cover image The Hangman and His Wife: The Life and Death of Reinhard Heydrich

The Hangman and His Wife: The Life and Death of Reinhard Heydrich

Nancy Dougherty. Knopf, $35 (704p) ISBN 978-0-394-54341-3

The hollowed-out soul of one of Nazi Germany’s worst criminals is explored through his wife’s recollections in this searching biography. Dougherty, a biographer and film critic who died in 2013, examines Heydrich’s rise through the S.S. to become head of the Gestapo and other intelligence agencies (he even ran one of Berlin’s swankiest brothels, staffed with amateur spies); his control of the Einsatzgruppen death squads that murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews; and his assassination by Czech resistance agents in 1942. She portrays him as the quintessential Nazi: tall, vigorous, “a wolf in a fancy uniform” with a “luciferous” knack for intimidation. Extensive interviews with Heydrich’s wife Lina, who died in 1985, offer an alternate version of the man as a striving careerist with little involvement in the Final Solution; Dougherty demonstrates how delusional that sketch is, but Lina’s viewpoint suggests how denial and wishful thinking distracted Germans from the Nazis’ crimes. Dougherty vividly dissects the murderous intrigues roiling Nazi bureaucracies—Heydrich poisoned an assistant’s drink and withheld the antidote until the man explained his suspicious relationship with Lina—and the crooked path of opportunism, brutalization, and warped Nazi idealism that led Hitler’s minions to a policy of extermination. The result is a chilling, revelatory case study of the moral corruption of the Third Reich. Photos. (Apr.)