The Distillation of Evil


“On an easel next to the death mask was a large facsimile of the sixty-pfennig stamp featuring a photograph of the death mask that the occupation government planned to use on letters in Bohemia and Moravia, which was a bit like hanging a portrait of Bluebeard in a girls’ school dormitory.

“Staring critically at the mask and the giant stamp was a very tall man and next to him a junior officer… I took him to be the taller man’s aide-de-camp. I advanced a short way up the staircase until I was standing immediately above them… My conscience might be getting a bit dull these days, but there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. Their wisecracks were all taken from the SS joke book, which–take my word for it–only the SS think is funny.

“‘That’s one stamp I won’t putting on my fucking Christmas cards,’ said the senior officer…

“‘Not if you want the card to get there in time for Christmas,’ said the aide…

“‘He looks like a Paris perfumer, inhaling some rare scent.’

“Death, probably. The scent which fills that long nose.'”

— From The Lady from Zagreb (2015) by Philip Kerr

* * *

The commemorative stamp honoring Reinhard Heydrich was not an invention of the author, but an actual postage stamp, and the sentiments expressed by these fictional SS officers were commonly held. Heydrich was the author of the Final Solution, an ice-cold killer who inspired fear even in those who agreed with him, worked with him, killed for him. He out-Hitlered Hitler, and was assassinated by Czech patriots in June of 1942.

Today you can find his postage stamp on eBay, along with a 12″ action figure, in full uniform, and a very expensive English translation of the German memorial volume prepared at the time of his death. Even in death, he casts a long, dark, cold shadow.


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