Reinhard Heydrich Biography

The First In-depth Look at a Nazi ‘God of Death’

By Georg Bönisch

As the chair of the Wannsee Conference and head of the Reich Main Security Office, Reinhard Heydrich was the personification of the cruelest aspects of Nazi Germany. But the first scholarly biography of him finds that a combination of shame, love and luck — rather than purely inherent evil — led him to pursue a path of Nazi terror.

Photo Gallery: Reinhard Heydrich -- Monster Born or Made?REUTERS

The site for the assassination was carefully chosen at a point where a steeply sloping street in Prague’s Libe district made a hairpin turn, forcing approaching cars to slow down considerably. This is precisely what the driver of a heavy convertible Mercedes did as his vehicle climbed toward the curve at approximately 10:30 a.m. on May 27, 1942.

Behind the driver sat his boss, one of Adolf Hitler’s most devoted followers. The man was a veritable Aryan poster boy, tall, blonde and blue-eyed, the ideal image of an SS leader. He was also the person whom one British officer referred to as the "mastermind."

That man was none other than Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), the body charged with fighting all "enemies of the Reich" within and outside German borders, and one of the principle organizers of the Holocaust. Just months earlier, he had chaired the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, during which plans for the murder of what would turn out to be approximately 6 million people were discussed.

At the same time, another one of Heydrich’s official positions was that of deputy protector of Bohemia and Moravia, two regions in today’s Czech Republic, where he ruled with an iron fist. In the weeks after he arrived there in 1941, Heydrich ordered more than 400 people killed because he needed his "quiet space."

This and similar orders were what motivated the assassins lying in wait at the curve ahead. One man raised his submachine gun and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed. Heydrich, who never traveled with a protective detail, drew his own gun and attempted to return fire. But, at that point, a grenade thrown by the second assassin exploded, sending shrapnel into the car’s seats and Heydrich’s abdomen. He would die from his wounds eight days later at the age of 38.

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