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 byAdolf Hitler
Preceded byReinhard Heydrich / Heinrich Himmler (acting)
Succeeded byNone
President of the ICPC
In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Preceded byArthur Nebe
Succeeded byFlorent Louwage
Personal details
Born4 October 1903
Ried im Innkreis, Upper-Austria, Austria-Hungary now Austria
Died16 October 1946 (aged 43)
Nuremberg, Bavaria, Allied-occupied Germany
Political partyNational Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Alma materUniversity of Graz
Military service
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Branch/serviceFlag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service1940–1945
RankSS-Obergruppenführer Collar Rank.svg Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS

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 (Reich Main Security Office; RSHA), and President of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), which in 1956 became 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.


Born in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, Kaltenbrunner was the son of a lawyer, and was educated at the Realgymnasium in Linz and obtained his doctorate degree in law at Graz University in 1926.[1] Kaltenbrunner worked at a law firm in Salzburg for a year before opening his own law office in Linz.[2] He had deep scars on his face from dueling in his student days, although some sources attribute them to an automobile accident.[3]

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.[4]

SS career

On 18 October 1930, Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party as NSDAP member number 300,179.[5] 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.[6] That same year, he began working at his father's law practice and by 1933 was head of the National-Socialist Lawyers' League in Linz.[6]

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.[7]

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

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 Reich orders for Austrian comrades.[8] Kaltenbrunner was arrested again in 1937, by Austrian authorities on charges of being head of the illegal Nazi Party organisation in Oberösterreich. He was released in September.[9]

Acting on orders from Hermann Göring, Kaltenbrunner assisted in the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938, and was thereafter awarded the role as the state secretary for public security in the Seyss-Inquart cabinet.[10] Then on 21 March 1938, he was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer.[11] He was a member of the Reichstag from 10 April 1938 until 8 May 1945.[11] Amid all this activity, he also helped establish the concentration camp at Mauthausen near Vienna.[12] 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 (he held that post until 30 January 1943).[9]

In April 1941, he was appointed a Lieutenant General of Police. Throughout the course of his many duties, Kaltenbrunner developed an impressive intelligence network across Austria moving south eastwards, which eventually brought him to Himmler's attention for the assignment as head of the RSHA in 1943.[13] Like many of the ideological fanatics in the regime, Kaltenbrunner was a committed anti-Semite. Under his command, the persecution of the Jews picked up pace as "the process of extermination was to be expedited and the concentration of the Jews in the Reich itself and the occupied countries were to be liquidated as soon as possible."[14] Kaltenbrunner stayed constantly informed over the status of concentration camp activities, receiving periodic reports at his office in the RSHA.[15]

World War II

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.[16] 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).[17] He replaced Heydrich, who was assassinated in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of the war.[18] 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.[16]

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.[19] In October 1943, he ordered Herbert Kappler, the head of German police and security services in Rome, that the "eradication of the Jews in Italy" was of "special interest" and [for] "general security".[20] Four days later, Kappler's SS and police units began rounding up and deporting Jews by train to Auschwitz concentration camp.[20]

Toward the end of the war, Kaltenbrunner's power increased greatly, especially after the assassination attempt 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 individuals 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.[21]

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 being 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).[22]

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).[23] 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.[24]

The Altaussee Treasures

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, said that the Nazis had buried a treasure in Lake Toplitz. 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.[25]

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.[26]

Recovered evidence

In 2001, Ernst Kaltenbrunner's personal Nazi security seal was found in an Alpine lake in Styria, Austria, 56 years after he had thrown 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.[27] 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.[28]

Nuremberg trials

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.[29] Due to the areas over which he exercised responsibility as a ranking SS general and as chief of the RSHA, Kaltenbrunner was acquitted of crimes against peace but held responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.[30]

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.[31] After Kaltenbrunner's health improved, 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 against him. Kaltenbrunner stressed during cross-examination that all decrees and legal documents which bore his signature were "rubber-stamped" and filed by his adjutant(s). Hours were spent in "futile pursuit" to get him to admit that thousands of documents bore his signature; he remained resolute on this matter and even went on to blame Heinrich Müller for illegally fixing his signature on the numerous documents in question.[32]

Several among the accused, particularly members of the military leadership, found the presence of both Julius Streicher and Kaltenbrunner unsavory and ill-suited for their company.[33] 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. Kaltenbrunner also asserted that he had no knowledge of the Final Solution before 1943 and went on to claim that he protested against the ill-treatment of the Jews to Himmler and Hitler.[34] Further denials from Kaltenbrunner included statements that he knew nothing of the Commissar Order and that he never visited Mauthausen concentration camp, despite witness reports from camp guards who testified otherwise.[35] Throughout the examinations on stand, Kaltenbrunner was argumentative and confused the court with his circuitous responses.[36] At one point during the trial, Kaltenbrunner went so far as to avow that he was responsible for bringing the Final Solution to an end.[37]

In the end, the International Military Tribunal determined 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 (counts three and four). On 1 October 1946, the IMT sentenced him to death by hanging.[38]


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

Kaltenbrunner's last words (translated)[5] 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 that in this hardest of 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.

Kaltenbrunner was executed by hanging on 16 October 1946, around 1:15 a.m., in Nuremberg. His body, as those of the other nine executed men and that of Hermann Göring (who had committed suicide the previous day), was cremated at the Eastern Cemetery in Munich, and the ashes were scattered in a tributary of the river Isar.[39][40][41]

Popular culture representations

Kaltenbrunner has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions, including:[42]

Dates of rank

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

Nazi awards and decorations

See also



  1. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 394.
  2. ^ Snyder 1976, pp. 189.
  3. ^ The Nuremberg Trials
  4. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 408, 409.
  5. ^ a b c Miller 2015, p. 393.
  6. ^ a b Miller 2015, p. 394.
  7. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 394, 395.
  8. ^ Rosmus 2015, p. 52.
  9. ^ a b Miller 2015, p. 395.
  10. ^ Zentner & Bedürftig 1991, p. 487.
  11. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 395.
  12. ^ Stackelberg 2007, p. 215.
  13. ^ Wistrich 2001, p. 135.
  14. ^ Yahil 1990, p. 406.
  15. ^ Kahn 1978, p. 270.
  16. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 396.
  17. ^ Longerich 2012, pp. 470, 661.
  18. ^ Longerich 2012, p. 661.
  19. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 396–398.
  20. ^ a b Miller 2015, p. 398.
  21. ^ Armenian Intelligence Agent, Hero of the Soviet Union Gevork Vartanian Passed Away
  22. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 393, 406, 407.
  23. ^ Moorehead 1999, pp. 458-460.
  24. ^ The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  25. ^ Has secret Nazi treasure been hidden in this beautiful lake for 70 years?
  26. ^ Has Hollywood rewritten history again? Writer claims Austrian salt miners - NOT George Clooney's 'Monuments Men' - saved priceless works of art from Nazis
  27. ^ Nazi chief's seal found in Alpine lake
  28. ^ The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  29. ^ Snyder 1976, p. 190.
  30. ^ Marrus 1997, pp. 64–70.
  31. ^ Goldensohn, L. (2004), The Nuremberg Interviews Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses, United States of America: Pimlico
  32. ^ Conot 2000, pp. 367–368.
  33. ^ Marrus 1997, p. 117.
  34. ^ Marrus 1997, p. 214.
  35. ^ Conot 2000, pp. 364–365.
  36. ^ Conot 2000, p. 365.
  37. ^ Conot 2000, p. 370.
  38. ^ Marrus 1997, p. 237.
  39. ^ Thomas Darnstädt (2005), "Ein Glücksfall der Geschichte", Der Spiegel, 21 August (14), p. 128
  40. ^ Manvell 2011, p. 393.
  41. ^ Overy 2001, p. 205.
  42. ^ "Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Character)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  43. ^ ""Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny" (1973)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  44. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 406, 407.


  • Conot, Roberrt E. (2000). Justice at Nuremberg. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 978-0-88184-032-2.
  • Kahn, David (1978). Hitler’s Spies: German Intelligence in World War II. New York: MacMillan. ISBN 0-02-560610-7.
  • Longerich, Peter (2012). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6.
  • Marrus, Michael R. (1997). The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945–46: A Documentary History. Boston: Bedford Books. ISBN 978-0-31213-691-8.
  • Miller, Michael (2015). Leaders of the SS and German Police, Vol. 2. San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-19-329-7025-8.
  • Moorehead, Caroline (1999) [1998]. Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross. Carroll & Graf Publishing. ISBN 978-0786706099.
  • Rosmus, Anna (2015). Hitlers Nibelungen: Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang (in German). Grafenau: Samples Verlag. ISBN 978-3-93840-132-3.
  • Snyder, Louis L (1976). Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 978-1-56924-917-8.
  • Stackelberg, Roderick (2007). The Routledge Companion to Nazi Germany. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-41530-861-8.
  • Wistrich, Robert (2001). Hitler and the Holocaust. New York: Modern Library Chronicles. ISBN 0-679-64222-6.
  • Yahil, Leni (1990). The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932–1945. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504522-X.
  • Zentner, Christian; Bedürftig, Friedemann (1991). The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. (2 vols.) New York: MacMillan Publishing. ISBN 0-02-897500-6.

External links

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