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

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.

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. 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. 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.

Party leader[edit]

Henlein speaking in Carlsbad, 1937

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. On 19 April 1935 the SHF was renamed Sudeten German Party (Sudetendeutsche Partei, SdP) under pressure from the Czechoslovak government.

In the first half of the 1930s, Henlein held a pro-Czechoslovak and overtly anti-Nazi view in his public views and speeches;[1] 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 subsided by the Auswärtiges Amt and in the year 1935 alone received 15, 000 Reichmarks from the German legation in Prague.[2] 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 subsides had greatly increased with SdP becoming the main recipient of German money in the spring of 1935.[3] 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.[4]

In July 1936, Henlein went to London when 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".[5] It was known in London from 1936 onward that Henlein's party was being secretly subsided 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".[6] 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,[7] 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.[7] 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;[8] 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,[9] the American historian Gerhard 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".[9]

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 alleged 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".[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] Heinlein promised Hitler "We must make demands that cannot be satisfied",[12][13] 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.[14] 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.[14] 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,[15] 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".[16]

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,[12] 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.[17] Czechoslovakia was an unitary state, and Czech public opinion was consistently hostile for plans for federalism in Czechoslovakia. If 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.[12][14] 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,[12] the Karlsbad programme set off the crisis that led to the Munich Agreement in September.[18] 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.[18]

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. Henlein first went to Berlin, where he was given a memo written by Weizsäcker telling him what to say in London.[19] 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".[19] 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.[12] 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 to attend schools where they were taught in Czech, and insisted he only wanted autonomy for the Sudetenland,[20] 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.[21] 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.[20] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[22] 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,[20] 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.[20] 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.[22] On 15 May 1938, Henlein left London for Berlin, where he informed his masters that his visit had been a great success.[24]

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.[25] 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;[26] 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.[27]

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;[28] 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.[29]

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 all contact with the Castle (i.e the Czechoslovak government) saying he was not interested in compromise. 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.

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 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. 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.

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.

On 10 May 1945, while in American captivity in the barracks of Pilsen, he committed suicide[30] 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.[31] 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.[31] 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.[31]

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. ^ Czechoslovak Office of Foreign Affairs, Two Years of German Oppression in Czechoslovakia (London, 1941) p. 25
  2. ^ Shirer 1960, p. 359.
  3. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 314.
  4. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 674.
  5. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 325.
  6. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 329.
  7. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 326-327.
  8. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 327-328.
  9. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 330.
  10. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 333.
  11. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 344.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Robbins 1969, p. 692.
  13. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 334.
  14. ^ a b c Weinberg 1980, p. 335.
  15. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 336.
  16. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 334-335.
  17. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 335-336.
  18. ^ a b Weinberg 1980, p. 356.
  19. ^ a b Shirer 1960, p. 360.
  20. ^ a b c d Robbins 1969, p. 693.
  21. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 363.
  22. ^ a b c Robbins 1969, p. 694.
  23. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 693-694.
  24. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 695.
  25. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 373.
  26. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 374.
  27. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 351.
  28. ^ Weinberg 1980, p. 391-392.
  29. ^ Robbins 1969, p. 696.
  30. ^ "Konrad Henlein". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  31. ^ a b c Robbins 1969, p. 697.


  • 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 Starting World War Two 1937-1939, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980 ISBN 0226885119

External links[edit]

Media related to Konrad Henlein at Wikimedia Commons