Not a well-known member of the Nazi party but one of the key figures in some of its worst crimes against humanity.

Richard Heydrich (1904-1942) was a high-ranking Nazi and Heinrich Himmler's second in command in the SS (Schutzstaffel). He chaired the Wannsee Conference where much of the organizational details were worked out for what would be the "Final Solution" (Endlösung) to the what the Nazis considered the "Jewish Problem" (Judenfrage, literally Jewish question) and was a key member in the orchestration of what became the holocaust.

He was born Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, though as a Nazi, he earned such nicknames as "The Hangman" (Der Henker) and "the Blond Beast." In 1931, after being discharged from the German navy for misconduct (an affair), he joined the SS. Originally begun as units for Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguards, under Himmler (with no small help from Heydrich) the SS became a much larger organization dealing with intelligence, combat, and eventually the primary force in executing the Nazis' genocide in Europe and Russia.

Early on, he was in charge of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, meaning "Security Service") which specialized in surveillance and intelligence (much of it directed at members of the party). His excellent work gained the attention of his superiors and he rose in rank. In 1934, Himmler gained control of the Gestapo, bringing along Heydrich as second in commmand (taking over for Himmler in 1936, when Himmler gained charge of all police forces in Germany). A few months later, Heydrich, Himmler, and Hermann Göring concocted the plot that would result in the purge in the Sturmabteilung (SA), a paramilitary group that had grown strong helping the Nazis' rise to power. Unfortunately, its powerful leader, Ernst Röhm, sometimes had conflicts of view with Hitler, so false rumors were spread and the top leaders of the SA were hunted down and murdered in what came to be called the "Night of the Long Knives." Heydrich was the one who wrote the kill-list.

Heydrich's power grew as did his ruthlessness. As Austria was annexed, his SS began rounding up anti-Nazis and harassing Jews. He set up an office (headed by Adolf Eichmann) to allow Jews to emigrate. Due to the growing mistreatment and dislike by non-Jews, thousands did leave, though many only after leaving behind all their possessions for the SS. During Kristallnacht (1938), Heydrich ordered the arrest of thousands of Jews (as many as 25,000) and their transport to concentration camps. In 1939, he became head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA, meaning "Reich Central Security Office"), putting him in charge of all security and police forces for the entire Third Reich.

From his new position he organized genocidal actions in Poland. He organized the Einsatzgruppen, mobile units that rounded up politicians, intellectuals, clergy, the aristocracy, and others. Any remaining Poles were destined for enslavement. Upwards of a million Polish and Soviet Jews alone, were killed by these squads. When Russia was invaded, his Einsatzgruppen were sent in to kill off any possible resistance, including anyone who was communist. He also, with the help of Eichmann, began mass deportation of Jews from Germany and Austria to ghettoes in Poland. Ones in Soviet territory were often killed outright by the units (as many as 1,300,000 by the end of the war).

On July 31, 1941, Göring sent Heydrich an order:

Supplementing the task assigned to solve the Jewish problem by means of emigration and evacuation in the best possible way according to present conditions, I hereby charge you to carry out preparations as regards organizational, financial, and material matters for a total solution of the Jewish question in all the territories of Europe under German occupation.

Where the competency of other central organizations touches on this matter, these organizations are to collaborate.

I charge you further to submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution [Endlösung] of the Jewish question.

In January 1942, Heydrich ran the Wannsee Conference where the details and organizational requirements were worked out in order to set the "Solution" into action. (All that survives is a copy of the minutes, kept by Eichmann with "help" by Heydrich, and statements about that meeting by Eichmann at trial).

Within a few months, mass gassing began at Auschwitz and the cruel efficiency of Heydrich and his SS systematically began its attempt to eradicate (and kill, whether directly by murder or indirectly through living conditions, overwork, lack of medical care, and proper nourishment) all the Jews from Europe (as Heydrich reputedly said: "Europe would be combed of Jews from East to West").

[As usual, to be complete and fair, these genocidal actions and conditions were also visited upon vast numbers of Gypsies (who may have actually lost a larger proportion of their original population), Slavs, homosexuals, and other undesirables. Not to mention ongoing forced sterilization not only to Jews (something touched on in the Wannsee Protocol), but to the mentally ill, terminally ill, and handicapped.]

In late 1941, Heydrich had been appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia (what later became Czechoslovakia and the Czech republic). He continued using his soldiers to destroy any resistance and to deport Czech Jews to Polish camps. He had become so overconfident and arrogant in his destruction of resistance and the pacification of the people (through fear, though he made some attempts to improve some social and economic conditions, but hardly for altruistic reasons) that he would travel around in an open car without benefit of armed escort. One day, Czech underground agents (trained in England) were able to throw a bomb at him. It didn't kill him outright but he died about a week later due to blood poisoning from fragments of the car and his own uniform being embedded in his body.

As a result, the agents, resistance members, and (any) suspects in the crime (around 1000 people) were rounded up and murdered. Elsewhere, 3000 Jews were sent from a Czech ghetto to extermination camps and an additional 500 were arrested in Berlin (152 executed). The small Czech village of Lidice was then targeted and every male over the age of 16 (172 people) was shot, the women sent to a concentration camp (most died there), and the children (90) were also sent to a (different) concentration camp. They then systematically bombed every building and razed the town to the ground, leaving no trace, planting seed on the exposed earth. To complete the annihilation, the name of the village was removed from all German maps.

Even with his death, the genocide continued.

(Primary sources: and

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