ARC Main Page Aktion Reinhard

The Origin of the Expression "Aktion Reinhard"

Last Update 17 October 2005

It has long been a commonly held assumption that "Aktion Reinhard", the code name for the annihilation of mainly Polish Jews, but also Jews of other nationalities, was named in memory of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt - Reich Security Main Office), the man charged with "The Final Solution of the Jewish Problem".

1. The assassination attempt on Heydrich occurred on 27 May 1942; Heydrich died from his wounds on 4 June 1942.
Yet, as has been pointed out, "nothing in the surviving documents, ... explicitly indicates that Operation Reinhard was named for the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich." It may also be worth recalling that Heydrich’s first name was spelt with a "t", during the early 1930’s.

2. How then did the code name originate?
There are many difficulties in attempting to establish a definitive answer to this question. This is largely because almost all relevant German documentation regarding "Aktion Reinhard" was destroyed in an attempt to cover-up the crimes that had been committed. Further confusion is caused by the nomenclature used by the perpetrators. Various documents refer to "Aktion Reinhard", "Aktion Reinhardt" or substitute the word "Einsatz" for "Aktion".
Reference in some documents is simply abbreviated to "AR". A recent publication attempts to distinguish between the men involved - "Einsatz Reinhard" and the operation itself - "Aktion Reinhard".

3. Another work has suggested that the code name was taken from the name of the State Secretary in the Reich Finance Ministry, Fritz Reinhardt. Mistakenly, SS men involved in the "Aktion" attributed the name to Reinhard Heydrich.

4. This theory has been strenuously disputed. "The notion that Operation Reinhard was a program for collecting and exploiting Jewish property and was named after the State Secretary of the Finance Ministry, Fritz Reinhardt, is seemingly without foundation and finds no support in the surviving documents."

5. It does seem inherently unlikely that a murderous operation of the complexity of "Aktion Reinhard" would be named after an economist. The implication of naming the "Aktion" after Fritz Reinhardt is that the prime motivation was the expropriation of Jewish property. Whilst the material rewards of mass murder should not be overlooked, and played an important role, the primary motivation of the Nazis was always ideological and not economic. Furthermore, "... the Finance Ministry was only one of a number of recipients of Jewish property. Staatssekretär Fritz Reinhardt of the Finance Ministry is not mentioned in any of the documents, and the spelling of Operation Reinhardt with a "t" as in his name can be found in July 1942, one month after Heydrich’s death."

6. Nor should it be overlooked that this argument provides fertile ground for contemporary “revisionist historians”, pursuing their own prejudiced and distorted view of the evidence, for it enables them to insinuate that murder was only a by-product of Aktion Reinhard, rather than its motivator.

A clue as to the possible adoption of the code name would clearly lie in the dating of any surviving document in which the name "Aktion Reinhard", or one of its variants, appears. If the code name was utilized prior to Heydrich’s death, it would obviously not have been named in his memory. However, it might well have been named in his "honour" whilst he was still alive. Unfortunately, the available evidence is inconclusive.

The earliest document mentioning "Einsatz Reinhard" extant is the signed obligation required of SS men taking part in the "Aktion" to observe strict secrecy. The first paragraph of this document, dated 18 July 1942 reads:
"... concerning the obligation of (name of person) as a person with special duties in the execution of tasks in the evacuation of Jews within the framework of "Einsatz Reinhard" under SS- und Polizeiführer Lublin", and a datestamp on a letter written by Höfle in Warsaw on 9 September 1942.

7. Mention of "Aktion Reinhard" appears in several subsequent documents. The recently declassified British intelligence interceptions of German radio transmissions, obtained by the decoding apparatus known as "Enigma", indicate that September 1942 saw the first mention of "Aktion Reinhard" in a partially intercepted radio message.

8. It is indisputable that Heydrich was alive, and was therefore aware of, the planning and implementation of what became known as "Aktion Reinhard". Construction of Belzec, the first of the "Aktion Reinhard" extermination camps, commenced on 1 November 1941. The camp became fully operational on 17 March 1942. At the same time, construction of the second camp, Sobibor, began.

9. Given the Nazi’s propensity for euphemism and the necessity to disguise their intentions, it is quite conceivable that person or persons unknown decided at a very early stage to use a code name for the planned annihilation. What name would have been more appropriate than that of the fanatical anti-semite, Reinhard Heydrich? Regrettably, unless and until further archival evidence is available, this remains only one possible, if the most probable, scenario.

Yitzhak Arad – Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka - The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Most other historians express this view.
Christopher Browning – Expert Evidence for the Inplementation of The Final Solution – David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt.
Torben Joergensen - The Foundation. The Executioners of Aktion Reinhardt.
Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml, and Hermann Weiss - Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus. Quoted in Ian Kershaw - "Hitler 1936-1945 – Nemesis".
Browning – ibid.
Browning – ibid.
Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman and Abraham Margaliot – Documents on The Holocaust.
Stephen Tyas and Peter Witte - A New Document on the Deportation and Murder of the Jews in the Generalgouvernment under "Einsatz Reinhardt.”
Arad – ibid.

© ARC 2005