Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born on 7 October 1900, in Munich, to a wealthy and well-connected family and raised Roman Catholic for all his future dabbling in Aryan Mysticism his faith never lapsed, and he was to consider himself a good Catholic to the day he died.
He was never popular as a child and had few, if any friends, partly as a result of having been encouraged by his father, the School Principal, to tell on his fellow pupils. It was an early introduction into the life of the secret policeman.
He was also a poor physical specimen, thin, weak, and often short of breath who would avoid playing games because he thought they highlighted his physical inadequacies. He also disliked being touched, a trait he shared with Hitler but as much as he hated physical contact and the rough and tumble of life he excelled in more scholarly pursuits, learning the harpsichord, playing chess, and collecting stamps.
Throughout his life he was uncomfortable in the presence of women, and though he was twice married few people could recall an eye for the ladies.
Encouraged by his father to keep a diary it soon became clear that the young Himmler was obsessed with the Great War, indeed he seemed to write of nothing else. Desperate to participate in the conflict on the Western Front he got his father to use his connections to secure him a commission in the 19th Bavarian Infantry Regiment. But he never saw action and the war ended before he completed his training and he often expressed his regret at not having fought.
For all his illusions to the contrary Himmler was never a warrior but a policeman, and a desk bound policeman at that, a beady-eyed, cold-bloodied compiler of statistics who never faced danger and never fired so much as a shot in anger. Yet he was to be responsible for more deaths than even the most bloodthirsty of battlefield commanders could have dreamed of.
Following the end of the Great War a disappointed Himmler with no military record to speak of returned to academia and between 1919 and 1922 he studied agronomy at the University of Munich. It was here that he first became involved in right-wing politics and began his lifelong obsession with Aryan Mysticism joining the Thule Society, an organisation that dabbled in the occult and believed that it had traced the origins of the Aryan Race to the lost city of Atlantis and that those who had survived its destruction resettled in northern Europe and were the direct ancestors of the German and Scandinavian people who were the fulcrum of all human genius.
After leaving University, Himmler worked for a short time as a fertiliser salesman before going on to manage his own chicken farm. But he had also since joined the Nazi Party and was to give up much of his free time to work in the office of the leading Nazi Ernst Rohm. In November 1924, he participated in Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch as Rohm’s Standard Bearer.
By 1925, still working as a chicken farmer, he campaigned hard for the Back to the Land Movement believing that the essence of the German people lay in its blood and soil, its peasant stock, and he wanted to create a race of Aryan Warrior Farmers. That same year he joined the recently formed Schutzstaffel, or SS. They were to be Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard and within five years this devoted office boy, through his own prodigious hard work, would become its commander. By 1933, he had increased its membership from 280 to 52,000 and under Himmler’s personal stewardship Hitler’s personal bodyguard had become his private army.
Recruitment to the SS was carried out according to very strict criteria. Based upon pseudo-Darwinian theories of natural selection, a potential recruit was forced to undergo a rigorous physical examination and had to be able to trace his ancestral bloodline back many generations. Tracing the origins of the Aryan Race was Himmler’s great obsession and the SS would provide its physical manifestation. The creation of the blond, blue-eyed warrior would be achieved through racial selection, the eradication of impure blood, and the enslavement and eventual elimination of inferior peoples.
In pursuit of this dream, Himmler established the Lebensborn, human stud farms, where women with impeccable Nordic traits would procreate with SS soldiers to create the perfect Aryan. In October 1939, he issued his Procreation Order demanding that German women of pure blood have sex with SS soldiers before they set off to war to secure the Aryan Race of the future. He also suggested that polygamy should be permissible for members of the SS.
By the early 1930’s Himmler was rising rapidly through the ranks of the Nazi Party but he was still far from being a part of Hitler’s inner-circle. This was all to change on what was to become known as ‘The Night of the Long Knives.’
Many within the Nazi hierarchy feared that Ernst Rohm, the leader of the Sturm Abteilung, or SA, Hitler’s army of brown-shirted street thugs, was planning a coup. He had been unhappy for a long time with the pace of what he considered the Nazi Revolution and had become vocal in his criticisms. He also wanted his Brownshirts to be absorbed into the regular army.
Ernst Rohm was one of Hitler’s oldest and closest colleagues and one of very few people who would dare look Hitler in the eye and say what he thought. He also had an army of 500,000 men under his command and was being spoken of as a possible alternative to the Fuhrer. The decision was made to eliminate Rohm and the organising genius behind the putsch was Heinrich Himmler, who would use the SS to do the job.
On the night of 30 June 1934, without any warning, and with not the slightest pretence towards legality, armed units of the SS arrested the leading members of the SA. Adolf Hitler, himself, armed with a revolver, was present when Ernst Rohm was snatched from his bed out of the arms of his homosexual lover.
Rohm remained in prison until 2 July when a revolver was left in his cell and he was told to take his own life, he refused, saying “If I am to be killed, then let Adolf do it himself.” But Hitler had already ordered his execution in any case. He was shot later the same day. Maybe as many as 1,200 political opponents of the Third Reich were murdered in this three day orgy of violence though the official figure was much lower.
With the execution of Rohm and the elimination of the SA as a threat, Himmler at last emerged from the shadows. He was to become the Third Reich’s leading policeman and chief enforcer. Hitler believed that he had no more faithful an adherent. He was – der truer Heini.
Earlier, in the elections of March 1933, despite Nazi control of the media, widespread intimidation on the streets, and SA Stormtroopers present at the polling booths, 17 million Germans still voted for parties other than the Nazis. It served as a warning to Hitler that there was still much work to be done.
Hitler’s policy was to create the Volksgemeinschaft, or Peoples’ Community, where every aspect of political, social, and cultural life would be controlled by the State. Its corollary Gleichschaltung, or the bringing of everyone together and making them think of one mind, could tolerate no dissent.
In 1933, the Gestapo Secret Police was formed and the man appointed to lead it was Heinrich Himmler.
If there was not a Gestapo Officer on every street corner, their numbers were in fact always quite small, they appeared omnipresent. This was because their effectiveness was dependent upon informers. People were encouraged to inform upon their neighbours and report any unusual behaviour and millions of Germans did just that with the Nazi archives full of the files of citizens who had exhibited unusual behaviour which could be anything from an individual style of dress, a man with long hair, a woman never seen in male company, responding to a Heil Hitler with a more traditional greeting, to a reluctance to give the Nazi salute. In fact, almost anything that did not correspond to the Gleichschaltung.
There were also certain groups whom by their very existence were deemed a threat to society – The Bibelschofers, or those who placed their reading of the Bible above the ideas of the Nazi State, Jehovah Witnesses, those who expressed pacifist views, Communists, homosexuals, habitual criminals, the work shy, and of course the Jews. All were liable to arrest without charge and once in custody would be made to sign a D-11 Form which stated that they had willingly consented to their own arrest for their own good and future re-education. They would then be sent to one of the many Concentration Camps that had been established by Himmler in the preceding years for an indefinite period. These were not yet Death Camps, though conditions were harsh and beatings and torture commonplace. Once it was felt that the miscreant had learned their lesson he or she would be released and their future movements and behaviour closely monitored. This was how the Nazi State worked to create its Volksgemeinschaft.
Himmler’s appetite for work was prodigious and the rewards forthcoming as in fairly short-order, to add to his title of Reichsfuhrer of the SS, he became Munich Chief of Police, Commander of all Police Units outside of Prussia, and was also running the Concentration Camps.
By the late 1930’s this nondescript, quietly spoken, polite, abstemious man with no discernible sense of humour who had a nervous, almost embarrassed laugh, had become the most powerful and feared figure in Germany after Hitler.
In 1933, he had established the first Concentration Camp at Dachau and it was he who determined its first inmates, they who were deformed individuals. All those in the Camps he declared were less than human and that the mission of the German people was the extermination of all sub-humans throughout the world.”
An anonymous physical presence he may have been but he was utterly ruthless in pursuit of his goals.
Heinrich Himmler was the Grand Inquisitor of the Third Reich, its Torquemada. He was conscientious and diligent in his working life, notoriously mean with money, his own if not other peoples. He was an austere, unsympathetic, and thoughtless man, who was willing to sacrifice humanity on an altar of abstract ideals. His victims were never people but criminals, deviants, and sub-humans. Vehemently opposed to blood sports, he could not stand the sight of blood and once feinted on a visit to Auschwitz, but he was always kind to animals. He never extended this kindness, however, to the millions of men, women, and children who were herded into his Gas Chambers. In a speech given in reference to the forced labour of Czech and Russian women he said.
“We Germans are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude towards animals, so we will also assume a decent attitude towards these human animals.”
But even this wasn’t true – they were starved, beaten, and worked to death, more so than he would ever have tolerated for a pack mule or a dray horse.
Hitler had little time for the Teutonic nonsense that surrounded the concept of any master race. For him it was a political weapon only and he was often heard to deride it in private. To Himmler, however, the existence of the Aryan was an absolute truth. He believed that if German blood did not remain uncontaminated, if the German Race did not remain pure, then it would perish everlastingly from the Earth.
In pursuit of this dream he spent millions of marks of other people’s money and wasted vast amounts of manpower and valuable resources. One Department of the Intelligence Service laboured day and night studying freemasonry and rosicrucianism, whilst others investigated the suppression of the harp in Ulster, the influence of top hats at Eton, and the significance of the Occult in Gothic architecture. SS scientists worked in their laboratories to isolate pure Aryan blood, and in 1939, Himmler sponsored Ernst Schafer’s expedition to Tibet to discover the origins of the Aryan Race.
The discovery of the Germanic Race that preserved the Nordic Mysteries was the Holy Grail of Himmler’s life.
As a result of his obsession archaeologists throughout Occupied Europe were ordered to dig for relics of authentic German Kultur. Even as the Germans were being forced to hastily abandon Naples in the wake of the Allied invasion of southern Italy, Himmler’s only demand was that they should take with them the tomb of Conradin, the last Hohenstaufen King from whom he believed he might be descended.
Any rich businessman who wanted to become part of Himmler’s exclusive circle of friends had to make a sizeable donation to the Ahnenerbe, his Scientific Institute into the Origins of the Aryan Race. Even as late as April 1945, as the Nazi Regime was collapsing around him he was still making plans to colonise the Ukraine with a new Germanic Religious Sect.
Himmler also believed himself to be the direct descendant, if not the actual reincarnation, of Henry the Fowler, the Christian Saxon hero who had fought and repelled the Slavs. His SS were to be the resurrection of the Teutonic Knights, scholars, administrators, and warriors, with Himmler as their leader. Though he was never himself to achieve the exacting standards of physical perfection he set for his latter-day Christian Crusaders.
In 1934, he bought the Castle of Wewelsburg in the Rhineland-Palatinate that was intended to be the SS University, its training ground, and its resting place. SS leaders would meet in its Great Hall, gathered at a Round Table that recreated the one believed to have been in King Arthur’s Court at Camelot.
Himmler’s belief in obsolete religion and cosmological dogma was absolute and obsessive. Whereas, Goering plundered Europe for its art, Himmler collected pagan relics. He was a strange mix of romantic fantasist and bloodless bureaucrat, when he wasn’t attending seminars on the mysteries of the occult he was organising and ordering the deaths of millions.
In many respects, the Second World War passed Himmler by. He wasn’t involved in strategy, wasn’t consulted on issues relating to military matters, and wasn’t part of Hitler’s War Council. But he had licence to do the mopping up. He was responsible for the eradication of dissent at home, the suppression of resistance in the Occupied Territories, and the implementation of the Final Solution. These he pursued with unswerving ruthlessness regardless of the course of the war. Even during the dying embers of the conflict as the Russians closed in on Berlin he was still requisitioning vital rolling stock to ensure the continued transportation of victims to the Concentration Camps.
Many of the functions of other State Ministries were absorbed into Himmler’s Head Office for Reich Security just prior to and during the war, and many of their initiatives were carried out under his auspices. For example, in early 1939, a programme of forced euthanasia began. All midwives were ordered to report the birth of deformed babies. These were then inspected by a doctor who would mark them either with the letter A or the letter T. If it was the letter A then the baby would live, if it was the letter T then they would die. The baby’s parents had no say in the matter. The Euthanasia Programme was deemed such a success that it was soon after extended to those children or adults who were considered to have a degenerative mental disorder. This was later modified to include, the deaf, the blind, and those with schizophrenia.
In September 1941, the programme was cancelled following widespread and sustained pressure from the Church. But by this time some 70,000 had already been liquidated. Despite the cancellation of the Euthanasia Programme those who remained were forcibly sterilised.
As the war progressed the programme was revived and extended and it is believed to have taken as many as 350,000 lives by the time of the wars end.
In January 1941, Himmler introduced the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) Decree. This enabled the Authorities to arrest anyone within Germany and Occupied Europe on the merest suspicion of nonconformity or resistance without any explanation. There was also no requirement to inform anyone of where they were being held, when or if they were to be released, or even if they were still alive. Tens of thousands of people simply disappeared under this law and were never heard of again.
On 20 January 1942, a Conference was held at a lakeside villa in Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin. Fourteen members representing all major Departments of the Reich Government were summoned to discuss the Final Solution of the Jewish problem.
The meeting was chaired by Himmler’s sinister and much feared Deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, and had been organised by Adolf Eichmann.
Much of the Conference was taken up with defining who was a Jew and who was not. It was then decided that the sexes would be separated, children removed from their parents, and those fit for work would be made to do so. Those considered unfit for manual or other useful labour would be dealt with accordingly. No Jew could be allowed to live, particularly the children as they would form the germ of future regeneration. That was the lesson of past history, so every Jew would die, either worked, beaten, and starved to death, or killed in the recently constructed Gas Chambers; and Europe would be combed from East to West as one combs the hair to eliminate nits. In just over two hours of talks the decision was made to wipe out an entire people.
Himmler was having a good war, the rounding up and transportation of Jews and others, including Romany Gypsies, Homosexuals, and Jehovah Witnesses, to the Concentration Camps was running smoothly under the direction of Adolf Eichmann. The introduction of the Gas Chambers had greatly increased the rate of liquidation, and all the time he was continuing to add to his portfolio of power. In 1943, he was appointed Minister of the Interior. The following year he became Head of the Abwehr, the Foreign Intelligence Service. His never-ending accumulation of power, however, caused great resentment among the other leading Nazi’s, in particular Martin Bormann – the Brown Eminence.
On 4 October 1943, in a speech given at Poznan in Poland to other leading members of the SS, Himmler said:
“One principle must be absolute for the SS man; we must be decent, honest, and loyal to members of our own blood and one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs is of utter indifference to me . . . whether or not other people live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me only as far as we need them as slaves.”
He later went on to remark:
“I am referring to the evacuation of the Jews. The extermination of the Jewish people, and believe me the Jewish people will be exterminated.”
It was the only time the Final Solution was spoken of publicly, and fortunately it was recorded for posterity.
On 20 July 1944, Count Claus Philipp Maria Schenck von Stauffenberg attended a conference at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s Military Headquarters near Rastenburg in East Prussia. At precisely 12.30pm he placed a briefcase filled with explosives beneath the table where Hitler was standing. At 12.40 pm it detonated.
Unknown to Stauffenberg the briefcase had be moved and placed next to a supporting leg of the table. This diminished the impact of the explosion. Even so, four people were killed and many others seriously wounded but Hitler badly shaken and with his clothes in tatters escaped relatively unscathed. As a result the plot, known as Operation Valkyrie, quickly unravelled.
Those plotters who had not already been killed or executed were hauled before the People’s Court under the direction of Hitler’s Hanging Judge, Roland Friesler. There they were harangued and abused, forced to hold up their trousers because all buttons and belts had been removed, and were made to listen to the screamed accusations of the increasingly hysterical Friesler. Found guilty they were sentenced to be hanged from meat hooks by piano wire. There death throes were filmed for Hitler’s pleasure. When the film was later shown at the Lichtefelde Cadet School the students walked out in disgust. Even so, the prosecution of the July Plotters was to be Himmler’s last great coup.
By late January 1945, Heinrich Himmler was commanding Army Group Vistula, a soldier at last.
He had no military experience but Hitler, who had long ago lost all faith in the German Officer Corps, knew he could count on his Der Truer Heine, his most faithful servant. Himmler was ordered to halt the Russian advance on Berlin from the north. But he was to prove himself weak, unassertive, and utterly incapable of leading troops in the field. He increasingly handed over command to his subordinates. His Headquarters he made his private train should he need to flee in a hurry. Here he was also able to hide away from bad news. Soon he fell ill, and under increasing pressure from the Fuhrer to act decisively he abandoned his post and booked himself into a Sanatorium.
Unknown to Hitler his ever-faithful Heinrich had been secretly trying to negotiate a peace settlement through a Swedish intermediary, Count Bernadotte. He informed the Western Allies that with Hitler holed up in Berlin he was now the effective ruler of Germany. This wasn’t true but there is little reason to doubt that he believed it. He said he would be willing to surrender the German armies in the West but only if he was permitted to continue the war against the Russians in the East. He even released some Jewish prisoners as an act of good faith.
Whatever made Himmler, Hitler’s murderous henchman imagine that the Allies would be willing to negotiate with him is unknown. But it is perhaps an example of the unreality of the world that he had lived in for so long.
Upon receiving Himmler’s correspondence Churchill destroyed it immediately. It was the only correspondence he destroyed during the entire war.
With no response from Churchill, Himmler now wrote to General Eisenhower requesting that he be made Police Chief of Berlin. Again, he received no reply.
It was Martin Bormann who reported Himmler’s betrayal to Hitler with the demand that he be immediately arrested and shot. Hitler was initially in shock. It was unthinkable that Himmler would betray him, Goering had done so earlier but that had been expected. He flew into a rage but no orders were issued for Himmler’s execution, even if a visibly upset Hitler was to say that this was the greatest betrayal in the history of the world.
It has been suggested that this was the moment when Hitler decided to take his own life.
Following Hitler’s suicide, the still at liberty Himmler emerged from hiding to apply for job in the Administration of his designated successor, Admiral Karl Doenitz. The new Fuhrer sent him away and with nowhere to go Himmler wandered the German countryside near the Danish border disguised as an Army Sergeant with his moustache shaved off and sporting an eye-patch desperately seeking transportation to Bavaria. This was to prove impossible, and so along with many others, some in uniform, others their uniforms discarded, he wandered aimlessly until captured near Flensburg.
Not long after he was pulled from the crowd and placed under arrest. As was befitting a former Police Chief his papers were in good order and so demanded to know why he had been apprehended. No answer was forthcoming.
The fact was despite the elaborate disguise he had been recognised and was soon on his way to Luneburg where upon arrival he was stripped and examined by a British doctor who failed to spot the cyanide tablet he had concealed in his mouth.
Just prior to his interrogation he declared that he was Heinrich Himmler and bit into the cyanide tablet dying almost immediately.
It was not the warrior’s death he had imagined as a young boy but it was less sordid than those he had been responsible for.