-and-Fog decree, under which people endangering German security were arrested under the cover of night and fog. About 7,000 people disappeared under this decree.
In the same year, he was appointed Deputy Reich Protector of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. His task was to sabotage and suppress anti-German strikes. In Prague, he started his rule by terrorizing the citizens. Over the course of his tenure he became directly responsible for the arrests and deaths of thousands of citizens.
In London, the Czechoslovak government-in-exile made a plan to kill him. Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík headed the team, trained by the British Special Operations Executive. On 27 May 1942, they attacked Heydrich when he was on his way to meet Hitler. He fought with the attackers, but was critically injured. He then went into coma, and died on June 4, 1942. Hitler, however, blamed Heydrich for his own death due to his carelessness. He condemned him as “stupid and idiotic”.
Major War Crimes
Heydrich converted Gestapo into an instrument of fear. It had the authority to arrest any citizen on the suspicion that he might commit a crime, and the definition of crime was set at his discretion. In 1936, the Gestapo Law gave police the right to act extra-legally, which gave them the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings. People were arrested without warrants, sent to concentration camps, or killed.
Due to his reign of terror in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich earned the epithet "the Butcher of Prague." He executed 92 people within three days of his arrival. He closed all avenues by which Czechs expressed their culture. About 5,000 people were arrested, and thousands were sent to concentration camps. In March 1942, he swept all Czech organizations, the military, and the intelligentsia, and practically paralyzed the Czech resistance.