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Himmler was leader of the notorious Nazi SS.
Nazi Heinrich Himmler was the commander of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany by being second in power to Adolf Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy. As Reichsführer-SS he controlled the SS and the Gestapo. As founder and officer-in-charge of the Nazi concentration camps and the Einsatzgruppen death squads, Himmler held final command responsibility for annihilating "subhumans" who were deemed unworthy to live. Shortly before the end of the war, he offered to surrender all of Germany to the Allies if he was spared from prosecution as a Nazi leader. Later in 1945, Himmler committed suicide with cyanide when he became a captive of the British Army after Germany had lost World War II.
Biography of Himmler.
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in Munich to a Bavarian middle-class family. His father was Joseph Gebhard Himmler, a secondary-school teacher and principal of the prestigious Wittelsbacher Gymnasium in Munich. His mother was Anna Maria Himmler (maiden name Heyder), a devout Roman Catholic and attentive mother. Heinrich had an older brother, Gebhard Ludwig Himmler (b. 29 July 1898), and a younger brother, Ernst Hermann Himmler (b. 23 December 1905). Himmler's childhood was quite normal for the time. His father and mother were extraordinarily strict but actively involved in the rearing of their three children.
Heinrich was named after his godparent, Prince Heinrich of Wittelsbach of the royal family of Bavaria, who was tutored by Gebhard Himmler. In 1910, Himmler began attending elite Gymnasia secondary schools in Munich and Landshut, where studies revolved around classic literature. While he struggled in athletics, he did well in his schoolwork. Also, at the behest of his father, Heinrich kept a fairly extensive diary from age ten until the age of 24. He enjoyed extracurricular activities of chess, harpsichord, stamp collecting and gardening. During Himmler's youth, and into adulthood, he was never quite at ease in his interactions with the opposite sex.
In 1914 World War I began, and Himmler's diaries from the time show that he was extremely interested in news pertaining to it. He began imploring his father to utilise his royal connections to obtain him a position as an officer candidate. His parents objected, yet acquiesced, allowing him to train upon graduation from secondary school in 1918 with the 11th Bavarian Regiment. Since he was not athletic, he struggled throughout his military training. Later in that same year, the war ended with Germany's defeat. The Treaty of Versailles, which Germany signed limiting its military numbers, ended his aspirations of becoming a professional army officer, and he was discharged. He never saw battle.
In 1919 to 1922 Himmler studied agronomy at Munich Technische Hochschule after a short-lived apprenticeship on a farm and subsequent illness. Himmler at this time was pursuing a chaste lifestyle when he became interested in a young girl who was the daughter of the owner of a place where he would eat. In his diary he compares his initial encounter with her as being akin to finding himself a sister. Later he experienced rejection when he let his true feelings be known to her. A difficulty with women persisted throughout life. His view of them is shown in a diary excerpt:
Himmler's rise in the SS.
Himmler's early SS career (1927-1934).
Himmler joined the SS in 1925, and in 1927 was appointed deputy reichsführer-SS, a role he took very seriously. Upon the resignation of SS Commander Erhard Heiden, Himmler was appointed Reichsführer-SS in January 1929. At that time the SS had 280 members, and was considered a mere battalion of the much larger SA. Himmler was only considered to be an SA-Oberführer, but after 1929 he referred to himself as "Reichsführer-SS".
By 1933, when the Nazi Party gained power in Germany, Himmler's SS numbered 52,000 members. The organization had developed strict membership requirements ensuring that all members were of Adolf Hitler's "Aryan Herrenvolk" ("Aryan master race"). Now a Gruppenführer in the SA, Himmler, along with his deputy Reinhard Heydrich, next began a massive effort to separate the SS from SA control; he introduced black SS uniforms (designed by Hugo Boss) to replace the SA brown shirts in the autumn of 1933. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer und Reichsführer-SS and became an equal of the senior SA commanders, who by this time loathed the SS and the power it held.
Himmler, Hermann Göring, and General Werner von Blomberg agreed that the SA and its leader Ernst Röhm posed a threat to the German Army and the Nazi leadership of Germany. Röhm had strong "socialistic" and populist views believing that, although Hitler had successfully gained power in Germany, the "real" revolution had not yet begun and that the Sturmabteiling should become the sole arms-bearing corp of the State leaving some Nazi leaders believing Röhm was intent on using the SA to administer a coup.
With persuasion from Himmler and Göring, Hitler agreed that Röhm had to die. He delegated the task of Röhm's demise to Himmler and Göering who, along with Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt Daluege and Walter Schellenberg, ordered the execution of Röhm (carried out by Theodor Eicke) and other senior SA officials, as well as some of Hitler's personal enemies (like Gregor Strasser and Kurt von Schleicher) on 30 June 1934, in what became known as "The Night of the Long Knives". The next day, Himmler's title of Reichsführer-SS became a rank to which he was appointed, and the SS became an independent organization of the Nazi Party.
Heinrich Himmler's consolidation of power.
In 1936 Himmler gained further authority as all of Germany's uniformed law enforcement agencies were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei, whose main office became a headquarters branch of the SS as Himmler was accorded the title Chief of the German Police. Himmler, however, was never able to gain operational control over the uniformed police. The actual powers granted to him with the appointment were those previously exercised in police matters by the ministry of the interior, and not even all of those. It was only in 1943, when Himmler was appointed Minister of the Interior, that the transfer of ministerial power was complete. Indeed, his full title was Reichsführer SS and Chief of the German Police in the Ministry of the Interior (abbreviated as RFSSuCdDLQzPidMI), which clearly indicates the limits of his brief, and though Himmler tended to omit the idMI in correspondence, his powers remained as they were. Germany's political police forces came under Himmler's authority in 1934, when he organized them into the Gestapo as well as Germany's entire concentration camps complex. Once war began, though, new internment camps not formally classified as concentration camps would be established, over which Himmler and the SS would not exercise control. In 1943, following the outbreak of popular word-of-mouth criticism of the regime as a result of the Stalingrad disaster, the party apparatus, professing disappointment with the Gestapo's performance in deterring such criticism, established the so-called Politische Staffeln as its own political policing organ, destroying the Gestapo's nominal monopoly in this field. With his 1936 appointment, Himmler also gained ministerial authority over Germany's non-political detective forces, known as Kripo, which he attempted to combine with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei, placed under the command of Reinhard Heydrich, and thus gain operational control over Germany's entire detective force. But the merger remained a dead letter within the Reich, with Kripo remaining firmly under the control of the civilian administration and later the party apparatus as the latter annexed the civilian administration. However, in occupied territories not incorporated into the Reich proper it mostly proved effective. Following the outbreak of World War II, Himmler formed the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) wherein Gestapo, Kripo and the SD became departments. Attempts in 1940 to use the new RSHA structure to gain control over Kripo by giving RSHA regional officers command authority over Kripo offices in their jurisdictions were rebuffed. The SS was also developing its military branch, known as the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which would later become known as the Waffen-SS.
Himmler's war on the Jews.
SS Chief Heinrich Himmler (front right, facing prisoner) on a personal visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1936.After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS-Totenkopfverbände was given the task of organizing and administering Germany's regime of concentration camps and, after 1941, the extermination camps in occupied Poland. The SS, through its intelligence arm, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), was charged with finding Jews, Gypsies, communists and those persons of any other cultural, racial, political or religious affiliation deemed by the Nazis to be either Untermensch (sub-human) or in opposition to the regime, and placing them in concentration camps. Himmler opened the first of these camps near Dachau (see picture) on 22 March 1933. He became one of the main architects of the Holocaust, using elements of mysticism and a fanatical belief in the racist Nazi ideology to justify the mass murder and Genocide of millions of victims. Himmler had similar plans for the Poles and for many other people in East-Europa, for example the Russians. All intellectuals were to be killed and other Poles were to be only literate enough to read traffic signs.
In contrast to Hitler, Himmler inspected several concentration and war camps. In August 1941 Himmler was present at a mass shooting of Jews in Minsk, Belarus and was said to have turned green in the face after brain matter from a victim splashed onto his coat; his assistant Karl Wolff had to jump forward and hold him steady. After that the Nazis were searching for a "more hygienic" and "humane" (though perhaps "organised" is the best word) way to kill which culminated in the use of the gas chambers. Humane, that is for the executioners, who were to be spared the unpleasantness of such methods, as some of them suffered from psychological problems as a result of their activities in this area.
Himmler believed that it was actually possible to breed a master race of all blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans in Germany as his previous experience as a chicken farmer had taught him the rudimentary basics of animal breeding. He believed that he could engineer the German populace, through selective breeding, to be entirely 'Nordic' in appearance within several decades of the end of the war.
Himmler's Posen speech.
On 4 October 1943, Himmler referred explicitly to the extermination of the Jewish people during a secret SS meeting in the city of Poznan. The following are excerpts from a transcription of an audio recording that exists of the speech:
Himmler and the Second World War.
Before the invasion of Russia in 1941, Himmler began preparing his SS for a war of extermination against the forces of "Judeo-Bolshevism". Himmler, always glad to make parallels between Nazi Germany and the Middle Ages, compared the invasion to the Crusades. He collected volunteers from all over Europe, including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, Belgians, French, Spaniards, and, after the invasion, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians, attracting the non-Germanic volunteers by declaring a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of Old Europe from the "Godless Bolshevik Hordes". In truth the "volunteers" from the occupied Soviet territories were mostly collaborator policemen pressed en-masse into the Waffen SS once their territories of origin were overrun by the Red Army, though especially in the Baltic states many natives volunteered to serve in the Black Order of Himmler due to their loathing of communism. As long as they were employed against Soviet troops, they performed fanatically, expecting no mercy if captured. When employed against the Western Allies, they tended to surrender eagerly. Waffen SS recruitment in Western and Nordic Europe was abysmally unsuccessful, though a number of Waffen-SS Legions were founded, such as the Wallonian contingent led by Leon Degrelle, whom Himmler planned to appoint as Chancellor of a restored Burgundy controlled by the SS once the war was over.
In 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's right hand man was killed in Prague after an attack by Czech special forces. Himmler immediately carried out a reprisal, killing the entire male population in the village of Lidice.
In 1943, Himmler was appointed German Interior Minister. This was very much a Pyrrhic victory. Himmler sought to use his new office to reverse the party apparatus' annexation of the civil service and tried to challenge the authority of the Party Gauleiters. This hopeless aspiration was easily frustrated by Martin Bormann, Hitler's secretary and party chancellor. It also incurred some displeasure from Hitler himself, whose long-standing disdain for the traditional Civil Service was one of the foundations of Nazi administrative thinking. Himmler made things much worse still when following his appointment as head of the Ersatzheer (Replacement Army) (see below) he tried to use his authority in both military and police matters by transferring soldiers to the Waffen-SS. With Himmler about to hang himself Bormann could not give him the rope fast enough, initially acquiesing in the lunacy, until furious protests broke out, then destroying the scheme with a vengeance leaving Himmler much discredited especially with the Party, whose Gauleiters now saw Bormann as their protector, since Himmler was urged on by his SS and Police Leaders to cement the authority of the SS in the Reich at the expense of the Party.
The involvement in the 20 July 1944 plot against Hitler of leaders of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), including its head, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, prompted Hitler to disband the Abwehr and make the SD the sole intelligence service of the Third Reich. This increased Himmler's already considerable personal power. It also soon emerged that General Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army was implicated in the conspiracy. Fromm's removal, coupled with Hitler's great suspicion of the army led the way to Himmler's appointment as Fromm's successor, a position he predictibly abused to enormously expand the Waffen SS even further to the detriment of the rapidly deteriorating Wehrmacht.
Unfortunately for Himmler, the investigation soon revealed the involvement of many SS Officers in the conspiracy, including some senior ones, which played into the hands of Bormann's power struggle against the SS, as very few party cadre officers were implicated. Even more importantly, a number of senior SS officers began to conspire against the Reichsführer SS, as they believed that he would be unable to achieve victory in the power struggle against Martin Bormann. Among these defectors were Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich's successor as Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, the Chief of the Gestapo.
In late 1944, Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of army group Upper Rhine, which was fighting the oncoming United States 7th Army and French 1st Army in the Alsace region on the west bank of the Rhine. Himmler held this post until early 1945 when, after the Wehrmacht's failure to halt the Red Army's Vistula-Oder offensive, Hitler placed Himmler in command of the newly formed Army Group Vistula at the instigation of Bormann, who knew that Himmler had no ability at commanding troops. As Himmler had no practical military experience as a field commander, this choice proved catastrophic and he was quickly relieved of his field commands, to be replaced by General Gotthard Heinrici.
As the war was drawing to a German defeat, Himmler was considered by many to be a candidate to succeed Hitler as the Führer of Germany. However, it became known after the war that Hitler never really considered Himmler as a successor, even before his betrayal, believing that the authority that was his as head of the SS had caused him to be so hated that he would be rejected by the Party.
Controversial Speeches by Himmler.
In 1939, Himmler spoke of how it would be useful if every man (even if he was married) had a mistress. He said this because he believed that the nation would need more people as many men would be killed in War.
Peace negotiations, capture, and death of Himmler.
In the winter of 1944-45, Himmler's Waffen-SS numbered 910,000 members, with the Allgemeine-SS (at least on paper) hosting a membership of nearly two million. However, by the spring of 1945 Himmler had lost faith in German victory, probably partially due to his discussions with his masseur Felix Kersten and Walter Schellenberg. He came to the realization that if the Nazi regime was to have any chance of survival, it would need to seek peace with Britain and the United States. Toward this end, he contacted Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden at Lübeck, near the Danish border, and began negotiations to surrender in the West. Himmler hoped the British and Americans would fight their Soviet allies with the remains of the Wehrmacht. When Hitler discovered this, Himmler was declared a traitor and stripped of all his titles and ranks the day before Hitler committed suicide. Hitler's successor as Chancellor of Germany was Joseph Goebbels who had disputed with Himmler many times during his Nazi career. Hermann Goering was also considered as a traitor by Hitler. At the time of Himmler's denunciation, he held the positions of Reich Leader-SS, Chief of the German Police, Reich Commissioner of German Nationhood, Reich Minister of the Interior, Supreme Commander of the Volkssturm, and Supreme Commander of the Home Army.
Unfortunately for Himmler, his negotiations with Count Bernadotte failed. Since he could not return to Berlin, he joined Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who by then was commanding all German forces within the northern part of the western front, in nearby Plön. Dönitz immediately sent Himmler away, explaining that there was no place for him in the German government.
Himmler next turned to the Americans as a defector, contacting the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower and proclaiming he would surrender all of Germany to the Allies if he was spared from prosecution as a Nazi leader. In an example of Himmler's mental state at this point, he sent a personal application to Eisenhower stating he wished to apply for the position of "Minister of Police" in the post-war government of Germany. He also reportedly mused on how to handle his first meeting with the SHAEF commander and whether to give the Nazi salute or shake hands with him. Eisenhower refused to have anything to do with Himmler, who was subsequently declared a major war criminal.
Unwanted by his former colleagues and hunted by the Allies, Himmler wandered for several days around Flensburg near the Danish border, capital of the Dönitz government. Attempting to evade arrest, he disguised himself as a sergeant-major of the Secret Military Police, using the name Heinrich Hitzinger, shaving his moustache and donning an eye patch over his left eye, in the hope that he could return to Bavaria. He had equipped himself with a full set of false documents, but someone whose papers were wholly in order was so unusual that it aroused the suspicions of a British Army unit in Bremen, Germany. Himmler was arrested on 22 May by Sergeant Arthur Britton, and in captivity, was soon recognized. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial with other German leaders as a major war criminal at Nuremberg, but committed suicide in Lüneburg by swallowing a potassium cyanide capsule before interrogation could begin. These cyanide tablets were fitted in caps in SS officers' teeth (which they snapped open and swallowed the tablet) before the Holocaust began so that they would always have the choice of suicide if anything went wrong. His last words were "Ich bin Heinrich Himmler!" ("I am Heinrich Himmler!"). Shortly afterwards, Himmler's body was secretly buried in an unmarked grave on the Lüneburg Heath. The precise location of Himmler's grave remains unknown
Alternate theories of Himmler's death.
There were later claims that the man who committed suicide in Lüneburg was not Himmler but a double. Statements allegedly attributed to ODESSA were said to have asserted that Himmler escaped to the tiny and rustic farming village of Strones in the Waldviertel, a hilly forested area in the northwest part of Lower Austria just north of Vienna, the birthplace of Alois Hitler, where he was running a reborn SS in exile.
The probability of a double was taken up in the book SS-1: The Unlikely Death of Heinrich Himmler by Hugh Thomas, published in 2001 by 4th Estate. Thomas gained access to the autopsy records which were so thorough, they recorded such details as the amount of hair in the ears of the corpse (p. 172), yet made no mention of a v-shaped scar which Himmler was known to have had; the remnants of a wound above his left cheekbone, sustained in a fencing duel in his youth.
A recently-published book by American pro-Nazi writer, Joseph Bellinger, Himmler's Death, offers another alternative theory to Himmler's death, stating that Heinrich Himmler was assassinated by his British interrogators in May 1945 along with other high-ranking officers of the SS and Werewolf Resistance Organization. Bellinger's book was first published in Germany by Arndt Verlag, Kiel. A similar book, Himmler's Secret War, by Martin Allen makes similar claims: it is, however, based on forged documents smuggled into the (British) National Archives. David Irving also claimed Himmler was beaten and killed by the British interrogators. He also claimed his nose was broken by the beating.
Historical views of Heinrich Himmler.
Historians are divided on the psychology, motives, and influences that drove Himmler. Some see him as a willing dupe of Hitler, fully under his influence and seeing himself essentially as a tool, carrying Hitler's views to their logical conclusion.
A key issue in understanding Himmler is to what extent he was a primary instigator and developer of anti-Semitism and racial murder in Nazi Germany in his own right, and not totally within Hitler's control, or was simply the executor of Hitler's direct orders. A related issue is the extent to which anti-semitism and racism were primary motives for him, over and above self-aggrandisement, accumulation of power and influence.
Himmler to some extent answered this himself saying if Hitler were to tell him to shoot his mother, he would do it and 'be proud of the Führer's confidence'. It was this unconditional loyalty that was the driving force behind Himmler's unlikely career. Most commentators agree that commitment to Hitler's murderous racism made Himmler the mastermind of ethnic cleansing and the Holocaust.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Himmler's decisive innovation was to transform the race question from "a negative concept based on matter-of-course anti-Semitism" into "an organizational task for building up the SS ... It was Himmler's master stroke that he succeeded in indoctrinating the SS with an apocalyptic "idealism" beyond all guilt and responsibility, which rationalized mass murder as a form of martyrdom and harshness towards oneself." 1
The famous wartime cartoonist Victor Weisz saw Himmler as a terrible octopus, wielding oppressed nations in each of his 8 arms. 2.
Wolfgang Sauer, historian at Berkeley felt that "although he was pedantic, dogmatic, and dull, Himmler emerged under Hitler as second in actual power. His strength lay in a combination of unusual shrewdness, burning ambition, and servile loyalty to Hitler." 3.
In an extract in the Norman Brook War Cabinet Diaries 4, Winston Churchill took a view towards Himmler widely shared during the war, advocating his assassination. According to Brook, responding to a suggestion that the Nazi leaders be executed, "this prompted Churchill to ask if they should negotiate with Himmler 'and bump him off later', once peace terms had been agreed. The suggestion to cut a deal for a German surrender with Himmler and then assassinate him with support from the Home Office. 'Quite entitled to do so,' the minutes record it (eg, Churchill) as commenting." 5
A main focus of recent work on Himmler has been the extent to which he competed for, and craved, Hitler's attention and respect, along with other Nazi leaders. The events of the last days of the war, when he abandoned Hitler and began separate negotiations with the Allies, are obviously significant in this respect.
Himmler appears to have had a completely distorted view of how he was perceived by the Allies; he intended to meet with US and British leaders and have discussions "as gentlemen". He tried to buy off their vengeance by last-minute reprieves for Jews and important prisoners. According to British soldiers who arrested Himmler, he was genuinely shocked to be treated as a prisoner.
Heinrich Himmler in fiction.
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