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Bruno Streckenbach (7 February 1902 – 28 October 1977) was a German SS functionary during the Nazi era. He was the head of Administration and Personnel Department of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). Streckenbach was responsible for many thousands of murders committed by Nazi mobile killing squads known as Einsatzgruppen.
Bruno Streckenbach was born in Hamburg, Germany on 7 February 1902. His highest education was Gymnasium, which he left in April 1918 to voluntarily report to the German Army during World War I. Just like his close colleagues Erwin Schulz and Heinrich Himmler, he never served on the front lines of the battlefield due to the ceasefire that took place in November 1918.
After the end of the First World War, he was an active member of the Freikorps Bahrenfeld, which took part in the 1920 Kapp-Putsch. He was employed as a wholesale merchant, tried his hand at advertising, being a radio editor and also trying to establish himself as the director of a local office.
Nazi Seizure of Power in 1933
1933 was a huge year for many soon-to-be SS and police officers. As some historians have mentioned, for people like Streckenbach, 1933 was the year in which they assumed positions of the Gestapo (Political Police), but also the year which they were put into “leadership positions, posts they would hardly have occupied without the National Socialist seizure of power.” Following the Reichstag Fire on 27 February 1933 which the Nazis falsely propagated to be “communist-led,” there was a temporary suspension on the Weimar constitutional rights, which heightened the governmental rights in such an instance. There were many protests and elevated persecution towards left-wing politicals which followed the Presidential Decree for the Protection of Volk and State on 28 February. This all happened right before the March 5 Reichstag Elections, which the National Socialists won, only upon merging with the Deutschnationale Volkspartei. After having the majority vote, the Nazi “seizure of power” was under way. Persecution against Bolsheviks, Jews increased continuously, as did the horrifying accounts of brutal assault and sporadic murder and arson. It was in this seizure of power which many of the future leaders of the RSHA held their first positions in the party.
More than a quarter of the future RSHA leaders had already been police officers in their respective home towns before 1933. In 1933, almost two-thirds of these men were given Political Police positions in their towns or cities, or sent to Berlin as a part of the Gestapo Office. Although Streckenbach had only entered into the police force 31 August 1931 as the leader of the SS-Sturmbanner in Hamburg, Streckenbach’s placement as chief of the Gestapo in Hamburg proves the “superficiality of professional continuity” – referring to a lack of qualifications many candidates possessed– as some historians critique of the Nazi Party and its seizure of power. For years, these young radical right-wing militants had been marginalized, but with the rise of the Nazis, they were now given the chance to pursue a career which preserved their radical and violent worldviews, and indeed encouraged such behaviour. Historian Bradley Smith argues that the Nazi seizure of power offered these young men, including Bruno Streckenbach, a career which abided by and even enhanced their radicalism, and provided professional advancements which they had failed to receive in their careers up to this point.
In the invasion of Poland
As historians point out, Reinhard Heydrich and Himmler had always been trying to expand their powers—physically and politically—beyond the confines of the German Reich. In accordance with Hitler’s notion of Lebensraum, active persecution against Polish people in the Reich, and long-term goals of “conquering extensive territories in the Soviet Union”, Hitler and other top Nazi leadership started preparing for a war, marked by the invasion of Poland. In preparation for the invasion of Poland, Heydrich expressed his ambition of having mobilized killing squads, a “fighting administration” as he put it.
The Einsatzgruppen would be in charge of securing German political position and occupation in Poland, furthering the ideology of ethnic cleansing and Lebensraum via deportations out of the occupied territory and mass executions within. The number of Einsatzgruppen corresponded with the number of Wehrmacht army units deployed: five. The leaders of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo; Security Police) in Berlin selected the office heads of the Einsatzgruppen very carefully, most of them being prior SD members or leaders. The members of the Einsatzgruppen—500 men per Einsatzgruppe—were taken from local SS and police stations near the five units’ locations.
After the war, Bruno Streckenbach testified that Werner Best had directed deployment orders directly to him at the end of July or beginning of August. Streckenbach continued by saying he had immediately left Hamburg to drive to Vienna, where he had been deployed from as head of Einsatzgruppe I. The German Wehrmacht invaded Poland on the morning of 1 September 1939. The Einsatzgruppen followed after them sending reports back to Berlin detailing the actions of Operation Tannenberg, the code name given to the deployment of the SD and SiPo in Poland during the opening weeks of the war. It was Streckenbach's task to oversee four districts as Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei im General Gouvernement: Warsaw, Krakow, Radom and Lublin. In each of these districts, thousands of Polish intellectuals—many former officers, professors, teachers, or politicians—were arrested and soon after, murdered. Streckenbach detailed the mission of the Einsatzgruppen: they were to seize and destroy all political and racial enemy groups, such as Bolsheviks, gypsies, partisans and Jews. In addition, they were to report on and evaluate material seized during the campaign and to gather information from agents among the Soviet population. He ordered all enemies of the Third Reich to be deported to concentration camps and there to be executed. Jews were especially singled out for Sonderbehandlung ("special treatment"), a process that entailed particularly brutal punishment beatings. On 9 November 1941 he was promoted to SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei.
By the end of 1939, the Einsatzgruppen were permanent units of the RSHA. Many members of the RSHA worked alongside the Einsatzgruppen in implementing brutal violence and mass murder throughout Poland. In May 1940, thousands of Poles were reported as liquidated in accordance with the lack of world interest in Poland while the Wehrmacht began its western offensive. At the end of this month, Streckenbach had reported that “sentencing by martial law” was completed, with over 8,500 persons–whether accused as being “career criminals” or summoned to “summary sentencing”–were either already executed or would be shortly.
During his time in Poland, he had earned a reputation as the ruthless chief, who fought with such determination and mercilessness to eradicate any, and all, Nazi opponents.
Historian Michael Wildt suggests a stark increase in the activation of Streckenbach’s radicalness from his time as a Gestapo chief in Hamburg to his first few months as the head of Einsatzgruppe I in Poland. Wildt notes the difference in responsibilities, going from arrests, abuses, assaults and killings of prisoners to the mindset of extermination of large groups of people. More than just a racial justification, Wildt suggests that Streckenbach’s first few months as head of Einsatzgruppe I escalated into a murderous ideology that was unconceivable before this position.
Most of the previous SD men who were now employed in the Einsatzgruppen hadn't inflicted such murderous activity on so many people up until this point. As Wildt suggests, the deployment in Poland for the Einsatzgruppen was a defining moment for how policing matters were to be handled. It was these men’s “first experience as racist mass murderers”. The deportations to the General-Gouvernement came from the Reich as well as newly “Germanized” territories which Germany had taken from Poland, removed the local “opponents”–Jews, Romas and “asocial persons”–and replaced with ethnic Germans. During the late months of 1939, a span of eight weeks consisted of the execution of over 60,000 people by the Nazi forces, which included the Einsatzgruppen. Hitler insisted that this “harsh ethnic battle” could only be defeated without any internal resistance or legal restrictions upon implementation. Furthermore, the RSHA was the appropriate department for this “ethnic battle."
German offensive on the Soviet Union
In the beginning of 1941, the inevitable offensive on the Soviet Union was first discussed among leaders of the RSHA, which included Bruno Streckenbach. In March 1941, Heydrich informed a small circle of leaders, including Streckenbach, about the offensive that was to take place against the Soviet Union. The Wehrmacht army would lead in formation and the Einsatzgruppen would secure the area after it had been defeated. Despite the volunteering deployment of Streckenbach on his unit’s behalf, Heydrich would later decide upon further consideration.
Streckenbach had commissioned the Personnel and Administration Office Leaders, advising them to prepare for deployment. In May 1941, Streckenbach called on his long-time colleague Erwin Schulz to prepare his men in the Leadership School of the Security Police in Berlin-Charlottenberg for deployment after just having completed their training as Criminal Police inspectors. Streckenbach sent them to Pretzsch, where they were to assume leadership status of the Einsatzkommando. These young soldiers, many of them recent college graduates, came motivated to fight and impress authority. The Einsatzgruppen were divided and formed in Pretzsch in May 1941. Streckenbach, Müller and Heydrich had the most authority in dispersing directions of the Einsatzkommandos in Pretzsch leading up to the offensive on the Soviet Union. Furthermore, in Otto Ohlendorf’s Nuremberg Trial, he testified that Bruno Streckenbach had communicated the “order for the Final Solution” to the Einsatzgruppen.
Heydrich's death's impacts the RSHA
Himmler and Hitler’s actions following the assassination attempt and death thereafter of Heydrich were seen as particularly vengeful. As Hitler once stated about the Czechs who killed Heydrich, whenever you “kill someone, what results is always worse”. Streckenbach was called to Prague following the 4 June death of Heydrich. Himmler deemed the situation dire, having the head of the RSHA killed with such abruptness.
Despite considering many leaders to assume Heydrich’s position, Himmler decided to lead the RSHA himself. While Himmler was the head of the RSHA, Streckenbach—along with each of the other RSHA office heads—had near-full autonomy in deciding the internal structure of their respective divisions. Himmler focused his efforts on ensuring that Western European Jews be sent to extermination camps as efficiently and completely as possible, allowing the office heads like Streckenbach to control how it was done.
At the end of July 1942, Himmler named Streckenbach his representative as the legal authority of the RSHA. This essentially gave him absolute authority in deciding disciplinary cases regarding members of the RSHA. After about six months as RSHA chief, Himmler concluded that a successor had to be named. Bruno Streckenbach’s responsibilities and qualifications were highly regarded and far exceeded expectations, and for this reason he was largely considered as the best candidate for the position. Historian Tuviah Friedmann speculated that Himmler saw Streckenbach in some regards as having far too much power in his hands, possibly even seeing him as professional competition. To this day however, it is still unknown why Streckenbach was not appointed for the position of head of the RSHA, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner was chosen instead.
After the RSHA
Hitler and Himmler wanted to name Streckenbach as the Senior SS and Police Leader of the Alpenland in Salzburg, Austria. Extremely disappointed, nonetheless, Streckenbach declined and in a personal letter to Himmler, requested to be placed in a military position.
Streckenbach trained in Hilversum, Holland with an antitank unit (as an Untersturmführer) in the beginning of 1943, and quickly advanced through the ranks of the Waffen-SS, even for being a senior SS leader. He was a regiment and division leader of the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer and went on to lead the 19th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (2nd Latvian) in the offensive against the Soviet Union in 1944 as a general. On 10 May 1945, Streckenbach and his division were taken prisoner in the Courland Pocket by the Soviet army. He remained a Soviet prisoner of war until 9 October 1955, when he was sent back to Hamburg.
When Streckenbach returned to Hamburg, he was informed that he faced charges for actions he had taken as the city's Gestapo chief. He was accused of beating someone in the kidneys; however after further investigation, the state prosecutor could not obtain the appropriate documents which provided evidence of the charges.
During the Nuremberg Trials, Streckenbach’s name was continuously mentioned in court papers, among which was a telling testimony from Otto Ohlendorf who, as mentioned before, identified Streckenbach as one who had directed the Einsatzgruppen towards implementation of the Final Solution. However, the Hamburg State Prosecutor’s Office concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that his actions conflicted with the extant governing laws of the National Socialist rule. It was the case that many inhumane acts taken by the former Nazi members; as Wildt says, the assumption that National Socialism was synonymous with the “German Dictatorship rendered indivisible” the murderous acts that the party had taken in eastern and southern Europe and the Soviet Union.
In 1957, state prosecutors in Germany began discovering the unfathomable atrocities and millions of deaths of Soviet Jews culminating in the Ulm Einsatzkommando trial. His case prompted the 1959 establishment of the Central Office of State Justice Administration for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltverbrechen) in Ludwigsburg. In the early 1960s, the office discovered a document providing evidence of deployment orders to Criminal Police and Gestapo officers that incited murderous activity. The court ordered the resumption of the investigation of crimes committed by Bruno Streckenbach.
On 30 June 1973, a bill of indictment for the murder of at least a million people was brought. Streckenbach, who was suffering from serious heart disease at the time, claimed ineligibility notwithstanding the strains a trial might place on his health. On 20 September 1974, the Hanseatic Appellate Court confirmed a diagnosis postponing trial commencement indefinitely. Bruno Streckenbach never had to answer for his part in the Nazi regime. He died on 28 October 1977 in Hamburg, Germany.
- Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (10 October 1940) & 1st Class (15 July 1943)
- German Cross in Gold on 15 December 1943 as SS-Standartenführer in the SS-Kavallerie-Division
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Knight's Cross on 27 August 1944 as commander of the 19. Waffen-Grenadier Division der Waffen-SS (lett. Nr. 2).
- Oak Leaves on 16 January 1945 as commander of the 19. Waffen-Grenadier Division der Waffen-SS (lett. Nr. 2).
- ^ Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 180.
- ^ a b Friedmann, Tuviah (1995). Bruno Streckenbach SS-Gruppenführer Reichssicherheits-hauptamt Chef Amt I. Israel: Institute of Documentation in Israel. p. 1.
- ^ a b c d Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 87.
- ^ Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 84.
- ^ Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 86.
- ^ MacLean, French L. (1999). The Field Men: The SS Officers Who Led the Einsatzkommandos – The Nazi Mobile Killing Units. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. p. 187.
- ^ a b c Wildt, Michael (2009). Wildt, Michael. An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 200–225.
- ^ a b c Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 240–245.
- ^ a b c Friedmann, Tuviah (1995). Bruno Streckenbach SS-Gruppenführer Reichssicherheits-hauptamt Chef Amt I. Israel: Institute of Documentation in Israel. pp. 1–3.
- ^ a b c d e f Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 270–350.
- ^ In the 1972 novel The Odessa File Streckenbach is listed as an unprosecuted war criminal
- ^ Wildt, Michael (2009). An Uncompromising Generation, The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 404, 405.