Reinhard Heydrich, born on this day in 1904 in Halle, Germany, was a tall man with a high pitched voice, who would be the subject of bullying as a young boy. He was teased for the sound of his voice and the fact that he was a Catholic living in a prominently Protestant neighborhood. He was also taunted for being a Jew (which he wasn’t.) Raised in a strict home, his mother believed in strong discipline and lashings were commonplace. Because of these early beginnings, Reinhard grew into a rather sullen young man, but he was also highly driven – perhaps to prove himself in some way.
His parents were both musicians. His father founded the Halle Conservatory of Music and was a Wagnerian opera singer. His mother, an accomplished pianist. Reinhard studied the violin and became proficient at it. His family was considered “high society” until after the first World War, when Germany suffered great economic ruin and Heydrich’s family felt it as well. At the age of 18 he became a cadet in the German Navy. He was once again laughed at for his falsetto voice and gangly appearance. He became known as Billy Goat, for his bleating laugh.
At this point in his story, I’m beginning to feel sorry for this chap. Unfortunately, all the teasing and bullying – the strict upbringing – the loss of wealth and the eventual loss of his position in the Navy turned him into an arrogant fellow, determined to make a name for himself no matter who he stepped on in his pursuit. His arrogance quickly turned into ambition.
In 1926 he joined the Nazi party and became one of Hitler’s elite. Hitler referred to him as “The Man With The Iron Heart.” Undoubtedly all that toughening up in his early years, hardened his heart as well. He became involved in the intelligence organization and in put in charge of rooting out anyone who opposed the party.
He organized a series of attacks on Jews throughout Nazi Germany and part of Austria. Perhaps he did this with such great zeal to purge himself from the accusations that he himself was Jewish. That fact continued throughout his life, even though there was nothing to back it up.
Who knows what makes someone snap? Was it the hurtful words from his childhood? Was it the beatings and harsh treatment of his parents? Was it the never ending works righteousness of his Catholic upbringing? Probably all those elements contributed to the formation of the life of Reinhard Heydrich.
He was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen a special task force which murdered over two million people, including 1.3 million Jews, by shooting or gassing. His brutal tactics in rounding up the masses to be killed, earned him the name, “The Butcher of Prague.”
In May of 1942, a special forces unit of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile organized in Britain to kill Reinhard at Prague. He was critically wounded in the ambush and died from his injuries a week later.
What did this man prove in his life? Had he gained the honor he thought he deserved? Was he the subject of too much negativity at an early age? Who knows what makes a man into a monster? Maybe the labels we place on people have something to do with the way they turn out. The Hangman – Architect of the Holocaust – The Man With the Iron Heart – The Butcher of Prague – all these terms were used to describe Reinhard Heydrich. Who knows?
Walter Schellenberg, a direct subordinate of Heydrich, said this about him>
“Heydrich had an incredibly acute perception of the moral, human, professional and political weaknesses of others. His unusual intellect was matched by the ever-watchful instincts of a predatory animal. He was inordinately ambitious. It seemed as if, in a pack of ferocious wolves, he must always prove himself the strongest and assume the leadership.