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Heinrich Müller

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Heinrich Müller (born April 28, 1900, Munich; date of death unknown, last seen leaving the Führerbunker, April 29, 1945), a German police official, was head of the Gestapo, the political police of Nazi Germany, and played a leading role in the planning and execution of the Holocaust. He disappeared in May 1945 and remains the only senior figure of the Nazi regime who was never captured or confirmed to have died.

Early career

Müller was born in Munich, the son of working-class Catholic parents. After service in the last year of World War I as a pilot for an artillery spotting unit, during which he was decorated several times for bravery (Iron Cross 2nd class), he joined the Bavarian police in 1919, and was involved in the suppression of the communist risings in the early postwar years. After witnessing the shooting of hostages by the revolutionary "Red Army" in Munich, he acquired a lifelong hatred of communism. [1] During the years of the Weimar Republic he ran the political department of the Munich police, and became acquainted with many members of the Nazi Party including Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, although he was not himself a Nazi at this time.

The historian Richard J. Evans wrote: "Müller was a stickler for duty and discipline, and approached the tasks he was set as if they were military commands. A true workaholic who never took a holiday, Müller was determined to serve the German state, irrespective of what political form it took, and believed that it was everyone's duty, including his own, to obey its dictates without question."[1] Evans also records that Müller was a Nazi out of ambition, not devotion to Hitler:
An internal [Nazi] Party memorandum ... could not understand how "so odious an opponent of the movement" could become head of the Gestapo, especially since he had once referred to Hitler as "an immigrant unemployed house painter" and "an Austrian draft-dodger."
Himmler's biographer Peter Padfield wrote:
He [Müller] was an archetypal middle-rank official: of limited imagination, non-political, non-ideological, his only fanaticism lay in an inner drive to perfection in his profession and in his duty to the state - which in his mind were one... A smallish man with piercing eyes and thin lips, he was an able organizer, utterly ruthless, a man who lived for his work.[2]

Gestapo chief

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Heydrich as head of the Security Service (SD) recruited Müller and his staff into his organisation. He joined the SS in 1934 and quickly rose through its ranks: by 1939 he was a Gruppenführer (major general). In September 1939, when the Gestapo and other police organizations were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), Müller was chief of the RSHA Amt IV (Office 4): the Gestapo. To distinguish him from several other officials called Heinrich Müller (a very common German name), he became known as "Gestapo Müller."

As Gestapo chief, Müller played a leading role in the detection and suppression of all forms of resistance to the Nazi regime. Under his leadership, the Gestapo succeeded in infiltrating and to a large extent destroying the undergrounds networks of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party by the end of 1935. He was also involved in the regime's policy towards the Jews, although Himmler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels drove this area of policy. Adolf Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo's Office of Resettlement and then its Office of Jewish Affairs, was Müller's subordinate.

During World War II, Müller was heavily involved in espionage and counter-espionage, particularly since the Nazi regime increasingly distrusted the military intelligence service, the Abwehr, which under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was indeed a hotbed of activity for the German Resistance. In 1942 he successfully infiltrated the "Red Orchestra" network of Soviet spies and used it to feed false information to the Soviet intelligence services.

Müller occupied a position in the Nazi hierarchy between Himmler, the overall head of the Nazi police apparatus and the chief architect of the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, and Eichmann, the man entrusted with most of the organisational details of carrying this plan out. Thus, although his chief responsibility was always police work within Germany, he must have been aware of both the plan of its general outlines and many of its details. During 1941 he dispatched Eichmann on tours of inspection of the occupied Soviet Union, and received detailed reports on the work of the Einsatzgruppen, who killed an estimated 1.4 million Jews in 12 months. In January 1942 he attended the Wannsee Conference at which Heydrich briefed senior officials from a number of government departments of the plan, and at which Eichmann took the minutes.

In May 1942 Heydrich was assassinated in Prague by Czech agents sent from London. Müller was sent to Prague to head the investigation. He succeeded through a combination of bribery and torture in locating the assassins, who killed themselves to avoid capture. Despite this success, his influence within the regime declined somewhat with the loss of his original patron, Heydrich. During 1943 he had differences with Himmler over what to do with the growing evidence of a resistance network within the German state apparatus, particularly the Abwehr and the Foreign Office. In February 1943 he presented Himmler with firm evidence that Canaris was involved with the resistance - Himmler told him to drop the case.[3] Offended by this, Müller became an ally of Martin Bormann, the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery, who was Himmler's main rival.[4]

After the assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944, Müller was placed in charge of the arrest and interrogation of all those suspected of involvement in the resistance. Over 5,000 people were arrested and about 200 executed, including Canaris. In the last months of the war Müller remained at his post, apparently still confident of a German victory - he told one of his officers in December 1944 that the Ardennes offensive would result in the recapture of Paris.[5] In April 1945 he was among the last group of Nazi loyalists assembled in the Führerbunker in central Berlin as the Red Army fought its way into the city. One of his last tasks was the arrest and execution of Hermann Fegelein, Himmler's liaison officer to Hitler, after Hitler had Himmler expelled from his posts for negotiating with the western allies behind Hitler's back.


Müller was last seen in the bunker on April 29, 1945, the day before Hitler's suicide. Hans Baur, Hitler's pilot, later quoted Müller as saying, "We know the Russian methods exactly. I haven't the faintest intention of being taken prisoner by the Russians." From that day onwards, no trace of him has ever been found. He is the most senior member of the Nazi regime about whose fate nothing is known. This has naturally given rise to decades of speculation. There are three possible explanations for his disappearance:

  • That Müller was killed, or killed himself, during the chaos of the fall of Berlin, and that his body was never found. This is what happened to Bormann, who was unaccounted for until his remains were found in 1972, and who is now known to have killed himself or been killed soon after leaving the bunker.
  • That Müller escaped from Berlin and made his way to a safe location, possibly in South America, as did Eichmann and many others, where he lived the rest of his life undetected, and that his identity was not disclosed even after his death.
  • That Müller was recruited and given a new identity by either the United States or the Soviet Union, and employed by them during the Cold War, and that this has never been disclosed. This scenario is suggested by the career of Reinhard Gehlen, a senior German intelligence officer who was employed by the U.S. and later by West Germany after the war.

The only one of these scenarios that can definitely be eliminated is that Müller was given sanctuary by the U.S. The Central Intelligence Agency's file on Müller was released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2001, and documents several unsuccessful attempts by U.S. agencies to find Müller. The U.S. National Archives commentary on the file concludes: "Though inconclusive on Müller's ultimate fate, the file is very clear on one point. The Central Intelligence Agency and its predecessors did not know Müller's whereabouts at any point after the war. In other words, the CIA was never in contact with "Gestapo" Müller."[5]

The CIA file shows that an extensive search was made for Müller, among many other wanted Nazi officials, in the months after the German surrender. The search was led by the counterespionage branch of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA). The search was complicated by the fact that Heinrich Müller is a very common German name. The National Archives comment: "By the end of 1945, American and British occupation forces had gathered information on numerous Heinrich Müllers, all of whom had different birth dates, physical characteristics and job histories... Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that some of these Müllers, including Gestapo Müller, did not appear to have middle names. An additional source of confusion was that there were two different SS Generals named Heinrich Müller." [5]

The U.S. was still looking for Müller in 1947, when agents searched the home of his wartime mistress Anna Schmid, but found nothing suggesting that he was still alive. With the onset of the Cold War and the shift of priorities to meeting the challenge of the Soviet Union, interest in pursuing missing Nazis declined. By this time the conclusion seems to have been reached that Müller was most likely dead.

The seizure in 1960 and subsequent trial in Israel of Adolf Eichmann sparked new interest in Müller's whereabouts. Although Eichmann revealed no specific information, he told his Israeli interrogators that he believed that Müller was still alive. This prompted the West German office in charge of the prosecution of war criminals to launch a new investigation. The West Germans investigated the possibility that Müller was working for the Soviet Union, but gained no definite information. They placed his family and his former secretary under surveillance in case he was corresponding with them.

The West Germans investigated several reports of Müller's body being found and buried in the days after the fall of Berlin. None of the sources for these reports were wholly reliable; the reports were contradictory, and it was not possible to confirm any of them. The most interesting of these came from Walter Lüders, a former member of the Volkssturm, who said that he had been part of a burial unit which had found the body of an SS General in the garden of the Reich Chancellery, with the identity papers of Heinrich Müller. The body had been buried, Lüders said, in a mass grave at the old Jewish Cemetery on Grosse Hamburgerstrasse in the Soviet Sector. Since this location was in East Berlin in 1961, this gravesite could not be investigated, nor has there been any attempt to excavate this gravesite since the reunification of Germany in 1989.

The CIA also conducted an investigation into Müller's disappearance in the 1960s, prompted by the defection to the West of Lieutenant-Colonel Michal Goleniewski, the Deputy Chief of Polish Military Counter Intelligence. Goleniewski had worked as an interrogator of captured German officials from 1948 to 1952. He did not claim to have met Müller, but said he had heard from his Soviet supervisors that sometime between 1950 and 1952 the Soviets had picked up Müller and taken him to Moscow. The CIA tried to track down the men Goleniewski named as having worked with Müller in Moscow, but were unable to confirm his story, which was in any case no more than hearsay. Israel also continued to pursue Müller: in 1967 two Israeli operatives were caught by West German police attempting to break into the Munich apartment of Müller's wife.

The CIA investigation concluded: "There is little room for doubt that the Soviet and Czech [intelligence] services circulated rumors to the effect that Müller had escaped to the West... to offset the charges that the Soviets had sheltered the criminal... There are strong indications but no proof that Müller collaborated with [the Soviets]. There are also strong indications but no proof that Müller died [in Berlin]." The CIA apparently remained convinced at that time that if Müller had survived the war, he was being harboured within the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Soviet archives were opened, no evidence to support this contention emerged. By the 1990s it was in any case increasingly unlikely that Müller, who was born in 1900, was alive even if he had survived.

The National Archives commentary concludes: "More information about Müller's fate might still emerge from still secret files of the former Soviet Union. The CIA file, by itself, does not permit definitive conclusions. Taking into account the currently available records, the authors of this report conclude that Müller most likely died in Berlin in early May 1945."[5]

Fictional portrayal

  • In the 1965 novel The Expendable Spy, an espionage thriller set in Germany in the final days of World War II and its immediate aftermath by Jack D. Hunter, the author of The Blue Max, Müller plays an important behind-the-scenes role; although he is never directly depicted, the plot of the book revolves around an American attempt to turn him into a postwar agent who can penetrate Soviet intelligence. Hunter, an German-speaking American army officer, was an undercover agent in postwar Germany who helped foil at least one plot by ex-Nazis. A brief epilogue of the book is a snippet from a 1964 Philadelphia Inquirer reporting a rumor that Müller now held "an influential intelligence post in Communist Albania."


  1. 1.0 1.1 Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power, Allen Lane 2005, 97
  2. Peter Padfield, Himmler: Reichsführer SS, Papermac 1995, 145
  3. Padfield, Himmler, 422
  4. Padfield, Himmler, 427
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Timothy Naftali and others, "Analysis of the Name File of Heinrich Mueller", U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (available online here)