Heinrich Himmler


Heinrich Himmler Essay, Research Paper

Reichsfuhrer-SS, head of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS, Minister of the

Interior from 1943 to 1945 and organizer of the mass murder of Jews in the

Third Reich, Heinrich Himmler was born in Munich on 7 October 1900. The son

of a pious, authoritarian Roman Catholic schoolmaster who had once been tutor

to the Bavarian Crown Prince, Himmler was educated at a secondary school in

Landshut. He served as an officer cadet in the Eleventh Bavarian Regiment at

the end of World War I, later obtaining a diploma in agriculture from Munich

Technical High School where he studied from 1918 to 1922.

After working briefly as a salesman for a firm of fertilizer manufacturers,

the young Himmler joined a para-military, nationalist organization and

participated in the Munich Beer-Hall putsch of November 1923 as

standard-bearer at the side of Ernst Rohm, Secretary to Gregor Strasser and

his deputy district leader in Bavaria, Swabia and the Palatinate, he was also

acting propaganda leader of the NSDAP from 1925 to 1930.

After marrying in 1927, Himmler returned to poultry farming for a time but

was singularly unsuccessful in the business of raising chickens. In January

1929 he was appointed head of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, the black-shirted

Schutzstaffel (SS), at that time a small body of 200 men which was

subsequently to become under his leadership an all-embracing empire within

the Nazi State.

Elected in 1930 to the Reichstag as Nazi deputy for Weser-Ems, Himmler

concentrated on extending SS membership – which reached 52,000 by 1933 – and

securing its independence from control by Rohm’s SA, to which it was

initially subordinated. He organized the Security Service (SD) under Reinhard

Heydrich, originally an ideological intelligence service of the Party, and

together the two men ensured that the Nazis consolidated their power over

Bavaria in 1933.

In March 1933 Himmler was appointed Munich Police President and shortly

afterwards he became Commander of the political police throughout Bavaria. In

September 1933 he was made Commander of all political police units outside

Prussia and, though formally under Goering , became head of the Prussian

Police and Gestapo on 20 April 1934. The turning-point in Himmler’s career

was his masterminding of the purge of 30 June 1934 which smashed the power of

the SA and paved the way for the emergence of the SS as an independent

organization charged with ’safeguarding the . . . embodiment of the National

Socialist idea’ and translating the racism of the regime into a dynamic

principle of action.

By 17 June 1936 Himmler had successfully completed his bid to win control of

the political and criminal police throughout the Third Reich, becoming head

of the Gestapo in addition to his position as Reichsfuhrer of the SS. A very

able organizer and administrator, meticulous, calculating and efficient,

Himmler’s astonishing capacity for work and irrepressible power-lust showed

itself in his accumulation of official posts and his perfectioning of the

methods of organized State terrorism against political and other opponents of

the regime.

In 1933 he had set up the first concentration camp in Dachau and in the next

few years, with Hitler’s encouragement, greatly extended the range of persons

who qualified for internment in the camps. Himmler’s philosophical mysticism,

his cranky obsessions with mesmerism, the occult, herbal remedies and

homeopathy went hand in hand with a narrow-minded fanatical racialism and

commitment to the ‘Aryan’ myth. In a speech in January 1937 Himmler declared

that ‘there is no more living proof of hereditary and racial laws than in a

concentration camp. You find there hydrocephalics, squinters, deformed

individuals, semi-Jews: a considerable number of inferior people.’ The

mission of the German people was ‘the struggle for the extermination of any

sub-humans, all over the world who are in league against Germany, which is

the nucleus of the Nordic race; against Germany, nucleus of the German

nation, against Germany the custodian of human culture: they mean the

existence or non-existence of the white man; and we guide his destiny’.

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’. Racism was to be safeguarded by

the reality of a race society, by the concentration camps presided over by

Himmler’s Deaths Head Formations in Germany, just as during World War II the

theories of ‘Aryan’ supremacy would be established by the systematic

extermination of Jews and Slavs in Poland and Russia. Himmler’s romantic

dream of a race of blue-eyed, blond heroes was to be achieved by cultivating

an elite according to ‘laws of selection’ based on criteria of physiognomy,

mental and physical tests, character and spirit. His aristocratic concept of

leadership aimed at consciously breeding a racially organized order which

would combine charismatic authority with bureaucratic discipline. The SS man

would represent a new human type – warrior, administrator, ’scholar’ and

leader, all in one – whose messianic mission was to undertake a vast

colonization of the East. This synthetic aristocracy, trained in a

semi-closed society and superimposed on the Nazi system as a whole, would

demonstrate the value of its blood through ‘creative action’ and achievement.

From the outset of his career as Reichsfuhrer of the SS, Himmler had

introduced the principle of racial selection and special marriage laws which

would ensure the systematic coupling of people of ‘high value’. His promotion

of illegitimacy by establishing the State-registered human stud farm known as

Lebensborn, where young girls selected for their perfect Nordic traits could

procreate with SS men and their offspring were better cared for than in

maternity homes for married mothers, reflected Himmler’s obsession with

creating a race of ’supermen’ by means of breeding. Himmler’s notorious

procreation order of 28 October 1939 to the entire SS that ‘it will be the

sublime task of German women and girls of good blood acting not frivolously

but from a profound moral seriousness to become mothers to children of

soldiers setting off to battle’ and his demand that war heroes should be

allowed a second marriage expressed the same preoccupation.

The small, diffident man who looked more like a humble bank clerk than

Germany’s police dictator, whose pedantic demeanour and ‘exquisite courtesy’

fooled one English observer into stating that ‘nobody I met in Germany is

more normal’, was a curious mixture of bizarre, romantic fantasy and cold,

conscienceless efficiency. Described as ‘a man of quiet unemotional gestures,

a man without nerves’, he suffered from psycho-somatic illness, severe

headaches and intestinal spasms and almost fainted at the sight of a hundred

eastern Jews (including women) being executed for his benefit on the Russian

front. Subsequent to this experience, he ordered as a ‘more humane means’ of

execution the use of poison gas in specially constructed chambers disguised

as shower rooms.

The petty-bourgeois eccentric whose natural snobbery led him to welcome old

aristocratic blood into the SS, revived a web of obsolete religious and

cosmological dogmas linking new recruits to their distant Germanic ancestors.

He cultivated the ‘return to the soil’ and the dream of German peasant-

soldier farms in the East while at the same time proving himself a

diabolically skilful organizer of rationalized modern extermination methods.

The supreme technician of totalitarian police power who saw himself as a

reincarnation of the pre-Christian Saxon, Henry the Fowler, advancing

eastwards against the Slavs – he organized the thousandth anniversary of

Henry’s death in 1936 – Himmler perfectly expressed in his own personality

the contradictions of National Socialism. For him, the SS was at one and the

same time the resurrection of the ancient Order of the Teutonic Knights with

himself as grand master, the breeding of a new Herrenvolk aristocracy based

on traditional values of honour, obedience, courage and loyalty, and the

instrument of a vast experiment in modern racial engineering. Through this

privileged caste which was to be the hard core of German imperial dominion in

Europe, the nucleus of a new State apparatus would emerge with its tentacles

impinging on all spheres of life in the expanded Third Reich. By recruiting

‘Aryans’ of different nationalities into his Waffen-SS Himmler envisaged the

creation of ‘a German Reich of the German Nation’ based on the feudal

allegiance of its communities to the lordship and protection of the Fuhrer,

embodying a Germany that would become the centre of a higher political entity.

By the end of the 1930s the possibility of forging this Greater Germanic

Reich of the future came closer to realization as Himmler reached the peak of

his power. In October 1939 Hitler appointed him Reichskommissar fur die

Festigung des Deutschen Volkstums (Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of

Germandom) and he was given absolute control over the newly annexed slice of

Poland. Responsible for bringing people of German descent back from outside

the Reich into its borders, he set out to replace Poles and Jews by

Volksdeutsche from the Baltic lands and various outlying parts of Poland.

Within a year over a million Poles and 300,000 Jews had been uprooted and

driven eastwards. With the characteristic self- pitying and ascetic ethos of

self-abnegation that he inculcated into the SS, Himmler informed the

SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Regiment: ‘Gentlemen, it is much easier in many

cases to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive

population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions or to haul away

people or to evict crying and hysterical women.’

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. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Himmler’s notorious speech on

4 October 1943 to the SS Group Leaders in Poznan.

‘One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent,

loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to no one else. What

happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter

indifference to me. Such good blood of our own kind as there may be among the

nations we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the

children and bringing them up among us. Whether the other peoples live in

comfort or perish of hunger interests me only in so far as we need them as

slaves for our Kultur. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from

exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only in so far as the tank

ditch is completed for Germany. We shall never be rough or heartless where it

is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the

world who have a decent attitude to animals, will also adopt a decent

attitude to these human animals, but it is a crime against our own blood to

worry about them and to bring them ideals. I shall speak to you here with all

frankness of a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned

quite frankly, and yet we will never speak of it publicly. I mean the

evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people.. . . Most of

you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred,

or a 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 shall never be written.’

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