Ernst Kaltenbrunner


Himmler, Zieries, Kaltenbrunner in Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Ernst Kaltenbrunner was born on 4 October 1903 in the valley of the Inn, near Braunau, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. He was descended from a family of country artisans, although his father and grandfather were lawyers. He was educated in Linz, and one of his boyhood friends was Adolf Eichmann. Kaltenbrunner subsequently studied law at Graz University. He took up his doctorate in law in 1926, setting up his practice as a lawyer in Linz.

Kaltenbrunner played an active role in one of the first groups of Austrian National Socialist students and for a time a militant in the Independent Movement for a Free Austria. He eventually joined the Nazi Party in 1932. A year later he became a member of one of the more or less camouflaged SS organisations in Austria and a spokesman for the Nazi Party in Upper Austria, providing legal advice to Party members and sympathisers. In 1934 Kaltenbrunner was arrested by the Dollfuss government, and again in May 1935 he spent six months in prison on a conspiracy charge, being struck from the bar for his political activities. Shortly before his second arrest he had been appointed Commander of the Austrian SS. After his release he worked assiduously with Arthur- Seyss- Inquart for the annexation (Anschluss) with Germany, and as a reward for his services, was appointed on 2 March 1938 as Minister for State Security in Austria and promoted to SS- Gruppenführer. At the same time he became a member of the Reichstag.

During the next three years Kaltenbrunner was successively appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the SS and the police for the regions of Vienna, the Upper and Lower Danube and then in April 1941 Lieutenant – General of Police. Kaltenbrunner created an impressive intelligence network radiating from Austria, which came to the notice of RFSS-Heinrich Himmler.

In January 1943, in a surprising move Himmler appointed Kaltenbrunner as the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Berlin as the successor to Reinhard Heydrich, who had been assassinated in Prague in May 1942. In this key position as head of the Security Police and the Security Service (SD), Kaltenbrunner not only controlled the Gestapo but also the concentration camp system and the administrative apparatus for carrying out the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’  

Ernst Kaltenbrunner was a giant of a man, nearly seven feet tall, with massive broad shoulders, huge arms, a thick square chin and deep scars from his student duelling days. He excelled in brutal repression and providing human fodder for the concentration camps. He was excitable, deceitful, self-indulgent – he was an alcoholic and a chain-smoker. He also took a morbid personal interest in various methods of execution used in the camps under his authority and the gas chambers. Under his ruthless oversight, the RSHA organised the hunting down and extermination of several million Jews and he was also responsible for the murder of Allied airmen, who had been shot down in occupied Europe. He was also responsible for war crimes carried out on Prisoners of War, including the notorious murder of fifty POW’s who whad escaped from Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan, Poland. .

Kaltenbrunner had a passion for military intelligence and counter-espionage and in February 1944 he succeeded in swallowing up the foreign and counter-intelligence department of the Abwehr under Admiral Canaris, which was reduced to a branch of his RSHA empire. Towards the end of 1944 Kaltenbrunner tried to step into Himmler’s shoes as the recognised mediator with the International Red Cross and to establish contact with the Allies through Allen Dulles, head of the United States Office of Strategic Services in Europe. These efforts came to nothing and at the end of the war, Kaltenbrunner fled to the Tyrol, removing his headquarters to Alt-Aussee. He was arrested by an American army patrol and brought before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, charged with war crimes against humanity. He was found guilty and hanged in Nuremburg prison on 16 October 1946.  


Robert S Wistrich, Who’s Who in Nazi Germany, Routledge, London 1995

Photograph – Bundesarchiv

© Holocaust Historical Society 2014