Some of you will have seen the Circle of Evil on Netflix, all about the major players that form the circle of evil of the Nazi party during WW2. This page tries to take a look at those major players that formed that circle.
Adolf Hitler, Apr 1889 – Apr 1945 was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as the chancellor of Germany in 1933 and then as Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was significantly involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetuation of the Holocaust. Hitler’s actions and ideology are almost universally regarded as evil.
Hitler was born in Austria—then part of Austria-Hungary—and was raised near Linz. He moved to Germany in 1913 and was decorated during his service in the German Army in World War I. In 1919, he joined the German Workers’ Party (DAP), the precursor of the NSDAP, and was appointed leader of the NSDAP in 1921. In 1923, he attempted to seize power in a failed coup in Munich and was imprisoned. In jail, he dictated the first volume of his autobiography and political manifesto Mein Kampf. After his release in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, anti-semitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda.
By November 1932, the Nazi Party had the most seats in the German Reichstag but did not have a majority. As a result, no party was able to form a majority parliamentary coalition in support of a candidate for chancellor. Former chancellor Franz von Papen and other conservative leaders persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor on 30 January 1933. Shortly after, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933 which began the process of transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany, a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of National Socialism. Hitler aimed to eliminate Jews from Germany and establish a New Order to counter what he saw as the injustice of the post-World War I international order dominated by Britain and France. His first six years in power resulted in rapid economic recovery from the Great Depression, the abrogation of restrictions imposed on Germany after World War I, and the annexation of territories inhabited by millions of ethnic Germans, which gave him significant popular support.
Hitler sought Lebensraum for the German people in Eastern Europe, and his aggressive foreign policy is considered the primary cause of World War II in Europe. He directed large-scale rearmament and, on 1 September 1939, invaded Poland, resulting in Britain and France declaring war on Germany. In June 1941, Hitler ordered an invasion of the Soviet Union. By the end of 1941, German forces and the European Axis powers occupied most of Europe and North Africa. These gains were gradually reversed after 1941, and in 1945 the Allied armies defeated the German army. On 29 April 1945, he married his long-time lover Eva Braun. Less than two days later, the couple committed suicide to avoid capture by the Soviet Red Army.
Under Adolf Hitler’s leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed sub-humans or socially undesirable. Hitler and the Nazi regime were also responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war. In addition, 28.7 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of military action in the European theatre. The number of civilians killed during World War II was unprecedented in warfare, and the casualties constitute the deadliest conflict in history.
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, Mar 1904 – Jun 1942, was a high-ranking German SS and police officer during the Nazi era and a main architect of the Holocaust. He was chief of the Reich Main Security Office. He was also Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. He chaired the January 1942 Wannsee Conference which formalised plans for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”—the deportation and genocide of all Jews in German-occupied Europe.
Many historians regard Heydrich as the darkest figure within the Nazi regime, Adolf Hitler described him as “the man with the iron heart”. He was the founding head of the Security Service, an intelligence organisation charged with seeking out and neutralising resistance to the Nazi Party via arrests, deportations, and murders. He helped organise Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938. The attacks were carried out by the SA and civilians and presaged the Holocaust. Upon his arrival in Prague, Heydrich sought to eliminate opposition to the Nazi occupation by suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. He was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special task forces that travelled in the wake of the German armies and murdered more than two million people by mass shooting and gassing, including 1.3 million Jews.
Heydrich was critically wounded in Prague on 27 May 1942 as a result of Operation Anthropoid. He was ambushed by a team of Czech and Slovak soldiers who had been sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to kill the Reich-Protector; the team was trained by the British Special Operations Executive. Heydrich died from his injuries a week later. Nazi intelligence falsely linked the Czech/Slovak soldiers and resistance partisans to the villages of Lidice and Ležáky. Both villages were razed; all men and boys over the age of 16 were shot, and all but a handful of the women and children were deported and killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Martin Ludwig Bormann, 17 Jun 1900 – 2 May 1945 was a German Nazi Party official and head of the Nazi Party Chancellery. He gained immense power by using his position as Adolf Hitler’s private secretary to control the flow of information and access to Hitler. After Hitler’s suicide on 30 April 1945, he was Party Minister of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
Bormann joined a paramilitary Freikorps organisation in 1922 while working as a manager of a large estate. He served nearly a year in prison as an accomplice to his friend Rudolf Hess in the murder of Walther Kadow. Bormann joined the Nazi Party in 1927 and the Schutzstaffel in 1937. He initially worked in the party’s insurance service, and transferred in July 1933 to the office of Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, where he served as chief of staff.
Bormann used his position to create an extensive bureaucracy and involve himself as much as possible in the decision making. He gained acceptance into Hitler’s inner circle, and accompanied him everywhere, providing briefings and summaries of events and requests. He began acting as Hitler’s personal secretary on 12 August 1935. Bormann assumed Hess’ former duties, with the title of Head of the Parteikanzlei, after Hess’ solo flight to Britain on 10 May 1941 to seek peace negotiations with the British government. He had final approval over civil service appointments, reviewed and approved legislation, and by 1943 had de facto control over all domestic matters.
Bormann returned with Hitler to the Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945 as the Red Army approached the city. After Hitler committed suicide, Bormann and others attempted to flee Berlin on 2 May to avoid capture by the Soviets. Bormann probably committed suicide on a bridge near Lehrter station. His body was buried nearby on 8 May 1945, but was not found and confirmed as Bormann’s until 1973; the identification was reaffirmed in 1998 by DNA tests. The missing Bormann was tried in absentia by the International Military Tribunal in the Nuremberg trials of 1945 and 1946.
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler, 7 Oct 1900 – 23 May 1945 was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Germany. Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and a main architect of the Holocaust.
As a member of a reserve battalion during World War I, Himmler did not see active service. He studied agronomy in university, and joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and the SS in 1925. In 1929, he was appointed Reichsführer-SS by Adolf Hitler. Over the next 16 years, he developed the SS from a mere 290-man battalion into a million-strong paramilitary group, and, following Hitler’s orders, set up and controlled the Nazi concentration camps. He was known for good organisational skills and for selecting highly competent subordinates, such as Reinhard Heydrich in 1931.
From 1943 onwards, he was both Chief of German Police and Minister of the Interior, overseeing all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo. Himmler had a lifelong interest in occultism, interpreting Germanic neo-pagan and Völkisch beliefs to promote the racial policy of Nazi Germany, and incorporating esoteric symbolism and rituals into the SS.
On Hitler’s behalf, Himmler formed the Einsatzgruppen and built extermination camps. As facilitator and overseer of the concentration camps, Himmler directed the killing of some six million Jews, between 200,000 and 500,000 Romani people, and other victims; the total number of civilians killed by the regime is estimated at eleven to fourteen million people. Most of them were Polish and Soviet citizens.
Late in World War II, Hitler briefly appointed him a military commander and later Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the administration of the entire Third Reich.
Specifically, he was given command of the Army Group Upper Rhine and the Army Group Vistula; he failed to achieve his assigned objectives and Hitler replaced him in these posts. Realising the war was lost, Himmler attempted to open peace talks with the western Allies without Hitler’s knowledge, shortly before the end of the war. Hearing of this, Hitler dismissed him from all his posts in April 1945 and ordered his arrest. Himmler attempted to go into hiding, but was detained and then arrested by British forces once his identity became known. While in British custody, he committed suicide on 23 May 1945.
Paul Joseph Goebbels, 29 Oct 1897 – 1 May 1945 German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates, and was known for his skills in public speaking and his deeply virulent antisemitism, which was evident in his publicly voiced views. He advocated progressively harsher discrimination, including the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.
Goebbels, who aspired to be an author, obtained a Doctor of Philology degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1921. He joined the Nazi Party in 1924, and worked with Gregor Strasser in their northern branch. He was appointed Gauleiter for Berlin in 1926, where he began to take an interest in the use of propaganda to promote the party and its programme. After the Nazis’ seizure of power in 1933, Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry quickly gained and exerted control over the news media, arts, and information in Germany. He was particularly adept at using the relatively new media of radio and film for propaganda purposes. Topics for party propaganda included antisemitism, attacks on the Christian churches, and attempting to shape morale.
In 1943, Goebbels began to pressure Hitler to introduce measures that would produce total war, including closing businesses not essential to the war effort, conscripting women into the labour force, and enlisting men in previously exempt occupations into the Wehrmacht. Hitler finally appointed him as Reich Plenipotentiary for Total War on 23 July 1944, whereby Goebbels undertook largely unsuccessful measures to increase the number of people available for armaments manufacture and the Wehrmacht.
As the war drew to a close and Nazi Germany faced defeat, Magda Goebbels and the Goebbels children joined him in Berlin. They moved into the underground Vorbunker, part of Hitler’s underground bunker complex, on 22 April 1945. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April. In accordance with Hitler’s will, Goebbels succeeded him as Chancellor of Germany; he served one day in this post. The following day, Goebbels and his wife committed suicide, after poisoning their six children with cyanide.
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, 12 Jan 1893 – 15 Oct 1946, was a German political and military leader as well as one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party (NSDAP), which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. A veteran World War I fighter pilot ace, he was a recipient of the Pour le Mérite. He was the last commander of Jagdgeschwader 1, the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen.
An early member of the Nazi Party, Göring was among those wounded in Adolf Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. While receiving treatment for his injury after being shot in the hip, he developed an addiction to morphine which persisted until the last year of his life. After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Göring was named as Minister without Portfolio in the new government. One of his first acts as a cabinet minister was to oversee the creation of the Gestapo, which he ceded to Heinrich Himmler in 1934. Following the establishment of the Nazi state, Göring amassed power and political capital to become the second most powerful man in Germany. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, a position he held until the final days of the regime. Upon being named Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan in 1936, Göring was entrusted with the task of mobilizing all sectors of the economy for war, an assignment which brought numerous government agencies under his control and helped him become one of the wealthiest men in the country. In Sept 1939 Hitler designated him as his successor and deputy in all his offices. After the Fall of France in 1940, he was bestowed the specially created rank of Reichsmarschall, which gave him seniority over all officers in Germany’s armed forces.
In 1941, Göring was at the peak of his power and influence. As the Second World War progressed, Göring’s standing with Hitler and with the German public declined after the Luftwaffe proved incapable of preventing the Allied bombing of Germany’s cities and resupplying surrounded Axis forces in Stalingrad. Around that time, Göring increasingly withdrew from military and political affairs to devote his attention to collecting property and artwork, much of which was stolen from Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Informed on 22 April 1945 that Hitler intended to commit suicide, Göring sent a telegram to Hitler requesting permission to assume control of the Reich. Considering his request an act of treason, Hitler removed Göring from all his positions, expelled him from the party, and ordered his arrest.
After the war, Göring was convicted of conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials in 1946. He was sentenced to death by hanging, but committed suicide by ingesting cyanide hours before the sentence was to be carried out.
Rudolf Walter Richard Hess, 26 April 1894 – 17 August 1987, was a German politician and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Nazi Germany. Appointed Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler in 1933, Hess served in that position until 1941, when he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with the United Kingdom during World War II. He was taken prisoner and eventually convicted of crimes against peace, serving a life sentence until his suicide in 1987.
Hess enlisted as an infantryman at the outbreak of World War I. He was wounded several times over the course of the war and was awarded the Iron Cross, 2nd Class in 1915. He left the armed forces in December 1918 with the rank of Lieutenant der Reserve. In 1919 Hess enrolled in the University of Munich, where he studied geopolitics under Karl Haushofer, a proponent of the concept of Lebensraum, which became one of the pillars of Nazi ideology. Hess joined the NSDAP on 1 July 1920 and was at Hitler’s side on 8 November 1923 for the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed Nazi attempt to seize control of the government of Bavaria. While serving time in jail for this attempted coup, he assisted Hitler with Mein Kampf, which became a foundation of the political platform of the NSDAP.
After Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, Hess was appointed Deputy Führer of the NSDAP and in December 1933 he became Minister without Portfolio in Hitler’s cabinet. He was also appointed in 1938 to the Cabinet Council and in 1939 to the Council of Ministers for Defense of the Reich. Hitler decreed in 1939 that Hermann Göring was his official successor, and named Hess as next in line. In addition to appearing on Hitler’s behalf at speaking engagements and rallies, Hess signed into law much of the government’s legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which stripped the Jews of Germany of their rights in the lead-up to the Holocaust.
On 10 May 1941, Hess made a solo flight to Scotland, where he hoped to arrange peace talks with the Duke of Hamilton, whom he believed to be a prominent opponent of the British government’s war policy. The British authorities arrested Hess immediately on his arrival and held him in custody until the end of the war, when he was returned to Germany to stand trial in the Nuremberg Trials of major war-criminals in 1946. During much of the trial, he claimed to be suffering from amnesia, but he later admitted this was a ruse. The Court convicted him of crimes against peace and of conspiracy with other German leaders to commit crimes. He served a life sentence in Spandau Prison; the Soviet Union blocked repeated attempts by family members and prominent politicians to win his early release. While still in custody in Spandau, he died by hanging himself in 1987 at the age of 93. After his death, the prison was demolished to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.
Albert Speer, Mar 19, 1905 – Sept 1, 1981 was the Minister of Armaments and War Production in Nazi Germany during most of World War II. A close ally of Adolf Hitler, he was convicted at the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
An architect by training, Speer joined the Nazi Party in 1931. His architectural skills made him increasingly prominent within the Party, and he became a member of Hitler’s inner circle. Hitler instructed him to design and construct structures including the Reich Chancellery and the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg. In 1937, Hitler appointed Speer as General Building Inspector for Berlin. In this capacity he was responsible for the Central Department for Resettlement that evicted Jewish tenants from their homes in Berlin. In February 1942, Speer was appointed as Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production. Using doctored statistics, he promoted himself as having performed an “armaments miracle” that was widely credited with keeping Germany in the war. In 1944, Speer established a task force to increase production of fighter aircraft. It became instrumental in the exploitation of slave labour for the benefit of the German war effort.
After the war, Speer was among the 24 “major war criminals” arrested and charged with the crimes of the Nazi regime at the Nuremberg trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, principally for the use of slave labour, narrowly avoiding a death sentence. Having served his full term, Speer was released in 1966. He used his writings from the time of imprisonment as the basis for two autobiographical books, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries. Speer’s books were a success; the public was fascinated by an inside view of the Third Reich. Speer died of a stroke in 1981. Little remains of his personal architectural work.
Through his autobiographies and interviews, Speer carefully constructed an image of himself as a man who deeply regretted having failed to discover the monstrous crimes of the Third Reich. He continued to deny explicit knowledge of, and responsibility for, the Holocaust. This image dominated his historiography in the decades following the war, giving rise to the “Speer Myth”. The first theme of the myth posits that after his appointment as Minister of Armaments he revolutionised the German war machine. The second theme is that he was an apolitical technocrat. Beginning in the 1980s, the myth began to fall apart.
Otto Adolf Eichmann, 19 Mar 1906 – 1 Jun 1962, was a German-Austrian SS-Obersturmbannführer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, referred to as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” in Nazi terminology. He was tasked by SS-Obergruppenführer, Reinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II.
After an unremarkable school career, Eichmann briefly worked for his father’s mining company in Austria, where the family had moved in 1914. He worked as a travelling oil salesman beginning in 1927, and joined both the Nazi Party and the SS in 1932. He returned to Germany in 1933, where he joined the Sicherheitsdienst; there he was appointed head of the department responsible for Jewish affairs—especially emigration, which the Nazis encouraged through violence and economic pressure. After the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Eichmann and his staff arranged for Jews to be concentrated in ghettos in major cities with the expectation that they would be transported either farther east or overseas. He also drew up plans for a Jewish reservation, first at Nisko in southeast Poland and later in Madagascar, but neither of these plans were ever carried out.
To co-ordinate planning for the genocide, Heydrich, who was Eichmann’s superior, hosted the regime’s administrative leaders at the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942. Eichmann collected information for him, attended the conference, and prepared the minutes. Eichmann and his staff became responsible for Jewish deportations to extermination camps, where the victims were gassed. Germany invaded Hungary in March 1944, and Eichmann oversaw the deportation of much of the Jewish population. Most of the victims were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where about 75 per cent were murdered upon arrival. By the time that the transports were stopped in July 1944, 437,000 of Hungary’s 725,000 Jews had been killed.
After Germany’s defeat in 1945, Eichmann was captured by US forces, but escaped from a detention camp and moved around Germany to avoid re-capture. He ended up in a small village in Lower Saxony, where he lived until 1950, when he moved to Argentina using false papers he obtained with help from an organisation directed by Catholic bishop Alois Hudal. A team of Mossad and Shin Bet agents captured Eichmann and brought him to Israel to stand trial on 15 criminal charges, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the Jewish people. During the trial, he did not deny the Holocaust or his role in organising it, but claimed that he was simply following orders in a totalitarian Führerprinzip system. He was found guilty on all of the charges, and was executed by hanging on 1 June 1962.