5 – He Helped Set Up Concentration Camps & Planned the Night of the Long Knives
Once the Nazis seized power in January 1933, they wasted no time in eliminating enemies. Along with Himmler, Heydrich oversaw the arrest of thousands of Communists, priests, trade unionists and anyone else who opposed the party. Soon, there wasn’t enough space in prison, so the Nazis set up a concentration camp at Dachau near Munich; it was designed for political prisoners.
The gates of the camp became famed for the phrase ‘work sets you free’ and the inmates were subjected to torture with many of them executed. The Nazis soon opened other camps at Lichtenburg, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald. Although Himmler became the leader of the newly formed Gestapo in April 1934, Heydrich was the main man as far as planning was concerned.
In June 1934, the duo, along with Hermann Goering, spread false rumors that the head of the SA, Ernst Rohm, was planning to take control of the Reich with his four million storm troopers. In an act of violence known as The Night of the Long Knives, Rohm and numerous SA leaders were murdered on the orders of Hitler and Heydrich had the job of drawing up the list of those to be killed. After the death of Rohm, the SS replaced the SA regarding influence.
Heydrich used his organizational skills to ensure the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 ran smoothly. By June 1936, Himmler had control of all Germany’s police forces and was effectively the second most powerful man in the Reich behind Hitler; Heydrich was probably number three. In 1937, the Gestapo had unlimited powers of arrest, and even the ‘crime’ of making a joke against the Nazis was punishable by a spell in a concentration camp.
The SD and Gestapo used blackmail, extortion, torture, and murder to destroy anti-Nazi sentiment and increase Heydrich’s personal power. He was now feared throughout Germany. Heydrich was very much a ‘behind the scenes’ operator and had no real friends. He forced SS men to come drinking and partying with him, and if a woman refused his advances, they could expect a visit from the Gestapo.