SO WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Susan Griffin’s “Our Secret” is a study in psychology. It is a look into the human mind to see what makes people do the things they do and in particular what makes people commit acts of violence. She isolates the first half of the twentieth century and in particular the era of the Second World War as a basis for her study. The essay discusses a number of people but they all tie in to Heinrich Himmler. He is the extreme case, he who can be linked directly to every single death in the concentration camps. Griffin seeks to examine Himmler because if she can discern a monster like Himmler than everyone else simply falls into place. The essay also tries to deduce why something like the Holocaust, although never mentioned directly, can take place. How can so many people be involved and yet so few people try to end it.
Griffin questions the cause of violent tendencies. Is it the way one is raised? To answer this question, she looks at Himmler’s childhood. He was raised in a stern and regimented manner with his father controlling every aspect of his life. His father ruled even an act as simple as keeping a journal. Griffin writes, “The very act of keeping a journal, I sensed, would help me into this life that would now be my own” (Griffin 407). She is speaking of the benefits of keeping a journal and how it can act as a way to express your feelings and that it can be an outlet for your emotions. Himmler did not have this luxury. “Gebhard writes the first entry in his son’s diary, to show the boy how it is to be done. July 13 Departed at 11:50 and arrive safely on the bus in L. We have a very pretty house. In the afternoon we drink coffee at the coffee house” (Griffin 407). As we can see, Himmler is not even allowed to write as he wants but instead is taught to record the facts and nothing more. This was not a source of anger for Himmler but rather began the shaping process of his life.
“The earliest entries in this diary betray so little. Like the words of a schoolboy commanded to write what the teacher requires of him, they are wooden and stiff. The stamp of his father’s character is so heavy on this language that I catch not even a breath of a self here.” (Griffin 407-408)
He became a man who thought not for himself but preferred to have others give him commands. That is why he rose to power in the Nazi party, he did not question orders but rather thrived on them. “Following Hitler with unwavering loyalty, he is known as der treur Heinrich, true Heinrich. He describes himself as an instrument of the Fuhrer’s will” (Griffin 421).
Did the violence in Himmler stem from his adoration of his brother, the perfect physical specimen. Heinrich tried his whole life to be like his older brother, strong and masculine. So much so that while serving as Reichsfuhrer he devised a set of standards for the “Aryan Race” to live up to. One could argue that these standards were modeled after his brother. Himmler’s belief in physical superiority led to the suppression and deaths of many who did not measure up which is ironic because Himmler himself was frail and did not meet any of his own standards. Influenza struck Himmler as a child which prevented him from becoming strong as an adult. Compared with his brother he is weak. He sees his brother and how popular he is. This led Himmler to associate the two together. Strength became synonymous with popularity and then with power.
While in the Nazi party, Himmler surrounded himself with people who were fit. He was the one they went to for orders and he had power over them. For once in his life, Heinrich Himmler, the frail and weak man, controlled the physically fit. He was in control for the first time in his life and it was time for revenge. Himmler inflicted on the Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals what was inflicted on him as a youth. He mistreated his power like so many others have and will. Power corrupts and it gave Himmler a chance to be the strongest instead of the weakest and the most popular instead of an outcast.
Griffin points out that in order to prove one’s manhood, many men will attack others who are less “masculine.” In this essay, we see a few counts of aggression towards homosexuals.
“It is 1936. Though he does not know it, Himmler is moving into the sphere of Heinz’s life now. He has organized a special section of the Gestapo to deal with homosexuality and abortion. On October 11, he declares in a public speech, Germany’s forbearers know what to do with homosexuals. They drowned them in bogs. This was not punishment, he argues, but the extermination of unnatural existence.”(Griffin 423)
This violence has not gone away with time. While in Maine, Griffin relates another hate crime. “But just days before I arrived a young man had been murdered there. He was a homosexual” (Griffin 424). Frederick the Great was a hero of Himmler’s. When he heard that his hero was a homosexual he refused to believe it. Could Himmler’s hatred of homosexuals stem from this in that he associated himself with Frederick but did not want to be associated with the homosexual aspect and thus felt the need to outwardly hate homosexual? “It is said that when boys or young men attack a man they find effeminate or believe to be homosexual they are trying to put at a distance all traces of homosexuality in themselves” (Griffin 444).
“To a certain kind of mind, what is hidden away ceases to exist” (Griffin 433). This sentence can be used to understand why. Why people can act the way they do and why something so ghastly as the Holocaust can take place. What Griffin is saying is that when whether we choose to ignore or simply forget something we can distance ourselves from that situation. As is the case with Himmler. He signed every death warrant for every victim in every concentration camp and yet he himself never physically took part in the murders. He hid away his participation in the killing of millions in order to cope with his actions. Himmler cannot even face death that comes at the hands of others. When he witnesses one particular slaughter the commandant of the Einsatzgruppen makes a good point. He makes Himmler realize that if it is so difficult for him to witness death it must be so much worse for those who actually have to be the hand of death. (Griffin 433). If one can distance one’s self from a disagreeable action, one need not feel guilty for it. It seemed that although so many collaborated in the Holocaust, not one of them felt good about it and thus everyone tried to distance themselves from it.
“Himmler did not partake in the actual preparations for what he called ‘the final solution.’ Nor did he attend the Wannsee Conference where the decision to annihilate millions of human beings was made. He sent his assistant Heydrich. Yet Heydrich, who was there, did not count himself entirely present. He could say that each decision he made was at the bequest of Heinrich Himmler. In this way an odd system of insulation was created. These crimes, these murders of millions, were all carried out in absentia, as if by no one in particular” (Griffin 435).
When people realize what they have done or taken part of, when they stop letting it “cease to exist” it has chilling effects. “The children of Nazis and survivors alike have inherited a struggle between silence and speech” (Griffin 448). Do we continue to push it under the rug or do we bring it out in the open? The question is do we continue to take the easy way out and forget what happened and for some of us what hand we had in the matter or do we confront the issue and try to learn from it. Susan Griffin’s “Our Secret” chooses to tackle the issue of the Holocaust and to educate people about it so nothing like it can ever happen again.