Villain - Reinhard Heydrich
Updated: May 18
This section summarizes the career and personal life of Reinhard Heydrich.
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Reinhard Heydrich - Topics Links
Summary Biography & Fast Facts: Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich was a high-ranking Nazi official and one of the architects of the Holocaust during World War II. He was born in 1904 in Germany and became a prominent member of the Nazi party in the 1930s, rising through the ranks to head of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) in 1939.
Heydrich was instrumental in organizing the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to systematically exterminate the Jewish people and other groups deemed undesirable by the regime. He chaired the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, which coordinated the implementation of the mass genocide of European Jews.
Heydrich was also responsible for suppressing opposition to the Nazi regime in Czechoslovakia, where he served as the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He earned the nickname "The Hangman" for his ruthless tactics in dealing with resistance fighters. He was assassinated in Prague in 1942 by a group of Czech and Slovak resistance fighters trained by the British Special Operations Executive.
Fast Facts: Reinhard Heydrich
Heydrich was an accomplished violinist since childhood.
Evidence suggests he received and perpetrated bullying at school and home.
The German Navy discharged him over an affair with a woman and his right-wing politics.
Heydrich joined the Nazis and the SS in 1931 and promoted five times between 1934-1941.
He was a chief organizer for Kristallnacht and Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing vans).
While married, he was involved in multiple affairs, including one with actress Lil Dagover.
Heydrich chaired the Wannsee Conference; he architected and oversaw the Final Solution.
He could speak multiple languages, including English, French, and Czech.
He was a skilled equestrian, preferring to ride horses in his spare time.
He governed Prague and part of Czechoslovakia from September 21, 1941 - June 4, 1942
Czech Resistance Paratroopers assassinated Heydrich in Operation Anthropoid
He is the only high-ranking Nazi official assassinated during World War II.
After Heydrich's death, the Nazi's kill hundreds of in a reprisal at Lidice.
Childhood and Early Life
Reinhard Heydrich was born on March 7, 1904, in Halle an der Saale, Germany, to Bruno Heydrich, a composer and opera singer, and his wife, Elisabeth Anna Maria Amalia Krantz. Reinhard was the middle of three children and had an older brother, Heinz, and a younger brother, Klaus. He grew up practicing Catholicism; his family maintained friendly relationships with the Jews in their community.
Reinhard Heydrich was a gifted student, excelling academically and musically. He was exceptionally skilled at playing the violin and was a member of the school orchestra. Heydrich was also an avid athlete who enjoyed swimming, fencing, and horseback riding. Heydrich was reportedly a sickly child with asthma and other respiratory problems. He was often absent from school due to his health issues and was said to have been a rather solitary and reserved child.
Evidence suggests that Reinhard Heydrich may have been both a victim and perpetrator of bullying during his childhood and adolescence. According to some accounts, other children frequently bullied Heydrich at school due to his perceived physical weakness and his father's profession as an opera singer. This bullying reportedly intensified after rumors that Heydrich's family had Jewish blood (which was not the case).
Career in the German Navy
Reinhard Heydrich briefly served in the German Navy before joining the Nazi Party and the SS. He joined the Navy in 1922 at 17 and underwent basic training at the Kiel naval base. Heydrich served as a cadet on several German warships until 1924; the Navy sent him to officer training at the Naval Academy Mürwik. In 1926, the Navy promoted Heydrich to ensign, where he served as a signals officer on the battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein.
Heydrich was known by his shipmates and superiors for having several affairs with women. Heydrich, already engaged to another woman, announced his engagement to Lina von Osten, a fervent Nazi follower, and anti-Semite. The German Navy dismissed Heydrich in 1931 for "conduct unbecoming an officer," citing the von Osten affair and his ties with extreme right-wing politics. Immediately following his dismissal, Heydrich joined the Nazi party in May 1931 and the SS in July 1931.
From Intelligence Officer to Gestapo Leader
From August 1931 to July 1932, Heydrich led the SS Security Service (SD) in Munich, responsible for gathering intelligence, maintaining surveillance, and conducting covert operations within Germany and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Heydrich used the SD to consolidate his power within the Nazi regime and exerted significant influence over the police and security forces in occupied territories.
Reinhard Heydrich was heavily involved in the Gestapo, the secret police force of Nazi Germany. Himmler tapped Heydrich to lead the Gestapo from 1934-1939. During that time, Heydrich led and carried out the "Night and Fog" campaign across Germany and created the "Zentralstell IIP Polen" group within the Gestapo to carry out extermination initiatives against Polish citizens deemed threats to the Reich, mainly Polish clergy, soldiers, politicians and the highly educated.
Reich Protector of Bohemia & Moravia
Hitler appointed Heydrich as the Acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, a Nazi-controlled puppet state that included the Czech territories occupied by Germany during World War II. Heydrich's appointment was made in September 1941, after the previous Reich Protector, Konstantin von Neurath, was dismissed by Hitler for failing to implement Nazi policies aggressively.
Heydrich was a crucial figure in the Nazi regime and a committed ideologue. He saw his role in Bohemia and Moravia as an opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to Hitler and implement Nazi policies more aggressively. Heydrich settled in Prague and quickly set about imposing a brutal police state in the region, which included the Gestapo, the SD, and other security agencies.
Heydrich was responsible for implementing a system of forced labor and mass deportations of Czechs to concentration camps. He oversaw the establishment of ghettos and concentration camps in the region. His brutality led to the nickname "The Butcher of Prague." By October 1941, British and Czechoslovakian officials were working on plans to assassinate Heydrich.
Reinhard Heydrich played a significant role in the Holocaust, the Nazi regime's systematic extermination of European Jews and other minority groups during World War II. Heydrich was a committed ideologue and a key figure in the Nazi regime. He used his position as head of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to implement policies contributing to the genocide.
Heydrich was responsible for coordinating the deportation of Jews from all over Europe to concentration camps and ghettos and subjected to forced labor, starvation, and brutal conditions there. Heydrich also oversaw the creation of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads responsible for mass shootings of Jews and other "undesirables" in occupied territories.
Heydrich's most infamous contribution to the Holocaust was organizing the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. The conference brought together high-ranking Nazi officials, including Heydrich, to coordinate the implementation of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate all Jews in Europe. Heydrich presented detailed plans for the deportation and extermination of European Jews, a chilling moment and a turning point in the Nazi regime's genocidal policies.
Assassination & Death
While traveling in an open-top Mercedes-Benz 320 Convertible B, Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated on May 27, 1942, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, by a team of Czech resistance fighters who were trained and equipped by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).
The assassination, codenamed Operation Anthropoid, was the Allied response to Heydrich's brutal reign in Czechoslovakia and his role in implementing Nazi policies, including the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.
Resistance fighters Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis ambushed Heydrich's car while Heydrich was on his way to a meeting. Gabcik's machine gun jammed, but Kubis threw a modified anti-tank bomb at the vehicle. Heydrich was seriously injured in the explosion and died a few days later from an infection caused by the shrapnel wounds.
The assassination of Heydrich had significant repercussions for Czechoslovakia and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. The Nazis responded with a brutal crackdown, executing over 1,300 Czechs in reprisal. The assassination also increased resistance activity in Czechoslovakia and increased support for the Allied war effort.
Heydrich's death evoked mixed reactions within the Nazi regime. While some mourned the loss of a critical figure in the Nazi hierarchy, others saw Heydrich as a dangerous and unpredictable rival to Heinrich Himmler's authority.
Scholars today regard Heydrich as one of the most dangerous and influential figures in the Nazi regime; the Allies remember his assassination by Czech Paratroopers participating in Operation Anthropoid as one of the most significant acts of resistance against Nazi tyranny.
A Candle Burns in Remembrance of the Czech Paratroopers of Operation Anthropoid Who Lost Their Lives While Hiding in the Crypt of Saints Cyril and Methodius