Karl von Eberstein

Karl Wolff

Karl von Eberstein, the son of an army major, was born in Halle, Germany, on 14th January, 1894. After attending military school he served in the German Army during the First World War. A battery commander he won the Iron Cross First Class. (1)

After the First World War former senior officers in the German Army began raising private armies called Freikorps. These were used to defend the German borders against the possibility of invasion from the Red Army. Captain Kurt von Schleicher, of the political department at the army, secretly equipped and paid for the Freikorps. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Composed of former officers, demobilized soldiers, military adventurers, fanatical nationalists, and unemployed youths, was organized by Captain Kurt von Schleicher. Rightist in political philosophy, blaming Social Democrats and Jews for Germany's plight, the Freikorps called for the elimination of traitors to the Fatherland." (2)

Eberstein left the army went into business. According to Richard Evans, the author of The Third Reich in Power (2005) Eberstein "tried to eke out his existence in the 1920s as a travel agent". (3) Eberstein joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1922. He claimed that disapproved of the Beer Hall Putsch and resigned from the party. However, this was meaningless as the NSDAP was now banned. In February 1925, Aldolf Hitler announced the forming of a new Nazi Party. Soon afterwards Eberstein joined the party. (4)

Karl von Eberstein & Heinrich Himmler

Eberstein also joined the SS (Schutzstaffel) and was appointed to the staff of Heinrich Himmler. Eberstein obtained the officer rank SS-Sturmführer on 1st April 1929. (5) Eberstein was a friend of Lina von Osten who in December 1930 became engaged to Reinhard Heydrich. As Adrian Weale has pointed out: "Lina von Osten, the beautiful, blonde, nineteen-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher from the island of Fehmarn, in the Baltic. Shortly thereafter, though, a previous girlfriend appeared and claimed he had already proposed to her - after they had spent the night together in a hotel." (6)

Karl von Eberstein & Reinhard Heydrich

Edouard Calic, the author of Himmler and the SS Empire (2009), points out that Heydrich joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in Hamburg on 31st May, 1931. (7) With the help of Karl von Eberstein, Heydrich was able to obtain a meeting with Heinrich Himmler. It has been claimed that he was impressed by Heydrich's "Nordic" appearance. However, Karl Wolff, claims this was not true as he was considered "womanly and unGermanic."

Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991), agrees: "Heydrich fell short of the strict Nordic ideal; his hips were too wide.... There was also a Mongolian cast to his eyes which caused Himmler when annoyed to rebuke him with descent from the hordes of Genghis Khan. It was an apt comment. Even his photographs convey an impression of cruelty; the long, asmmetric face, thick lips and slightly inclined, icy grey-blue eyes suggest something both infinitely calculating and diabolic." (8)

The Nazi Party decided to have its own intelligence and security body and so Himmler was asked to create the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). On 1st August, 1931, Heydrich became the head of the organization and it was kept distinct from the uniformed SS (Schutzstaffel). It has been claimed that Heydrich got the job because of his experience in Naval intelligence. However, Mark M. Boatner III has argued that Himmler had made his decision "not realizing he had been in signals, not naval intelligence." (9) Heydrich's fast task was to carry out an investigation of the SS: "The Security Service itself had its origins in reports early in 1931 that the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by its enemies. Himmler established the Security Service to investigate the claims." (10)

Crystal Night

In reaction to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, the Third Secretary of the Germany Embassy in Paris, by Herschel Grynszpan on 7th November, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich gave orders for the destruction of all Jewish places of worship in Nazi Germany. This attack, later called Crystal Night (Kristallnacht), took place two days later. "The assault In fifteen hours 101 synagogues were destroyed by fire, and 76 were demolished. Bands of Nazis systematically destroyed 7,500 Jewish-owned stores. The pillage and looting went on through the night. Streets were covered with broken glass, hence the name Kristallnacht." (11)

Eberstein was the police president of Munich during these attacks on the Jewish community. In a telegram sent to the State Police HQ of various cities under his control, he stated that "Anti-Jewish demonstrations" would occur with synagogues as their main target. The police were told to "do nothing to hinder the demonstrations". Eberstein also said in the telegram that "every effort will be made to arrest immediately as many Jews as the jails will hold, primarily healthy male and well-to-do adults of not too advanced age". (12)

Dachau Concentration Camp

On 17th December 1942, Karl von Eberstein was put in charge of the military district XIII in Nuremberg. This meant that the Dachau Concentration Camp fell under Eberstein's authority. He later denied that the SS were involved in administrating these camps and when he had inspected Dachau the inmates looked "well fed". When he became aware that medical experiments involving Sigmund Rascher were taking place in 1944 he complained to Heinrich Himmler. Eberstein was dismissed from all posts on 20th April 1945 for "defeatism", by Martin Bormann. (13)

German Denazification Court

On 15th November 1948, Eberstein was classified by a German Denazification court as a (class III) Nazi and ordered to forfeit of 30% of his wealth. This was a controversial decision and for a while he was placed into a more serious category of former Nazi (class II). His class III category was confirmed on 19th February 1953.

Karl von Eberstein died in Tegernsee on 10th February 1979.

Primary Sources


(1) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991)

There is little doubt that the Kiel naval station, intelligence and counter-intelligence section, still had active links with the Nazis, no doubt at all that Heydrich himself was kept up to date on Party affairs by his boyhood friend, now SA-Oberfiihrer Karl von Eberstein, who was a close colleague of Himmler. There seem therefore to be only two possibilities to account for his departure from the Navy. Either he transgressed the rule that serving officers did not attend political meetings - his new fiancee, Lina von Osten, was an enthusiastic Hitler supporter and he may perhaps have been foolish enough to attend a meeting with her. Alternatively his dismissal may have been a cover operation by Raeder to insert a naval officer into the intelligence apparatus of the Nazi Party just as large industrial concerns arranged for the "dismissal" of men whom they wished to insert into the Nazi organisation to represent their interests - just as the great Junker landowners already had their men in leading positions in "the Party". The fact that Heydrich apparently received two years' severance or transitional salary at 200 Marks a month tends to support this latter theory.

On 31 May 1931, as his latest biographer, Edouard Calic, points out, the day after his discharge from the Navy became legally binding, Heydrich joined the Nazi Party in Hamburg. It seems probable from an account given to Calic after the war by a Hamburg communist that he organised an assault troop on military lines equipped with vehicles which made lightning strikes on social democrat and communist meetings in the industrial quarter of Hamburg that summer, waded in with staves, and as rapidly made off before the police arrived.

Von Eberstein, meanwhile, arranged an appointment for him with Heinrich Himmler. According to post-war legend Himmler cancelled the meeting because he had a cold, but Heydrich, pressed by his fiancee, went nonetheless and saw him at his house in Waldtrudering. It is more likely that the meeting was at Waldtrudering because Himmler wanted to keep a potential secret service chief out of the way of Du Moulin's snoopers at Party headquarters. Again according to the legend. Himmler thought he had an intelligence officer before him, whereas he actually had a wireless specialist; in fact, von Eherstein must have told him that Heydrich had been an intelligence officer at Kiel for three years, and had been initiated into the game by the Navy's legendary expert in the field. Himmler gave him twenty minutes to write an account of how he would organise an SS intelligence service. As impressed by the result as by Heydrich's `Nordic' appearance, he appointed him to the post.


(1) Mark C. Yerger, Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units, and Leaders of the General SS (1997) page 41

(2) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 98

(3) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 419

(4) James Taylor and Warren Shaw, Dictionary of the Third Reich (1997) page 195

(5) Jonathan Petropolous, Royals and the Reich (2006) page 260

(6) Adrian Weale, The SS: A New History (2010) page 78

(7) Edouard Calic, Himmler and the SS Empire (2009) pages 58- 59

(8) Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) page 111

(9) Mark M. Boatner III, Reinhard Heydrich (1996) page 216

(10) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 54

(11) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 201

(12) Karl von Eberstein, telegram (9th November, 1938)

(13) Mark C. Yerger, Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units, and Leaders of the General SS (1997) page 106

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The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich