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Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner

Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the RSHA and President of Interpol.

In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Appointed by Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Reinhard Heydrich & Heinrich Himmler (acting)
Succeeded by None

In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Preceded by Arthur Nebe
Succeeded by Florent Louwage

Born 4 October 1903
Ried im Innkreis, then Austria-Hungary, now Austria
Died 16 October 1946 (aged 43)
Nuremberg, Germany
Nationality Austrian
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Spouse(s) Elisabeth Eder (married 14 January 1934)
Alma mater University of Graz
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Years of service 1940-1945
Rank Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was a senior Austrian official during World War II, holding the offices of Chief of the RSHA, and President of Interpol from 1943 to 1945. He was the highest-ranking SS leader to face trial at the first Nuremberg Trials, 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.


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 at Graz University. He obtained a law degree in 1926, and briefly worked as a lawyer in Linz and Salzburg. He was a very tall man, standing just over 6' 7" (201 cm) tall,[citation needed] and had deep scars on his face from dueling in his student days.[1] However, according to some sources, these "dueling scars" were actually the result of an alcohol-linked driving accident.[2]

Early career

Enlarge picture
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.[3]

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, Ursula and Wolfgang, (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

Enlarge picture
Kaltenbrunner with Himmler and Ziereis

In July 1940, he was commissioned as a Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS Reserve.[4] Later in April 1941, he was promoted to Major General (Generalleutnant) of the Police. 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 Reinhard Heydrich, who was 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 replaced Heydrich as President of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), the organization today known as Interpol.

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 valued agents. 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.

Enlarge picture
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 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.[5] In addition he was awarded the Golden NSDAP party badge 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.[6] 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.

Nuremberg trials

Enlarge picture
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
  • Torture 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 was medically unfit for the trial and to be acquitted on grounds of health complications.[7] 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).[8] Kaltenbrunner was incumbent in his defense that Himmler was culpable for the atrocities committed during his tenure as chief of the RSHA. During the trial he stressed that his position existed only in title and was only committed to matters of espionage and intelligence. The IMT (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 September 30, 1946 the IMT found Kaltenbrunner not guilty in matters of conspiracy for aggression concerning the charge of the indictment. However, Kaltenbrunner was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On October 1, 1946 the IMT sentenced Ernst Kaltenbrunner to death by hanging.[9]


Enlarge picture
Kaltenbrunner's body after execution, October 1946.

Kaltenbrunner 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.

Further evidence

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 "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 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.[10]

Portrayal in popular culture

Film and television

Ernst Kaltenbrunner has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions.[11]

A character in the movie The Return of the Living Dead is named Ernie Kaltenbrunner after him.


  • 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 entirely for 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.

Summary of his SS career

Dates of rank

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

Notable decorations

See also


  1. ^ Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  2. ^ The Nuremberg Trials
  3. ^ This image is from the Bundesarchiv.
  4. ^ a b A Complete Biography of Ernst Kaltenbrunner - Promotions
  5. ^ Fsefehlsblatt of the Security Police and SD (51): 361.
  6. ^ The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  7. ^ Goldensohn, L. (2004), The Nuremberg Interviews Conversations with the Defendants and Witnesses, United States of America: Pimlico
  8. ^ Owen, J. (2006), Nuremberg Evil On Trial, Great Britain: Headline Review
  9. ^ Persico, J. (1994), Nuremberg Infamy on Trial, United States of America: Penguin Books
  10. ^ Nazi chief's seal found in Alpine lake
  11. ^ "Ernst Kaltenbrunner (Character)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  12. ^ ""Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny" (1973)". Retrieved May 8, 2008.
  13. ^ A Complete Biography of Ernst Kaltenbrunner - Decorations & Awards

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

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6, 1943, Kappler sent a cable to Ernst Kaltenbrunner "reminding him of Field Marshall Albert Kesselring's approval of using Roman Jewish labor.
At nearly 7ft, Ernst Kaltenbrunner towered over his prison guards.
There is really little other reason for him to meet up with Ernst Kaltenbrunner here," said August Scharfing, a Viennese Third Reich scholar.
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