Ernst Kaltenbrunner

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Ernst Kaltenbrunner : biography

4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946

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.

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 SS-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. 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.[https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol4no2/html/v04i2a07p_0001.htm The Last Days of Ernst Kaltenbrunner]

The Altaussee Treasures

In late April 1945, Kaltenbrunner fled his headquarters from Berlin to Altaussee, where he had often vacationed and had strong ties. While there, he opposed and thwarted the efforts of local governor August Eigruber to destroy the huge and irreplaceable collection of art stolen by the Nazis from museums and private collections across occupied Europe (more than 6,500 paintings plus statuary) which had been intended for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz.

These were stored in a nearby extensive complex of salt mines. Eigruber was determined to carry out what he was determined was Hitler’s true desire – to prevent the collection from falling into the hands of "Bolsheviks and Jews" by destroying it with explosives set off in the mine. Working with Dr. Emmerin Pöchmüller, the mine overseer, Kaltenbrunner countermanded the order and had the explosives removed. Thus he participated in the salvation of such world treasures as Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges stolen from the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent; Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Art of Painting.

On 12 May 1945 he was captured by a U.S. patrol and arrested.

Nuremberg trials

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 Höss, 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 were ascribed to him: