Who was Reinhard Heydrich?


Reinhard Heydrich was one of the chief architects of the “Final Solution”. As chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), answerable only to Himmler and Hitler, he was given responsibility for coordinating the identification, transportation and murder of European Jewry from the summer of 1941. He organised and hosted the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, shortly before being assassinated in Prague in May 1942 by Czech resistance fighters (trained and armed by British intelligence).

Heydrich joined the NSDAP in the early 1930s after ten years in the German navy. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the SS, developing the NSDAP’s internal police, the Sicherheitsdienst. In 1934, he was appointed head of the Gestapo, newly created by unifying Germany’s competing political police agencies. In 1939, the RSHA unified the German police under Heydrich’s command. Later that year he created the Einsatzgruppen to follow the Wehrmacht into Poland, tasked with eliminating opponents. In 1941, Heydrich was a major planner of Operation Barbarossa, writing orders for the Einsatzgruppen which would come to kill around 1.2 million victims of the Holocaust. On 31 July 1941, Heydrich was sent a letter from Hermann Göring, instructing him to make “all preparations with regard to organisation, the material side and financial viewpoints for a final solution of the Jewish question in those territories in Europe which are under German influence”. The minutes of the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942 make clear, however, that Heydrich had interpreted his task more broadly, identifying 11,000,000 Jews in 32 countries as targets, including those in countries which were at that time beyond German control or influence.

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