Ernst Kaltenbrunner was born on 4 October 1903 at Ried on Inn (near Braunau) Austria. He spent his youth in Hitler's native district. Later he moved to Linz, where he attended the State Realgymnasium. He studied law and obtained a law degree in 1926. He spent the first year as apprentice lawyer at Linze-on-Danube and then worked as a lawyer-candidate, first at Salzburg and after 1928 at Linz (2938-PS).
Kaltenbrunner joined the Nazi Party and the SS in Austria in 1932. Prior to 1933 he was the District speaker (Gauredner) and legal counsellor (Rechtsberater) of the SS division (Abschnitt) VIII. After 1933 he was the fuehrer of regiment (Standarte) 37 and later of the SS division VIII (2892-PS).
In January 1934 Kaltenbrunner was jailed by the Dollfuss government on account of his Nazi views, and sent with other leading National-Socialists into the concentration camp Kaisersteinbruch. He is said to have started and led a hunger strike of the prisoners and thereby to have forced the government to dismiss 490 National Socialist prisoners. In the following year he was jailed again because of suspicion of High Treason and committed to the military court at Wels (Upper Danube). After an investigation of many months the accusation of High Treason was dropped, but he was condemned to six months' imprisonment for conspiracy. His right to practice law was suspended because of his Nazi activities (2938-PS).
After the Spring of 1935 Kaltenbrunner was the leader of the Austrian SS. Hitler promoted Kaltenbrunner on the date of the Anschluss to the rank of SS Brigadeführer and leader of the SS Oberabschnitt Donau. In 1938 he was promoted to the rank of SS Gruppenführer. During the liquidation of the Austrian national government and the reorganization of Austria into Alps and Danube Districts, he was appointed Higher SS and Police Leader of the governors of Vienna, Lower Danube, and Upper Danube, in Corps Area (Wehrkreis) XVII, and in April 1941 was promoted to Major General of the Police.
On 30 January 1943 Kaltenbrunner was appointed Chief of the Security Police and SD, succeeding Heydrich, who had been assassinated in Prague in June 1942. Kaltenbrunner held this position until the end of the war.
Toward the end of the war, Kaltenbrunner's power increased greatly, especially after the attack on Hitler of 20 July 1944. He gained direct access to Hitler. So powerful had Kaltenbrunner become toward the end that even Himmler feared him.
As Chief of the Security Police after 30 January 1943, Kaltenbrunner was the head of the RSHA and the regional offices of the Gestapo, SD, and Kripo. Directly under Kaltenbrunner were the Chiefs of the main offices of the RSHA, including Amt III (the SD), Amt IV (the Gestapo), Amt V (the Kripo), and Amt VI (the SD in foreign intelligence). Kaltenbrunner had direct responsibility over the offices of the RSHA. All important matters had to be referred to him or had to be handled under general or special authority granted by him to office chiefs.
During Kaltenbrunner's term in office as Chief of the Security Police and SD, the following crimes were committed by the SIPO and SD pursuant to policy established by the RSHA or orders issued out of the RSHA for all of which he was responsible by virtue of his office.:
- Mass murders of civilians of occupied countries by Einsatz Groups.
- Screening of prisoner of war camps and executing racial and political undesirables.
- The taking of recaptured prisoners of war to concentration camps, where in some cases they were executed.
- Establishing concentration camps and committing racial and political undesirables to concentration and annihilation camps for slave labor and mass murder.
- Deportation of citizens of occupied countries for forced labor and disciplining of forced labor.
- The execution of captured commandos and paratroopers and protection of civilians who Iynched Allied fliers.
- The taking of civilians of occupied countries to Germany for secret trial and punishment.
- Punishment of citizens of occupied territories under special criminal procedure and by summary methods.
- The execution and confinement of persons in concentration camps for crimes allegedly committed by their relatives.
- Seizure and spoliation of public and private property.
- Murder of prisoners in SIPO and SD prisons.
- Persecution of Jews.
- Persecution of the churches.
Kaltenbrunner was fully cognizant of conditions in concentration camps and of the fact that concentration camps were used for slave labor and mass murder. Mauthausen concentration camp was established in Austria while Kaltenbrunner was the Higher SS and Police Leader for Austria, and was frequently visited by Kaltenbrunner before he was appointed Chief of the Security Police and SD. On the occasion of one such visit in 1942, Kaltenbrunner personally observed the gas chamber in operation. After he became Chief of the Security Police and SD, Kaltenbrunner visited Mauthausen concentration camp but with less frequency.
On one occasion he made an inspection of the camp grounds with Himmler and had his photograph taken during the course of the inspection. After a visit to Mauthausen in 1944 Kaltenbrunner reported to his Amt Chiefs with pride that he had helped to build up Mauthausen when he was Higher SS and Police Leader in Austria and that the camp was engaged in valuable armament work. Mauthausen concentration camp was classified by Heydrich in January 1941 as Level 3, a camp for the most heavily accused prisoners and for asocial prisoners who were considered incapable of being reformed.
Kaltenbrunner was a life-long fanatical Nazi. He was the leader of the SS in Austria prior to the Anschluss and played a leading role in the betrayal of his native country to the Nazi conspirators. As Higher SS and Police Leader in Austria after the Anschluss he supervised and had knowledge of the activities of the Gestapo and the SD in Austria. He had much to do with developing Mauthausen concentration camp and visited it frequently. On at least one occasion he observed the gas chamber in action. With this knowledge and background he accepted in January 1943 appointment as chief of the very agencies which sent such victims to their deaths. He held that office to the end, receiving honors from Hitler and gaining Hitler's personal confidence.
He was sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, on October 1, 1946.