Reiner Gottstein

August 10, 1910, Reichenberg - February 13, 1945, Pumpkin

Reiner Gottstein, born 10 August 1910 at Reichenberg (since 1920 Liberec), died 13 February 1945 at Tök, was born to Sudeten Germans in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. His father was a doctor. The family moved to Berlin after the Czech state was founded. There Gottstein qualified in law. In 1933 he joined the SS and gained German citizenship. In 1934 he worked as a legal adviser to SS Oberabschnitt Ost. In 1937 he joined the NSDAP. He completed university and in April 1938 applied to join the SD (Intelligence). He left the church the same year. Initially he joined the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, then in 1941 headed Subdepartment II D 1 (radio, photography, filming) in the directorate of the second, organization and control division. However, he also worked in other areas, for example with a working group headed by Walter Rauff that developed the “gas-van” (Gaswagen) for mass murder of Jews. In 1943, he became acting head of the Gestapo office in Düsseldorf. His one assignment abroad was in Hungary from March 1944, initially with the Security Police Command (KdS) in Kassa, then Miskolc, to coordinate the deportation of Jews. He worked with the Gendarmerie and Police in seeking political suspects. It is unproven, but likely that he took part in breaking up the prisoners’ revolt in Sátoraljaújhely that began on 22 March 1944: escapee searches went on into the first week in April. (All caught were executed.) On 22 July 1944 Gottstein took over the Budapest KdS after his forebear, Alfred Trenker, was sent to Berlin as SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant-colonel).

There is only sporadic information on his activity up to the Arrow-Cross putsch. Gottstein clearly took part in actions against the attempt to end the German alliance. It is not known quite what he did, which is unmentioned by Otto Skorzeny or others, but he certainly received at once Grades I and II of Iron Cross “for rescuing the son of the Governor and occupying Budapest Castle”.

The Arrow-Cross takeover hugely raised the scope for Gottstein, who joined several quests of the new National Reckoning Body and Péter Hain’s state-defence group aimed mainly at army deserters, Jews in hiding and oppositionists. There was massive desertion from the German army ─ the Waffen-SS had forced many Hungarian German and Alsace French conscripts to join. Prime Hungarian foes by that time may have been the Zugló XIV/2 KISKA battalion and the Red Brigade communist resistance group. Also mentionable is Dallam, the one resistance group in Budapest, under Lieutenant Pál Kovács, a regular US officer. The KdS worked with Hungary’s political police, often using physical violence. Survivors even tell of electric torture. Gottstein’s command after 16 January sat in the Castle Palace alongside the Reckoning Body. Another section found space at Országház utca 30, then the premises of the Ministry of the Interior.

It needs to be said that the competence of the KdS differed in principle from the gendarmerie’s or the tasks of the investigators. Hungarian citizens were responsible to the latter, but aliens to the KdS. Both passed prisoners to the other, if it was felt they belonged there. Cooperation became closer still during the siege, not least for linguistic reasons: KdS officers knew no Hungarian.

Some SD escaped during the encirclement of Budapest, among them Eichmann and his group and the immediate superior to Gottstein, Hans-Ulrich Geschke. Gottstein thereby turned the policing and political affairs in the capital into a first-class case. He controlled relations with the Hungarian police and the Arrow-Cross organizations. According to a confession by Pál Szalai on 18 March 1951, Police Chief Hitschler ordered Police Captain Gyula Sédey to come before him in Gottstein’s presence: “I don’t speak German myself, but I saw Gottstein was yelling madly and Hitschler threatening Sédey and me. So I asked Sédey what he wanted. He replied that the police were dissatisfied and blamed us also for being weak on the Jewish question. Gottstein told us Himmler’s wish was not to let any single Jew escape alive from the Budapest ring.”

Gottstein’s ghastliest prime act would have been to annihilate the 7th District ghetto. The only details known of this are that Arrow-Cross men and SS gathered in the Royal Hotel wanted to perpetrate some kind of mass killing in the ghetto before it was closed. Naturally the heightened mood of the siege led to a burst of rumours, including the idea of mining the ghetto. There was no realistic chance of murdering the whole ghetto population, but buildings could have been set on fire and/or their occupants slaughtered just before the retreat. The ghastly crowding in the ghetto meant this could have meant killing a few thousand people. There was a demand for murders in the Arrow-Cross and radical groups of SS. For the former, ridding Budapest of Jews was already a political aim. Several of Gottstein’s underlings had worked with death units intent on murder or deportation and with police battalions. Battalion 1 of the 1st SS police regiment caught in Budapest was made up of Hamburg police units that had earlier deported Jews from Holland to Auscchwitz and later done the same in Poland. Pál Szalai, honoured with a “Truth of the World” title and in the police, was an Arrow-Cross messenger, while the police officer Béla Kubissy alone headed the Pest police forces; they separately told the People’s Court that the man behind the planned ghetto pogrom was Reiner Gottstein with his underling Captain Mummi.

Gottstein’s abuses reached to the commanding force of Battalion 1. Lt.-Gen. Iván Hindy, answering the army chief of staff in early February 1945 on desertion from Hungarian forces, replied, “The SS sometimes holds civilians and soldiers in ghastly conditions, without any basic suspicion, who can thank the first army corps for their release.” Unfortunately it is not known what specific cases Hindy was thinking of, but the SS can certainly be blamed for many murders in the city. The best known non-Jewish case was of Kamill Balatoni, a world championship canoeing silver medallist, who with four colleagues was shot in the head by an unknown SS unit (presumably Gottstein’s).

On 22 January 1945, Gottstein was granted the German Gold Cross. The nomination is not known, but it could well have referred to his detective work. Ernst Kaltenbrunner concurrently promoted him to Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant-colonel) “for his tireless action and current military actions in Budapest”. 

His final decoration was a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, presented on 6 February 1945. The honour was most unusual. A man with no military training or engagement experience gained the highest order of the Third Reich “for military valour”. Kaltenbrunner’s nomination noted how Gottstein “brought many saboteurs and deserters to be arrested and made harmless, and revealed many traitors in the Hungarian forces. The personal involvement and bold, fearsome behaviour of SS Obersturmbannführer Gottstein earned him outstanding merit in encircled Budapest and great honour in defending the city. He can be thanked for ensuring that the striking force of the Wehrmacht troops and national armed forces remained.”

Gottstein’s men committed many mass murders in the last stage of the siege. Of the Dallam group, 15 were shot dead on 15 January, 2 each on 5 and 6 February, and 26 on 11 February. The exact number killed is sadly not known. Some died in the Interior Ministry yard, some on the winter-garden terrace of the Castle. It is also clear that they executed Alsatian SS deserters. Some killings had court-martial proceedings behind them – special siege courts with a German presiding over two German and two Hungarian members. After the siege, Castle ushers found a total of 342 naked bodies in the operating areas of the Gestapo and operative forces (NSZSZ), though some may have been killed separately.

Gottstein a kitörésben elvileg az SD 30 fős csoportjával együtt a hadtest mellett kapott beosztást. Haláláról két vallomás is tudósít. Kurt Wegener szerint „1945. február 13-án 20 kilométerrre északnyugatra Budapesttől Tök mellett elesett. Az elhalálozás oka géppisztolysorozat.” Helmut Liedtke ettől némileg eltérően, a helyszín említése nélkül arról számolt be, hogy „Súlyosan sebesült állapotban Gottstein azt követelte, hogy lőjék agyon. Harmadik személy állítása szerint egy százados eleget tett ennek a kérésnek.”