In calm and harrowing detail, Gerwarth (Modern History, War Studies/Univ. College Dublin; The Bismarck Myth: Weimar Germany and the Legacy of the Iron Chancellor, 2005, etc.) explores the life and work of the embodiment of Nazism, Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942).
The author trails the life of this favorite of the Fuhrer, the Gestapo chief, from his comfortable childhood as the favored son of a musician through his career as a paragon of Nazi philosophy put into practice. Rumors of the taint of Jewish blood in the veins of the arrogant man wearing the cap with the death’s-head insignia were untrue. After being drummed out of the German navy, the ambitious young man found his calling in the nascent SS, quickly rising to second in command under Heinrich Himmler. The “Jewish expert” Eichmann reported to Heydrich, who was instrumental in establishing the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938. He conceived ghettoes as storage places for Jews until more convenient disposal could be arranged. The requirement for Jews to wear the yellow star was his idea, and he worked to rapidly increase the population of the concentration camps. To ease the work of his murderers, Heydrich pioneered the use of lethal gas. Breaks from his day job of killing civilians included flying missions with the Luftwaffe just for fun. His successes earned him the Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia. As the war progressed, the Jewish “final solution” evolved, and Heydrich convened Wannsee to implement it early in 1942. A few months later, he was assassinated. In partial reprisal, the village of Lidice and its inhabitants were liquidated. Page by page in this scholarly history, Gerwarth builds a complex story of the perfection of mass murder.
The author meticulously takes us inside the Third Reich, face to face with the Nazi hero, revealing as few texts do how the bureaucracy of evil worked.