Adsense Large Leaderboard

Friday, May 9, 2014

Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's Executioner

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich Himmler 1929.

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (7 October 1900 – 23 May 1945) is one of the more enigmatic figures in Hitler's Germany. It isn't that what he did is obscure or unknown - what he did was meticulously documented and well-known.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com


The enigmatic part is why? But that, we will never know. Anyway, let's learn what we can about this mass murderer.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich is the boy on the left. Dad looks quite stern, but that was the fashion then. It also was fashionable to dress boys in clothing that later would be considered girlish. (Ang, Federal Archive).

Himmler was a Catholic born in Munich. His father, a teacher, was a man of prominence, and Heinrich developed a love of learning. He even kept a diary as a teenager. As he got older, his father pulled some strings and got Heinrich into an officer slot, and he wound up sitting out World War I in a reserve battalion.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler as an officer candidate, 1918.

After the war, Himmler resumed his education and went to university in Munich. With few job opportunities in post-War Germany, though, he turned back to the military and messed around with some of the numerous paramilitary organizations milling about.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com


He met Ernst Röhm, and got swept up in the virulent anti-Semitism sweeping the land. The military thing didn't work out, so he got a boring office job. It wasn't much, but at least it got him out of his parents' basement.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
How to get in good with Hitler: carry the flag at the Putsch. Himmler looks completely out of place, like a gangly professor in the midst of a bunch of gangsters. Considering that the flag-bearer always makes for a prime target, it is amazing that he survived.

At some point, Himmler noticed the new Party (NSDAP) and joined it right before the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Despite coming along rather late in the game relative to Hitler and some of the others, his connections to Röhm proved his bona fides.

Heinrich Himmler SS Gestapo worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Early days.

Himmler even wound up carrying the flag at the Putsch, standing tall while all around him were shot down (in fact, he may have been carrying the flag because he was one of the taller men in the group who had nothing better to do). It was his finest moment.

Heinrich Himmler SS Gestapo worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler running on a SS training course. It's a pretty good bet that he got a good time - a very good time - no matter how slowly he went.

It must be said that whatever else Himmler did in life that suggested he lacked personal courage, carrying the flag at the Putsch took intense personal bravery (and/or intense foolhardiness and absolute desperation to fit in with someone, anyone). The defending soldiers who shot down most of Himmler's companions most likely spared him out of pity because he was so inoffensive looking and posed no possible threat - they also spared General Ludendorff for similar reasons (and of course in Ludendorff's case because of their genuine respect for the man, respect which they wouldn't have had at that point for Himmler).

Heinrich Himmler SS Gestapo worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler was just a mild-mannered cutthroat killer.

While unwounded (which he probably regretted at the time, since this would have really cemented his role in the Party), Himmler lost his secure office job as a result of his association with this gang of traitors to the state. In the ultimate come-down, he then had to move back in with mom and dad, as the Party was out of business for a while. However, on the bright side, he was in good with Hitler now - real good. Hitler revered the "martyrs" of 1923, even those who didn't actually become martyrs. That's one way to get ahead in life - inextricably tie your fortunes to someone with prospects. Of course, Hitler was in jail and lucky to have survived the fiasco, but he'd get out someday.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler married Margarete Boden in 1928. This is kind of an odd wedding picture - Himmler is looking at her like he just bought her, she is looking... mindful. Appearances are deceiving, though: by all accounts, it was a successful marriage.

With all his troubles, Himmler moved away from Catholicism and toward German mysticism. He grew to like Hitler, who also favored all sorts of crackpot theories about German superiority. At loose ends and tired of living in his parents' basement, Himmler latched onto party leader Gregor Strasser and became a party secretary and propaganda assistant. This led to other assignments, and he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) as an SS-Führer (SS-Leader).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich Himmler with Margaretha Boden and Gudrun, 1928. Himmler is in-between with the Party at this point, a hero to them for his part in the 1923 Putsch, but not yet in an executive position. But that was not long in coming.

The SS then was a tiny part of Röhm's paramilitary SA designed to serve as Hitler's bodyguards - kind of like the the Roman Praetorian Guard or the US Secret Service (remember, here we are talking about the earliest origins of the SS, not what Himmler later turned it into). In 1925, Hitler had ordered the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando (protection command). It was formed by Julius Schreck and included old Stoßtrupp members, Emil Maurice and Erhard Heiden.


Adolf Hitler Emil Maurice worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SS members #1 and #2, Adolf Hitler and Emil Maurice, apparently in Landsberg Prison. Maurice was found to have Jewish blood via a grandfather. In addition, Maurice was widely rumored to have been having an affair with Hitler's sweetheart, Geli Raubal, which may have contributed to her decision to commit suicide. However, Maurice was allowed to remain an SS Officer as an "Honorary Aryan" on Hitler's express written order to Himmler.

They quickly expanded the Schutzkommando to a national level that same year. It was renamed successively the Sturmstaffel (storm squadron), and finally on 9 November the Schutzstaffel (abbreviated to SS). Hitler became SS member No. 1 and Emil Maurice, his chauffeur, became SS member No. 2; Himmler was member #168. At that time, Maurice also became an SS-Führer in the new organization, although the leadership of the SS was assumed by Schreck, the first Reichsführer-SS.

Rudolf Hess Julius Schreck Adolf Hitler Bernhard Rust worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Julius Schreck seated directly behind Hitler, Rudolf Hess and Bernhard Rust in the front row. Schreck founded the SS and became Hitler's chauffeur before passing away in 1936 from meningitis. Being Hitler's driver was akin to being a medieval English King's keeper of the royal privy: a mundane job but exceedingly prestigious and the gateway to great things. This is an early Nuremberg Party day.

Himmler advanced rapidly through the SA ranks in lower Bavaria, using the tiny SS as his springboard. After Hitler got out of jail, the two talked. Himmler told Hitler of his plans to turn the tiny SS into an elite force. Hitler was impressed and wanted to support this hero of 1923, so Hitler basically put Himmler in next-in-line to be in charge of the SS. Himmler took over the fledgling organization in 1929 and now had a power base within the Party hierarchy. Taking over the minor position of Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, Himmler quietly began building his organization - and power base.


Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hermann Göring promotes Himmler. German hierarchies during the Hitler era were Byzantine: the same person often was both your subordinate and your superior in different contexts, as with these two.

Himmler rapidly expanded the SS from the hundreds to the thousands. After Hitler took over as Chancellor on 30 January 1933, events moved swiftly. Hermann Göring took over as Prussian Prime Minister, and Göring put Himmler in charge of the police. It is unknown what Hitler thought about Himmler's rise, but it wasn't necessarily a case of Hitler being awe-struck at Himmler's personal abilities. Hitler had a tendency to want borderline incompetents and non-threatening individuals in positions of influence, such as wine salesman Ribbentrop as his Foreign Minister (much later).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Meeting of high Reichswehr (Heer) and SS officers on  January 13, 1935: Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg. v.l.n.r. General Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, General Elder, Baron Werner von Fritsch, Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler, General Werner von Blomberg, SS Group Leader Grains, Admiral Erich Raeder, General Gerd von Rundstedt. It is probably Horcher's in Berlin, a favorite Party restaurant. (Ang, Federal Archive).

Himmler, with his unthreatening demeanor and unending desire to advance Hitler and the NSDAP, was the perfect man - a basically harmless cipher personally and with no personal ambitions beyond making Hitler stronger; and remember the 1923 connection - to lead the entire police apparatus of the state. It was a job that had cost the swaggering Röhm his life, because Röhm erroneously believed himself to be powerful in his own right as the leader of millions of soldiers rather than simply being Hitler's minion.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A rare photo of the Party leadership in 1930 in Bad Elster. Front row l. to r.; Wilhelm Frick, Adolf Hitler, Fritz von Epp, Hermann Göring. Back row; Heinrich Himmler, Martin Mutschmann, Otto Strasser, Joseph Goebbels, Julius Schaub. Odd to see Himmler out of uniform a professional context and Goering off to the side in an SA uniform. Goebbels, as always, has Hitler's back.

Himmler, however, had no pretensions, knew that he owed everything to Hitler, and certainly was no Röhm. Hitler had nothing to fear from Himmler, at least so long as Hitler remained in charge and things continued going well. And things were going very well, especially after martial law was imposed after the Reichstag Fire of 27 February 1933, so Hitler wasn't going anywhere. In any event, Röhm got too big for his SA britches and was executed in the Night of the Long Knives of 30 June 1934. Himmler's SS was deeply involved in this operation ("Operation Hummingbird"). This cleared a path for Himmler to gain more control, with the SS's competitor for manpower the SA itself swiftly losing significance.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler as Prussia's top cop, with his now-boss, Prussian Prime Minister Hermann Göring. They were two of the most educated people in Party elite (both with some college education, which was rare) and Hitler's prime enablers.

It was now that Himmler's intellectual qualities came into play. It may not seem as if being in charge of military and police units requires much intelligence, but quite the opposite was the case. Somebody had to create organization out of chaos. Himmler was the man.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
People overseas began noticing Heinrich Himmler, though calling Himmler just a cop was a bit misleading.

Members were flooding into the Party now, and they had to be organized into some kind of coherent framework to actually do stuff. Himmler turned out to be a brilliant organizer, setting up different SS departments and turning the nebulous organization from a simple bodyguard unit into a rigid, doctrinaire, brutally efficient killing machine that since has become a template for utter indifference to human comfort or individuality. He gave the SS an identity where it had none, an identity that has lived down through time for its unique mercilessness. He was so successful that the SS forevermore has been known as the ultimate hard-line, no-nonsense group of enforcers who stopped at absolutely nothing to achieve their ends. Nothing.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler's 1944 plan for Wewelsburg Castle

The genius - evil genius - of Himmler's elevation of the SS was that he figured out that the way to set an organization such as this apart from mere police forces was to give it a religious cast.

Yes, religious.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
This is a very rare ring of the ancestral heritage foundation, Deutsches Ahnenerbe, that was set up by Himmler in 1935. This was a time when he was sending parties out across the globe to prove the hegemony of Aryan biology.

Just as Hitler was obsessed almost until his dying day with turning Berlin into a sort of theme park with grandiose architectural flourishes that would have dwarfed Paris and Vatican City, Himmler too wanted to create his own little mini-empire. The center of this monastic order - and that is what he intended, that is not an exaggeration - was to be Wewelsburg Castle, an inoffensive Renaissance castle located in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. While the SS had to fight to win the war, its real purpose was to create the priests that would truly rule the Third Reich far into the future.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Model of Himmler's plans for Wewelsburg. The plan may not look like much here, but what looks like a little stream under the castle is actually a major river 

The castle itself has a triangular layout and survived the war intact. Himmler wanted to greatly expand it to become a sort of mythical location, surrounding the triangular castle with support buildings to house and service his SS Knights. He wanted to create a transcendent spot, sort of like King Arthur's round table.

Schwarze Sonne on the floor of the inner sanctum of Wewelsburg castle. It remains there today.

It was an utterly bizarre notion, completely at odds with the 20th Century, but would have happened had Hitler's Germany survived. There are all sorts of creepy spots in the castle to this day which reflect this proposed orientation. The castle itself is beautiful and is not guilty by association with the SS or Himmler, but some of his renovations to it remain visible and are some of Hitler's last surviving manifestations in Germany. To walk through it is absolutely creepy.


Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and his wife on an outing to Wiesbaden (Ang, Federal archive).

Making a purely military arm, the Waffen-SS, was also Himmler's idea, and it worked out fabulously for the Party. Himmler also dabbled in economic affairs and engaged in some empire-building with factory owners, carving out his own suppliers for the SS. This was not uncommon among German leaders at the time, as Göring was doing the same thing, but it showed that Himmler now was one of the Party's Big Dogs. And Himmler did it better than anyone else.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler playing tennis, a somewhat rarefied sport in those days.

Himmler continued consolidating his power and developing the SS throughout the 1930s. Hitler trusted him more and more and took to calling him "Der Truer Heinrich" (Loyal Heinrich). Himmler never let Hitler down, and indeed was his most loyal henchman until the final days of the Reich.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Gudrun with her father, Heinrich Himmler, 1938. Himmler a loving father? Why not? These folks obviously lived highly compartmentalized lives.

Himmler had the distinction of being one of the youngest men in Hitler's immediate circle - he was even younger than Rommel, who was not really part of the tight clique at the top anyway - which no doubt contributed to his colleagues' barely concealed disdain for his actual abilities.

Heinrich Himmler in Valepp, Bavaria with his wife Marga, back right, his daughter Gudrun, front centre, his adopted son Gerhard, front right, and a friend of Gudrun's, front left, in 1935.

However, of them all, Himmler was probably the most polite and refined, strangely enough - to the extent that any of them were. He was sort of a typical suburbanite whose job simply happened to be slaughtering millions of people as efficiently as possible so that he would get his annual bonus.

Social evening at Kroll’s in Berlin 1936. From left: Reich SS Leader Heinrich Himmler, Reich Minister Hermann Goering and Mrs. Himmler. The top brass socialized together, especially at the opera which was Hitler's passion, but there were many underlying tensions.

Most of the Generals and Hitler himself were about 15 years older than Himmler. He was considered a bit young by the others, and not just age-wise. This, combined with Himmler's mild mannerisms, often led others to underestimate Himmler as a glorified office boy, overloaded with honors but still essentially Hitler's lackey.

Heinrich Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler relaxing, probably at the Berghof around 1943/44.

They were wrong to underestimate Himmler. Very wrong. Ultimately, Himmler was feared by everyone who had any sense, for he had (or could produce) the goods on anyone he didn't like through his position as head of Interpol and the Gestapo and his SS intelligence services. He had voluminous files on his colleagues (aka rivals) which his diligent staff (such as truly remorseless and hard-working Reinhard Heydrich) kept up to date with wiretaps and the like. If Hitler - or Himmler - wanted to get rid of someone, they didn't necessarily have to kill the man (though they did that, too, of course). No, Himmler didn't believe in personal violence, and was said (by Joachim Peiper, hardly a tender violet himself) to be out of sorts for days after witnessing any. For the 1970s Thames TV documentary "The World at War," SS General Karl Wolff, widely regarded as the eyes and ears of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, offered a telling anecdote in support of that. He recalled how Himmler — with Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust — had vomited at the sight of Jews being shot into a pit at Minsk.

Heinrich Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
What I want to point out here is the little lapel pin that Himmler is wearing - just like politicians today. The Germans were advanced in the use of imagery.

No, Hitler just had to turn to Der Truer Heinrich, who would either pull something that was true out of the file to ruin the man (as with Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg, though Blomberg likely was set up by Himmler in the first place), or take the slightly harder but more assured route and simply fabricate a scandal out of whole clothe, but with just enough of an appearance of legitimacy to smear the victim irrevocably (as with Army Chief Fritsch, see below). So, Himmler always was treated with the utmost respect by those beneath him in the hierarchy, and anyone who talked snidely about him behind his back - and they most assuredly did - spoke very quietly.

Heinrich Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler inspecting the Janowska death camp. Himmler was one of the only German leaders who actually visited concentration camps, and he did so regularly.

Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, wound up in Auschwitz, where he died, after Himmler found out (according to evidence adduced by Himmler and his people) that Canaris was a traitor. Of course, a few years before that, in 1938, General von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH) had been implicated in homosexual activities and forced to resign. Turned out it was a complete fabrication, trumped up by Himmler and his boss, Göring, to get rid of Fritsch (it was someone else entirely coincidentally named Fritsch who was the actual homosexual, which must have made the whole charade both simpler to document in court and an object of private amusement to the SS men). So taking anything derived from Himmler as fact is dicey without a great deal of corroboration.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler and Himmler at a party rally

When Hitler wanted a pretext for the invasion of Poland in the summer of 1939, he knew exactly where to turn: to "Der Truer Heinrich." Himmler obliged, and promptly organized the aptly named "Operation Himmler," which entailed various made-up provocations by supposed Polish infiltrators. The most notorious was the false-flag attack at the Gleiwitz radio transmitter in Operation Greif.

Himmler Hitler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler presents Hitler with a portrait of Frederick the Great, Hitler's idol, on Hitler's 50th birthday, 20 April 1939. Many consider this day the absolute apex of Hitler's rule, and Himmler was right in the middle of it. Some accounts, though, say that Hitler was not particularly impressed with this gift.

These fabrications worked like a charm. The media went into overdrive publicizing these completely faked incidents, reporters weren't given any time to investigate, and war soon was underway.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Children admire Himmler's ride.

With the war in progress, everything now was perfectly set up for Himmler to move the SS to the next level. Hitler was bound and determined to invade Russia, which would involve mixing with a bunch of 'untermenschen.' Orienting the SS so that it became the "racially pure" bedrock of the German state was politically convenient and made sense in terms of drawing big, fat lines of distinction between the 'good guys' and the Slavik Commies. This also dovetailed nicely with Himmler's crackpot mystical theories, which he truly believed. He spent a lot of effort sending emissaries around the world in search of evidence of Aryan superiority. All of this later changed, as the war situation deteriorated, but this was Himmler's vision for the SS.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The SS as cult.

The SS became Himmler's personal cult. He even began classifying nations as to how close to Aryan purity their citizenry fell, and it was quite amazing how flexible he was about that as the need arose. Slavs were out - they were untermenchen - but Croatians? No problem! Himmler believed that Muslims made ideal soldiers because their religion inspired them to be pitiless killers. Yes, he really believed that.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler, with his personal doctor in the background, perhaps exiting the Fuhrer's personal plane in the '30s.

A key to Himmler's brutal success was that he surrounded himself with really bad guys who had absolutely no morals or scruples whatsoever and complete indifference to just about anything but advancing their own goals, such as the notorious Waffen SS leader Joachim Peiper. One of Himmler's most capable lieutenants was Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was a truly loathsome individual who may be the most heinous individual in Germany - which says a lot - but he also was competent. Himmler had a good eye for picking capable people to do his dirty work.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich Himmler, wearing mufti, takes a stroll sometime in winter 1942. You will struggle to find pictures of men such as Manstein, Guderian and von Bock wearing civvies except when attending a secret (except to posterity) Hitler meeting where they wished to be incognito.

As the war progressed, the opportunity arose for Himmler to put into practice his lingering anti-Semitism from the 1920s. Göring issued an edict calling for the "final solution" of the "Jewish problem," and Himmler was the man charged with putting that into practice.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler passing a prisoner standing at attention at Mauthausen.

Himmler passed it on to Heydrich, who was only too happy to help out. A conference was held at an SS office in the Wannsee suburb of Berlin in January 1942.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com


While Heydrich didn't offer any details (the Jews were to be "sent East" to "build roads," and that was about the extent of the "planning"), he got all the different government agencies to help out with this grand project, which of course was to be led by the SS.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich Himmler in jovial conversation with Theodor Eicke, January 1942.
     
The war started going poorly, but the Holocaust was just swinging into gear. There's undoubtedly a connection between those two facts. Through various trial and error methods, the SS devised efficient methods of killing, which wasn't so hard, and of disposing of the corpses, which was extremely challenging. Eventually, they solved the latter problem with specially built ovens.


Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler in a famous stare-down with a prisoner (Horace Greasley?), who refused to sit down as ordered. Himmler could have had him shot - or shot him himself on the spot without any fuss - but didn't. Himmler admired bravery, even by his enemies. Greasley also famously escaped from the camp and snuck back in more than 200 times to meet in secret with a local German girl he had fallen in love with. Incidentally, to be clear, the identity of the prisoner and even the location and date of this photograph have all been called into question. It is commonly believed that this was Horace Greasley, and this picture was published on his obituary in 2010. However, an alternative theory is gaining ground: posed by Guy Walters, it posits that this is Minsk, it is 1941 and the soldier is a Russian. As with so many things from the archives, doubt lingers. I tend to side with Walters.

The SS military formations, meanwhile, grew steadily throughout the war. Ultimately, there were 38 SS divisions, though admittedly a few were pretty much just for show. The Waffen SS, as they were called, became famous for their fanaticism and ability to triumph against heavy odds, but the regular military was skeptical and judged them to be untrustworthy. The SS commanders were unskilled and sometimes arrogant about their capabilities, and while they could be vicious and unyielding and blow through opposition that would stop anyone else, they also often made elementary mistakes and showed occasional flashes of indifference to the tactical situation.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Heinrich Himmler receives a report somewhere on the Eastern Front, undated (it looks like an East Prussian pine forest). The head of the SS visited the front often in an effort to cultivate his "military" profile, but seldom stayed for long. Many army figures never took him seriously, but that was a mistake. It was not until late 1944 that Himmler was named chief of the Replacement Army (after Friedrich Fromm came under suspicion about the 20 July attentat) in addition to all of his other titles. Hitler valued loyalty over competence by that point, so Himmler finally obtained Army General rank and even was appointed to command Army Group Vistula. Himmler was incompetent as a General, and used his position to exact revenge from those in the Heer who had mocked him previously.

If a dawn attack was vital and called for by the Wehrmacht high command, for instance, the SS troops sometimes inexplicably would wind up wasting much of the day "getting ready" and only attacking in the afternoon when a fleeting opportunity had come and gone. The Waffen SS formations also drew off Germany's best equipment and best replacement troops, beggaring the regular Wehrmacht forces upon whom the defense of the Reich ultimately rested. So their prowess, while real, also was somewhat exaggerated and in some ways detrimental to the overall effort.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler greeting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Many Muslim soldiers served in the SS, in fact there was an entire division of them, the Handschar Division. Himmler loved their ruthlessness which he ascribed to their religious principles (Federal Archive).

Himmler himself was ruthless in a bureaucratic manner. He casually arranged for the extermination of every Jew his men could find, brushing aside arguments that some should be spared because they were "good" Jews. He adopted a similarly vicious attitude toward the fate of conquered peoples - he flat out said that he didn't care what happened to them so long as they served the needs of the Reich.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler enjoyed the occasional cigar.

He himself, though, while dressed in spiffy uniforms, didn't kill anyone and became uncomfortable around prisoners. One of his adjutants, Joachim Peiper, later recalled that after he personally witnessed the execution of 20 Poles, Himmler was left "speechless for days."

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler enjoying a cigar again, almost certainly at the Berghof in Berchtesgaden, either 1943 or 1944. Notice his fingers on his right hand, which appear to have SS tattoos (perhaps rings, but I think tattoos). Tattoos generally were prohibited in the Wehrmacht, but the SS had its own rules.

Himmler's was the blandest face of mass terror in history, and it was while thinking about one of Himmlers protégées, Adolf Eichmann, that author Hannah Arendt made her famous comment about "the banality of evil." Those who met him (and survived, which was rare, whether they were his colleagues or his prisoners) usually describe him as being an inoffensive cipher who mouthed platitudes and seemed distant from affairs at the front. He tended to adopt a "lord of the manor" attitude. When a commander he had told to hold a town protested that the Russians would soon overwhelm him (as happened), Himmler simply responded, "You were sent there to hold the town. Do that."

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffman. If that is Hoffman's home, it is where he buried numerous photographs of Hitler that he was supposed to have destroyed.

The war, of course, went from bad to worse. As the Russians closed in, Hitler needed someone he could trust to defend Germany proper. As he had in 1939, he turned to Himmler. It was a strange choice, given Himmler's lack of experience when there were truckloads of general officers who had been fighting steadily for four years, but understandable given Hitler's predilection for valuing loyalty over competence.

Heinrich Himmler Totenkopf SS Division worldwartwo.filminspector.com
While Himmler was not a warrior himself, he visited his Waffen SS formations at times. Here he is visiting the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf (part of II SS Panzer Corps in Generaloberst Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army) in June 1943, right before the Battle of Kursk (Peter Adendorf, Federal Archive).

Himmler had never served in the Army or commanded a formation of troops, but now he was put in command of Army Group Vistula, defending the capital itself. It was an impossible assignment, and it is difficult to blame Himmler for its failure. However, he didn't stick around very long, so he can be blamed for that. He quickly bowed out of the command, claiming illness and retreating to a rural SS clinic for treatment. The other officers, a remarkably petty and gossipy bunch, noted snidely that he never even visited the front, but instead parked his luxurious command train safely behind the Oder, out of harm's way during the time of his command. The implication was that he was a personal coward.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Heydrich. This is probably not long before Heydrich's assassination.

With that inconvenient matter of responsibility over an army group and hundreds of thousands of soldiers out of the way, Himmler quickly revived. It was obvious that the war was lost, and he quite bureaucratically began looking for a way to help end it. He proceeded dispassionately, as though a memo came across his desk saying "The war is lost. Take action." and he proceeded accordingly. Himmler appears to have had some notion that he could retain power under the Allies because someone would have to "maintain order" after the fall of Hitler.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Unless you were in the SS and up for promotion or a medal, you probably didn't want anything with both your name and Heinrich Himmler's signature on it.

It was a remarkably detached viewpoint that conflicted with any notion of reality. The Allies used this otherworldliness to strike some deals with Himmler which released trainloads of Jews to Switzerland and prevented their executions. The peace negotiations themselves, though, were shams on both sides, each side simply trying to use the other with no capability or authority of altering the war's course. But wheeling and dealing as his world collapsed around him apparently made Himmler feel in control.


Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Marshal Mannerheim, probably at the famous June 1942 birthday meeting.

Hitler finally found out about "True Heinrich's" unauthorized peace negotiations and flew into a rage. He fired Himmler, but in the chaotic last days of the Reich few noticed. Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor, and Himmler went to the new headquarters in northern Germany and acted as if he also was in charge. Dönitz humored Himmler for a few days, but then peremptorily dismissed him.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler walks with Hitler from the Berghof to the teahouse, Spring 1944.

It didn't really matter by this point - the war ended the next day - and Himmler struck out on his own for a place of refuge. The only problem was that there was no place to hide - the Allies were everywhere. It's unclear where Himmler was headed, but he only remained on the loose for a couple of weeks, heading nowhere. There is no indication that he tried to head for Spain, like Skorzeny, or South America, like Mengele - he just "hung out" amidst the refugees. Again, just a hyper-detached and completely unrealistic attitude. The British eventually picked him up for investigation and soon found out who he was - he told them. When a doctor tried to examine his mouth, Himmler refused and promptly bit down on a cyanide capsule. He was dead within minutes. The British buried him in an unmarked grave near Luneburg whose location remains unknown. The soldiers claimed that they wanted to prevent any latter-day disciples from making it a place of pilgrimage. They may have dumped him in a garbage can for all anyone knows.


Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com


Himmler was rare among the German elite as an educated man. He was solidly middle class and could have lead a humdrum life as a teacher or a banker. Instead, he turned into the man most responsible for the greatest killing machine of all time. Nobody knows why.

Below is some superb footage of Heinrich Himmler from Eva Braun's home movies. Himmler appears around the 4:34 mark.



Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Wilhelm Frick
   
Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler investigating Runic inscriptions as part of his "master race" theory, apparently at a rock quarry.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler explains his relocation plans to Rudolf Hess, who flew to England shortly thereafter. (Ang, Federal Archive).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler visiting the SS's forward outpost in Zhitomir, Russia, probably 1942.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler greeted by Hitler at the Berghof

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler fooling around at the Berghof.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Hitler at the Berghof, Spring 1944.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Hitler in Hitler's private train receiving tributes.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler watching as Hitler gives a soldier an award at the Berghof

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler inspects Mauthausen (Ang, Federal archive).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler inspects Lodz concentration camp, 1941.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler on January 9, 1943, ordering the Warsaw purge that led to the uprising shortly thereafter.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler listening to Finnish folk songs, 1941, as part of his Master Race research (Ehlert, Federal archive).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler greeting Hitler late in the war

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler inspecting Mauthausen in April 1941 (Ang, Federal Archive).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler with Mussolini.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler addressing the troops, October 1944. You can tell the late-war pictures because Himmler is invariably surrounded by soldiers and in an extremely martial setting in such shots, whereas earlier he adopted a less militaristic aspect. (Falkowski, Federal archive). 

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler's paramilitary ID card, 1923

Himmler took his daughter Gudrun along on concentration camp inspection tours, as in this photo apparently from 1941. Gudrun, incidentally, is still very much with us.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler pretending to row a boat.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Die Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, geführt von Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, vor dem Führer" (Hitler and Himmler reviewing Hitler's personal honor guard, which later became a premiere Waffen SS unit).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Another view of Himmler and Hitler reviewing the Liebstandarte troops.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Ribbentrop. Technically, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop was a member of the SS and subordinate to Himmler, though in some ways, as a Minister, he could be said to outrank Himmler himself for a while. As noted earlier, this was a not unusual situation at the top of the hierarchy. Hitler liked having those kinds of interlocking hierarchies underneath him - it made his underlings easier to control. And if Hitler was about anything, it was control.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Ribbentrop (back seat with Himmler) and Karl Wolff (front). The back was more prestigious. Notice how shiny the car is.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler talking with a training SS man.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler testing out a pistol.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler testing out a MG34 machine gun.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler walking with German industrial leaders.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler meets the prior of the Monastery of Montserrat (Barcelona, Spain). The picture was taken in the central square of the Monastery on 23 October 1940. This odd visit, which accompanied Hitler's unsuccessful conference with Franco at Hendaya, apparently was part of Himmler's half-hearted exploration of folk tales such as a romantic search for the Holy Grail. SS General Karl Wolf accompanies him. The highest ranks of the monastery refused to meet Himmler due to his persecutions, so he was greeted by the young Andreu Ripoll, who spoke German. Himmler was just a tourist with no authority in Spain and spent only a few hours in the remote sanctuary, never to return. The visit had lasting consequences for the monastery, though, as the local fascist franquistas were not happy about the snub of Himmler by the monastery.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with his daughter

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and his father

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Hitler and Blomberg.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler and Himmler during their 1944 walk at the Berghof. By the way, apropos of nothing but just because it's an interesting spot, this would have been the location of Operation Foxley, the abortive British operation to assassinate Hitler. In other words, under different circumstances, this exact moment could have been when the British killed Hitler and perhaps also bagged Himmler, too.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and his adjutant Karl Wolff.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Max Faust of IG Farben.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Hitler at a Party Rally

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler and Hitler play with toys of soldiers from Frederick the Great's time. As noted earlier, Hitler was obsessed with Frederick, and Himmler played into that.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler in mufti with Himmler and Hess, 1933.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler, Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia (which they would have called the province of Bohemia and Moravia), 1939.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler with Keitel and other military leaders.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
This likely was taken around the time that Himmler took over Army Group Vistula. Photos taken in late 1944 and later are often marked by darkness, rigidity, stock poses and expressions of determination.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Werner Grothmann (1915 – 2003), here seen standing next to Heinrich Himmler, was one of the two Waffen SS officers who served as assistants to the Reichsführer-SS from 1940 until Himmler's death in 1945. Grothmann, in fact, was with Himmler when they were both arrested by the British. He was eventually reinstated as a "Lesser Offender" after testifying as a prosecution witness in several SS officer trials. He continued in civilian life as a businessman and died at the age of 88. (Alber, Federal Archive).

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
There comes a point at which what people think about you no longer matters. Notice that there is no blood - Himmler hated the sight of blood. It was a poison capsule. Neat and tidy to the end. This is at a British military headquarters.

Himmler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Himmler's death was quick and painless, unlike so many others' deaths at his orders



2014

5 comments:

  1. Hitler had many who performed the duties of a scullion. Himmler was one of them As explained in a verbose style, although entertaining; Himmler was an administrative genius. His secret,like Hitler, was surrounding himself with men like Heydrich, Kaltenbrunner. The holocaust was Hitler's idea, although Himmler and specifically Heydrich are often named the masterminds.

    It shouldn't surprise any of us anymore,given the atrocities that occur daily. Although certainly never condoning what happened in WW2; the Allies wrote the history as the victors. The history is revised each generation by the historians.

    I fundamentally disagree with labeling the Waffen SS as a criminal organization. Monstrous activity occurs in ALL wars and in general,although not always,the Waffen SS were warriors. Labeling men like Joachim Peiper as villain, I think,is completely incorrect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your reply, glad that you enjoyed the write-up. The SS killed a lot of innocent, defenseless people on a hitherto unbelievable scale, that's why they were branded a criminal organization.

      Delete
  2. Mr.Bjorkman - not sure this got published so am trying it again. Who is the officer behind Himmler in the photo of Himmler inspecting the troops at Gotenhafen? Is this Heydrich? Thank you so much. Great collection of pictures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi - thanks for the question. Your previous attempt apparently did not make it. As to your question, Heydrich is a good guess and I would love to give a definitive answer, but I don't think it is him. Heydrich was more an office worker who was unlikely to go on inspections. Himmler had numerous aides such as Joachim Peiper who would accompany him on various inspections who more or less attended to Himmler on a rotating basis and got into a lot of pictures of Himmler in prominent fashion, it could have been one of them.

      Delete
  3. Dear Mr. Bjorkman, Himmler's personal Doctor was a Finnish citizen named Dr. Felix Kersten, who was known as " The Man with the Miraculous Hands " - he was a trained masseur who was skilled in Tibetan massage therapy which was the only way Himmler could relieve his chronic intestinal disorders - he suffered from severe stomach cramps which incapacitated him for considerable periods of time in a day. Even though he had willing and capable subordinates like Heydrich, Muller and Kaltenbrunner to do his bidding, he still took on a staggering workload and could not cope with the stress and strain of his multifarious tasks. As a nervous reaction, he frequently was afflicted with stomach cramps which were alleviated and miraculously soothed only by the massage of Dr. Felix Kersten's fingers. Please see the link below :-

    http://www.excatholicsforchrist.com/articles.php?PageURL=hitlersdoctors.htm

    Regards,
    Raja

    ReplyDelete