Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was a senior German official during World War II, holding the offices of Chief of the RSHA, and President of Interpol. He was the highest-ranking SS leader to face trial, having the full rank of Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed.
Born in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, Kaltenbrunner was the son of a lawyer, and was educated at the State Realgymnasium in Linz and at 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 very tall man, standing just over 6' 7" (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. In 1934, Kaltenbrunner married Elisabeth Eder (b. 1908) and they had three children. In addition to the children from his marriage, Kaltenbrunner had twins (b. 1945) with his long-time mistress Gisela Gräfin von Westarp (née Wolf). All of his children survived the war.
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 11 September 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.
World War II
Kaltenbrunner (on the very left), Heinrich Himmler, August Eigruber, and other SS officlals visiting Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941, in the company of camp commander Franz Ziereis.In July 1940 he was commissioned as a Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS Reserve. Later, in April 1941, he was promoted to Lieutenant General of the Police. On 30 January 1943 Kaltenbrunner was appointed Chief of the RSHA, that comprised the Sipo Sicherheitspolizei (that included both the Gestapo and Kripo) along with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD: security services). He replaced Reinhard Heydrich, who had been assassinated in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of the war. He was promoted to SS Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei on 21 June 1943. He also became President of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), the organization today known as Interpol.
Kaltenbrunner with Himmler and Ziereis
Kaltenbrunner as spectator at a People's Court show trial following the failed 20 July plot.Toward the end of the war, Kaltenbrunner's power increased greatly, especially after the attack on Hitler of 20 July 1944, upon which he gained direct access to the Führer. He was also responsible for conducting kangaroo trials and calling for the execution of all the people who were accused of plotting against Hitler. It was often said that even Heinrich Himmler feared him and he managed to be an intimidating figure with his height, facial scars and volatile temper. It was rumored that he was responsible for Adolf Eichmann's failure to attain the rank of SS-Colonel. Kaltenbrunner was also long-time friends with Otto Skorzeny and recommended him for many secret missions, allowing Skorzeny to become one of Hitler's prized achievements. Kaltenbrunner was also responsible for heading Operation Long Jump, the attempt to assassinate Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt. 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.
In December 1944, Kaltenbrunner was granted the rank of General of the Waffen-SS. Other SS General Officers were granted equivalent Waffen-SS ranks in 1944 as well, so that in the event that they were captured by the Allies, they would have status as military officers instead of police officials. For those who had held police rank prior to 1944, the SS General's title could become rather lengthy. Kaltenbrunner was listed on the SS rolls in 1945 as Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS. On 9 December 1944 he was awarded the Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords, one of the highest and rarest military decorations. In addition he held the Golden Insignia of Honor and the Blutorden.
On 18 April 1945, Himmler named Kaltenbrunner Commander-in-Chief of those remaining German forces in Southern Europe. Kaltenbrunner reorganized his intelligence agencies as a stay-behind underground net, he divided the subcommands between Otto Skorzeny, head of the sabotage units, and Wilhelm Waneck, who kept in contact not only with Kaltenbrunner and other centers in Germany, but also with stay-behind agents in the southern European capitals. In late April 1945, Kaltenbrunner relocated his headquarters from Berlin to Alt-Aussee in Austria. On 12 May 1945 he was captured by a U.S. patrol and arrested.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner wheeled into court during the Nuremberg Trials after an illness.At the Nuremberg Trials, Kaltenbrunner 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.
Kaltenbrunner's 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 paratroopers 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, Kaltenbrunner's 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."
Excerpt from Ernst Kaltenbrunner's closing statement at the Nuremberg Trials.
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Kaltenbrunner's body after execution, October 1946.Kaltenbrunner 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 16 October 1946. Kaltenbrunner's 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. ”
In 2001, Ernst Kaltenbrunner's personal Nazi security seal was found in an Alpine lake, 56 years after he threw it away in an effort to hide his identity. The seal was recovered by a Dutch citizen on vacation. 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 action tipped off the Allied troops, resulting in his capture, trial, and execution.