Reinhard Heydrich Biography The First In-depth Look at a Nazi 'God of Death'
Part 2: A Fortuitous Start
The fact that Heydrich gave in to the pressure, Gerwarth concludes, can be attributed less to "deep ideological conviction" than to his desire to find a way back into "a structured life in uniform" that could help win back the trust of his beloved.
Still, before taking a position in the SS, Heydrich would first have to joint the Nazi Party. He soon did so, becoming member number 544,916. On June 14, 1931, Himmler met with him under the impression that Heydrich had been a high-ranking intelligence official at the Navy's main Baltic Sea base.
At the time, Himmler was looking for someone who could set up a spy network for the SS and, by extension, the Nazi Party. Himmler gave him 20 minutes to outline an organizational plan for a future counter-intelligence service. Although the only related experience Heydrich had came from his work as a radio operator, he embraced the challenge, throwing together everything he'd read in detective and spy stories as a boy and "putting his ideas down on paper in the military jargon he was familiar with," as Gerwarth puts it.
The Sudden End of a Shooting Star of Terror
Himmler was thrilled with the result and made Heydrich the head of his "Ic-Dienst," which would go on to become the SD, the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party. Heydrich's fiancée, whom he married soon afterward, would write of that day that it was "the finest hour of my life, of our life."
Heydrich's starting monthly salary of only 180 reichmarks was considerably lower than that of a skilled laborer. But he placed more value on having a chance to participate in a national revolutionary movement that rejected the political system of the day, which he had come to hold fundamentally responsible for destroying his previous middle-class existence. He was also sure this would be the way to suitably impress Lina von Osten's family.
Heydrich became a shooting star within the movement, the man who would do the dirty work. He rose to be head of the SD, the Bavarian political police and the Prussian Gestapo, or secret police. At 35, he was the head the Reich Main Security Office, the state authority whose reign of terror and oppression ensured the Nazis' absolute control -- and which also planned the Holocaust.
Immediately following Heydrich's assassination, the Nazis avenged one of their most willing executioners by leveling two Czech towns, Lidice and Leáky. Thousands of their residents were either killed or dragged off to concentration camps.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
- Part 1: The First In-depth Look at a Nazi 'God of Death'
- Part 2: A Fortuitous Start