Konrad Henlein

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Konrad Henlein
Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0008, Sudetenland, Besuch Wilhelm Frick (cropped Konrad Henlein).jpg
Freikorps leader Henlein, September 1938
Reichsstatthalter and Gauleiter of the Reichsgau Sudetenland
In office
1 May 1939 – 8 May 1945
Personal details
Born (1898-05-06)6 May 1898
Maffersdorf, Bohemia,
Died 10 May 1945(1945-05-10) (aged 47)
Pilsen, Czechoslovakia
Political party SdP (1933-1938)
NSDAP (1939-1945)
Profession Bank clerk
Military service
Rank SS-Obergruppenführer

Konrad Ernst Eduard Henlein (6 May 1898 – 10 May 1945) was a leading Sudeten German politician in Czechoslovakia. Upon the German occupation he joined the Nazi Party as well as the SS and was appointed Reichsstatthalter of the Sudetenland in 1939.

Early life[edit]

Konrad Henlein was born in Maffersdorf (present-day Vratislavice nad Nisou) near Reichenberg (Liberec), in what was then the Bohemian crown land of Austria-Hungary. His father Konrad Henlein sen. worked as an accounts clerk. His mother, Hedwig Anna Augusta Dworatschek (Dvořáček), was the daughter of a German-speaking mother and a father of Czech origin, at the time when Henlein was growing up, Reichenberg was a center of tension between the long-established German community vs. newly arrived Czechs from the countryside who had come to work in the town's factories.[1] The ethnic Germans of Reichenberg greatly disliked the Czechs for their willingness to accept lower wages than German workers, and for being "ignorant peasants" whose cultural level was considered much lower than that of the German community;[1] in 1912, the German community of Reichenberg attempted to leave the Austrian Crown land of Bohemia and to set up their district as a new Crown land which would not accept any Czechs, only to be overruled by Vienna which insisted that Bohemia was not divisible.[1] It was in this atmosphere of German-Czech tensions that Henlein grew up and which shaped his views.[1]

Henlein attended business school in Gablonz (Jablonec nad Nisou) and in World War I entered military service in the Austro-Hungarian Army as a military volunteer (Kriegsfreiwilliger), assigned to k.u.k. Tiroler Kaiser-Jäger-Regiment Nr. 3. In May 1916 he attended Officer Candidate School and then was assigned to k.u.k. Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 27 based in Graz. He saw Italian Front service in the Dolomites at Monte Forno, Mont Sief, and Monte Maletta from May 1916 to 17 November 1917.

He was severely wounded, then captured by Italian troops, and spent the remainder of the war as a POW held in captivity at Asinara Island, where he occupied his time studying the history of the German Turner (gymnastics) movement of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn. Though many noted that Henlein liked to "talk big" about his war experiences and he spent the years 1917-19 as a POW, Henlein's experiences as a Frontkämpfer (front fighter) who had been gassed and taken prisoner on the Italian front played an important role in shaping his politics.[2] Henlein's self-perception of himself as a "soldier" who was serving the Sudeten community dated from his war experiences, when he had fought for the Austrian empire, which had let the Sudeten community down by disintegrating in October 1918, thereby leaving the Sudeten Germans to be "victimized" in the new state of Czechoslovakia,[2] the fact that many of the leaders of the new Czechoslovakia such as its president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk had fled abroad during the war to seek the support of the Allies for independence from the Austrian Empire was a source of much discount in the Sudetenland whose people had loyally supported the Austrian war effort.

Henlein returned home after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1919 to work as a bank clerk in Gablonz, then part of the newly established Czechoslovakian state, the Sudeten German community had long been a stronghold of the völkisch movement, and Henlein embraced völkisch ideas as the best way forward for the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland, who had been the "insiders" favored by the authorities in the old Austrian Empire who were now suddenly the outsiders in the new Czechoslovak republic, a change of status that most Sudetenlanders found very jarring and painful.[2] Henlein joined the Turnerband (gymnastics association), which played an over-sized role in the Sudeten German community life which outsiders often missed, and by 1923, he was responsible for promoting völkisch ideology in his local turner club as the best way to deal with the current "national crisis" facing the Sudeten community.[2] A central tenant of völkisch ideology had always been that a healthy bodies made for a healthy race, and as a result, there had always been a close connection between sports and völkisch activities in the German-speaking world.[3] Influenced by the German national movement, Henlein became a gym teacher of the gymnastics club in Asch (Aš) in 1925, which, similar to the Czech Sokol movement, took an active part in Sudeten German communal life. Given the importance of the turnerband to Sudeten community life, Henlein's position as a turnerband leader gave him far more importance than what his position would suggest.[3]

Under his leadership, his local association of the Turnerband continued to grow, and Henlein become a well known figure in the Sudetenland,[4] during this time, Henlein worked very closely with another Turnerband leader, Heinz Rutha, who wrote articles arguing for the Turnerband to become a sort of political party which would nurture völkisch ideas amongst the youth.[4] Rutha was active in the Wandervogel youth movement where he took young men out for long camping trips in the Sudeten mountains and forests, where they would contemplate the beauties of nature, sing German nationalist songs, and cultivate a sense of brotherhood.[5] Rutha, who believed in the unity of "body and soul", often saying that healthy male bodies made for a healthy race, had decided to link his wandervogel group with the turner movement;[5] in July 1923, Rutha first met Henlein when he heard the latter give a "fiery speech" at the local turner club, and the two become inseparably close as the two shared a common interest in promoting a sense of völkisch-tinged nationalism together with physical activities amongst young men (neither Henlein nor Rutha ever had much interest in young women).[5]

In May 1928, Henlein in an article in the Turnerband journal Turnerzeitung called for the Turnerband to become the "school" of the Sudeten nation.[2] Politics in the Sudetenland were not so much divided between left and right (though such divisions did exist) as between "activists" who wanted the Sudeten Germans to take part in the politics of Czechoslovakia and the "negativists" who did not. Henlein with his völkisch sympathies was a "negativist" and by 1928 the Turnerband was beginning to set itself up as a proto-political party that stood in opposition to the "activist" parties that were serving in the coalition governments in Prague.[4] In another article in Turnerzeitung published in December 1930, Henlein called for all Sudeten Germans to embrace völkisch ideology and condemned liberalism and democracy as "un-German".[4] Henlein wrote it was the "disciplined Männerbunde who rule the present: Fascism, the Hitler movement, the Heimwehr, etc" and stated that the Turnerband was in tune with these "modern phenomena".[4] In May 1931, Henlein was elected president of the Turnerband, which increased his profile in the Sudeten community.[4] Under his leadership, the supposedly apolitical Turnerband become more overtly völkisch and decidedly militaristic as the purpose of the Turnerband now become to indoctrinate its members with the "spirit of the heroic [ethnic] German front-line soldier".[4] In July 1933, Henlein staged a festival in Saaz (modern Žatec, Czech Republic) where before 50, 000 guests, some 20, 000 Turnerband members performed carefully choreographed display of uniformity as they all marched together while Henlein in his speech proclaimed the Turnerband was now the "educational body of the Sudeten Germans".[4]

Party leader[edit]

Henlein speaking in Carlsbad, 1937

After the Saaz rally, Henlein was widely viewed as the "man of the hour" and knowing that the Czechoslovak authorities were about to ban the two main völkisch parties in the Sudetenland as treasonous, Henlein decided to enter politics to fill the vacuum,[6] on 1 October 1933, Henlein founded the Sudetendeutsche Heimatfront ("Sudeten German Home Front", SHF). Although the SHF was originally meant as a successor organisation of the banned anti-Czech German National Socialist Workers' Party and German National Party, it soon became a big tent right-wing movement in order to achieve a status of autonomy for the German minority, rivalling with the German Social Democratic Workers Party. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg described Henlein as "...a thirty-five year-old veteran of the war who had achieved prominence in a racist athletic organization in the Sudeten area. He now rallied around himself a motley assortment of elments that were long involved in internal feuds but were eventually to be uniformly utilized by Berlin to bring disaster upon the Czechoslovak state as well as themselves".[7]

Henlein was not a charismatic personality, but the British historian Mark Cornwall wrote that he was "attractive to the Sudeten population precisely because of his ordinariness, to be an Everyman who represented the average Sudeten German's grievances".[8] Henlein was on the völkisch right, but he saw himself as the founder of a volksgemeinschaft ("people's community") that would represent the interests of all Sudeten Germans, which he always saw as his main concern.[6] A recurring theme of Henlein's speeches was his intense "Sudetenness", a man who spoke loving of the Sudeten mountains, valleys and forests, and who presented the Sudeten Germans as a special and unique German community,[9] these "aberrations" on the part of Henlein in pressing for Sudeten "particularism" were later to cause Henlein much trouble under the Third Reich when grossdeutschland nationalists like Reinhard Heydrich took exception to these speeches.[10] Cornwall wrote that "...there slowly developed a chasm between Henlein's self-perception as a Sudeten Führer and the reality of a man who lacked both charisma and political acumen. He could certainly led independently on occasions, making abrupt, obstinate decisions that affected his movement's direction, but his constituency was too broad and divided, and his personality too bland, to ensure in the following years all in the movement were 'working towards the same Führer'".[11]

In the first half of the 1930s, Henlein held a pro-Czechoslovak and overtly anti-Nazi view in his public views and speeches,[12] as early as 15 May 1934, the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš in a note to President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk accused Henlein's Heimfront of being financially supported by Berlin.[13] Beneš's suspicions were correct, from April 1934 onward, the Heimfront was being subsidized by not only the Auswärtiges Amt, but also by the Verband für das Deutschtum im Ausland ("Society for Germandom Abroad").[14] To avoid having his party being banned by a Czechoslovak government that clearly disliked his movement, Henlein always praised democracy in his speeches, but there always a pronounced völkisch tone in his writings and speeches,[9] the major theme of Henlein's speeches was always for the need for "unity" in the Sudeten German community to allow the Sudetenlanders to present themselves as "one body" that would be able to talk to the Czechs Volk to Volk and thus "right" the ""injustice of 1918".[9] The particular "righting" of the "injustice of 1918" that Henlein wanted was to give the Sudetenland autonomy in Czechoslovakia, and once that autonomy was achieved society in the Sudetenland was to reorganized along Catholic corporatist lines.[9] Reflecting the völkisch influence, Henlein spoke often of creating the volksgemeinschaft ("people's community") that would make the Sudeten German community into one;[6] in his speeches, Henlein also described the SdP as having a "Christian worldview", which in Central Europe at the time was a code-word for being anti-Semitic.[15] The intentional confusion in Henlein's speechs about whatever the volksgemeinschaft he wanted was to be organized along Catholic or völkisch lines or perhaps both reflected his need to appeal to two types of voters in the Sudetenland,[6] at the same time, Henlein spoke of the Sudeten Germans living in a Central European "common space" with an identity that transcended loyalty to Czechoslovakia as the Sudetenland as part of a wider Germanic "common space" that embraced all of Central Europe.[9] Henlein did not present this idea of a "common space" as anti-Czech, and in a speech in October 1934 in Böhmisch Leipa (modern Česká Lípa, Czech Republic) spoke of a coming "reconciliation" between the Germans and Czechs, saying that relations between the two peoples would soon return to where they had been in the "golden days" of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, provided that the Czechs recognised that Sudetenlanders and they themselves belonged to the Central European "common space".[9]

On 19 April 1935 the SHF was renamed Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei, SdP) under pressure from the Czechoslovak government; in the parliamentary election of May 1935, the SdP with massive support by the Nazi Party gained 15.2% of the votes cast, becoming the strongest of all Czechoslovak parties, and had won about 68% of the ethnic German vote. The SdP by this time was being secretly subsidised by the Auswärtiges Amt and in the year 1935 alone received 15, 000 Reichmarks from the German legation in Prague.[16] Under the Weimar Republic, the Auswärtiges Amt had began subsidizing the Czechoslovak political parties representing the German minority, and starting in 1933, the scale of the subsidies had greatly increased with SdP becoming the main recipient of German money in the spring of 1935;[17] in part, the victory of the SdP in the 1935 elections were due to generous financial support from Germany as SdP ran a slick, well polished campaign that overshadowed the rival ethnic German parties.[18] Weinberg wrote about the relationship between the SdP and Germany: "The financing of the Henlein party from Berlin was known to the Prague government, and Berlin in turn knew that the Czech government was aware of the facts".[18]

Germany was not only foreign government Henlein was in contact; in July 1935, Henlein first met the British spy, RAF Group-Captain Graham Christie, who was to be his main conduit with the British for the next three years.[19] Henlein enjoyed being courted by foreign governments as it strengthened his authority over his party, where his leadership was frequently questioned,[20] the Sudeten German culture, like the culture in the rest of the German-speaking world at this time was a "Führer culture" with the expectation that history was made by few "Great Men" whom mere mortals were supposed to follow unconditionally, and given this milieu, Henlein's leadership style was authoritarian.[21] Henlein sometimes made decisions without consulting the committee he was ostensibly responsible to, and he constantly lied and dissembled even to his closest followers.[20] However, despite his attempts to present himself as a Führer who commanded blind loyalty from his followers, Henlein's status was actually that of a primus inter pares who had to deal with a quarreling committee badly divided between Catholic traditionalists and völkisch nationalists, and Henlein frequently had to threaten to resign as a way of asserting his authority.[20] Gestures like when Henlein summoned all of the SdP deputies to Eger (modern Cheb, Czech Republic) to publicly swear personal oaths of loyalty to Führer Henlein represented his weakness as a party leader, not his strength.[20] Not all of the committee members were aware of the fact that the SdP was being secretly funded by the German government, and one of the committee's members who did know about the subsidies from Germany was Henlein's rival, Karl Herman Frank, who sometimes used that information to blackmail him,[20] despite Henlein's frequent claims to have no contact with Germany, Weinbeg wrote "...in fact the internal affairs of the Sudeten German party were being supervised by Berlin with the German government picking the leaders, settling the policy lines, and giving or withholding financial support as the situation appeared to dictate".[22]

In December 1935, Henlein visited London on the invitation of Captain Christie and gave a lecture at the Chatham House on the situation of the Sudeten Germans,[23] the historian Robert William Seton-Watson interviewed Henlein afterwards and in a summary wrote that Henlein accepted:

"...the existing constitution, treaties and the Minority treaties as the basis of a settlement between Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten Germans. He ruled out not only all questions of German Bohemia (either as a whole or in part) uniting with Germany, but also admitted the impossibility of separating the German and Czech districts, and insisted on the essential unity of the Bohemian lands throughout history and no less today".[23]

Henlein further told Seton-Watson that he was for "honest democracy" and his speeches criticizing Czechoslovak democracy were only because it was "dishonest democracy".[23] Henlein admitted his party was a völkisch party, but denied having any contacts with Germany, saying that the claim his party was being subsidized by the German government was a "lie".[23] Seton-Watson was something skeptical of Henlein, asking it was really possible for someone to believe in both völkisch ideology and in German-Czech equality, but noted that Henlein was a man who seemed very sincere in his statements,[23] the problems of Czechoslovakia rarely attracted much attention in Britain before 1938, but the few who did follow the issues in Central Europe tended to be very sympathetic towards the Sudeten Germans, taking the line at the time that it was one of the great "injustices" of the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain that the Sudetenland was not allowed to join Germany or Austria as the majority of the Sudetenlanders had asked for in 1918-19.[23] Given these sympathies, Henlein was well received at the Chatham House.[23]

In May 1936, the Czechoslovak Prime Minister Milan Hodža, knowing of the fractiousness of the SdP, declared in a speech: "The government would take care that Henlein achieved no success, and it was confident that the SdP would then split up into various factions that could then be more easily handed";[24] in July 1936, Henlein again went to London where he expounded upon various grievances felt by the volksdeutsche of Czechoslovakia, which led the Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Robert Vansittart, to write after meeting him: "It may well be that Germany has designs on Czechoslovakia in any event, but it is quite certain that at present the Czechoslovak government are providing them with an ever open door and a first-class pretext".[25] It was known in London from 1936 onward that Henlein's party was being secretly subsidised by Germany with one Foreign Office official writing in April 1937 when a journalist from The News Chronicle presented evidence that Germany was financing the SdP that these documents "do not really tell us anything new";[26] in the fall of 1936, President Beneš, despite his distaste for Henlein, used an intermediary, Prince Max von Hohenhohe-Langenburg, to try very tentatively to open talks with him, but Henlein following orders from Berlin proceeded to ignore the feelers.[27]

Starting in January 1937, the British government made a major push for the Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš to negotiate with Henlein about his demands for autonomy for the Sudetenland, but Beneš refused, saying he believed that Czechoslovakia's future was a bright one,[28] the French minister in Prague, Victor de Lacroix, supported Beneš, saying that any concession to Henlein would weaken France's ally Czechoslovakia, and thus the entire cordon sanitaire as the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was known.[28] As France was Czechoslovakia's most powerful ally, Beneš felt no need to give in to the British pressure in 1937 for talks with Henlein about the devolving power from the Castle;[29] in the meantime, Henlein was engaging in a "soft power" offensive, being interviewed by the famous historian Arnold J. Toynbeee for The Economist in July 1937, where he insisted he was loyal to Czechoslovakia, but talked much about how the Czech-dominated government was discriminating against the Sudeten Germans in various ways.[30] Weinberg argued that this was a great missed opportunity for Beneš as "...the way to show up Henlein as disloyal was for the Czechoslovak government to make him a real offer which he would either have to accept, thereby recognizing the willingness of the Prague government to make meaningful concessions, or reject and thereby show himself uninterested in agreement. Such a development would not take until the very last stages of the 1938 negotiations".[30]

Even with the newfound power of the SdP, gained with the help of the Nazis, Henlein did not become a declared follower of Adolf Hitler until 1937; after the pro-German camp within the SdP represented by Karl Hermann Frank emerged victorious. Newer research shows his position within the SdP became very difficult, when in 1937 the Czechoslovak authorities were tipped off (possibly by the German secret service) about the homosexuality of Heinz Rutha, one of his closest allies, resulting in his imprisonment. Henlein then swiftly aligned himself with the slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer! ("One People, One Country, One Leader!"), thus calling for the predominantly (typically more than 80%) German-speaking Sudetenland to be a part of Germany. On 19 November 1937, Henlein sent Hitler a letter asking him to support his claim to be the sole leader of the Sudeten German community, declared his belief that ethnic Germans and Czechs simply could not coexist in the same country, and declared himself willing to support any German foreign move that would bring the Sudetenland "home to the Reich".[31]

The dominance by Henlein's political party of the Sudetenland in the 1930s set off the crisis that led to the Munich Agreement on 30 September 1938, on 12 March 1938, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax once again told Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak minister in London, that his government should try to negotiate with Henlein, only to be rebuffed with Masaryk saying that Henlein was not to be trusted and it was a waste of time to talk to him.[32] The Anschluss in March 1938 caused much excitement in the Sudetenland and throughout the month of March the StP had huge rallies where portraits of Hitler were prominently displayed while the crowds shouted "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" and "Home to the Reich!".[33] Henlein in his speeches at these rallies now declared that now more than ever his party was the only party that spoke for the Sudetenland.[33] Two of the Sudeten "activist" parties, the Christian Social Party and the German Agrarian Party, both quit the government in Prague, declaring that they now stood behind Führer Henlein.[34]

On 28 March 1938, Henlein secretly visited Berlin to meet Hitler, where it was agreed that Heinlein would make demands for autonomy for the Sudetenland that would provide the pretext for a German invasion.[33] Hitler told Henlein the "question of Czechslovakia would be before very long" and Henlein's task was to press for autonomy by making demands that the Castle could never give.[35] Heinlein promised Hitler "We must make demands that cannot be satisfied",[33][35] at a second meeting on 29 March 1938 held at the Auswärtiges Amt's headquarters on the Wilhelmstrasse attended by Hitler, Henlein, the Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and the State Secretary Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker to work out the tactics to be followed, Henlein was told to always come across as moderate even when making extreme demands, not to move too quickly, and above all never to negotiate in good faith with the Castle.[36] Hitler wanted Heinlein to demand that the Sudeten Germans serve in their own regiments with German as the language of command, but Heinlein persuaded him that to keep that demand in reserve, to be made later in the Castle gave in.[36] Hitler always made it clear that he did not want a general war in 1938 and it was necessary to isolate Czechoslovakia internationally before going to war by making it appear that the Czechoslovak government was being intransigent, which was especially important as France and Czechoslovakia had signed a defensive alliance in 1924;[37] in this regard, Hitler also authorized Henlein to make contacts with other parties representing the Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian and Magyar minorities in order to engage in a joint campaign to make Czechoslovakia into a federation as that would make Czechoslovakia appear unstable and rickety, and hence would presumably increase the unwillingness of France to go to war for a state that seemed unlikely to last.[36] However, Hitler told Henlein not to become too closely associated with the parties representing the other minorities as he wanted the main story in the world media to be that of Czech "oppression" of the Sudeten Germans. Finally, Henlein was told to ask only for autonomy, but to subtlety promote the message that ethnic Germans and Czechs could not co-exist in the same country,[36] on 5 April 1938, Henlein told a Hungarian diplomat that "whatever the Czech government might offer, he would always raise still higher demands...he wanted to sabotage an understanding by all means because this was the only method to blow up Czechoslovakia quickly".[38]

On 24 April 1938, at a party congress in Karlsbad, Czechoslovakia (modern Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic), Heinlein announced the 8-point Karlsbad programme for autonomy for the Sudetenland while still insisting he and his party were loyal to Czechoslovakia,[33] the apparent moderation of the Karlsbad programme in only demanding autonomy for the Sudetenland masked a sinister purpose, namely to make it appear that Czechoslovakia was the intransigent one in refusing to grant autonomy for the Sudetenland, thus "forcing" Germany to invade.[39] Czechoslovakia was an unitary state, and Czech public opinion was consistently hostile for plans for federalism in Czechoslovakia. If in the unexpected event that the Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš gave in to all of the 8 points of the Karlsbad programme, then Henlein was to escalate by demanding that ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland serve in their own regiments where German was to be the language of command and that the German regiments would be under the control of the Sudeten regional government rather than the federal government in Prague, which both Henlein and Hitler knew was something that Beneš would never give.[33][36] Hitler had wanted the demand for German regiments to be the 9th point in the Karlsbad programme, but Henlein persuaded him that that one was too inflammatory and too likely to alienate public opinion abroad,[33] the Karlsbad programme set off the crisis that led to the Munich Agreement in September.[40] Heinlein's speech in Karlsbad announcing the 8 points of the programme received extensive newspaper coverage all over the world, and raised acute tensions between Berlin and Prague when the German government declared its support for the Karlsbad programme,[40] during the Karlsbad party congress, Henlein also added the "Aryan paragraph" to the StP, formally adopting völkisch racism.[15]

The German ambassador to Great Britain, Herbert von Dirksen, had advised Berlin that the German case would seem stronger to the British people if Heinlein and his movement were not seen as working for Berlin, and that Heinlein should visit London to promote this idea. Henlein first went to Berlin, where he was given a memo written by Weizsäcker telling him what to say in London.[41] Weizsäcker wrote: "Henlein will deny in London that he is acting on instructions from Berlin...Finally, Henlein will speak of the progressive disintegration of the Czech political structure, in order to discourage those circles which consider that their intervention on behalf of this structure may still be of use".[41] Starting on 12 May 1938, Heinlein visited London to press his case for autonomy, and impressed almost everyone he met as a apparently reasonable, mild-mannered man full of genial charm, who was simply asking for autonomy for his people.[33] Heinlein told the various British politicians he met that he was not working for Hitler, talked much about the Czechs were "oppressing" the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland by forcing ethnic German children in some districts to attend schools where they were taught in Czech, and insisted he only wanted autonomy for the Sudetenland,[42] during his London trip, Henlein consistently promoted the line that he only wanted a "fair deal" for the Sudeten Germans and claimed that he was against the Sudetenland joining Germany, noting how after the Anschluss the Austrian Nazis were pushed aside by the German Nazis, and said he did not want the same thing to happen to him.[43] However Heinlein did admit that if Prague refused to give in to all of the 8 demands of the Karlsbad programme, then Germany would definitely invade Czechoslovakia.[42] No British politician in the cabinet met Heinlein during his time in London as it was felt to be inappropriate for ministers of the Crown to meet an opposition politician from another country, but Heinlein did meet with many backbenchers and journalists who came away sympathetic to Heinlein's movement after meeting him.[44]

At a luncheon hosted by the National Labour MP Harold Nicolson, Heinlein met with various backbenchers from all parties, where he impressed them with his genial charm and mild-mannered ways, coming across as the voice of reason and moderation.[45] However, several of the MPs at Nicolson's luncheon like the Conservative MP General Edward Spears expressed some concern about the parts of the Karlsbad Programme declaring that Czechoslovakia's foreign policy should be in "harmony" with the foreign policy of Germany, and that to be German was to be a National Socialist and as such the Sudeten German Party was to be the only legal party in the proposed autonomous Sudeten region.[44] Dirksen was especially anxious for Henlein to meet one Conservative backbencher, Winston Churchill, whom he considered to be one of the leading "anti-German" voices in the House of Commons,[42] at his lunch with Churchill, Heinlein used a historical analogy that he knew would appeal to him, namely that of the question of Home Rule for Ireland.[42] Heinlein reminded Churchill how the government of Herbert Asquith (which Churchill was a minister in) had promised the Irish Home Rule, but failed to deliver in time, leading to the Irish war of independence and Ireland leaving the United Kingdom, going on to say that Czechoslovakia was in the same position in 1938 that the United Kingdom had been in 1913, as late as 3 June 1938, Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons described Heinlen as only seeking "Home Rule" for the Sudetenland, and expressed the hope if only Henlein could meet with President Beneš, then a mutually acceptable compromise plan for federalisation of Czechoslovakia could be achieved.[44] The only difficult interview that Heinlen faced in London was when Group-Captain Christie once again arranged a meeting with Vansittart, now "kicked upstairs" to the powerless post of Chief Diplomatic Adviser because of his anti-appeasement views, during a dinner at Vansittart's house attended by Christie and Heinlein, Vansittart asked Henlein how did he possibly think the Karlsbad programme was practical.[45] Vansittart noted that Czechoslovakia was a democracy and under the Karlsbad programme, the Sudetenland was to have a regional government that would impose Gleichschaltung ("co-ordination") on all aspects of society under the grounds that National Socialism was merely the expression of Deutschtum ("Germanness").[44] Henlein was unable to explain to Vansittart just precisely how a one-party state could co-exist inside a democracy,[44] on 15 May 1938, Henlein left London for Berlin, where he informed his masters that his visit had been a great success.[46]

On 24 May 1938, Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-secretary at the Foreign Office, told the Hungarian chargé d'affaires in London that the Karlsbad programme was "justified" and the Czechoslovak Prime Minister Milan Hodža should give in to nearly of the 8 points of the programme.[47] On 25 May, Lord Halifax met with the Dominion high commissioners, where he declared Czechoslovakia in its present form as an unitary state was untenable as the ethnic Germans and Czechs simply could not get along, and made it clear that he favored autonomy for the Sudetenland as the best case scenario, but he favored allowing Germany to annex the Sudetenland if Heinlein could not reach an agreement with Hodža;[48] in this regard, Halifax was especially interested in having the Canadian High Commissioner Vincent Massey talk to him about how French-Canadians and English-Canadians got along in the Canadian federation, which might provide a possible solution to the Czechoslovak crisis. The Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King himself supported plans for the federalisation of Czechoslovakia, saying his country could be a model, and urged that the British government to pressure the Czechoslovak government to give to Henlein's Karlsbad programme as the best way to avoid a war.[49]

Henlein presented his party's policy as striving to fulfill the "justified claims" of the then largely Nazified German minority. Henlein, often under direct orders from Berlin, deliberately had worked to help create a sense of crisis that was useful to Hitler's diplomatic and military efforts. Frustrated with the unwillingness of Henlein and Hodža to engage in talks in the summer of 1938, the British government believing that both parties wanted an agreement increasing came to favor sending an intermediary to Czechoslovakia who might be able to break the deadlock, which was the origin of the Runciman Mission;[50] in August 1938, the British Liberal politician Lord Runciman visited Czechoslovakia to investigate the Sudeten issue, and he fell under Heinlein's influence during his time in the Sudetenland. The Runciman report largely reflected Heinlein's ideas as Runciman stated that the ethnic Germans and Czechs simply could not live together and should be separated; in August 1938, Group-Captain Graham Christie met Henlein in a beer-hall in Karlsbad, and reported that far being from his usual mild-mannered self that Heinlein under the influence of alcohol was abusive and arrogant, saying he hated the Czechs and did not want to live with them in the same state anymore.[51]

In early September 1938, President Beneš announced the "Fourth Plan" for constitutional changes to make Czechoslovakia into a federation, which did not meet all of the demands of the Karlsbad programme, but would granted the Sudetenland autonomy; in response to the "Fourth Plan", Heinlein announced on 7 September 1938 that he was breaking off all contact with the Castle (i.e the Czechoslovak government) saying he was not interested in compromise, and the "Fourth Plan" was unacceptable. From 12 September 1938, forward, Heinlein helped organise hundreds of terrorist attacks and two coup attempts by the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps paramilitary organisation affiliated with the SS-Totenkopfverbände, immediately after Hitler's threatening speech in Nuremberg at the Nazi Party's annual rally. On 12 September 1938, in his keynote speech at the Nuremberg Party Rally Hitler finally dropped the demand for autonomy for the Sudetenland and formally demanded that the Sudetenland join Germany, the attempted uprising was quickly suppressed by Czechoslovak forces, whereafter Henlein fled to Germany only to start numerous intrusions into Czechoslovak territory around Asch as a commander of Sudeten German guerilla bands. Henlein's flight into Germany to escape arrest was widely seen as cowardice, and he always very sensitive towards criticism of his actions in September 1938.[52]

German occupation[edit]

Rest during the German invasion on the road to Franzensbad: Henlein in uniform sitting between Hitler and General Wilhelm Keitel (right), 3 October 1938

Upon the Wehrmacht's entry into the Sudetenland, Henlein was appointed Reichskommissar and became a SS-Gruppenführer (later an SS-Obergruppenführer). The SdP merged with Hitler's NSDAP on 5 November 1938. Henlein was responsible for organizing Kristallnacht pogrom in the Sudeteland on 9 November 1938, having local activists smash Jewish homes and businesses,[15] for the next year, Henlein was deeply involved in campaign for the "de-Jewification" of the Sudeten economy, confiscating businesses and properties owned by Jews, and he himself confiscated a villa in Reichenberg (modern Liberec, Czech Republic) that belonged to a Jewish businessman, which remained his home until 1945.[53] Henlein joined the Nazi Party in January 1939 and was appointed to the Reichstag as a deputy.

After the German takeover of what remained of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Heinlein served one month as head of the civil administration of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, nominally making him the number-two man in the Protectorate behind Reichsprotektor Konstantin von Neurath. Henlein welcomed the creation of the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia as restoring "natural Czech subservience" to the Germans, saying that the Bohemia and Moravia were "German lands" that unfortunately ended up being "occupied" by the Czechs, who now to serve as a "demographic and economic resources" to be exploited by Germany.[54] However, most of the power ended up in the hands of his long-time rival Karl Hermann Frank, on 1 May 1939 Henlein was named Reichsstatthalter and Gauleiter of the newly established Reichsgau Sudetenland, a position he held until the end of the war.

Henlein attempted to place his long-term followers in key positions in his gau, which caused him starting in the spring of 1939 to become locked into a battle over patronage with Reinhard Heydrich.[10] Cornwall described the Henlein-Heydrich struggle as between two men who were "ideologically close" with the principle differences between Henlein's emphasis on Sudeten "particularism" vs. Heydrich's grossdeutschland nationalism, and over the völkisch fanatic Heydrich's disgust over Henlein's attempt to create a "big tent" right-wing party in the 1930s .[10] Heydrich felt that Henlein should had presented the SdP as an unambiguous völkisch party, which for him indicated that Henlein was "soft"-one of the gravest insults that the self-proclaimed "hard man" Heydrich could apply;[10] in late 1939, Heydrich struck at Henlein by arresting over 50 leading Sudeten Nazis-all of whom were closely associated with Henlein's mentor Heinz Rutha-on charges of being part of a homosexual group whose used their positions in the SdP in the 1930s to recruit young men for sex.[10] Heydrich chose to let the accused go on trial in early 1940 rather than taking them into "protective custody", when the courts heard lurid stories of how in the 1930s the SdP leaders had engaged in homosexual orgies.[10] Faced with this threat, Henlein went to Berlin to meet Hedyrich, where he proceeded to capitulate.[10] Henlein agreed to fire the deputy gauleiter Fritz Köllner and replaced him with Hedyrich's nominee Richard Donnevert.[10] Hitler was very loyal to his gauleiters and disliked seeing any of them go, so removing Henlein was not practical for Heydrich, which is why he wanted to neutralize him by removing his followers from the local NSDAP leadership corps. Hitler tended to side with his gauleiters in their disputes with other Nazis, and he made clear that he was behind Henlein in his dispute with Heydrich;[15] in March 1940, at a party rally in Hoheneble (modern Vrchlabí, Czech Republic), Henlein completed his surrender by formally denouncing Rutha-who had been the best man at his wedding in 1926-as a homosexual "pervert" whom history would not remember and embracing Heydrich's grossdeutschland' nationalism by denying there was any Suteden "particularism", saying that Suteden Germans were not different from the Reichdeutsch.[10]

Henlein's major interest as a gauleiter was pursuing his vendetta against the Czech minority in the Sudetenland who numbered about 300,000 or about 10% of the population of the Sudeteland.[54] Now that he was the gauleiter of the Sudetenland, Henlein revealed his real feelings about the Czechs, whom he deeply hated, and whose policies towards were described by Cornwall as "merciless".[54] Henlein imposed what Cornwall called an "apartheid" regime on the Czech minority in the Sudetenland that was designed to ensure the total physical separation of the German and Czech communities with the Czechs being forced to accept considerably more inferior facilities than the Germans.[55] Henlein openly stated that the ethnic Czechs in the Sudetenland were to serve as "helots" to the Germans, and he banned Czech children from going beyond primary school as he believed that allowing the Czechs any sort of education beyond primary school would encourage them to demand equality again.[55] Henlein pursued tax policies that were highly discriminatory towards Czechs who owned homes, businesses and land, and in 1942-43, he confiscated much land owned by ethnic Czech farmers who had been unable to pay their taxes, and handed them over to 3,000 settlers who arrived from Germany,[56] the general thrust of Heinlein's policies was towards the complete Germanization of the Sudetenland, and only the unwillingness of the authorities in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia to accept the ethnic Czechs of the Sudetenland prevented Henlein from expelling them all.[54] However, the need of the German state to have Czechs to work in the war industries, especially when so many Sudeten German men had been called up for service with the Wehrmacht, meant that the Sudetenland had more Czechs living in it in 1945 rather had been in 1938.[56] Henlein had protested against bringing Czechs from the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia to work in the Sudetenland's factories and farms, which counteracted against his policy of reducing the Czech population, only to be told by Berlin that the needs of war industry and agriculture were far more important than his own anti-Czech obsessions.[56]

Henlein had two sides of his personality, being on one hand a "sensitive soul" who loved to read poetry, take long walks in nature, play the piano, would cry for hours if somebody said something rude to him and was deeply concerned about the fate of his people, but on the other hand as a gauleiter, he show himself devoted to Hitler and executed with "verve" the policies of the Third Reich, showing no compassion or mercy to the Czechs or the Jews.[57] The German historian Ralf Gebel compared Henlein to Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian Nazi who rejected the more thuggish elements of the Austrian Nazi Party and sought to preserve a distinctive Austrian identity within the grossdeutschland that Hitler was creating.[57] Cornwall wrote that Henlein was a man who genuinely believed in völkisch ideology, but like a many other Sudeten Germans wanted to keep a distinctive Sudeten identity alive even as he supported the grossdeutschland concept, making him something of an outsider in the NSDAP.[57] Just as the lawyer and self-proclaimed "moderate" National Socialist Seyss-Inquart was repulsed by Captain Josef Leopold, so too was Henlein repulsed by SS Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank whose views and methods were closer to Heydrich.[57]

His political influence was limited, he was one of the milder Nazis,[clarification needed] prompting RSHA leader Reinhard Heydrich and several others to try to remove him. However, all efforts failed due to Henlein's good relations with Hitler. When Henlein heard of Heydrich's assassination, he openly celebrated the news by visiting the local beer-hall to get drunk,[54] with Heydrich gone, Henlein turned on Donnevert, telling him in October 1942 that he was "not a clown" who could be pushed around, a statement that revealed much about his wounded pride.[54] In late 1942, Henlein completed the campaign to make the Sudetenland Judenfrei ("free of Jews") by deporting the last Jews to Theresienstadt,[56] as the Jews in the Sudetenland like the rest of Bohemia tended to speak German rather than Czech, by making the Sudetenland Judenfrei, Henlein was decreasing the number of people who spoke German in the Sudetenland. In February 1943, Henlein prevented Donnevert from entering his office by changing the locks, and in August 1943 fired him,[54] for the next two years, Henlein reigned supreme in his Gau and rehired many of the men he had been forced to fire in 1940.[54] Henlein's willingness to assert himself won him the respect of Martin Bormann who called him in July 1944 a "historic personality" and "an especially reliable party comrade";[58] in the last days of World War II, Henlein spent his time in what Cornwall called a "mad scheme" to persuade Hitler to abandon Berlin for the Sudetenland, from whose mountains he would continue the war and launch a new invasion of the Soviet Union.[15] In his speech delivered on 8 May 1945 in Reichenberg, Henlein explained all his actions as being motivated only by his love of the Sudetenlanders, saying all his actions were those of "a child of my era, the executor of all your desires and yearnings, as the representative of your will".[56]

On 10 May 1945, while in American captivity in the barracks of Pilsen, he committed suicide[59] by cutting his veins with his broken glasses. He was buried anonymously in the Plzeň Central Cemetery, the British historian Keith Robbins noted that Heinlein did achieve his dream of bringing the Sudetenland "home to the Reich", but the direct result of this was that all of the Sudeten Germans were brought "home to the Reich" after World War II in a way that none of them wanted as in 1945-46 the entire ethnic German population of the Sudetenland were expelled into Germany.[60] After the way in which most of the Sudeten Germans had supported Heinlein in 1938, Beneš-who had once believed that Germans and Czechs could coexist-had become utterly convinced of Heinlein's point that Germans and Czechs could not live together in the same state, and to avoid that mistake again, had all of the ethnic Germans expelled in 1945-46.[60] Robbins argued that for the Sudeten Germans it would had been better in the long run and in their own self-interest to be loyal to Czechoslovakia rather than following Heinlein, who led his people into a disaster, noting it was because of leaders like Heinlein that people today in the Sudetenland now all speak Czech rather than German as the Beneš decrees led to the expulsion of the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland.[60]

In fiction[edit]

In Harry Turtledove's Hitler's War, Henlein is assassinated by a Czech named Jaroslav Stribrny on 28 September 1938. Hitler declares war on 30 September 1938, almost a year earlier than in reality.

"Henleinists" are a looming presence throughout Martha Gellhorn's novel A Stricken Field (1940).

Summary of his career[edit]

Dates of rank[edit]

Notable decorations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Robbins 1969, p. 676.
  2. ^ a b c d e Cornwall 2011, p. 210.
  3. ^ a b Weinberg 1970, p. 109.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Cornwall 2011, p. 212.
  5. ^ a b c Cornwall 2012, p. 81.
  6. ^ a b c d Cornwall 2011, p. 213.
  7. ^ Weinberg 1970, p. 108-109.
  8. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 208.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Cornwall 2011, p. 214.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cornwall 2011, p. 220.
  11. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 213-214.
  12. ^ Czechoslovak Office of Foreign Affairs, Two Years of German Oppression in Czechoslovakia (London, 1941) p. 25
  13. ^ Weinberg 1970, p. 110.
  14. ^ Weinberg 1970, p. 225.
  15. ^ a b c d e Cornwall 2011, p. 219.
  16. ^ Shirer 1960, p. 359.
  17. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 314.
  18. ^ a b Weinberg 1970, p. 226.
  19. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 674.
  20. ^ a b c d e Cornwall 2011, p. 215.
  21. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 215 & 222.
  22. ^ Weinberg 1970, p. 314.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Robbins 1969, p. 675.
  24. ^ Cornwall 2012, p. 195.
  25. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 325.
  26. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 329.
  27. ^ Weinberg 1970, p. 320-321.
  28. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 326-327.
  29. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 327-328.
  30. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 330.
  31. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 333.
  32. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 344.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h Robbins 1969, p. 692.
  34. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 691.
  35. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 334.
  36. ^ a b c d e Weinberg 1980, p. 335.
  37. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 336.
  38. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 334-335.
  39. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 335-336.
  40. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 356.
  41. ^ a b Shirer 1960, p. 360.
  42. ^ a b c d Robbins 1969, p. 693.
  43. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 363.
  44. ^ a b c d e Robbins 1969, p. 694.
  45. ^ a b Robbins 1969, p. 693-694.
  46. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 695.
  47. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 373.
  48. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 374.
  49. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 351.
  50. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 391-392.
  51. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 696.
  52. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 218.
  53. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 219-220.
  54. ^ a b c d e f g h Cornwall 2011, p. 221.
  55. ^ a b Cornwall 2011, p. 221-222.
  56. ^ a b c d e Cornwall 2011, p. 222.
  57. ^ a b c d Cornwall 2011, p. 209.
  58. ^ Cornwall 2011, p. 209 & 221.
  59. ^ "Konrad Henlein". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  60. ^ a b c Robbins 1969, p. 697.


  • Cornwall, Mark "The Czechoslovak Spinx: 'Moderate and Reasonable' Konrad Henlein" pages 206-227 from In the Shadow of Hitler: Personalities of the Right in Central and Eastern Europe edited by Rebecca Haynes & Martyn Rady, London: I.B.Tauris, 2011, ISBN 1780768087
  • Cornwall, Mark The Devil's Wall The Nationalist Youth Mission of Heinz Rutha, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012 ISBN 9780674046160
  • Miller, Michael D. and Schulz, Andreas (2012). Gauleiter: The Regional Leaders of the Nazi Party and Their Deputies, 1925-1945 (Herbert Albreacht-H. Wilhelm Huttmann)-Volume 1, R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 978-1932970210
  • Robbins, Keith "Konrad Heinlein, the Sudeten Question and British Foreign Policy" pages 674-692 from The Historical Journal, Volume XII, Issue 4, 1969.
  • Shirer, William The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960.
  • Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933-1936, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980 ISBN 0-391-03825-7
  • Weinberg, Gerhard The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War Two 1937-1939, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980 ISBN 0226885119

External links[edit]

Media related to Konrad Henlein at Wikimedia Commons