Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the RSHA and president of Interpol.
Director of the Reich Main Security Office
In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Appointed by Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Reinhard Heydrich / Heinrich Himmler (acting)
Succeeded by None
President of the ICPC
In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Preceded by Arthur Nebe
Succeeded by Florent Louwage
Personal details
Born 4 October 1903
Ried im Innkreis, Upper-Austria, Austria-Hungary now Austria
Died 16 October 1946 (aged 43)
Nuremberg, Bavaria, Allied-occupied Germany
Nationality Austrian
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Spouse(s) Elisabeth Eder (m. 1934)
Alma mater University of Graz
Profession Lawyer
Religion Former Roman Catholic, self-declared Gottgläubig
Awards Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords
Military service
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service 1940–1945
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS
Battles/wars World War II

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was an Austrian-born senior official of Nazi Germany during World War II. An Obergruppenführer (general) in the Schutzstaffel (SS), between January 1943 and May 1945 he held the offices of Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, Reich Main Security Office) and President of the ICPC, later to become Interpol. He was the highest-ranking member of the SS to face trial at the first Nuremberg Trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed.

Early life[edit]

Born in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, Kaltenbrunner was the son of a lawyer, and was educated at the State Realgymnasium in Linz and obtained his doctorate degree in law at Graz University in 1926.[1] He had deep scars on his face from dueling in his student days, although some sources attribute them to an automobile accident.[2]

SS career[edit]

Kaltenbrunner (on the far left), Heinrich Himmler, August Eigruber, and other SS officials visiting Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941, in the company of camp commander Franz Ziereis.

On 18 October 1930, Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party as NSDAP member number 300,179. In 1931, he was the Bezirksredner (district speaker) for the Nazi Party in Oberösterreich. He went on to join the SS on 31 August 1931, his SS number was 13,039.[1] He first became a Rechtsberater (legal consultant) for the party in 1929 and later held this same position for SS Abschnitt VIII beginning in 1932.[3]

In January 1934, Kaltenbrunner was briefly jailed at the Kaisersteinbruch detention camp with other National Socialists for conspiracy by the Engelbert Dollfuss government. While there he led a hunger strike which forced the government to release 490 of the party members. In 1935, he was jailed again on suspicion of high treason. This charge was dropped, but he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for conspiracy and he lost his license to practice law.[4]

From mid-1935 Kaltenbrunner was head of the illegal SS Abschnitt VIII in Linz and was considered a leader of the Austrian SS. To provide Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinz Jost with new information, Kaltenbrunner repeatedly made trips to Bavaria. Hiding on a train and on a ship that traveled to Passau, he would return with money and Reichorders for Austrian comrades.[5] He assisted in the Anschluss with Germany and was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer on 21 March 1938.[6] He became a member of the Reichstag from 10 April 1938 until 8 May 1945.[6] Then on 11 September 1938 Kaltenbrunner was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer, equivalent to a lieutenant general in the army while holding the position of Führer of SS-Oberabschnitt Österreich (re-designated SS-Oberabschnitt Donau in November 1938). Also in 1938, he was appointed High SS and police leader (Höherer SS- und Polizeiführer; HSSPF) for Donau, which was the primary SS command in Austria and he held that post until 30 January 1943.[7]

World War II[edit]

Kaltenbrunner with Himmler and Ziereis at Mauthausen in April 1941

In June 1940, he was further appointed Police President of Vienna and held that additional post for a year. In July 1940, Kaltenbrunner was commissioned as a SS-Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS Reserve. Later in April 1941, he was promoted to major general (Generalleutnant) of the Police.[8] On 30 January 1943 Kaltenbrunner was appointed Chief of the RSHA, composed of the SiPo (Sicherheitspolizei: the combined forces of the Gestapo and Kripo) along with the SD (Sicherheitsdienst: Security Service). He replaced Heydrich, who was assassinated in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of the war.[9] He was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei on 21 June 1943. He also replaced Heydrich as President of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), the organization today known as Interpol.[8] During the summer of 1943, Kaltenbrunner made his second inspection of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. While there, 15 prisoners were selected to demonstrate for Kaltenbrunner three methods of killing; by gunshot to the neck, hanging and gassing. After the killings' were performed, Kaltenbrunner inspected the crematorium and later the quarry.[10]

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 1.94 metres (6 ft 4 in) height, facial scars and volatile temper. Kaltenbrunner was also long-time friends with Otto Skorzeny and recommended him for many secret missions, allowing Skorzeny to become one of Hitler's valued agents. Kaltenbrunner was also responsible for heading Operation Long Jump, the attempt to assassinate Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt. This mission was later thwarted by Soviet intelligence agent Gevork Vartanian.[11]

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.

Kaltenbrunner (front row, second from left) as spectator at a People's Court show trial following the failed 20 July plot.

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 SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS. On 15 November 1944 he was awarded the Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords. In addition, he was awarded the NSDAP Golden Party Badge and the Blutorden (Blood Order).[12]

On 12 March 1945 a meeting took place in the Vorarlberg between Kaltenbrunner and Carl Jacob Burckhardt, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1945–48).[13] By this stage the Nazis were willing to make some concessions to the wishes of the Red Cross.

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.[14]

Nuremberg trials[edit]

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 Höss, the camp commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Due to his tight control over the RSHA, Kaltenbrunner was held directly responsible for the following crimes:

  • 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 airmen who had been shot down over German-occupied territory
  • 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 destruction/spoliation of public and private property
  • Murder of prisoners in SiPo and SD prisons
  • Persecution of Jews
  • Persecution of churches and religions
  • Persecution of Gypsies

During the initial stages of the Nuremberg trials, Kaltenbrunner was absent because of two episodes of subarachnoid hemorrhage. His lawyer Kurt Kaufmann requested that Kaltenbrunner be acquitted on grounds of health complications as he was medically unfit for the trial.[15] Kaltenbrunner's state of health improved and the tribunal denied his request for pardon. When Kaltenbrunner was released from a military hospital he pleaded not guilty to the charges of the indictment served on his person. Kaltenbrunner stressed during cross-examination that all decrees and legal documents which bore his signature were "rubber-stamped" and filed by his adjutant(s).[16]

During the trial, Kaltenbrunner argued in his defense that his position as RSHA chief existed only in title and was only committed to matters of espionage and intelligence. He maintained that Himmler, as his superior, was the person actually culpable for the atrocities committed during his tenure as chief of the RSHA. The International Military Tribunal noted that Kaltenbrunner was a keen functionary in matters involving the sphere of the RSHA's intelligence network, but the evidence also showed that Kaltenbrunner was an active authority and participant in many instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 30 September 1946 the IMT found Kaltenbrunner not guilty of crimes against peace. However, Kaltenbrunner was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 1 October 1946 the IMT sentenced him to death by hanging.[17]

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Kaltenbrunner's body after execution by hanging on 16 October 1946

The last words of Kaltenbrunner's 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.

At around 1:40 a.m. local time on 16 October 1946, Kaltenbrunnere was executed by hanging.

Marriage and family[edit]

On 14 January 1934, Kaltenbrunner married Elisabeth Eder (b. 1908) who was from Linz and a Nazi Party member. They had three children. In addition to the children from his marriage, Kaltenbrunner had twins, Ursula and Wolfgang, (b. 1945) with his long-time mistress Gisela Gräfin von Westarp (née Wolf). All the children survived the war.[18]

Recovered evidence[edit]

In 2001, Ernst Kaltenbrunner's personal Nazi security seal was found in an Alpine lake in Styria, Austria, 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 "Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD" (Chief of the Security Police and SD) engraved on it. Experts have examined the seal and believe it was discarded in the final days of the war in May 1945. It was one of Kaltenbrunner's last acts as a free man. On 12 May 1945, Kaltenbrunner gave himself up claiming to be a doctor and offering a false name. However, his mistress spotted him as he was led away, 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.[19] However, according to other sources, Kaltenbrunner's true identity was not discovered by chance. A first hand account of the arrest from CIA documents clearly states that the American soldiers who arrested Kaltenbrunner were actively searching for him. The Americans were highly confident they had the right man when Kaltenbrunner was arrested, even before his mistress removed any lingering doubt.[20]

The Altaussee Treasures[edit]

In late April 1945, Kaltenbrunner fled his headquarters from Berlin to Altaussee, where he had often vacationed and had strong ties. While there, he opposed and thwarted the efforts of local governor August Eigruber to destroy the huge and irreplaceable collection of art stolen by the Nazis from museums and private collections across occupied Europe (more than 6,500 paintings plus statuary) which had been intended for Hitler's planned Führermuseum in Linz.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner's nephew, Michl Kaltenbrunner, revealed that a hoard of Nazi treasure was buried in Lake Toplitz, confirming suspicions held by investigators for decades. It was also the first time any related family member of Ernst Kaltenbrunner gave any information in regards to their relative and the dumping of Nazi property. Ernst Kaltenbrunner's role was also discussed of his acting in defiance of Hitler's orders and the helping to save artworks from the Altaussee salt mines near Lake Toplitz from being destroyed. Kaltenbrunner's nephew substantiated claims made by Austrian journalist Konrad Kramar in his book "Mission Michelangelo" that Ernst Kaltenbrunner allowed Austrian miners in charge of the area to remove the paintings as well as remove bombs that were planted to blow them up.[21]

These were stored in a nearby extensive complex of salt mines. Eigruber was determined to carry out what he had determined was Hitler's true desire – to prevent the collection from falling into the hands of "Bolsheviks and Jews" by destroying it with explosives set off in the mine. Working with Dr. Emmerin Pöchmüller, the mine overseer, Kaltenbrunner countermanded the order and had the explosives removed. Thus, such world treasures as Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges stolen from the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, and Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent; Vermeer's The Astronomer and The Art of Painting were not destroyed.

This allegation by Kaltenbrunner's relative is not depicted in George Clooney's The Monuments Men, in which Kaltenbrunner's character does not appear.[22]

Popular culture representations[edit]


Kaltenbrunner has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions.[23]



  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner: Ideological Soldier of The Third Reich is a biographical work about Kaltenbrunner by Peter R. Black.
  • Nuremberg Diary is an account of the Defendants at Nuremberg by G. M. Gilbert.
  • The Nuremberg Interviews is a descriptive, yet autobiographical account of the Defendants at Nuremberg by Leon Goldensohn. Kaltenbrunner has his own section, in his own words in this book.
  • Freemasonry: Ideology, Organization, and Policy is a book about Freemasonry published with a foreword by Kaltenbrunner.
  • Hitler's Elite is a book by Louis L. Snyder compiling all of Hitler's top henchmen and has a section on Kaltenbrunner.
  • Gestapo: Instrument of Tyranny is a book by Edward Crankshaw that investigates the atmosphere within the Gestapo hierarchy and includes some information about Kaltenbrunner.
  • Colonization: Down to Earth, a fictional account of historic events merged with an alternate history, Harry Turtledove creates a scenario where Kaltenbrunner is the successor of Himmler as the third Führer and Reich Chancellor of the Greater German Reich and triggers a war between Nazi Germany and alien settlers, a war that results in the destruction of the Reich and the death of Kaltenbrunner himself.
  • The Canaris Fragments is a novel by Walter Winward which involves a fictional plot to rescue Kaltenbrunner from Nurnberg court by a small group of British Free Corps agents led by an SS major.

Summary of his SS career[edit]

Dates of rank[edit]

Kaltenbrunner, pictured here in 1944, his Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords around his neck.

Nazi awards and decorations[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 394.
  2. ^ The Nuremberg Trials
  3. ^ Miller 2015, p. 394.
  4. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 394, 395.
  5. ^ Anna Rosmus: Hitlers Nibelungen, Samples Grafenau 2015, pp. 52f
  6. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 395.
  7. ^ Miller 2015, p. 395.
  8. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 396.
  9. ^ Lumsden 2002, pp. 83, 84.
  10. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 396–398.
  11. ^ Armenian Intelligence Agent, Hero of the Soviet Union Gevork Vartanian Passed Away
  12. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 393, 406, 407.
  13. ^ Moorhead, Caroline (1998), Dunant's Dream, pp. 458-460.
  14. ^ The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  15. ^ Goldensohn, L. (2004), The Nuremberg Interviews Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses, United States of America: Pimlico
  16. ^ Owen, J. (2006), Nuremberg Evil On Trial, Great Britain: Headline Review
  17. ^ Persico, J. (1994), Nuremberg Infamy on Trial, United States of America: Penguin Books
  18. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 408, 409.
  19. ^ Nazi chief's seal found in Alpine lake
  20. ^ The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  21. ^ Has secret Nazi treasure been hidden in this beautiful lake for 70 years?
  22. ^ Has Hollywood rewritten history again? Writer claims Austrian salt miners - NOT George Clooney's 'Monuments Men' - saved priceless works of art from Nazis
  23. ^ "Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Character)". Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  24. ^ ""Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny" (1973)". Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  25. ^ Miller 2015, p. 393.
  26. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 406, 407.


  • Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine — SS. Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9. 
  • Miller, Michael (2015). Leaders of the SS and German Police, Vol. 2. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-19-329-7025-8. 

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Heinrich Himmler (acting)
Director of the Reich Main Security Office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Arthur Nebe
President of Interpol
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Succeeded by
Florent Louwage
Military offices
Preceded by
Commander-in-Chief of Southern Germany
18 April 1945 – 2 May 1945
Succeeded by
Albert Kesselring