The Gestapo, founded by Hermann Göring in April, 1933, was placed under the administration of Heinrich Himmler. photo supra, as Chief of Nazi German Police in 1934. It specialized in extracting information by gruesome torture methods at its Berlin headquarters on Prinz Albrechtrasse (“Prince Albert Street”). Ironically, some of the Gestapo’s interrogation and surveillance techniques were pioneered by the Holy Inquisition. The Gestapo offered a bounty to anyone who denounced Jews in hiding: a quart of liquor, four pounds of sugar, a carton of cigarettes, or small cash payments. For wartime civilians subject to rationing, such a bounty provided a powerful incentive to cooperate with the Reich, one made even more palpable by widespread anti-Semitism. Anyone discovered hiding Jews was summarily executed. At the height of the war, when living space, food, sanitation facilities, and medicine were in short supply, rescuers of Jews sacrificed a great deal, indeed, in addition to risking their lives.
The equally hated SS, also headed by Heinrich Himmler, was both the chief instrument of Nazi terrorism and torch bearer of its racial ideals. Himmler developed the group into an elite brotherhood, complete with cult-like rituals and Teutonic symbols. Dabbling in occultism, he believed himself to be the reincarnation of a medieval German king who had conquered eastern territories. Himmler grew up in a respectable middle class Catholic family. His father, Gebbard, taught Greek and Latin at the renowned Wilhelm Grammar School in Munich and his son Heinrich was a diligent student. Peter Longerich, in a book entitled, “Heinrich Himmler,” wrote that Himmler read anti-Semitic and astrological tracts in an effort to integrate the most important elements of radical right-wing ideology — anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism, racism, hostility to democracy — into a more comprehensive worldview. Himmler married a blond, blue-eyed nurse named Margarete Boden whose credo was “A Jew is always a Jew!”
Reinhard Heydrich, nicknamed “Hitler’s Hangman,” also grew up in a respectable middle class Catholic family. His father, Bruno, was a gifted composer who ran a conservatory in the city of Halle and ensured that his son enjoyed a rigorous musical education, including playing the piano and violin by age six and attending Wagner operas. Allegations of a Jewish pedigree in the Heydrich family tree plagued Reinhard throughout his career. For Himmler and Heydrich, the Nazi party afforded career opportunities and the chance to play important roles in what was intended to be the “Thousand Year Reich.” Both men, driven by ideological hatreds, became skillful operatives who ascended to the very top of Nazi leadership.
According to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,” Nazi terrorism alone did not induce ordinary people to become complicit in mass murder, to, in his words, become “Hitler’s willing executioners” rather it was Christianity’s long history of Jew hatred. It was, in short, anti-Judaism that enabled Christians to assent willingly to Nazi eliminationist anti-Semitism, which caused many of them to make this morally conflicted choice — “… allowing or abetting the Germans’ and their helpers’ persecution of Jews and even letting Jews die was preferable to intervening on their behalf.”