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Heinrich Himmler was born near Munich, Germany, on 7th October, 1900. The son of a Catholic schoolmaster, he was educated at the Landshut High School. During the First World War Himmler joined the 11th Bavarian Regiment and by the end of the conflict he had become an officer cadet in the German Army.
In 1928 Himmler married and became a poultry farmer. He also joined the Sturm Abteilung (SA) and was a devout follower of Adolf Hitler. Himmler believed Hitler was the Messiah that was destined to lead Germany to greatness. Hitler, who was always vulnerable to flattery, decided in January, 1929, that Himmler should become the new leader of his personal bodyguard, the Schutzstaffel (SS).
By the time of his appointment the SS had only 280 members. They wore the same uniform as the SA except for a black cap with a silver death's head badge and a black tie. It was only after 1932 that they wore an all-black uniform.
With the agreement of Adolf Hitler, Himmler expanded the size of the SS. Himmler personally vetted all applicants to make sure that all were good 'Aryan' types. By the time the Nazi Party gained power in 1933 Himmler's SS had grown to a strength of 52,000. He was also made head of all German political police outside Prussia, where Hermann Goering was the minister of the interior.
Himmler agreed with Goering that the Sturm Abteilung (SA) posed a threat to the German Army and in June 1934, along with his loyal assistants, Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt Daluege and Walter Schellenberg, he arranged what became known as the Night of the Long Knives.
As a result of this purge the Schutzstaffel (SS) was now the principal instrument of internal rule in Germany. In 1936 the Gestapo also came under Himmler's control. Himmler was also able to put SS men in all the key posts in Nazi Germany.
In December, 1940 Himmler established the Waffen SS. This new army grew rapidly and within six months grew to over 150,000 men.
David Low, Who's for it this time? (28th April, 1942)
During the Second World War the SS Death's Head Units were put in charge of Germany's Concentration Camps. The SS also followed the German Army into the Soviet Union where they had the responsibility of murdering Jews, gypsies, communists and partisans. By June 1944 the SS had over 800,000 members: Hitler's Body Guard (200,000) Waffen (594,000) and Death Head Units (24,000).
There was great competition between the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) and the German military intelligence organization, Abwehr. In June, 1944 Himmler took over Abwehr and after the July Plot the organization was absorbed into the SD.
In 1944 Himmler was put in charge of the German Army facing the advancing United States Army. In January, 1945, he was switched to face the Red Army in the east. Unable to halt the decline in fortunes of the German forces, Himmler became convinced that Germany needed to seek peace with Britain and the United States. When Adolf Hitler discovered on 28th April that Himmler had been attempting to make contacting with the Allies, he ordered his arrest.
Himmler now took the name and documents of a dead village policeman. Although in heavy disguise, Himmler was arrested by a British army officer in Bremen on 22nd May. Before he could he interrogated, Himmler committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.
(1) In his book, Hitler: The Missing Years, Ernst Hanfstaengel describes meeting Heinrich Himmler for the first time.
He had a pale, round, expressionless face, almost Mongolian, and a completely inoffensive air. Nor in his early years did I ever hear him advocate the race theories of what he was to become the most notorious executive.
He studied to become a veterinary surgeon, although I doubt if he had ever become fully qualified. It was probably only part of the course he had taken as an agricultural administrator, but, for all I know, treating defenceless animals may have tended to develop that indifference to suffering which was to become his most frightening characteristic.
(2) (2) Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970)
After 1933 there quickly formed various rival factions that held divergent views, spied on each other, and held
each other in contempt. A mixture of scorn and dislike became the prevailing mood within the party. Each new
dignitary rapidly gathered a circle of intimates around him. Thus Himmler associated almost exclusively with his SS following, from whom he could count on unqualified respect. Goering also had his band of uncritical admirers, consisting partly of members of his family, partly of his closest associates and adjutants. Goebbels felt at ease in the company of literary and movie people. Hess occupied himself with problems of homeopathic medicine, loved chamber music, and had screwy but interesting acquaintances.
As an intellectual Goebbels looked down on the crude philistines of the leading group in Munich, who for their part made fun of the conceited academic's literary ambitions. Goering considered neither the Munich philistines nor Goebbels sufficiently aristocratic for him and therefore avoided all social relations with them; whereas Himmler, filled with the elitist missionary zeal of the SS felt far superior to all the others. Hitler, too, had his retinue, which went everywhere with him. Its membership, consisting of chauffeurs, the photographer, his pilot, and secretaries, remained always the same.
(3) Dr. Pokorny, letter to Heinrich Himmler in the winter of 1941.
If, on the basis of this research, it were possible to produce a drug which, after a relatively short time, effects an imperceptible sterilization on human beings, then we would have a powerful new weapon at our disposal. The thought alone that the three million Bolsheviks, who are at present German prisoners, could be sterilized so that they could be used as laborers but be prevented from reproduction, opens the most far-reaching perspectives.
(4) Heinrich Himmler, speech to Schutzstaffel (SS) officers at Poznan (4th October, 1943)
In the months that have gone by since we met in June 1942 many of our comrades were killed, giving their lives for Germany and the Fuhrer. In the first rank - and I ask you to rise in his honor and in honor of all our dead SS men, soldiers, men, and women - in the first rank our old comrade and friend from our ranks, SS Lieutenant General Eicke. [The SS Gruppenfiihrers have risen from their seats.] Please be seated.
One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the SS men - we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to nobody else. What happens to a Russian or to a Czech does not interest me in the slightest. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us. Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an antitank ditch interests me only so far as the antitank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be rough and heartless when it is not necessary, that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also assume a decent attitude toward these human animals.
I also want to talk to you, quite frankly, on a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and we will never speak of it publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934 to do the duty we were bidden and stand comrades who had lapsed up against the wall and shoot them, so we have never spoken about it and will never speak of it. It was that tact which is a matter of course and which I am glad to say, inherent in us, that made us never discuss it among ourselves, nor speak of it. It appalled everyone, and yet everyone was certain that he would do it the next time if such orders are issued and if it is necessary.
I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race. It's one of those things it is easy to talk about, "The Jewish race is being exterminated," says one party member, "that's quite clear, it's in our program-elimination of the Jews and we're doing it, exterminating them" And then they come to me, eighty million worthy Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are vermin, but this one is an A-1 Jew. Not one of all those who talk this way has watched it, not one of them has gone through it. Most of you must know what it means when one hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or one thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time - apart from exceptions caused by human weakness - to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written, for we know how difficult we should have made it for ourselves, if with the bombing raids, the burdens and the deprivations of war we still had Jews today in every town as secret saboteurs, agitators, and troublemakers. We would now probably have reached the 1916-1917 stage when the Jews were still in the German national body.
(5) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (7th March, 1945)
Himmler has had a bad attack of angina but is now on the mend. He gives me a slightly frail impression. Nevertheless we were able to have a long talk about all outstanding questions. In general Himmler's attitude is good. He is one of our strongest personalities. During our two-hour discussion I established that we are in complete agreement in our estimate of the general situation so that I need hardly refer to that. He used strong language about Goring and Ribbentrop, whom he regards as the two main sources of error in our general conduct of the war, and in this he is absolutely right. But he has no more idea than I how to persuade the Führer to cut loose from them both and replace them with fresh strong personalities. I told him of my last interview but one with the Führer, whose attention I had drawn to the fact that retention of Goring in particular is threatening to lead to a crisis of state, if it has not already done so. Himmler enquired in detail how the Führer had reacted to these remarks. The Führer was indeed much impressed but for the moment he has not drawn the consequences.
As far as the front is concerned Himmler is extremely worried, particularly about developments in Pomerania and the West. At present, however, he is even more worried about the food situation, the outlook for which is pretty gloomy over the next few months. The morale of the troops has undoubtedly been affected. This Himmler admits on the basis of his experience with Army Group Vistula. Another factor is that neither in the military nor the civilian sector have we strong central leadership because everything has to be referred to the Führer and that can only be done in a small number of cases.
In every field Goring and Ribbentrop are obstacles to successful conduct of the war. But what can one do? One cannot, after all, actually force the Führer to divorce himself from them. Himmler summarises the situation correctly when he says that his mind tells him that we have little hope of winning the war militarily but instinct tells him that sooner or later some political opening will emerge to swing it in our favour. Himmler thinks this more likely in the West than the East. He thinks that England will come to her senses, which I rather doubt. As his remarks show, Himmler is entirely Western-oriented; from the East he expects nothing whatsoever. I still think that something is more likely to be achieved in the East since Stalin seems to me more realistic than the trigger-happy Anglo-American (Roosevelt).
(6) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (30th March, 1945)
The Führer now takes the view that Himmler has no operational capability. He is a punctilious person but no commander. He totally lacks the divine spark. This he showed during the operations in Pomerania of which he made a complete mess owing to his narrow-minded operational thinking. In general the Führer is of the opinion that no high-class commander has emerged from the SS.
(7) Ann Stringer, United Press (13th June, 1945)
Frau Margarete Himmler maintained today that she was still proud of her infamous husband and shrugged away the world's hatred of the dead Gestapo chief with the calm observation that no one loves a policeman. When I told her that husband Heinrich had been captured and had died from his own dose of poison, Frau Himmler showed absolutely no emotion. She sat, hands folded in her lap, and merely shrugged her shoulders.
Until then she had not known what had happened to Himmler since he last telephoned her from Berlin around Easter while she was at their home near Munich.
When first captured by the Fifth Army she had claimed a weak heart and internment camp officials, fearful of a heart attack, never told her of her husband's death. But even when I told her that Himmler was buried in an unmarked grave Frau Himmler showed no surprise, no interest. It was the coldest exhibition of complete control of human feeling that I have ever witnessed.
I talked to Frau Himmler in a luxurious villa home owned by a former movie magnate where she and her 15-year-old daughter, Gudrun, are being held with one other female internee. I asked her if she was aware of her husband's activities as Gestapo chief and she replied, "Of course."
Then I asked her if she knew what the world had thought of him and she replied, "I know that before the war many people thought highly of him."
Asked if she realized that Himmler was probably the most despised and hated man in the world after the European war got well under way, Frau Margarete shrugged and said, "Maybe so. He was a policeman and policemen are not liked by anyone."
Frau Margarete denied the possibility that her dead husband might have been considered the No. 1 war criminal. She said, "My husband? How could he be when Hitler was Fuehrer?"
Asked if she was proud of her husband, Frau Margarete replied, "Of course, I was proud of him." Then she added, "In Germany wives would not even be asked such a question."
Then pressed as to whether or not she was still proud of Himmler when he had sentenced millions of innocent people to death by torture, gassing, or starvation, Frau Margarete answered non-committally, "Perhaps. Perhaps not. It all depends."
(8) Kirsty Scott, The Guardian (14th August, 2007)
When Katrin Himmler was 15, a classmate at her Berlin school asked her during a history lesson if she was related to Heinrich Himmler, the feared head of Hitler's SS and a key architect of the Holocaust. When she told them that he was, in fact, her great-uncle, the whole class fell silent and the teacher carried on as if nothing had been said.
"It was so embarrassing for me to be asked in front of all the class if I was belonging to this terrible family," Ms Himmler told an audience at the Edinburgh international book festival yesterday. "At the same time I realised that it was a lost chance, because the teacher didn't discuss it with us. I'm quite sure she wanted to protect me but it would have been all right with me if she had asked me about it."
Two decades later, Ms Himmler, 40, then a political scientist, would ask those questions herself, not only about her great-uncle and the crimes he perpetrated, but also about the rest of her family. During the research, detailed in her book The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History, published in Britain for the first time this summer, she discovered that far from being the black sheep of the family as she had been led to believe, Heinrich Himmler, the man who described the extermination of the Jews as a "small matter", was a respected figure.
His two brothers, Ernst - Katrin Himmler's grandfather - and Gebhart, admired him and shared his beliefs. Her own grandfather, it transpired, had in effect condemned a half-Jewish acquaintance to death by complaining about him to Heinrich. Her grandmother, meanwhile, sent packages to Nazis who were awaiting execution for their crimes after the war.
Her research, using family papers which had been locked in East German archives for a generation, had added resonance due to the fact she met, married and had a son by an Israeli whose own extended family was caught up in the Warsaw ghetto and had been victims of her great-uncle's atrocities.
Ms Himmler says her family's story is not as unusual as many in Germany would like to think, with many families holding to "myths and legends" about the previous generation's role in the atrocities, while publicly acknowledging the horrors of the Nazi era. "There is still this very big gap between official history and how history is told in families," Ms Himmler said. "Many of the young people have a big knowledge [of the Holocaust] but really think that their grandparents were against the regime; [they think] everyone was hiding a Jew in this house. Rationally they can't believe it but they try hard to believe it."
Such unwillingness to confront personal truths, says Ms Himmler, and also a belief among some in the older generations that times were good under the Nazis, is doing nothing to help counteract the rise of neo-Nazis across the country. "What frightens me very much is the young neo-Nazis, the uprising... I think it's high time to deal with that problem and to have more of an eye on it, what's going on." Ms Himmler is also grappling with how to tell her young son about his family history.
"Every time he is asking more and I try to explain a little bit more, but you can't explain the whole story at once. He knows about Jewish history... he knows about the mass murder already but he does not know the connection to my family."