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Flag Schutzstaffel.svg
The SS flag. The RSHA was a branch main office of the SS.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R98683, Reinhard Heydrich.jpg
Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the RSHA, as an SS-Gruppenführer in August 1940.
Agency overview
Formed 27 September 1939
Preceding agencies
Dissolved 8 May 1945
Type Secret Police
Jurisdiction Nazi Germany Germany
Occupied Europe
Headquarters Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, Berlin
Employees 50,648 c. February 1944[1]
Minister responsible
Agency executives
Parent agency Ministry of the Interior (nominally)
Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Allgemeine SS
Child agencies

The RSHA, or Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office[2][3] or Reich Security Main Office[4] or Reich Security Head Office[5]) was an organization subordinate to Heinrich Himmler in his dual capacities as Chef der Deutschen Polizei (Chief of German Police) and Reichsführer-SS. The organization's stated duty was to fight all "enemies of the Reich" inside and outside the borders of Nazi Germany.


The RSHA was created by Reichsführer-SS Himmler on 27 September 1939. He combined the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; SS intelligence service) with the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo; "Security Police"), which was nominally under the Interior Ministry. The SiPo was composed of the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo; "Secret State Police") and the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo; "Criminal Police").[6]

The first chief of the RSHA was SS-Obergruppenführer and General of Police Reinhard Heydrich until he was assassinated in 1942. Himmler then took personal control as acting chief of the RSHA. In January 1943, Himmler delegated the office to SS-Obergruppenführer and General of Police Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who headed the RSHA for the rest of World War II.[7] The RSHA acronym for its director was 'CSSD': Chef der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (Chief of the Security Police and of the Security Service).[6] The RSHA controlled the security services of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Its activities included intelligence-gathering, criminal investigation, overseeing foreigners, monitoring public opinion, and Nazi indoctrination. Its stated duty was to find and eliminate the "enemies of the Reich".[6] However, the list of "enemies" included Jews, Communists, Freemasons, pacifists, and Christian activists.[8] The RSHA also oversaw the Einsatzgruppen, death squads that followed the invasion forces of the Wehrmacht Heer (German Army) into Eastern Europe. In its role as the national and NSDAP security service, the RSHA coordinated activities among a number of different agencies that had wide-ranging responsibilities within the Reich. The RSHA was often abbreviated to "RSi-H" in correspondence to avoid confusion with the SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA; "SS Race and Settlement Office").[6]

A high percentage of senior SS officers were attached to the RSHA and therefore it was a top-heavy organization. For example, almost a quarter of all officers of the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer served in the RSHA. Of all other SS officer ranks, the RSHA had the following percentages:[6]

  • Obersturmbannführer – 20%
  • Standartenführer – 15.2%
  • Oberführer – 15%
  • Brigadeführer – 11.5%
  • Gruppenführer – 7.4%
  • Obergruppenführer – 4.4%


According to British author, Gerald Reitlinger, the RSHA 'became a typical overblown bureaucracy... The complexity of RSHA was unequalled... with at least a hundred sub-sub sections'.[9]

The organization at its simplest was divided into seven offices (German: Ämter):[10]

  • Amt III, Inland-SD, headed by SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf, was the SS information gathering service for inside Germany. It also dealt with ethnic Germans outside of Germany's prewar borders, and matters of culture.
  • Amt V, Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), led by SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe, and later by SS-Oberführer Friedrich Panzinger. This was the Criminal Police, which dealt with non-political serious crimes, such as rape, murder, and arson. Amt V was also known as the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (Reich Criminal Police Department or RKPA).
  • Amt VII, Written Records, overseen by SS-Brigadeführer Professor Dr. Franz Six and later by SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul Dittel. It was responsible for "ideological" tasks. These included the creation of anti-semitic, anti-masonic propaganda, the sounding of public opinion and monitoring of Nazi indoctrination by the public.

Amt IV, the Gestapo, and Amt V, the Kripo, together constituted the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) or SiPo. It was the SiPo that did most of the work in rounding up Jews, Romani People and other people deemed to be enemies of the Reich and deporting them to the concentration and extermination camps in German Occupied Poland and Ukraine.

The RSHA also supplied security forces on an "as needed" basis to local SS and Police Leaders. After the escape of prisoners from Stalag Luft III in March 1944, for example, it was RSHA personnel who facilitated the "Stalag Luft III murders".

During the earlier part of the fighting in the Soviet Union, the RSHA also had operational control of certain Waffen-SS units which Himmler had withheld from the Army High Command (OKH); these units, the 1st and 2nd SS Infantry Brigades and the SS Cavalry Brigade, were formed from former Standarten of the Totenkopfverbände or concentration camp service. Their role was not to serve in combat, except in emergencies, but to carry out "police and security operations" in occupied territories like the Einsatzgruppen.

Jews being rounded up in Krakow in March 1943.

Jews being rounded up in Russia in July 1941.

See also


  1. Robert Gellately. The Gestapo and German Society. Retrieved 2 June 2009. 
  2. McNab, Chris. The SS: 1923–1945, p. 41.
  3. Le Tissier 2010, p. 179.
  4. "Nuremberg Trial Proceedings, Vol 20, Day 194". Retrieved 3 January 2009. 
  5. Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich at War, p. 919.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine–SS, pp. 83-84.
  7. Rich, Norman (1992). Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State, and the Course of Expansion. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 49. 
  8. Longerich, Peter. Heinrich Himmler: A Life, p. 470.
  9. Reitlinger, Gerald. The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922–1945, p. 138.
  10. Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, pp. 83–84.

Further reading

  • Hilberg, Raul (2003). The Destruction of the European Jews, Third Edition, Yale Univ. Press, c1961.
  • Höhne, Heinz:
    • Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf: Die Geschichte der SS. (original).
    • The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS. (Engl. edition of the above).
  • Longerich, Peter (2011). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6. 
  • Le Tissier, Tony (2010) [1999]. Race for the Reichstag: The 1945 Battle for Berlin. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84884-230-4. 
  • Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine – SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9.
  • McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945, Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5.
  • Wildt, Michael (2002). Generation of the Unbound: The Leadership Corps of the Reich Security Main Office, Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, (Engl., in original German, Hamburg: 2002). ISBN 965-308-162-4.
  • Williams, Max (2001) (2003). Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volumes 1 and 2, Ulric Publishing. ISBN 0-9537577-5-7 and ISBN 0-9537577-6-5.

External links

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