Generation of the Unbound

The Leadership of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt
Michael Wildt

(last modified May 2002)

The Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), the main institution of repression created in September 1939 as a fusion of the Secret State Police (Geheimer Staatspolizei or Gestapo), the Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei) and the Security Service of the SS (Sicherheitsdienst der SS or SD), was a genuine Nazi institution. The RSHA defined its function politically, that is, it aimed to guarantee the "maintenance of the purity of the body of the German people" ("Reinhaltung des deutschen Volkskörpers"), and to contribute to the new racial order in Nazi-conquered Europe. This study analyzes about 400 biographies of leading figures within the RSHA – the heads of departments and units and other respeonisble officials (Amtschefs, Gruppenleiter, Referenten). The majority of these persons were born between 1900 and 1912 and thus belonged to a "young generation", the members of which had not participated in World War I as soldiers but who nevertheless – or perhaps for that very reason – viewed fighting spirit, callousness and mercilessness as virtues. The majority had university degrees, many had completed doctorates. The RSHA leadership was not a collection of failures from the social periphery of German society but a group recruited from the country's normal bourgeois elite. Many of these men had been politically active as students. Not all of them had supported the Nazis in their younger years, but they had always been radicals, in the service of weltanschauung and with an eye to large territories and far-reaching plans, the whole, which must be transformed fundamentally, rapidly and unconditionally, in order to avert global catastrophe.

These academics by no means saw themselves as impractical bookworms or technocrats; on the contrary, the success of theory had to prove itself in practice. One is hard pressed to find a representative of the RSHA's leadership who did not serve in an Einsatzkommando in the occupied territories. The biographies of the RSHA elite reflect the readiness of intellectuals, academics and scholars to participate in monstrous crimes and how fascinating it was for them to not merely design brave new worlds, but also contribute to turning such designs into horrifying reality. It was this amalgamate of ideological tension, conceptual radicalism, de-regulated institutions like the RSHA, and the uncontrolled practice of power that unleashed the process of radicalization which ultimately ended in systematic genocide.