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Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (October 4, 1903 - October 16, 1946) was a senior Nazi official during World War II. He was the highest ranking SS leader to face trial. He was executed for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Early life

Born in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, Kaltenbrunner was the son of a lawyer, and was educated at the State Realgymnasium in Linz and Graz University. He obtained a law degree in 1926. He worked as a lawyer briefly in Linz and Salzburg and from 1928 in Linz. He was a huge man, standing just over 6'6 (201 cm) tall. He had deep scars on his face from dueling in his student days. However, according to some sources, these "duelling scars" were actually acquired in an alcohol-linked driving accident.

Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party and the SS in Austria in 1932. He was the Gauredner (district speaker) and Rechtsberater (legal consultant) of the SS division VIII. In January 1934 Kaltenbrunner was briefly jailed by the Engelbert Dollfuss government with other National Socialists at the Kaisersteinbruch concentration camp. In 1934 he was jailed again on suspicion of High Treason in the assassination of Dollfuss. This accusation was dropped, but he was sentenced to six months for conspiracy. Also that year Kaltenbrunner married Elisabeth Eder; they had a son, Werner.

Kaltenbrunner rises to a major Nazi figure

Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, Franz Ziereis, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner in Mauthausen, 1941
Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, Franz Ziereis, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner in Mauthausen, 1941.

From mid-1935 Kaltenbrunner was the leader of the Austrian SS. He assisted in the Anschluss and Hitler promoted him to SS Brigadeführer on the day the Anschluss was completed. On September 11, 1938 he was promoted to the rank of SS Gruppenführer (see Video of Kaltenbrunner in Vienna January 1939). He was also a member of the Reichstag from 1938. In April 1941 was promoted to Major General of the Police. On January 30, 1943 Kaltenbrunner was appointed Chief of the RSHA, comprising both the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei, or Sipo) and the SD, replacing Reinhard Heydrich, who had been assassinated in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of the war.

Toward the end of the war, Kaltenbrunner's power increased greatly, especially after the attack on Hitler of July 20, 1944, upon which he gained direct access to the Fuhrer. It was said[weasel words] that even Heinrich Himmler feared him, and it was rumoured[weasel words] that he was responsible for Adolf Eichmann's failure to attain the rank of SS-Colonel.

Following Himmler's appointment as Minister of the Interior in August 1943, Kaltenbrunner sent him a letter wherein he argued that Himmler's new powers must be used to reverse the party cadre organisation's annexation of the civil service and the government apparatus. However he soon changed course and assiduously courted Martin Bormann much to Himmler's resentment. His closeness to Bormann further strengthened his position vis-a-vis Himmler and indeed the rest of the SS.

On December 9, 1944 he was awarded the Knight's Cross. By then his full title was SS Obergruppenführer and General of the Police Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the Security Police and the SD. In addition he held the Golden Insignia of Honor and the Blutorden.

Nuremberg Trials

SS-Ernst Kaltenbrunner at Nuremberg Trials being wheeled into court after an illness
SS-Ernst Kaltenbrunner at Nuremberg Trials being wheeled into court after an illness.

SS-Ernst Kaltenbrunner at Nuremberg Trials being wheeled into court after an illnessAt the Nuremberg Trials he was charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war-crimes and crimes against humanity. The most notable witness in this trial was Rudolf Hoess, the camp commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

His close control over the RSHA meant that direct knowledge of and responsibility for the following crimes was ascribed to him:

  • Mass murders of civilians of occupied countries by Einsatzgruppen.
  • Screening of prisoner of war camps and executing racial and political undesirables.
  • The taking of recaptured prisoners of war to concentration camps, where in some cases they were executed.
  • Establishing concentration camps and committing racial and political undesirables to concentration and annihilation camps for slave labor and mass murder.
  • Deportation of citizens of occupied countries for forced labor and disciplining of forced labor. The execution of captured commandos and paratroops and protection of civilians who lynched Allied fliers.
  • The taking of civilians of occupied countries to Germany for secret trial and punishment.
  • Punishment of citizens of occupied territories under special criminal procedure and by summary methods.
  • The execution and confinement of people in concentration camps for crimes allegedly committed by their relatives.
  • Seizure and spoliation of public and private property.
  • Murder of prisoners in SIPO and SD prisons.
  • Persecution of Jews.
  • Persecution of the churches.

During the trial his lawyer attempted to bring out the worst in direct examination but only served to make things worse for him. He told his guards to relay to the prosecution that thanks were in order "for bringing him such a stupid attorney." He also denied his signed name so many times that his own attorneys referred to him as Der Mann ohne Unterschrift - "the man without a signature."

He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging at around 1:40 a.m. on October 16, 1946; his last words were:

" I have loved my German people and my fatherland with a warm heart. I have done my duty by the laws of my people and I am sorry this time my people were led by men who were not soldiers and that crimes were committed of which I had no knowledge. Germany, good luck.

Personal life

In 1934 Kaltenbrunner married Elisabeth Eder (b. 1908) and they had three children. In addition, he had twins (b. 1945) with his long-time mistress Gisela Gräfin von Westarp (née Wolf). All of his children survived the war.

Further evidence

In 2001, Ernst Kaltenbrunner's personal Nazi security seal was found in an Alpine lake, nearly 50 years after he threw it away in an effort to hide his identity. The seal was recovered by a Dutch holidaymaker. The seal has the words "The Head of the Security Police and the SD" engraved on it. Experts have examined the seal and believe it was thrown in the final days of the war in May 1945. It was one of Kaltenbrunner's last acts as a free man. Kaltenbrunner gave himself up claiming to be a doctor and offering a false name. However, his mistress spotted him, and by chance occurrence, she called out his name and rushed to hug him. This is what tipped off troops and what got him captured, leading to his trial at Nuremberg and his eventual execution.

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