Reichsführer-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 October 7, 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, although he saw no active service, 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, 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 Röhm, Secretary to Gregor Strasser and his deputy district leader in Bavaria, Swabia and the Palatinate and also acting propaganda leader of the NSDAP from 1925 to 1930.
On the re-formation of the party, his diligence and loyalty were rewarded when he was appointed head of Hitler’s personal bodyguard in January 1929. The black-shirted Schutzstaffel, better known as the SS, was at that time a small body of 200 men. Under his leadership this small force grew to become an all-embracing empire within the Nazi Third Reich (SS ranks).
Himmler supplemented his modest salary by running a small holding near Munich with his wife Marga, whom he had married in 1927, and who shared both his interest in country life and his fetish for herbal medicines. Marga bore him a daughter, Gudrun, in 1929.
Himmler was essentially a desk worker with a pedantic head for detail. He compensated for his own physical deficiencies through his obsession with racial purity and the athletic prowess of his men. As early as 1931 he instituted a marriage code for the SS that forbade any man to take a bride who could not prove the purity of her Aryan blood for a couple of centuries. He created SS bride schools and also established Lebensborn maternity institutions, where young girls selected for their pure Nordic traits could procreate with SS-men. Their offspring were better cared for than in normal maternity homes.
Himmler’s acquisition of power was achieved by subtle and devious means.
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 Röhm'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 Göring, became head of the Prussian Police and Gestapo on April 20, 1934. The turning-point in Himmler's career was his masterminding of the purge of June 30, 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. He was ably supported by Reinhard Heydrich who headed the intelligence service of the party, the Sicherheitsdienst, better known as the SD. Heydrich had the stomach for the more ruthless aspects of Nazi racial policy that left Himmler feeling uncomfortable.
By June 17, 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 Reichsführer 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 perfecting 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 Reichsführer 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 Führer, embodying a Germany that would become the centre of a higher political entity.
In October 1939 Hitler appointed him Reichskommissar für die Festigung des Deutschen Volkstums and Himmler was given absolute control over the newly annexed Polish territories. Responsible for bringing people of German descent back from outside the Reich to within its newly expanded borders, Himmler set out to replace Poles and Jews by Volksdeutsche from the Baltic lands, various outlying parts of Poland, and elsewhere. Within a year over a million Poles and 300,000 Jews had been uprooted and driven eastwards
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.
By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Himmler’s complete strangle-hold of the police and security services was evident. He controlled the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), firstly via Heydrich and then subsequently Kaltenbrunner, the criminal police under Nebe, the Foreign Political Intelligence service under Schellenberg, and the Gestapo under Müller. Through the SS he ruled supreme over the concentration camps and the death camps in Poland, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Himmler instructed Odilo Globocnik, the SSPF Lublin, to construct these extermination camps in order to effect the destruction of the European Jewry.
Himmler also created the Waffen-SS, a powerful private army, whose strength he had expanded from three to thirty five divisions, making it a rival military force to the Wehrmacht. In August 1943 Himmler was appointed Minister of the Interior, giving him jurisdiction over the courts and the Civil Service.
In carrying out his task as supreme overseer of the Final Solution, Himmler proved himself a fanatical disciple of Nazi racial theory with an unswerving dedication to its translation into stark reality. 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.
Himmler gave a notorious speech on 4 October 1943 to the SS Group Leaders in Poznan ("Posener Rede"), where he spoke about the extermination of the Jewish people in glowing terms, saying:
This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and shall never be written.
After the plot against Hitler in July 1944, Himmler’s position was strengthened still further and the Wehrmacht was forced to accept him as Commander in Chief of the Reserve Army in addition to all his other activities. Himmler was granted supreme command of the Army Group Vistula, despite his lack of military experience.
Realizing the war was lost, Himmler attempted to approach the Allies for peace negotiations through the Head of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte. Himmler ordered the cessation of the mass slaughter of the Jews, and proposed the surrender of the German armies in the west, including Denmark and Norway, but the fight against the Russians would continue. Hitler, learning of the betrayal of his most trusted and loyal disciple was enraged, stripping Himmler of all of his offices.
Following the German surrender Himmler took on a false identity and tried to escape, but was captured with a number of other SS men in (or near) Bremervörde, Lower Saxony. Himmler committed suicide o23 May. 1945.
His body was buried in an unmarked grave near Lüneburg.
Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka - The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987
Robert S Wistrich. Who’s Who in Nazi Germany. Routledge London 1995
Gerald Reitlinger. The Final Solution, Valentine and Mitchell 1953
The SS was the very essence of Nazism -- the elite group of the Party, composed of the most thorough-going adherents of the Nazi cause, pledged to blind devotion to Nazi principles, and prepared to carry them out without any question and at any cost, including the deportation and Germanization of inhabitants of conquered territories, enslavement of foreign labor and illegal use of prisoners of war, concentration camps for the extermination of the Jews and and planning and waging aggressive war.
The sweeping National Socialist program and the measures they were prepared to use and did use, could be fully accomplished neither through the machinery of the government nor of the Party. Things had to be done for which no agency of government and no political party even the Nazi Party, would openly take full responsibility. A specialized type of-apparatus was needed - - an apparatus which was to some extent connected with the government and given official support, but which, at the same time, could maintain a quasi-independent status so that all its acts could be attributed neither to the government nor to the Party as a whole. The SS was that apparatus.
It involved, of course, the performance of police functions. But it involved more. It required participation in the suppression and extermination of all internal opponents of the regime. It meant participation in extending the regime beyond the borders of
Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS, commanded the entire organization. The increasingly close collaboration of the Security Service of the Reichsführer SS [almost always referred to as the SD] with the Gestapo and Criminal Police (Kripo) eventually resulted in the creation of the Reich Main Security Office (or RSHA). The SD originated as a part of the SS and always retained its character as a party organization, as distinguished from the GESTAPO, which was a State organization. However, the GESTAPO and the SD were brought into close working relationship, the SD serving primarily as the information-gathering agency and the GESTAPO as the executive agency of the police system established by the Nazis for the purpose of combating the political and ideological enemies of the Nazi regime.
The Waffen SS, the combat arm of the SS, was created, trained, and finally utilized for the purposes of aggressive war. Although tactically under the command of the Wehrmacht while in the field, it remained as much a part of the SS as any other branch of that organization. The mission of the SS Death Head Units (SS Totenkopf Verbände) was guarding enemies of the State who were held in concentration camps. The SS eventually succeeded in assuming control over the entire Reich Police, out of which special militarized forces were formed, originally SS Police Battalions, and later expanded to SS Police Regiments. The Allgemeine (General) SS was composed of all members of the SS who did not belong to any of the special branches.