An astonishing journey into the heart of Nazi evil: a portrait of one of the darkest figures of Hitler’s Nazi elite—Reinhard Heydrich, the designer and executor of the Holocaust, chief of the Reich Main Security, including the Gestapo—interwoven with commentary by his wife, Lina, from the author's in-depth interviews.
He was called the Hangman of the Gestapo, the "butcher of Prague," with a reputation as a ruthlessly efficient killer. He was the head of the SS, and the Gestapo, second in command to Heinrich Himmler. His orders set in motion the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and, as the lead planner of Hitler's Final Solution, he chaired the Wannsee Conference, at which details of the murder of millions of Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe were toasted with cognac.
In The Hangman and His Wife, Nancy Dougherty, and, following her death, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, masterfully explore who Heydrich was and how he came to be, and how he came to do what he did. We see Heydrich from his rarefied musical family origins and his ugly-duckling childhood and adolescence, to his sudden flameout as a promising Naval officer (he was forced to resign his Naval commission after dishonoring the office corps by having sex with the unmarried daughter of a shipyard director and refusing to marry her).
Dougherty writes of his seemingly hopeless job prospects as an untrained civilian during Germany’s hyperinflation and unemployment, and his joining the Nazi party through the attraction to Nazism of his fiancée, Lina von Osten, and her father, along with the rumor shadowing him of a strain of Jewishness inherited from his father’s side. And we follow Heydrich’s meteoric rise through the Nazi high command—from SS major, to colonel to brigadier general, before he was thirty, deputy to Heinrich Himmler, expanding the SS, the Gestapo, and developing the Reich's plans for "the Jewish solution."
And throughout, we hear the voice of Lina Heydrich, who was by his side until his death at the age of thirty-eight, living inside the Nazi inner circles as she waltzed with Rudolf Hess, feuded with Hermann Göring, and drank vintage wine with Albert Speer.
About the Author
NANCY DOUGHERTY was a biographer and film critic. She received the PEN Girard Award in 1987. She died in 2013. CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT was a journalist, novelist, literary critic, and for almost three decades, daily book reviewer for The New York Times.
“Magnificent . . . One of the great achievements of biography . . . What makes the individual important, why differences in personality matter, are on display everywhere in this searching book . . . We get the living presence of Nazism and understand how it was that such evil was perpetuated with a perverted sense of doing good.”—Carl Rollyson, New York Sun
“The hollowed-out soul of one of Nazi Germany’s worst criminals is explored through his wife’s recollections in this searching biography . . . Dougherty vividly dissects the murderous intrigues roiling Nazi bureaucracies . . . A chilling, revelatory case study of the moral corruption of the Third Reich.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Gripping . . . engrossing . . . A masterful account of the quintessential Nazi.”—Kirkus (starred)
“An exhaustive and dark expedition into the diabolical mind of a truly evil villain and unsettling insight on the deliberate delusion that blinded some Germans to the horrific atrocities committed by the Third Reich.”—Booklist