Night of the Long Knives

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in München on October 7, 1900 in a Roman Catholic middle-class family.  His father, Gebhard Himmler, was a teacher; his mother was Anna Maria Heyder.  He had one older brother Gebhard Ludwig and one younger, Ernst.  Heinrich was named after his godfather, Prince Heinrich of Bavaria of the royal family of Bavaria, who had been tutored by Gebhard Himmler.  Heinrich attended grammar school in Landshut, where Gebhard served as deputy principal. He did well in his schoolwork, although he struggled in athletics.

Young Heinrich’s health was poor; he would have lifelong stomach complaints and other ailments.  To remedy this, he trained daily with weights as a youth and exercised to become stronger.  Fellow students recalled him as studious but awkward in social situations.  In 1915, Himmler began training with the Landshut Cadet Corps.  His father used his connections with the royal family to get Heinrich accepted as an officer candidate, and Himmler enlisted with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in December 1917.

After the war, Himmler completed grammar school.  Following an apprenticeship on a farm and a subsequent illness, he studied agronomy at the Technische Hochschule in München.  In his second year, he joined an Anti-Semitic nationalist group, the Reichskriegflagge.

Himmler joined the Nazi Party in August 1923, with a Nazi Party number of 14,303.  He was involved in the Beer Hall Putsch on November 9, 1923.  From mid-1924, Himmler worked under Gregor Strasser, a leading party leader, as a party secretary and propaganda assistant.  Travelling across Bavaria agitating for the party, he gave speeches and distributed literature; within months, he became the head of the party office in Lower Bavaria and was responsible for integrating the areas membership with the ‘Nazi Party, under Hitler, when the party was re-founded in February 1925.

That same year, Himmler joined the SS (SS #168), initially holding a position of SS-Gauführer for Lower Bavaria.  He soon became the deputy propaganda chief for the party as well.  In September 1927, Himmler briefed Adolf Hitler on his vision to transform the SS into a loyal, powerful, racially pure elite unit.  Hitler’s response was to appoint Himmler as the Deputy Reichsführer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberführer, under Erhard Heiden.  Heiden fell into disgrace, after allegations surfaced that parts of his uniform were customized by a Jewish tailor, and on January 5, 1929, he was dismissed by Adolf Hitler and succeeded by Heinrich Himmler as Reichsführer-SS.  Never one to underestimate a potential rival, in April 1933, Himmler ordered Erhard Heiden arrested members of the Sicherheitsdienst.  Heiden was killed shortly after, presumably at SD headquarters in München, but his corpse was only found in September 1933; he was buried on September 15, 1933.

During the 1930s, Himmler set up an SS empire in Germany, to include the concentration camp system in March 1933.  He led the purge of the SA, Sturmabteilung Brownshirts on June 30, 1934 (known as “The Night of the Long Knives.”)  In addition to assuming control of the police, Himmler established an SS military branch that later became known as the Waffen-SS.  Growing the Waffen-SS became a Himmler priority, as did establishing the Einsatzgruppe beginning in 1939 with the invasion of Poland.  During the war, he was a major architect of the “Final Solution.”

The Waffen-SS grew in scope to several dozen divisions and 800,000 troops.  Hitler relied on these forces even more after the failed July 20 Bomb Plot against his life.  Hitler appointed Himmler the commander of Army Group Vistula on the Eastern Front in January 1945, but replaced him on March 20, 1945, when Himmler’s military incompetence proved too great.  That spring, Himmler attempted to negotiate an independent peace settlement through the Swedish Red Cross, using Jewish prisoners as bargaining assets.  The Allies refused.  Himmler and Hitler met for the last time on April 20, 1945, on Hitler’s birthday, at the Führer bunker, where Himmler swore total loyalty to Hitler.  At a military briefing later that day, Hitler stated that he would not be leaving Berlin, in spite of Soviet advances. Along with Hermann Göring, the head of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Himmler quickly left the city immediately after the briefing.  Himmler made his way to Flensburg in northern Germany, where he reported to Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who had been named by Hitler as his successor.  Dönitz, knowing that Himmler was of no value at this point, dismissed Himmler from all his positions.

At the end of World War II in early May 1945, Heinrich Himmler attempted to go into hiding. Although he had not made extensive preparations for this, as other high-ranking Nazis had, he had equipped himself with a forged paybook under the name of Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger.  With a few companions, he headed south on May 11, 1945 to Friedrichskoog, without a final destination in mind.  The group continued to Neuhaus, before splitting up; Himmler and two aides were stopped at a British checkpoint on May 21, 1945 and detained.  Over the following two days, Himmler – still in disguise – was moved around to several camps, before arriving at the British 31st Civilian Interrogation Camp near Lüneburg on May 23, 1945.  During a routine interrogation, Himmler admitted who he was and was immediately searched.  After finding nothing, military police took him to the headquarters of the Second British Army in Lüneburg, where a physician conducted a medical exam.  When the doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler’s mouth, Himmler jerked his head away, bit into a hidden cyanide pill and collapsed onto the floor.  He was dead within fifteen minutes.  Shortly afterward, the British buried Himmler’s body in an unmarked grave near Lüneburg.  The precise location of the grave remains unknown.  Since the war, pictures of the deceased Himmler appear to show that his nose had been broken, and rumors still persist that a British physician gave him an injection of some unknown substance just before he died.

Heinrich Himmler2016-03-04T20:45:26-06:00

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich

SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich served as the chief of the Reich Main Security Office, Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and one of the main architects of the Holocaust.   Historians regard him as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite.  Even Adolf Hitler called him “the man with the iron heart.”  Heydrich was born on March 7, 1904 in Halle an der Saale to composer and opera singer Richard Bruno Heydrich and his wife Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Krantz.  Young Reinhard was very intelligent and excelled in his schoolwork at the Reformgymnasium; he was a talented athlete and became an expert swimmer and fencer.  However, Reinhard was shy and insecure; he was frequently bullied for his high-pitched voice and rumored Jewish ancestry, which earned him the nickname “Moses Handel.”

After World War I, Heydrich joined a Freikorps, a paramilitary unit that fought Communists near his hometown.  In 1922, he joined the German Navy and became a naval cadet at Kiel.  On April 1, 1924, he was promoted to senior midshipman and sent to officer training at the Mürwik Naval College.  Two years later, he advanced to the rank of ensign and was assigned as a signals officer on the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, the flagship of Germany’s North Sea Fleet.  Admiral Erich Raeder dismissed Heydrich from the Navy in April 1931, after a charge of “conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman,” for breaking an engagement promise to a woman he had known.   Heydrich was devastated by the dismissal and the absence of prospects for a career.  Six months later, he married Lina von Osten, a Nazi Party follower.

The same year, Heydrich joined the SS and began establishing a counterintelligence division.  Heinrich Himmler interviewed him and was so impressed that he appointed Heydrich to a position as chief of the new “Ic Service” (intelligence service).  Heydrich set up office at the Brown House, the Nazi Party headquarters in Munich and created a network of spies and informers for intelligence-gathering purposes and to obtain information to be used as blackmail.  [29] Information on thousands of people was recorded on index cards and stored at the Brown House.  In the summer of 1932, Himmler appointed Heydrich chief of the renamed security service – the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).  Himmler named Heydrich to head the Gestapo on April 22, 1934.  Two months later, the SD was declared the official Nazi intelligence service.  In 1934, Heydrich assisted Himmler and Hitler in crushing the SA in the “Night of the Long Knives.”  He helped organize Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9–10, 1938.  On September 27, 1939, the SD and the Security Police (made up of the Gestapo and the Kripo) were subordinated into the new Reich Main Security Office or SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), which was placed under Heydrich’s control.

By late 1940, the Wehrmacht had swept through most of Western Europe, to include France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway.   The following year, Heydrich’s SD was given responsibility for carrying out the Nacht und Nebel (Night-and-Fog) decree.  According to the decree, “persons endangering German security” were to be arrested in a completely discreet way: “under the cover of night and fog.”  Thousands of people disappeared without a trace and no one was told of their whereabouts or their fate.  Prior to the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, Heydrich established four Einsatzgruppe, each with several Einsatzkommando, whose mission was to kill undesirable elements and potential partisans in Russia immediately after the German Army conquered the area.

On September 27, 1941, Hitler appointed Heydrich as Deputy Reich Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (the part of Czechoslovakia incorporated into the Reich in 1939), sending the actual Reich Protector, Konstantin von Neurath, on permanent leave, based on his soft approach to the Czechs.  Upon his appointment, Heydrich told his aides that he would “Germanize the Czech vermin.”  Heydrich, from his headquarters in Prague, enforced German policy, fought resistance to the Nazi regime and maintained production quotas of Czech military equipment and weapons, vital to the German war effort.

Heydrich chaired the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, which laid out plans for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, comprising the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory in Europe.

A British-trained team of Czech and Slovak agents attacked Heydrich was in Prague on May 27, May 1942.  The group had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill him in an operation code named “Operation Anthropoid.”  Himmler sent Dr. Karl Gebhardt to Prague to assist.  Gebhardt disdained the use of sulfonamide, expecting Heydrich to make a full recovery without antibiotic use (which Gebhardt thought worthless).  Heydrich died of sepsis a week later.  When hearing of Heydrich’s death, SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich proclaimed, “Thank God that sow’s gone to the butcher.”  The Nazis retaliated for Heydrich’s death by linking the assassins to the village of Lidice, razing Lidice to the ground, executing all adult males and sending most of the women and children to concentration camps.

Heydrich was buried in Berlin in an elaborate Nazi State funeral at the Invalidenfriedhof.  Heydrich’s grave and remains were ransacked and destroyed after the war.

Reinhard Heydrich2016-03-28T19:24:12-06:00
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