Arthur Seyss-Inquart was a senior Nazi Party official who as Reich Commissioner had control of the Netherlands during World War Two. Seyss-Inquart remained loyal to Adolf Hitler until the end of the war. He was arrested as a war criminal, tried at Nuremberg, found guilty and sentenced to death.
Seyss-Inquart was born on July 22nd 1892 in Stannern, which was then part of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1907 the family moved to Vienna where Seyss-Inquart studied law at the University of Vienna.
During World War One he served in the Austrian Army as an ‘Emperor’s Rifleman’ (Kaiserjäger). He fought in Russia, Italy and Rumania and was decorated for bravery on a number of occasions. Seyss-Inquart was seriously wounded in 1917 and while recuperating from his injuries he completed his law degree.
After the war, Seyss-Inquart became a lawyer and set up his own practice in 1921. He believed that Austria’s best interests lay in a union with Germany – the ‘Anschluss’. He was taken in by the ideas of the ‘Fatherland Front’ but Seyss-Inquart also developed the belief that the only way that a greater Austria could be achieved was if the Nazi Party attained power in Germany and then in Austria. While he did not join the Austrian Nazi Party, Seyss-Inquart became a front man for the party’s activities.
Not joining the Austrian Nazi Party actually benefitted Seyss-Inquart as it gave him a degree of respectability with those in the government in Vienna. To the head of Austria’s government, Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, Seyss-Inquart was a respectable churchgoer with whom, Schuschnigg believed, he could do business even if he was on the opposite side of the political spectrum. In 1937, Schuschnigg appointed Seyss-Inquart a State Councillor (Staatsrat) in an effort to develop better communication between the government and the Austrian Nazi Party.
Hitler had never hidden his belief that Germany and Austria should be united. In 1938 he stepped up the pressure on Schuschnigg and in a heated meeting on February 12th 1938, he effectively bullied the Austrian Chancellor into lifting the ban on the Austrian Nazi Party, granting an amnesty to Austrian Nazis in prison and appointing Seyss-Inquart as Austria’s Minister of the Interior.
On March 11th 1938, fearing a German invasion over Austria’s planned plebiscite on independence, Schuschnigg resigned as Chancellor. The Austrian President, Wilhelm Miklas, invited Seyss-Inquart to be Chancellor and he accepted. It was in this capacity that Seyss-Inquart oversaw the German occupation of Austria on March 12th 1938. Seyss-Inquart formally handed Austria over to Hitler’s control who incorporated Austria into the Third Reich as the province of Ostmark. Seyss-Inquart joined the Nazi Party on March 13th and announced that the Treaty of St. Germain no longer had any validity.
Up to April 30th 1939, Seyss-Inquart served as Reich Governor of Austria. In May 1939, now with the honorary rank of SS Gruppenfűhrer, he was made a Minister without Portfolio in Hitler’s cabinet.
His role greatly changed after the September 1939 invasion of Poland. The speed and success of Blitzkrieg took everyone by surprise and within 6 weeks Poland had surrendered. Hitler created the General Government of Poland with Hans Frank as Governor-General. Seyss-Inquart was Frank’s deputy. Evidence was later presented at his trial that in this capacity, Seyss-Inquart was involved in the movement of Polish Jews into the ghettos and in the campaign against Polish resistance movements.
In the spring of 1940, Blitzkrieg was unleashed on Western Europe with devastating results. The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and France all surrendered within six weeks. Seyss-Inquart became Reich Commissioner for the occupied Netherlands answerable directly to Hitler. The position gave him enormous power within the Netherlands as one of his primary stated tasks was to ensure that the interests of the Reich were guaranteed. In 1941, Seyss-Inquart banned all political parties except the NSB. He also allowed the creation of the NSB’s ‘Landwacht’ – a paramilitary organisation that was used as part of the police force that kept the public ‘in order’.
The Dutch Resistance was not only active but successful – especially in the movement of pilots from Bomber Command who had bailed out over the Netherlands. Seyss-Inquart actively supported the work of the Gestapo in hunting down resistance men and women. It could be argued that he had no choice in the matter, which is hard to deny, but there can be little doubt that his support of the secret police in the Netherlands was done with great enthusiasm as opposed to duty. It was said at his trial that Seyss-Inquart agreed to the execution of at least 800 Dutch nationals, including the execution of 117 people in a reprisal for the killing of SS and Police leader Hanns Rauter.
The forcible rounding up of the Jews of the Netherlands was carried out as effectively in the Netherlands as elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe. Again, Seyss-Inquart did nothing to hinder this and it can be almost certain that he did what needed to be done to make the ‘round-up’ a success. While he was in charge of the civilian administration of the Occupied Netherlands, he would have worked with the SS and the military in ensuring that the ‘Jewish assembly camp’ at Westerbork was run in an orderly manner. Around 140,000 Dutch Jews were registered and a Jewish ghetto was established in Amsterdam. The first movement of Dutch Jews to Buchenwald started in February 1941. Later, many were sent directly to Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the end of the war it is estimated that 110,000 Dutch Jews had been murdered.
Over 500,000 Dutch citizens were made to forcibly work for the Nazis; 250,000 of these people were made to work in Germany. Part of Seyss-Inquart’s original responsibilities had been to ensure all that was needed to be done for the Third Reich should be done and that included “economic collaboration” between the Netherlands and Nazi Germany.
After the success of D-Day, the collapse of the German Army in Brittany and Normandy, and the liberation of Paris, a vast Allied force headed east. Though the Arnhem operation (‘a bridge too far’) failed, it was only a matter of time before the Netherlands was liberated. Hitler had ordered the destruction of anything that could be of value to the Allies as they advanced towards Berlin. However, Seyss-Inquart saw little value in this and though some docks and harbours were destroyed, a great deal of the infrastructure was left intact. Seyss-Inquart also agreed to the Allies air dropping desperately needed food supplies to civilians in northwest Netherlands. Despite what was happening Seyss-Inquart refused to surrender the Netherlands to the Allies. After a meeting with Admiral Karl Dőnitz, the new leader of Nazi Germany after Hitler’s suicide, Seyss-Inquart was arrested in Hamburg. Before his death, Hitler had appointed Seyss-Inquart as the new Foreign Minister.
Seyss-Inquart was charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, planning, initiating and waging war, war crimes and crimes against humanity – specifically in the deportation of Jews and the shooting of hostages. He was put on trial at Nuremberg.
In his final statement to the judges, Seyss-Inquart admitted the “fearful excesses” of the Nazi regime across Occupied Europe. He told the judges that he had to take responsibility for what he had done. Seyss-Inquart was found guilty of the charges brought against him with the exception of conspiracy and sentenced to death.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart was hanged at Nuremberg on October 16th 1946.