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The Nazi Party: Reich Security Main Office

RSHA (abbr. of Ger. Reichssicherheitshauptamt, i.e., Reich Security Main Office). The precursors of the RSHA were the SD and the SS surveillance and intelligence units, which were established by Himmler before the Nazis came to power and became state functions. The second element of the RSHA was the Gestapo, originally the political police of Prussia. By 1936. all the political police of the German states were unified, and the Gestapo became the core of Nazi control employing surveillance, denunciation, and torture, and having the power to imprison. The third element was the Criminal Police (Kripo). In 1936, Kripo and the Gestapo were reorganized as SIPO under Reinhard Heydrich’s control.

On September 22, 1939, the RSHA became one of the 12 main offices of the SS as the umbrella authority over the different Nazi secret police and intelligence organizations, except for military intelligence (Abwehr). It was set up under Himmler’s orders to unify the SIPO (Sicherheitspolizei – “security police”) and SD (Sicherheitsdienst – “security service”).  Heydrich, who had been head of both services, continued as chief of the RSHA. The RSHA was originally divided into six offices (Aemter), later into seven, which were subdivided into departments (Abteilungen – later Gruppen), the latter further broken down into sections (Referate). Among the heads of the various divisions were Dr. Otto Ohlendorf, who dealt with economic matters, culture, and ethnic Germans. He commanded Einsatzgruppe D. Heinrich Mueller was the head of the Gestapo. Werner Best and Dr. Neckmann were in charge of organization and law. In April 1944, the Abwehr, which was suspect, was taken over and became the Amt Mil (“military office”) of the RSHA, headed by Walter Schellenberg.

With the German conquests, the RSHA sent representatives to all the occupied countries to run foreign branches on the model of the headquarters in Berlin. But neither in Germany nor abroad were services fused on a local level. Abroad the RSHA acted through Einsatzgruppen (“mobile killing units”), which functioned in the rear of the army. With the end of combat operations, the Einsatzgruppen became local branches of the RSHA. Heydrich remained chief of the RSHA even after he was appointed protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Following Heydrich’s death, Himmler provisionally headed the RSHA, but the actual direction was left to Heinrich Mueller and Schellenberg. Ernst Kaltenbrunner was appointed chief in January 1943, and served until the end of the war.

The RSHA assumed the powers of its parent organization over the Jews, became the supervising authority over the Reichsvereinigung, and took over the Zentralstelle (“emigration center”). At its outset, the RSHA handled “Jewish affairs,” its Section IIB4 dealt with research, and Section IVB3 dealt with “Jewish enemies.” Section IVB4 was set up at the end of 1939 under Adolf Eichmann, who was already head of the Zentralstelle and had achieved notable success in the forced emigration of Jews from Vienna. With the onset of the war, Eichmann’s section organized evacuations following the decision to drive the Jews and Poles out of the western provinces of Poland. At the same time, the Einsatzgruppen killed tens of thousands of Jews and Poles.

The RSHA helped in the ghettoization of Jews in the East and was instrumental in the promulgation of anti-Jewish legislation. RSHA delegations in the occupied countries had Jewish sections and dispatched special commandos, e.g., to Salonika (1943) and to Hungary (1944). The Einsatzgruppen murdered more than 1,000,000 Jews in Russia.

Under Heydrich the RSHA became the instrument of the “Final Solution,” i.e., the murder of European Jewry. The headquarters of the “Final Solution” was Section IVB4, which later became IVA4b. The local branches of the RSHA rounded up the Jews, confiscated their property, and deported them to death camps. The RSHA sought more efficient killing methods. It invented the gas vans and serviced them in its own vehicle section. Through its Zentralstelle in Prague, the RSHA ran the Theresienstadt ghetto. It decided the fate of every transport, which was dispatched to the East.

After the war, the International Military Tribunal declared the Gestapo and the SD components of the RSHA criminal organizations.


H. Krausnick et al., Anatomy of the SS State (1968), 172–87 and index; R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961), 181–7 and index; G. Reitlinger, SS, Alibi of a Nation (1956), index; E. Crankshaw, Gestapo: Instrument of Tyranny (1956), index. 

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.