The Reich Security Main Office

On September 27, 1939, Himmler formed a single institution, the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), by combining the Security Police (Secret State Police and the Reich Criminal Investigation Police), with the Nazi Party intelligence service, the Security Service (SD) of the SS. Reinhard Heydrich was “Chief of the Security Police and SD,” and head of the RSHA. Ernst Kaltenbrunner became his successor in 1943.

The RSHA, at once a kind of ministry and an SS main office, incorporated both state and Nazi Party tasks. The reorganization did not result in the dissolution of existing offices. For instance, in communication with other public offices, the new Department IV of the RSHA continued to be called the “Secret State Police Office.” Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8, Berlin SW 11 was the most important office building and postal address of the RSHA, the Reich SS Leader and his “Personal Staff.”

The RSHA had a wide-reaching network of subordinate offices at its disposal. In the German-occupied countries, mobile and stationary RSHA offices that played a dominant role included Einsatzgruppen (special mobile units) and Einsatzkommandos (special mobile sub-units) or “Commanders” and “Overall Commanders of the Security Police and SD” with the forces under their command.

The orders from the RSHA played a major part in the Nazi regime’s politics of persecution and extermination. It was the RSHA that selected the personnel of the Einsatzgruppen, whose mass executions claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews and political opponents of the Nazis. Staff of Department IV developed gas vans that were also used for a time to murder Jews. Adolf Eichmann’s Section IV B 4 and other RSHA offices played a leading role in the implementation of Hitler’s “final solution to the Jewish question” in Europe. The Gestapo’s section for “Protective Custody” decided whether people should be sent to the concentration camps. In the camps the RSHA ran “political sections” staffed by Gestapo officers.

With the RSHA, Himmler and Heydrich created the most important body in the Nazi system of repression and terror.