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92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hitler's Hangman,
Reinhard Heydrich was labelled "Hitler's Hangman" by Thomas Mann after his assassination, at the age of thirty eight. This excellent biography actually begins with his death in Prague, May 1942. The background to the assassination is examined in great detail, with the Czech underground under pressure to perform, despite (quite rightly as it turned out) fearing reprisals if Heydrich was the target.
The book then turns to Heydrich's early life. He was born into a musical family of good financial means and social standing. During WWI his father was mentioned in a German encyclopaedia of music and musicians, published in 1916, as a Jewish composer. It turned out a former pupil of his fathers musical conservatory had inserted this as revenge for being expelled and it was removed from the next edition, but rumours of a Jewish background would plague Heydrich throughout his life.
Rather than running his fathers business, Heydrich turned to the navy and found the rumours of a Jewish background followed him, making him an outsider - although playing the violin probably also helped to mark him out as different. However, he became a second naval liutenant and was both ambitious and arrogant. He met his future wife, Lina Von Osten in 1930, whose brother was an early member of the Nazi party. However, the relationship eventually led to his dismissal from the navy and left Heydrich at a loose end.
It is hard to say whether, had Heydrich remained in the navy and not met Lina, he would have simply remained a career officer. However, an interview with Himmler changed his life. Himmler gave him a chance and Heydrich remained conscious of the debt he owed him and gave total loyalty. He was less qualified than the other applicant, but used his love of crime and spy novels to impress Himmler so much that he was offered the job of creating the SS intelligence agency.
This biography looks at Heydrich's early career in the SS. Securing control over the Gestapo, the night of the long knives in 1934, kristallnacht and Heydrich's attacks on the church, the communists, the Jewish population and others. With the invasion of Poland, Heydrich unleashed a campaign of terror which exceeded anything he had managed before. He was also given the responsibility, by Hitler, of the maintenance of order in Germany 'at all costs'. In 1939 he issued the "Principles of Inner State Security during the War" and a ruthless approach to the threat of defeatism.
Heydrich was convinced that only he could deal with the 'Jewish problem' and appointed Eichmann as special advisor carrying out evacuations in the East. He favoured a Jewish reservation in Madagascar, but this plan was dropped when sea routes could not be secured. The book goes on to look at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, set up by Heydrich when Goring authorised him to make "all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question." Wannsee affirmed Heydrich's overall authority in dealing with the Jews, a responsibility he seems to have embraced without any kind of difficulty or being troubled about what he was asked to do.
Hitler then decided to replace Baron von Neurath, his 'weak' representative in Prague with Heydrich. This was a man whose power was constantly growing - he had wealth, power and was the only leading SS officer occupying key positions at both the centre of the Nazi empire and on the territorial periphery. He travelled regularly between Prague and Berlin, taking up new challenges without meaning to lose any of his previous responsibilities. His time in Prague dealt huge blows to the people. He saw the Czech people as a race of slaves, considering education an unnecessary luxury and attempting to undermine and eradicate Czech culture and national identity. He pushed for cultural Germanization and stamped on resistance movements with harsh measures.
When Heydrich was assassinated, his funeral was stage managed by Goebbels and the Nazi's sought revenge. The most well known act of retaliation was the complete annihilation of the Bohemian village of Lidice, where the assassins allegedly received support. Himmler also ordered his subordinates to take less risks, saying, "after all we want to kill our enemies; our enemies are not supposed to kill us." The author goes on to tell us what happened to the assassins, the implications of the death of Heydrich and what happened to the people involved after the war. Lina, who survived, never expressed any regret or remorse for her husbands crimes. It is interesting to speculate on what would have happened had Heydrich survived - suicide in 1945 or Neuremberg perhaps? Either way, that the well brought up son of musicians ended up steeped in such savagery - embraced such violence - is staggering and this is a very well written and interesting account of his life and his death. Highly recommended.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how thoroughly disturbing....,
Robert Gewarth has written a very objective book about a monstrous man, called Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of the SD (the intelligence division of the SS). He never condemns him because he is using an academic technique called cold empathy that aims to explain the actions of a person within that person's own context.
I'm glad he did this, because the actions really do speak for themselves.
There are many excellent reviews here, what I would like to add, is that what struck me most is how even the nazi party as it took power was filled with very hard working ambitious men, vying with each other to outdo themselves in order to fulfill the Fuhrer's vision of racial purity and the expansion of the german empire to create a 1000 year Reich.
This book shows meticulously and in detail just how professional and exhausting was this whole enterprise. It's easy to see, how a moderate and thoughtful person wouldn't stand a chance if they objected to all the brutality, nastiness, violence and murder -on a massive scale even before the holocaust was put into action during and after 1942.
What I'm really saying is that these cold-hearted highly educated men worked themselves to the bone to create this hideous corporation of death (the ruling Nazi party) and that they had a really horrible time doing it because the driving force behind all the ideology was so relentless and demented. There was a constant and massive pressure on everyone to 'deliver' by seizing and maximising the window of opportunity to create lasting changes, which usually meant, enacting solutions to percieved problems, using the most brutal and expedient means, and this went on at a truly remorseless pace from about 1933 to 1945. It does rather show that raw intelligence really is no barrier at all to being amazingly stupid and that once extremists controls the levers, there are enough amoral lackeys, seeing their chance to shine in the world, who come to the fore, leaving decent people terrified of speaking up, and forced to go along lest they appear weak. In other words hell. Heydrich was a true believer, he was the one who flogged himself and everyone else to achieve all this, hence all the historical interest in him.
I say all this because we can take some comfort that even though the victims of nazism suffered in their millions, the actual perpetrators were so zealous, over-competitive and dysfunctional that they had a hideous time too, and many of them lived to see their crazy dreams turn the ashes, their country smashed, experience the world's disgust and of course the Nuremberg trials.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Written, Fast Pace, A First Class Work.,
This superb book fills a gap in the biographies of leading Nazis. Previous works on Heydrich have either centred on the manner of his death and the search for his assassins and the widespread repercussions, or have been so pejorative as to obscure the actual details of the life of Heydrich. Robert Gerwarth has provided a masterpiece of objective observation and lucid narrative that is clearly the result of extensive research. Gerwarth charts the early life of Heydrich in a privileged and cultured home, a student of classical music and a promising early career in the German navy, brought to an abrupt halt by dismissal over a matter of honour. The author then demonstrates very clearly how Heydrich joined the SS, perhaps under the influence of his wife, when it was an insignificant element of the Nazi Party and was then propelled both by happenstance and a ferocious work ethic and radical views to ever increasing levels of seniority and power within the movement. Gerwarth is meticulous in charting the power struggles and accumulation of responsibilities that Himmler and Heydrich pursued in the chaotic and deliberately overlapping organisations that Hitler had created. Heydrich saw that he could gain power and responsibility by exploiting and exaggerating the perceived threat to the Reich of the Jews within Europe. Heydrich was in the very vanguard of actions against the Jews and the author has written perhaps the clearest description of how those actions escalated step by step from encouraged emigration to the horror of the holocaust and the parallel advancement of Heydrich from head of the SD to Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia responsible directly to Hitler. Gerwarth also corrects some of the widespread misapprehensions about what was decided at the Wannsee conference.
I have not sought to reproduce the detail of the book but readers can be assured that the author covers all aspects of the life and death of Heydrich and his family, domestic, cultural and political and of his relationships with other leading Nazis. This must surely stand as the best book available on this subject. Superbly written, fantastic pace, excellent clarity and wholeheartedly recommended for all those with an interest in this, at once, diabolical and fascinating man.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much needed quality biography,
This is a very thoroughly researched and scholarly book. There are a few small typo errors, but the overall style is extremely readable. He produces a dispassionate, revealing and intensely interesting description of the short, ideologically driven and ambitious life of this complex character.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant account of a monster.,
Quite simply the best life of Reinhard Heydrich I've ever read. The book suceeds very well in helping to explain the man, without sympathising with him. The role of his wife, who at least initially was more of a Nazi than he was, was critical in him becoming the monster he actually became. She never changed her extreme views, even after 1945. His close relationship with Himmler is also convincingly described. The amateurish nature of Nazism is conveyed very well, 'working to the Fuhrer' these men made it up as they went along, until in the end they had almost the whole of europe to play with as a giant, grotesque racist experiment. The shambolic nature of it all is traced through the development of the Nazi security apparatus and then, also, the halting development of the Final Solution itself.
Heydrich himself played a crucial role in this, but he was not himself quite the master architect of the Final Solution he is made out to be; that was the work of a diffuse group who almost stumbled into it as an answer to the practical problem as the Nazis saw it, of what to 'do' with the Jews. The answer in the end, as the war radicalised Nazi policy, was extermination.
In the final period of his life Heydrich truly became the hangman in the Orwellian named 'protectorate' of Bohemia and Moravia. If he had had his way the Czech lands would have become a laboratory for the rest of Europe in a giant experiment in ethnic cleansing, building the nightmare idealised Nazi future. His assasination led not only to the martydom of his killers, but the destruction of the Czech resistance and the deaths of literally thousands in a whirlwind of Nazi vengeance. But it is typical of the racist arrogance and contempt of the man to the people that he claimed to rule, that he travelled in an open car, without escort. The Nazis gave him the most elaborate. literally Wagnerian state funeral ever held in the Third Reich, fittingly by their lights.
This book brilliantly explains why they thought he was worthy of that funeral, and also why he deserved to die for what he did.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An empty uniform,
I read this book with a view to understanding this committedly brutal man whose slow strutting on the parade ground was evidently meant to project the arrogance of 'racial superiority'. After all, there is an enigma. Heydrich came from a cultured musical family and was a sensitive and gifted violinist. The book certainly helps to unravel my questions. Heydrich's rejection from the Navy inspired a payback by this aggressively assertive man. But what about all the meticulous file boxes of supposed enemies which proved so useful in eliminating undesirables after Hitler came to power? How do these fit with the 'man of action'? What could he not have done with modern computers to prosecute his murderous campaigns on the civilian populace. So, he was a strutting bureaucrat who used Nazi ideas (which he also helped to compose) to give himself an important and brutal world in which to thrive.
My problem is not with the book, which is well researched, but with the man who comes across as an empty husk, surrounding which were psychopathic traits and a genuine inability to understand anyone else's feelings. In short, the man made me feel increasingly nauseous as the book proceeded. His assassination by Czech agents with British planning was a necessary if rather late response. The one feature which stands out as a possible virtue was his courage (he did not flee his assassins). However, whether this was just one more assertion of arrogance, it is difficult to say.
So, this is a good book about a nauseating subject, that is, a nihilistic husk. As for his assassins they were good and brave men, and all Czechs can feel justly proud of them.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythical Racial Purity,
Reinhard Heydrich was thirty-eight when he was assassinated by a British trained Czech hit squad resulting in savage reprisals which razed Lidice to the ground and its inhabitants murdered or deported to concentration camps. The assassins' actions led to the destruction of the existing Czech underground movement creating a controversy about the value of the operation which has lasted to this day. It also raised the question of the morality of assassinating war leaders rather than bringing them to trial. Gerwarth discusses these questions while Attempting to discover how and why Heydrich became the person responsible for implementing the 'final solution'.
It's ironic that during his teens Heydrich was accused of being a Jew, an allegation that surfaced periodically during his time in the Navy and as a member of the Nazi party. This arose because his grandmother's second husband had the Jewish sounding name of Suss, although he was not of Jewish descent. In 1916 Heydrich's father, Bruno, a successful musician, sued the publishers of the prestigious Hugo Riemanns Musik-Lexikon for stating he was a Jew. He won the case but the rumours persisted.
Heydrich was apolitical during his service in the navy where he was known for his sexual excesses. These led him to being involved with two women at the same time and his dismissal from the navy. According to one of the members of the court of honour Heydrich was dismissed for his 'proven insincerity, aimed at whitewashing himself'. He married one of the women, Lina von Osten, who was an enthusiastic member of the Nazi party and anti-Semite. He joined the Nazis "not out of deep ideological conviction but because Nazism offered him the opportunity to return to a structured life in uniform providing.......a sense of purpose and a way of regaining the confidence of Lina and her family of devoted Nazis." She was delighted when with her husband she met Himmler in 1931.
Himmler and Heydrich came from the educated middle-class but allowed their prejudices to over-ride their education. Himmler was Heydrich's 'central ideological reference point' while Himmler's ideology of Aryan purity was personified by Heydrich. Heydrich joined the SS, soon becoming prominent in street-fighting and acting as Himmler's de facto deputy. He built on Himmler's idea of racial selection, a crude form of Social Darwinism, which placed the Nordic people - tall, blonde and blue-eyed - at the apex of humanity. This ideology drew on Galton's theories of racial hygene which required the purging of humanity of 'unfit' humans and encouraging the reproduction of 'fit' humans by means of artificial selection.
When Hitler came to power the Nazis' vocal opponents (Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, liberals, Catholics and conservatives) were quickly arrested. Lina Heydrich wallowed in the violence that followed. So did Heydrich, who was appointed head of the political police, until he recognised that a disciplined SS was superior to one which was out of control. He imposed virtues such as honour, loyalty, obedience, decency and camaraderie as behavioural norms and removed those unable to maintain them. However, such 'virtues' were placed within Nazi racial ideology which changed their meaning and purpose and in accordance with Heydrich's despotic rule.
Heydrich was not an ideologue inasmuch as he appears never to have read Mein Kampf or been familiar with the standard anti-Semitic literature of Chamberlain or Rosenberg. He was a technician more interested in deeds than ideas. The Gestapo played little part in the Nazis early anti-Jewish policies confining itself to intelligence gathering. Although Heydrich rarely mentioned the Jews in speeches before 1938 four years earlier he circulated a memo stating, 'Germany has to be a country without a future for Jews' which would be achieved by natural wastage of the older generation and the emigration of younger Jews.
In addition to the Jews Heydrich had a deep hatred of the Catholic Church, notwithstanding his childhood as an alter boy. He regarded it as an organised conspiracy against Aryan racism and followed Himmler's neo-paganism in an effort to replace Christianity. Heydrich found support from Hess, Goebbels and Bormann. In 1935 he instituted a series of trials against various Catholic Orders accusing them of international money laundering, homosexuality and paedophilia while Goebbels started a campaign against "priests, lay brothers and nuns working in primary and secondary schools". Only Hitler's decision to postpone action against the Church until the end of the war stopped Heydrich, although he was able to target Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons and Asocials many of whom were sent to prison or concentration camps.
Immediately after Kristallnacht Herman Goring convened a meeting at which Heydrich proposed a ten year programme for the removal of Jews from Germany. Goring's acceptance of the programme effectively transferred overall responsibility for the Jewish question to Heydrich who by this time had invented himself as a model Nazi. He took control of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA)which combined the Gestapo, political police and the SD - the SS intelligence service - into one coordinated unit responsible for the final solution of the Jewish question. When German troops invaded Poland they were followed by SS task forces (Einsatzgruppen) whose purpose was to kill 'politically undesirable Poles, professionals and intelligentsia' in addition to Jews. What followed was a regime of terror and mass murder. By the end of 1941 killings of Jews were in excess of 2000 a day and Heydrich showed compassion - for the murderers - following reports of alcohol abuse and mental breakdowns. He could not prevent news filtering back to Germany itself.
Heydrich did not come up with the idea of 'humanising' the killing of Jews but authorised Walter Rauff of the RHSA to investigate the use of chemicals. The rest is history unless one is a Holocaust denier. Anyone reading this book cannot deny the Nazi crimes against humanity. Heydrich rejected the liberal ideas of bourgeois European society in favour of mythical racial purity. Gerwarth's book is the definitive biography which should be read by all.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb,
An outstanding piece of work: so well researched and eminently readable. Probably the best biography I have ever read. If you have any interest in the history of Germany in the 20th century, then put this at the top of your wanted list.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fickle Finger of Fate,
This review is from: Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich (Kindle Edition)
A well-written and extensively researched book which is, very obviously, historically accurate in every aspect. I know that the subject matter has been discussed in numerous other books but this is a gripping and chilling account of a man who might never have been the architect of the holocaust had it not been for the fickle finger of fate in his early career in the German navy! A very interesting and worthwhile read!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well researched. Not a perfect book, but very good.,
Very well researched, but this is definitely not something to be read whilst being jostled on 'The Tube'...It requires 100% attention at all times. The most surprising thing that I learnt from this book (I considered myself to be fairly knowledgeable about Heydrich. Not any more!)was how repugnantly defensive his wife, Lina, was of his atrocious crimes.
Well done to the author.
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Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich by Robert Gerwarth