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Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich Hardcover – November 15, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“This admirable biography makes plausible what actually happened and makes human what we might prefer to dismiss as monstrous.”—Timothy Snyder, Wall Street Journal
(Timothy Snyder The Wall Street Journal)

“[A] probing biography…Gerwarth’s fine study shows in chilling detail how genocide emerged from the practicalities of implementing a demented belief system.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

“Supremely enlightening.”—Jacob Heilbrunn, The New York Times Book Review
(Jacob Heilbrunn The New York Times Book Review)

“[M]eticulously takes us inside the Third Reich, face to face with the Nazi hero, revealing as few texts do how the bureaucracy of evil worked.”—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

“Gerwarth’s approach is subtle, painstaking and psychologically acute; it convincingly demonstrates that the historian’s tool of 'cold empathy' best clarifies the enduring question of what brings forth monsters.”—Roy Foster, Times Literary Supplement (Books of the Year)
(Roy Foster Times Literary Supplement (Books of the Year) 2011-12-02)

Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich by Robert Gerwarth is superb on the making of evil.”—Frank Dikotter, The Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year)
(Frank Dikotter The Daily Telegraph (Books of the Year) 2011-11-19)

“Robert Gerwarth’s Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich is the outstanding definitive scholarly and heartbreakingly horrible biography of the repellent mastermind of the Holocaust.”—Simon Sebag Montefiore, BBC History Magazine (Books of the Year)
(Simon Sebag Montefiore BBC History Magazine (Books of the Year) 2011-12-01)

“Gerwarth…offers a first rate biography of one of history’s most notorious villains.”—Deseret News
(Deseret News)

"Gerwarth's mastery of primary sources and relevant secondary literature is impressive, and his integration of the most recent scholarship and historiographical perspectives on the Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust make this fine biography even more compelling. An outstanding, exceptional book sure to become the standard account of one of the most infamous Nazi war criminals."—D.R. Snyder, Choice
(D.R. Snyder Choice)

“An excellent inquiry into one of Hitler’s most fearsome paladins, the aide to Heinrich Himmler who played a key role in implementing the Holocaust. Gerwarth dispassionately examines Heydrich’s rise and assassination, which resulted in a horrific series of Nazi reprisals in Czechoslovakia. The best account of Heydrich.”—Jacob Heilbrunn, The Daily Beast 
(Jacob Heilbrunn The Daily Beast)

About the Author

Robert Gerwarth is professor of modern history at University College Dublin and director of UCD’s Centre for War Studies.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st Edition edition (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030011575X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300115758
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 143 people found the following review helpful By Michael Atamian on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always found Reinhard Heydrich to be one of the more fascinating personalities from World War II. He was the only senior Nazi targeted for assassination during the war, yet most people nowadays do not even know his name. The author takes a very factual approach to the life of Heydrich and lets the reader draw his/her own conclusions. Considering that a lot of material on Heydrich's early life has been lost (some no doubt eradicated by Heydrich and his SD) the author paints a good picture of him in his early years. The author at one point uses a chapter heading called "Becoming Heydrich"; his well-argued point being that Heydrich had all the benefits and bounties of a middle-class upbringing, and seemed to be well-adjusted, until his drumming out of the Navy and marriage to Lina van Osten, an ardent Nazi. At that time, and through a fortuitous meeting with Himmler, he went down a path of no return- one of true amorality and evil. I think it is fair to say that Heydrich's organizational skills and ability to execute policies without morals enabled Hitler and Himmler's genocidal visions more than any other person in the Third Reich. Heydrich was highly intelligent and industrious, so the coupling of his talents to the Nazi terror apparatus had dire consequences for the world. I think this biography paints a really good picture of the man. Earlier biographies, written after World War II and without the benefit of recent historical discoveries, paint a very one-sided picture of Heydrich as a born evil monster. He wasn't born evil- he chose it. And that is a lesson for all of us.
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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By sully on December 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is an extraordinary biography which could cause me to not be able to sleep at night while I thought about what I had read. "Hitler's Hangman" is such a biography. You have no need to see horror movies or read horror fiction. A mere 70 years ago a man was implementing a system of mass murder and horror that no movie or fictional book could begin to equal, and that man's name was Reinhard Heydrich.
This biography is incredibly well researched and superbly written. Unlike some biographies which stray from the person sometimes, this one stays on target. It is not that the author doesn't discuss the big issues, it is that he skillfully keeps Heydrich in the center of his biography. Heydrich was an example of a person who had become a monster and yet he was a "normal" family man who would hold his infant daughter every night. A man from an upper class German family who played classical music in his spare time, yet organized groups called "Einsatsgruppen" which murdered hundreds of thousands of people. He had totally absorbed the Nazi racial ideology as being biologically true and was committed to "cleansing" Europe of "subhumans" and replacing them with "aryans". He held a high rank in the Nazi system and managed key parts, such as the SD and Gestapo. Before he was assassinated by Czech commandoes, he was "Germanizing" the lands around Prague and planning the "Final Solution".
In summation, there nothing so disturbing as the horrific actions of actual humans. Unlike fictional stories, where evil-doers are so different than us, this biography shows a man who could be anyone. Heydrich wasn't even interested in the Nazis until his wife told him to go sign up. It is staggering to think that this driven mass killer may never had done his deeds if his wife hadn't influenced him at a key point in time. Now, try to sleep thinking about that. Read this biography.
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122 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on October 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In June 1942,only some weeks after Heidrich's assassination, Thomas Mann, whose home had previously been raided on Heidrich's orders in 1933, commented on a BBC radio broadcast, and said that " wherever this killer went, blood flowed in rivers. Everywhere, even in Germany, he was simply called: the Hangman".
Heidrich was one of the most sinister monsters of the Third Reich. Although many other mass murderers got a lot of biographers, Heidrich's place in the pantheon of the library of evil was somehow ignored or minimized. Enter Robert Gerwarth's excellent and profound biography whose purpose is to rectify things about this nebulous figure. As Mr. Gerwarth explains," Heydrich was both a typical and an atypical representative of his generation. He shared in many of the deep ruptures and traumatic experiences of the so-called war youth generation: namely, the Great War and the turbulent post-war years of revolutionary turmoil, hyperinflation and social decline, which he experienced as a teenager."
Heydrich, who was born in 1904 in Halle in Prussia, and whose parents were both musicians, was dismissed from the navy in 1931 as a result of a broken engagement promise and his subsequent arrogant behavious towards the military court of honour. It was at this point when he met his future wife, Lina von Osten. The couple had four children and Lina had a tremendous influence over her husband to join the SS. At the age of thirty-eight, and as the second most powerful man in the SS behind Heinrich Himmler, he had built a reputation as one of the most uncompromising executors of Hitler's dystopian fantasies for the future of the Reich and Nazi-occupied Europe.
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