Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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Ernst Kaltenbrunner
War criminal, SS Lieutenant General Ernst Kaltenbrunner (2) (cropped).jpg
Kaltenbrunner during the Nuremberg trials (1945)
Director of the Reich Security Main Office
In office
30 January 1943 – 8 May 1945
Appointed byAdolf Hitler
Preceded byReinhard Heydrich / Heinrich Himmler (acting)
Succeeded byOffice abolished
President of Interpol
In office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
LeaderOskar Dressler as Secretary-general
Preceded byArthur Nebe
Succeeded byFlorent Louwage
State Secretary of Public Security
In office
11 March 1938 – 13 March 1938
ChancellorArthur Seyss-Inquart
Personal details
Ernst Kaltenbrunner

(1903-10-04)4 October 1903
Ried im Innkreis, Archduchy of Austria above the Enns, Austria-Hungary
Died16 October 1946(1946-10-16) (aged 43)
Nuremberg Prison, Nuremberg, Allied-occupied Germany
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Political partyNazi Party (NSDAP)
Elisabeth Eder
(m. 1934)
Domestic partnerGisela Gräfin von Westarp (née Wolf)
Alma materUniversity of Graz
CabinetSeyss-Inquart government
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)War crimes
Crimes against humanity
Criminal penaltyDeath
SS service
Allegiance Nazi Germany
Service/branchFlag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Years of service1931–1945

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was a high-ranking Austrian SS official during the Nazi era and a major perpetrator of the Holocaust. After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and a brief period under Heinrich Himmler, Kaltenbrunner was the third Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), which included the offices of Gestapo, Kripo and SD, from January 1943 until the end of World War II in Europe.

Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party in 1930 and the SS in 1931, and by 1935 he was considered a leader of the Austrian SS. In 1938, he assisted in the Anschluss and was given command of the SS and police force in Austria. In January 1943, Kaltenbrunner was appointed chief of the RSHA, succeeding Reinhard Heydrich, who was assassinated in May 1942.

A committed anti-Semite and fanatical Hitler loyalist, Kaltenbrunner oversaw a period in which the genocide of Jews intensified. He was the highest-ranking member of the SS to face trial (Himmler having committed suicide in May 1945) at the Nuremberg trials, where he was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kaltenbrunner was sentenced to death and executed by hanging 16 October 1946.


Kaltenbrunner was born in Ried im Innkreis, Austria, the son of a lawyer, spent his early years and primary education in Raab and later attended the Realgymnasium in Linz. Raised in a nationalist family, he was childhood friends with Adolf Eichmann, the infamous SS officer who played a key role in implementing the Nazis' "Final Solution" against Europe's Jews.[1] After Gymnasium, Kaltenbrunner went on to obtain his PhD in law at Graz University in 1926.[2]

He worked at a law firm in Salzburg for a year before opening his own law office in Linz.[3] He had deep scars on his face reportedly from dueling in his student days, although some sources attribute them to a car accident.[a]

On 14 January 1934, Kaltenbrunner married Elisabeth Eder (born 20 October 1908, Linz, Upper Austria - 20 May 2002, Linz, Upper Austria), who was also a Nazi Party member; the couple 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 (27 June 1920, Wittenberg an der Elbe – 2 June 1983, Munich). All the children survived the war.[4]

SS career[edit]

On 18 October 1930, Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party as member number 300,179.[5] In 1931, he was the Bezirksredner (district speaker) for the Nazi Party in Upper Austria. Kaltenbrunner joined the SS on 31 August 1931; his SS number was 13,039.[2] He first became a Rechtsberater (legal consultant) for the NSDAP in 1929 and later held this same position for SS Abschnitt (Section) VIII, beginning in 1932.[6] That same year he began working at his father's law practice, and by 1933 he had become head of the National-Socialist Lawyers' League in Linz.[6]

In January 1934, Kaltenbrunner was briefly jailed at the Kaisersteinbruch detention camp with other Nazis 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]

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. He would hide on a train and on a ship that traveled to Passau, then return with money and orders for Austrian comrades.[8] In 1937 Kaltenbrunner was arrested again by Austrian authorities on charges of heading the illegal Nazi Party organization in Oberösterreich. He was released in September.[9]

Kaltenbrunner with Ordnungspolizei officials in Vienna in 1940 following the 1938 Anschluss

Acting on orders from Hermann Göring, Kaltenbrunner assisted in bringing about the Anschluss with Germany (13 March 1938); he was awarded the role of State Secretary for Public Security in the Seyss-Inquart cabinet of 11 to 13 March 1938.[10] Controlled from behind the scenes by Himmler, Kaltenbrunner still led, albeit clandestinely, the Austrian SS as part of his duty to "coordinate" and manage the Austrian population - this entailed the Nazification of all aspects of Austrian society.[11] Then on 21 March 1938, he was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer.[12] He was a member of the German Reichstag from 10 April 1938 until 8 May 1945.[12] Amid this activity, he helped establish the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp near Linz.[13] Mauthausen was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Austria following the Anschluss.[14] On 11 September 1938, Kaltenbrunner was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer (equivalent to a lieutenant general in the German 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 Oberabschnitt Donau, which was the primary SS command in Austria (he held that post until 30 January 1943).[9]

World War II[edit]

Kaltenbrunner, Heinrich Himmler and August Eigruber (in black) inspect Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941, in the company of camp commander Franz Ziereis (center left)
Kaltenbrunner with Himmler and Ziereis at Mauthausen in April 1941

In June 1940, Kaltenbrunner was appointed Vienna's chief of police and held that additional post for a year. In July 1940, he was commissioned as a SS-Untersturmführer into the Waffen-SS Reserve.[15] Alongside his many official duties, Kaltenbrunner also developed an impressive intelligence network across Austria, moving southeastwards, which eventually brought him to Himmler's attention for appointment as chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in January 1943.[16] The RSHA was composed of the SiPo (Sicherheitspolizei; the combined forces of the Gestapo and Kripo) along with the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, Security Service).[17] Kaltenbrunner replaced Heydrich, who had been assassinated in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of World War II.[18] Hardly anyone knew Kaltenbrunner, and upon his appointment, Himmler transferred responsibility both for SS personnel and for economics from the RSHA to the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office.[19] Nonetheless, Kaltenbrunner was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei on 21 June 1943. He also replaced Heydrich as president (serving from 1943 to 1945) of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), the organization today known as Interpol.[15]

Fearing a collapsing home-front due to the Allied bombing campaigns, and worried that another "stab-in-the-back" at home could arise as a result, Kaltenbrunner immediately tightened the Nazi grip within Germany.[20] From what historian Anthony Read relates, Kaltenbrunner's appointment as RSHA chief came as a surprise given the other possible candidates like the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, or even the SD foreign-intelligence chief, Walter Schellenberg.[21] Historian Richard Grunberger also added the name of Wilhelm Stuckart, the future minister of the German Interior, as another potential candidate for head of the RSHA; however, he suggests that Kaltenbrunner was most likely selected since he was a comparative "newcomer", expected to be more "pliable" in Himmler's hands.[22]

Like many of the ideological fanatics in the regime, Kaltenbrunner was a committed anti-Semite. According to former SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Georg Mayer, Kaltenbrunner was present at a December 1940 meeting among Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Heydrich where it was decided to gas all Jews incapable of heavy physical work.[23] Under Kaltenbrunner's command, the genocide of 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."[24] Kaltenbrunner stayed constantly informed over the status of concentration-camp activities, receiving periodic reports at his office in the RSHA.[25]

To combat homosexuality across the greater Reich, Kaltenbrunner pushed the Ministry of Justice in July 1943 for an edict mandating compulsory castration for anyone found guilty of this offense. While this was rejected, he still took steps to get the army to review some 6,000 cases to prosecute homosexuals.[26]

Kaltenbrunner in 1943

During the summer of 1943, Kaltenbrunner conducted his second inspection of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. While he was there, 15 prisoners were selected to demonstrate for Kaltenbrunner three methods of killing: by a gunshot to the neck, hanging, and gassing. After the killings were performed, Kaltenbrunner inspected the crematorium and later the quarry.[27] In October 1943, he told Herbert Kappler, the head of German police and security services in Rome, that the "eradication of the Jews in Italy" was of "special interest" for "general security".[28] Four days later, Kappler's SS and police units began rounding up and deporting Jews by train to Auschwitz concentration camp.[28]

In 1944, during an arranged meeting in Klessheim Castle near Salzburg, when Hitler was in the process of strong-arming Admiral Horthy into a closer integration between Hungary and Nazi Germany, Kaltenbrunner was present for the negotiations and escorted Horthy out once they were over. Accompanying Horthy and Kaltenbrunner on the journey back to Hungary, Adolf Eichmann brought with him a special Einsatzkommando unit to begin the process of rounding up and deporting Hungary's 750,000 Jews.[29]

It was said that even Himmler feared him, as Kaltenbrunner was an intimidating figure with his 1.94 metres (6 ft 4 in) height, facial scars, and volatile temper.[citation needed] Kaltenbrunner was also a longtime friend of Otto Skorzeny and recommended him for many secret missions, allowing Skorzeny to become one of Hitler's favorite agents. Kaltenbrunner also allegedly headed Operation Long Jump, an alleged plan to assassinate Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt in Tehran in 1943.[30][b]

Kaltenbrunner (front row, second from left) as a spectator at a People's Court show trial following the failed 20 July plot in 1944

Immediately in the wake of the 20 July Plot on Hitler's life in 1944, Kaltenbrunner was summoned to Hitler's wartime headquarters at the Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) in East Prussia to begin the investigation into who had planned the assassination attempt.[31] Once it was revealed that an attempted military coup against Hitler had been launched, Himmler and Kaltenbrunner had to tread carefully, as the military was not under the jurisdiction of the Gestapo or the SD. When the attempt failed, the conspirators were soon identified.[32] An estimated 5,000 people were eventually executed, with many more sent to concentration camps.[33][c]

Historian Heinz Höhne counted Kaltenbrunner among the fanatical Hitler loyalists and described him as being committed "to the bitter end".[35] Field reports from the SD in October 1944 about deteriorating morale in the military prompted Kaltenbrunner to urge the involvement of the RSHA in military court-martial proceedings, but this was rejected by Himmler, who thought it unwise to interfere in Wehrmacht (military) affairs.[36] In December 1944, Kaltenbrunner was granted the additional rank of General of the 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).[37] Using his authority as Chief of the RSHA, Kaltenbrunner issued a decree on 6 February 1945 that allowed policemen to shoot "disloyal" people at their discretion, without judicial review.[38]

On 12 March 1945, a meeting took place in Vorarlberg between Kaltenbrunner and Carl Jacob Burckhardt, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (1945–48).[39] Just over a month later, Himmler was informed that SS-Obergruppenführer (general) Karl Wolff had been negotiating with the Allies for the capitulation of Italy.[40] When questioned by Himmler, Wolff explained that he was operating under Hitler's orders and attempting to play separate Allies against one another. Himmler believed him,[41] but Kaltenbrunner did not, and told Himmler that an informant claimed that Wolff had also negotiated with Cardinal Schuster of Milan and was about to surrender occupied Italy to the Allies.[42] Himmler angrily repeated the allegations; Wolff, feigning offence, challenged Himmler to present these statements to Hitler. Unnerved by Wolff's demands, Himmler backed down, and Hitler sent Wolff back to Italy to continue his purported disruption of the Allies.[d]

On 18 April 1945, three weeks before the war ended, Himmler named Kaltenbrunner commander-in-chief of the remaining German forces in southern Europe.[46] Kaltenbrunner attempted to organize cells for post-war sabotage in the region and Germany, but accomplished little.[47] Hitler made one of his last appearances on 20 April 1945 outside the subterranean Führerbunker in Berlin, where he pinned medals on boys from the Hitler Youth for their bravery.[e] Kaltenbrunner was among those present, but realizing the end was near, he then fled from Berlin.[48]


On 12 May 1945 Kaltenbrunner was apprehended along with his adjutant, Arthur Scheidler, and two SS guards in a remote cabin at the top of the Totes Gebirge mountains near Altaussee, Austria, by a search party initiated by the 80th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army. Information had been gained from Johann Brandauer, the assistant burgermeister of Altaussee, that the party was hiding out with false papers in the cabin. This was supported by an eyewitness sighting by the Altaussee mountain ranger five days earlier. Special Agent Robert E. Matteson from the C.I.C. Detachment organized and led a patrol consisting of Brandauer, four ex-Wehrmacht soldiers, and a squad of US soldiers to effect the arrest. The party climbed over mountainous and glacial terrain for six hours in darkness before arriving at the cabin.[47] After a short standoff, all four men exited the cabin and surrendered without a shot fired. Kaltenbrunner claimed to be a doctor and offered a false name. However, upon their arrival back to town his last mistress, Countess Gisela von Westarp, and the wife (Iris) of his adjutant Arthur Scheidler chanced to spot the men being led away; the ladies called out to both men and embraced them. This action resulted in their identification and arrest by US troops.[47]

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 to hide his identity. The seal was recovered by a Dutch citizen on holiday. 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 European war in May 1945.[49]

Nuremberg trials[edit]

Kaltenbrunner testifying as a witness on his own behalf at the International Military Tribunal.
Kaltenbrunner wheeled into court during the Nuremberg trials after a brain hemorrhage during interrogation.

At the Nuremberg trials, Kaltenbrunner was charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.[50] Due to the areas over which he exercised responsibility as an SS general and as chief of the RSHA, he was acquitted of crimes against peace, but held responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.[51]

During the initial stages of the Nuremberg trials, Kaltenbrunner was absent because of two episodes of subarachnoid hemorrhage, which required several weeks of recovery time.[52] After his health improved, the tribunal denied his request for pardon. When he was released from a military hospital he pleaded not guilty to the charges of the indictment against him. Kaltenbrunner said all decrees and legal documents that bore his signature were "rubber-stamped" and filed by his adjutant(s). He also said Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller had illegally affixed his signature to numerous documents in question.[53]

Kaltenbrunner argued in his defence that his position as RSHA chief existed only theoretically and said he was only active in matters of espionage and intelligence. He maintained that Himmler, as his superior, was the person 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.[54] Further denials from Kaltenbrunner included statements that he knew nothing of the Commissar Order and that he never visited Mauthausen concentration camp, despite documentation of his visit.[55] At one point, Kaltenbrunner went so far as to avow that he was responsible for bringing the Final Solution to an end.[56] In response to his denials, people in the courtroom laughed.[57]

Conviction and execution[edit]

On 30 September 1946, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) found Kaltenbrunner not guilty of crimes against peace, but guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity (counts three and four). On 1 October 1946, the IMT sentenced him to death by hanging.[58]

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

Kaltenbrunner was executed on 16 October 1946, around 1:15 a.m., in Nuremberg. His body, like those of the other nine executed men and that of Hermann Göring (who 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.[59][60]

Dates of rank[edit]

Awards and decorations

See also[edit]



  1. ^ See: "The Nuremberg Trials". Archived from the original on 2001-03-12. Retrieved 2016-04-18.
  2. ^ This mission was thwarted by Soviet intelligence agent Gevork Vartanian. See the following article:"Armenian intelligence agent, a hero of the Soviet Union Gevorg Vardanian passed away".
  3. ^ Noted Hitler biographer, Sir Ian Kershaw, puts the figure of executed persons at exactly 4,980.[34]
  4. ^ According to a U.S. Army official publication written by Ernest J. Fisher, Jr, "... Wolff had finally gone to Berlin for a face-to-face confrontation with Hitler and the Reichsfuehrer SS. Two days later Wolff, proving an exception to the rule that those summoned peremptorily to the Fuehrer's headquarters rarely came back, returned to Italy with assurances that nothing had been compromised." Through intermediaries, Wolff explained to Dulles that he had convinced Hitler that his discussions with the Allied leaders "had been only a ploy to gain time and divide the Allied coalition. Satisfied, the Fuehrer ordered him back to his post with no restrictions other than to forbid travel to Switzerland."[43] German journalist Heinz Höhne characterizes this acceptance of Wolff's gambit as a charge for him to "seek better terms with the U.S. forces",[44] but this may have been nothing more than another expression for stalling the Allies accordingly, given Hitler's later refusal to surrender under any circumstances and his vitriol against his closest confidants for having independently attempted to negotiate with the Allies.[45]
  5. ^ See: "Hitler - Last Known Film Footage".


  1. ^ Gerwarth 2012, p. 100.
  2. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 394.
  3. ^ Snyder 1976, p. 189.
  4. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 408–409.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l 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. ^ Read 2005, pp. 461.
  12. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 395.
  13. ^ Stackelberg 2007, p. 215.
  14. ^ Weale 2012, p. 107.
  15. ^ a b Miller 2015, pp. 393, 396.
  16. ^ Wistrich 1995, p. 135.
  17. ^ Longerich 2012, pp. 470, 661.
  18. ^ Longerich 2012, p. 661.
  19. ^ Höhne 2001, p. 553.
  20. ^ Gerwarth 2012, p. 289.
  21. ^ Read 2005, p. 798.
  22. ^ Grunberger 1993, p. 98.
  23. ^ Breitman 1994, pp. 81–82.
  24. ^ Yahil 1990, p. 406.
  25. ^ Kahn 1978, p. 270.
  26. ^ Evans 2010, p. 536.
  27. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 396–398.
  28. ^ a b Miller 2015, p. 398.
  29. ^ Read 2005, p. 825.
  30. ^ West 2013, pp. 140–141.
  31. ^ Read 2005, p. 833.
  32. ^ Read 2005, pp. 833–837.
  33. ^ Graber 1978, p. 180.
  34. ^ Kershaw 2000, p. 693.
  35. ^ Höhne 2001, p. 511.
  36. ^ Höhne 2001, pp. 542–543.
  37. ^ Miller 2015, pp. 393, 406, 407.
  38. ^ Overy 2010, p. 388.
  39. ^ Moorehead 1999, pp. 458–460.
  40. ^ Höhne 2001, p. 572.
  41. ^ Höhne 2001, p. 573.
  42. ^ Höhne 2001, pp. 573–574.
  43. ^ Fisher 1993, p. 517.
  44. ^ Höhne 2001, p. 574.
  45. ^ Evans 2010, p. 724.
  46. ^ Bartrop & Grimm 2022, p. 138.
  47. ^ a b c CIA–Kent School, The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
  48. ^ Read 2005, pp. 891–892.
  49. ^ Leidig 2001.
  50. ^ Snyder 1976, p. 190.
  51. ^ Marrus 1997, pp. 64–70.
  52. ^ Conot 2000, pp. 95–96.
  53. ^ Conot 2000, pp. 367–368.
  54. ^ Marrus 1997, p. 214.
  55. ^ Conot 2000, pp. 364–365.
  56. ^ Conot 2000, p. 370.
  57. ^ "Nazi Police Head Who Directed Killing of Jews Says He Was Unaware of Atrocities". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2015-03-20. Retrieved 2023-05-27.
  58. ^ Marrus 1997, p. 237.
  59. ^ Manvell & Fraenkel 2011, p. 393.
  60. ^ Darnstädt 2005.
  61. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Miller 2015, pp. 406, 407.


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Director of the Reich Main Security Office
30 January 1943 – 12 May 1945
Succeeded by
Preceded by 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