Heinrich Luitpold Himmler ( 7 October 1900 23 May 1945) was Reichsf hrer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo (Secret State Police). Serving as Reichsf hrer and later as Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire Reichs administration (Generalbevollm chtigter f r die Verwaltung), Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and one of the persons most directly responsible for the Holocaust.
As overseer of the concentration camps, extermination camps, and Einsatzgruppen (literally: task forces, often used as death squads operating to the rear of frontline troops to murder Jews, communists and 'untermensch' in occupied territories), Himmler coordinated the killing of some six million Jews, between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma, many prisoners of war, and possibly another three to four million Poles, as well as other groups whom the Nazis deemed unworthy to live, including people with physical and mental disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses, members of the Confessing Church, and homosexuals. Shortly before the end of the war, he offered to surrender both Germany and himself to the Western Allies if he were spared prosecution. After being arrested by British forces on 22 May 1945, he committed suicide the following day before he could be questioned.
Himmler in 1907
Heinrich Himmler was born in Munich to a conservative, Roman Catholic, Bavarian middle-class family. His father was Joseph Gebhard Himmler, a secondary-school teacher and principal of the prestigious Wittelsbacher Gymnasium; his mother was Anna Maria Himmler (n e Heyder), a devout Roman Catholic. He had an older brother, Gebhard Ludwig Himmler, who was born in July 1898, and a younger brother, Ernst Hermann Himmler, born in 1905.
Heinrich was named after his godfather, Prince Heinrich of Bavaria of the royal family of Bavaria, who was tutored by Gebhard Himmler. In 1910, Himmler attended Gymnasium in Landshut, where he studied classic literature. Himmler's father the principal sent him to spy on other pupils. His father even called him "a born criminal". It was at Landshut that the young Himmler made friends with Karl Gebhardt, a friendship that would last to the end of World War II. While he struggled in athletics, he did well in his schoolwork. Initially at the behest of his father, Himmler kept a diary from age 10 and continued to do so even after his father stopped checking it.
Himmler was a teenager at the outbreak of World War I, and his diaries from the war years show that he took a keen interest in it. From Easter 1915 onwards, Heinrich trained with the Cadet Corps, and later implored his father to use his royal connections to obtain an officer candidate position for him. This his father did, though initially without success, and Heinrich began training with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in January 1918. Since he was not athletic, Himmler struggled throughout his military training. During this timeframe, his older brother Gebhard served on the western front and saw combat where he received the Iron Cross. In November 1918, the war ended with Germany's defeat, finishing any real chance for Himmler to continue a military career. On 18 December, he was discharged and returned to Landshut.
After the war, Himmler completed his grammar-school education, and assisted the Freikorps in their crushing of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. However, again he missed out on a military career when the Freikorps were incorporated into the Reichswehr. From 1919 1922, Himmler studied agronomy at the Munich Technische Hochschule (now Technical University Munich) following a short-lived apprenticeship on a farm and a subsequent illness. Still not having given up his desire to have a military career, his field of study enabled Himmler to maintain contacts with former army officers there to prepare for civilian employment.
Himmler was antisemitic by the time he went to university, though not yet radically so. He remained a devoted Catholic while a student, but enjoyed drinking with members of his fraternity, the "League of Apollo" and joined a Reichswehr reserve unit. In 1920 when Count Arco was sentenced to death, Himmler was immediately ready to work with right-wing elements to enact a rescue operation, and was disappointed that no violence took place once the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment. In 1920 after the Reichswehr reserves were disbanded, he joined the Einwohnerwehr and a rifle club. His second year at university saw Himmler redouble his efforts at embarking upon a military career. Although Himmler was not successful, he was able to extend his involvement with the paramilitary scene in Munich. It was at this time, via his rifle club, that he first met Ernst R hm.
Despite an active social life, Himmler struggled to gain the acceptance he craved, and he was unable to fully connect with people. While he was able to form good friendships with women, he had little success in terms of relationships and partly in self-defence clung to antediluvian, prudish views regarding men, women, sex and marriage. He was critical of himself and his perceived social inadequacies, and made great efforts to compensate for them, in part by learning to control his emotions with his innate strength of will. Nevertheless, these interpersonal problems, and his attempts to counterbalance them, would plague Himmler his whole life, and were the key reasons for his enthusiasm as to the military and paramilitary.
In 1923, Himmler took part in Adolf Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch, serving under Ernst R hm. In 1926, he met his future wife in a hotel lobby while escaping a storm. Margarete Siegroth (n e Boden) was seven years his senior, divorced, and Protestant. On 3 July 1928, the two were married. During this time Himmler worked unsuccessfully as a chicken farmer. On 8 August 1929, the couple had their only child, Gudrun. Himmler adored his daughter, and called her P ppi (). Margarete later adopted a son, in whom Himmler showed no interest. Heinrich and Margarete Himmler separated in 1940 without seeking divorce. At that time, Himmler became friendly with a secretary, Hedwig Potthast, who left her job in 1941 and became his mistress. He fathered two children with her: a son, Helge (born 1942), and a daughter, Nanette Dorothea (born 1944).
Himmler was also very interested in agriculture and the "back to the land" movement. He and his wife had romantic ideals of making a farming life. He joined the Artamanen society, a sort of idealistic back-to-the-land youth group, but mixed with racist ideology. He became one of the leaders of this movement. Through this movement, he also apparently met Rudolf H ss, who would later preside over Auschwitz, and Richard Walther Darr , who would later work in the RuSHA (race and resettlement office) of the SS. Darre's views on restoring racial purity to Germany, by breeding programs, were a deep influence on Himmler's view of the SS as a core of breeding men.
For the most part, Himmler abstained from drinking alcohol and smoking. He frequently had stomach pains which started in 1917, for which he received massage therapy from his personal masseur Felix Kersten starting in 1939.
Diary entries for 1921 and 1922 furnish evidence of increasing difficulties in his relationships with others, and in 1922 particularly from the summer onwards, when Himmler became seriously politicised in the atmosphere after Walther Rathenau's assassination, a murder he fully supported they betray a broadening concern with the 'Jewish question'. Himmler's political radicalisation was also propelled by the curtailment of his education by Germany's economic climate, which compounded his military-career failure with the barring of doors which studying for a doctorate would have opened. Finally, in the summer of 1922, the reality of post-war Germany had caught up with him.
Himmler took a poorly paid office-job for a year until September 1923, and several weeks later partook in the event that would set him on a life of politics: the Beer Hall Putsch, in which he was the flag bearer of R hm's paramilitary faction. Himmler was questioned about his role in the putsch, but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. He would not accept these failures in his personal, professional and political life, and took refuge in thoughts that he was in the right, that he was the misunderstood outsider. His irritable and opinionated arrogance also deepened in the course of these difficult years: Himmler became increasingly and blatantly more aggressive, and his tendency to interfere in other people's affairs became more domineering, even to the point of hiring a private investigator to gather information on his elder brother's ex-fianc e.
In 1923 24, Himmler began searching for a world view, moving away from Catholicism and furthered his interest in the occult and antisemitism. Germanic mythology, reinforced by occult ideas, would eventually become a kind of substitute religion for him. After the failed putsch, he read about Hitler through two books.
The beginning of 1924 saw Himmler as an unemployed, failed putschist living back at home with his parents. He charged himself with agitating for the Nazi party, something that he committed to as a career from mid-1924 working under Gregor Strasser, though Himmler maintained his paramilitary activities. Possibly as a reward for his work, the commencement of 1925 saw Himmler in charge of Nazi affairs for Lower Bavaria, and for integrating the area's membership with the NSDAP under Hitler when the party was re-founded in February 1925, though Himmler was not swept into Hitler's inchoate F hrer cult. In April 1926 he met Joseph Goebbels for the first time. Still with Strasser, Himmler was made his deputy in January 1927 after Strasser had been appointed the NSDAP's propaganda chief in November 1926. His role at Munich HQ was blessed from the outset with considerable freedom of action that increased still further after 1928. As deputy propaganda chief, Himmler's unquenchable thirst for control, his extraordinary arrogance, and his inability to tolerate criticism, opposition or minor deviations from his instructions did not make him a popular figure with Party subordinates and the rank and file. His attitude to superiors, on the other hand, was nothing short of obsequious.
Rise in the SS
Himmler in early SS uniform (black tie and cap) with rank of Oberf hrer.
Early SS: 1925 1934
Himmler joined the SS in 1925 as an SS-F hrer (SS-Leader). His NSDAP number was 14,303 and his SS number was 168. Himmler's first leadership position was that of SS-Gauf hrer (District Leader) in Bavaria. In 1927, he became Deputy Reichsf hrer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberf hrer, and upon the resignation of SS commander Erhard Heiden, in 1929, Himmler was appointed Reichsf hrer-SS (Reichsf hrer was, at that time, simply a title for the National Commander of the SS). The SS only had 280 members and was merely an elite battalion of the much larger Sturmabteilung (SA). Over the next year, Himmler began a major expansion of the organization and, in 1930, he was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenf hrer.
By 1933, the SS numbered 52,000 members. The organization at that time enforced strict membership requirements ensuring that all members were of Hitler's Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race"). Applications had been scrutinized for Nordic qualities, in Himmler's words, "like a nursery gardener trying to reproduce a good old strain which has been adulterated and debased; we started from the principles of plant selection and then proceeded quite unashamedly to weed out the men whom we did not think we could use for the build-up of the SS." (Few dared mention that by his own standards, Himmler did not qualify as an ideal Nordic.)
Himmler and his deputy Reinhard Heydrich began an effort to separate the SS from SA control. Black SS uniforms replaced the SA brown shirts in July 1932 and by 1934 enough quantities were manufactured for general use by all. In 1933, Himmler was promoted to SS-Obergruppenf hrer. This made him an equal of the senior SA commanders, who by this time loathed the SS and envied its power.
Himmler, Hermann G ring, and General Werner von Blomberg agreed that the SA and its leader Ernst R hm posed a threat to the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) and the Nazi leadership. R hm had socialist and populist views, and believed that the real revolution had not yet begun. R hm felt that the SA should become the sole arms-bearing corps of the state with the army being absorbed by the SA under his leadership. This left some Nazi, military and political leaders believing R hm was intent on using the SA to undertake a coup.
Persuaded by Himmler and G ring, Hitler agreed that R hm had to be eliminated. He delegated this task to Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt Daluege, and Werner Best, who ordered R hm's execution (carried out by Theodor Eicke), along with the purge of the entire SA leadership and other political adversaries (including, Gregor Strasser and Kurt von Schleicher). These actions took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934, in what became known as the Night of the Long Knives. The great beneficiaries of the action were the SS and the German Army. They both celebrated the demise of their mutual rival, R hm's SA. Officially, from 20 July 1934 forward, the SS became an independent organization responsible only to Hitler, and Himmler's title of Reichsf hrer-SS became the highest formal SS rank.
Consolidation of power
Obersalzberg]], May 1939
On 20 April 1934, G ring formed a partnership with Himmler and Heydrich. G ring transferred authority over the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) the Prussian secret police to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police outside Prussia. On 22 April 1934, Himmler named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo. Heydrich continued as head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD: security service), as well.
On 17 June 1936, Himmler was named Chief of German Police after Hitler announced a decree that was to "unify the control of Police duties in the Reich". Traditionally, law enforcement in Germany had been a state and local matter. In this role, Himmler was nominally subordinate to Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. However, the decree effectively merged the police with the SS, making it virtually independent of Frick's control.
Himmler gained authority as all of Germany's uniformed law enforcement agencies were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei (Orpo: "order police"), whose main office became a headquarters branch of the SS. Despite his title, Himmler gained only partial control of the uniformed police. The actual powers granted to him were some that were previously exercised by the ministry of the interior. It was only in 1943, when Himmler was appointed Minister of the Interior, that the transfer of ministerial power was complete.
With the 1936 appointment, Himmler also gained ministerial authority over Germany's non-political detective forces, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo: crime police), which he merged with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo: security police) under Heydrich's command, thus gaining operational control over Germany's entire detective force. This merger was never complete within the Reich, with Kripo remaining mainly under the control of its own civilian administration and later the party apparatus (as the latter annexed the civilian administration). However, in occupied territories not incorporated into the Reich proper, SiPo consolidation within the SS line of command proved mostly effective. In September 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, Himmler formed the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA: Reich Main Security Office) wherein the SiPo (Gestapo and Kripo) along with the SD became departments under Heydrich's command therein. Himmler (front right, beside prisoner) visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1936.
Himmler oversaw the entire concentration camp system. Once World War II began, however, new internment camps, which were not formally classified as concentration camps, were established over which Himmler and the SS did not exercise control. In 1943, following the outbreak of popular word-of-mouth criticism of the regime as a result of the Stalingrad disaster, the party apparatus, professing disappointment with the Gestapo's performance in deterring such criticism, established the Politische Staffeln (political squads) as its own political policing organ, breaking the Gestapos monopoly in this field.
The SS during these years developed its own military branch, the SS-Verf gungstruppe (SS-VT), which later evolved into the Waffen-SS. Even though nominally under the authority of Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarized structure of command and operationally were incorporated in the war effort parallel to the Wehrmacht. Many contemporary commentators refuse to recognize the Waffen-SS as an honorable military organisation. Its units were involved in notorious incidents of murdering civilians and unarmed prisoners. This was one of many reasons that the International Military Tribunal declared the SS to be a criminal organization.
Himmler and the Holocaust
After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS-Totenkopfverb nde organized and administered Germany's regime of concentration camps and, after 1941, extermination camps in occupied Poland as well. The SS through its intelligence arm, the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) dealt with Jews, Gypsies, communists and those persons of any other cultural, racial, political or religious affiliation deemed by the Nazis to be either Untermensch (sub-human) or in opposition to the regime, and placed them in concentration camps. Himmler opened the first of these camps at Dachau on 22 March 1933. He was the main architect of the Holocaust, using elements of mysticism and a fanatical belief in the racist Nazi ideology to justify the murder of millions of victims. Himmler had similar plans for the Poles; intellectuals were to be killed, and most other Poles were to be only literate enough to read traffic signs. On 18 December 1941, Himmler's appointment book shows he met with Hitler. The entry for that day poses the question "What to do with the Jews of Russia?", and then answers the question "als Partisanen auszurotten" (exterminate them as partisans").
In contrast to Hitler, Himmler inspected concentration camps. As a result of these inspections, the Nazis searched for a new and more expedient way to kill, which culminated in the use of the gas chambers.
Himmler wanted to breed a master race of Nordic Aryans in Germany. His experience as a chicken farmer had taught him the rudiments of animal breeding which he proposed to apply to humans. He believed that he could engineer the German populace, through eugenic selective breeding, to be entirely "Nordic" in appearance within several decades of the end of the war.
Reichsf hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
On 4 October 1943, Himmler referred explicitly to the extermination of the Jewish people during a secret SS meeting in the city of Pozna (Posen). The following is a translation of an excerpt from a transcription of an audio recording that exists of the speech:
As Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood, Himmler was deeply involved in the Germanization program for the East, particularly Poland. Its purpose was to remove all non-Germanic peoples from German Lebensraum and to reclaim any Volkdeutsche (ethnic Germans) living there for Germany, as laid out in the Generalplan Ost. He declared that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind for an alien race. Himmler continued his plans to colonize the east despite evidence that Germans did not want to relocate there, and that the activities hindered the war effort; several high-ranking Nazi officials found the latter point obvious.
The plans began with the Volksliste, the classification of people deemed of German blood into those Germans who had collaborated before the war; those still regarding themselves as German, but who had been neutral; partially Polonized but Germanizable; and those Germans who had been absorbed into Polish nationality. Any person classified as German who resisted was to be deported to a concentration camp. Himmler oversaw cases of obstinate Germans, and gave orders for concentration camps, or separation of families, or forced labor, in efforts to break down resistance.
His declaration that "it is in the nature of German blood to resist" led to the paradoxical conclusion that Balts or Poles who resisted Germanization measures were regarded as more suitable material than more compliant ones.
This included the kidnapping of Eastern European children by Nazi Germany. Himmler urged: The "racially valuable" children were to be culled, removed from all contact with Poles, and raised as Germans, with German names. Himmler declared, "We have faith above all in this our own blood, which has flowed into a foreign nationality through the vicissitudes of German history. We are convinced that our own philosophy and ideals will reverberate in the spirit of these children who racially belong to us." Acceptable children were to be adopted by German families. Children who passed muster at first but were later rejected were used as slave labor or killed. Himmler ordered that parents who were registered on the Volksliste should lose their children if the parent impeded their Germanization.
The colony of Hegewald was set up in the Reichskommisariat Ukraine at his command. His original plans to recruit settlers from Scandinavia and the Netherlands were unsuccessful, and so it was settled with such ethnic Germans as had not been deported by the Soviet Union.
For the Nazi leaders, the land which would provide sufficient Lebensraum for Germany was the Soviet Union. At the Nuremberg trial, SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Erich von dem Bach testified that at a conference in Wewelsburg in 1941 Himmler told SS leaders that to make room for the Germans, Germany would have to exterminate 30 million Slavs in the Soviet Union.
On July 13, 1941, three weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Himmler told the group of Waffen SS men:
Polish prisoners from Buchenwald awaiting execution in the forest near the camp. For a time, the Polish population would be permitted to remain as slave labor. Himmler forbade that this group, not suitable for Germanization, receive anything above a fourth-grade education. The removal of the racially valuable types would deprive the population of leaders, and ensure that they were available for labor.
He also prescribed that as many ethnic groups as possible be recognized in order to foment disunity.
This is partly reflected in his views on blood and soil, where he came the closest of all Nazis to supporting the views of Alfred Rosenberg. His interest in Richard Walther Darr stemmed from Darr 's views on repopulating eastern regions with Germans.
This also reflected Nazi policy on non-Germans. The Posen speech also calls for the merciless use of all Slavonic forced labor on this ground:
He also called for sexual relations between German women and Polish slave laborers to be punished by death for the man and a concentration camp for the woman.
World War II
Himmler (behind flag) with Hitler (only back, left of the flag) in Poland in September 1939
In 1939, Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich M ller, masterminded and carried out Operation Himmler (also known as Operation Konserve or Operation Canned Goods), arguably the first operation of World War II in Europe. It was a false flag project to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which was subsequently used by Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion of Poland.
Before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), Himmler prepared his SS for a war of extermination against the forces of "Judeo-Bolshevism". Himmler, always glad to make parallels between Nazi Germany and the Middle Ages, compared the invasion to the Crusades. He collected volunteers from all over Europe, especially those of Nordic stock who were perceived to be racially closest to Germans, like the Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Icelanders, and the Dutch. After the invasion, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonian volunteers were recruited, attracting the non-Germanic volunteers by declaring a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of old Europe from the "Godless Bolshevik hordes". Thousands volunteered and later many thousands more were conscripted.
Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that Tatars, Arabs, Albanians from Kosovo, Central Asian and Bosnian Muslims, and even Indians and Mongols were recruited.
In the Baltic states, many natives were willing to serve against the Red Army due to their loathing of their oppression after the occupation by the Soviet Union. These men were conscripted into the Waffen-SS. Employed against Soviet troops, they performed acceptably. Waffen-SS recruitment in Western and Nordic Europe collected much less manpower, though a number of Waffen-SS Legions were founded, such as the Wallonian contingent led by L on Degrelle, whom Himmler planned to appoint chancellor of an SS State of Burgundy within the Nazi orbit once the war was over. Himmler inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia, circa 1941
Preceding Operation Barbarossa, Himmler stated openly at a meeting of senior SS officers:
Approximately 2.8 million Soviet POWs died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions in just eight months of 1941 42. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died or were executed in Nazi concentration camps, most of them by shooting or gassing.
In 1942, Heydrich (Himmler's right hand man) was assassinated in Prague after an attack by British Special Operations Executive (SOE), trained soldiers, Jozef Gab k and Jan Kubi of Czechoslovakia s army-in-exile. Himmler ordered brutal reprisals. Over 13,000 people were arrested, and the village of Lidice was razed to the ground; the male inhabitants there and in the village of Le ky were murdered. At least 1,300 people were executed by firing squads after Heydrich's death.
In 1943, Himmler was appointed Reich Interior Minister, replacing Frick, with whom he had engaged in a turf war for over a decade. For instance, Frick had tried to restrict the widespread use of "protective custody" orders that were used to send people to concentration camps, only to be begged off by Himmler. While Frick viewed the concentration camps as a tool to punish dissenters, Himmler saw them as a way to terrorize the people into accepting Nazi rule.
Himmler's appointment effectively merged the Interior Ministry with the SS. Nonetheless, Himmler sought to use his new office to reverse the party apparatus's annexation of the civil service and tried to challenge the authority of the party gauleiters. Mauthausen]] concentration camp in 1941 This aspiration was frustrated by Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary and party chancellor. It also incurred some displeasure from Hitler himself, whose long-standing disdain for the traditional civil service was one of the foundations of Nazi administrative thinking. Himmler made things much worse still when following his appointment as head of the Reserve Army (Ersatzheer, see below) he tried to use his authority in both military and police matters by transferring policemen to the Waffen-SS.
With Himmler threatening his power base, Bormann could not give him the opportunity fast enough, initially acquiescing in the policies, until furious protests broke out. Then, Bormann came out against the scheme, leaving Himmler discredited, especially with the party, whose gauleiters now saw Bormann as their protector.
20 July plot
It was determined that leaders of German Military Intelligence (the Abwehr), including its head, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, were involved in the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. This prompted Hitler to disband the Abwehr and make Himmler's Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) the sole intelligence service of the Third Reich. This increased Himmler's personal power.
General Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve (or Replacement) Army (Ersatzheer), was implicated in the conspiracy. Fromm's removal, coupled with Hitler's suspicion of the army, led the way to Himmler's appointment as Fromm's successor, a position he abused to expand the Waffen-SS even further to the detriment of the rapidly deteriorating German armed forces (Wehrmacht). Himmler with Subhas Chandra Bose, former president of the Indian National Congress, 1942 Unfortunately for Himmler, the investigation soon revealed the involvement of many SS officers in the conspiracy, including senior officers, which played into the hands of Bormann's power struggle against the SS because very few party cadre officers were implicated. Even more importantly, some senior SS officers began to conspire against Himmler himself, as they believed that he would be unable to achieve victory in the power struggle against Bormann. Among these defectors were Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich's successor as chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, and Gruppenf hrer M ller, the chief of the Gestapo.
In late 1944, Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein). This army group was formed to fight the advancing U.S. 7th Army and French 1st Army in the Alsace region along the west bank of the Rhine. The U.S. 7th Army was under the command of General Alexander Patch and the French 1st Army was under the command of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.
On 1 January 1945, Himmler's army group launched Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind) to push back the Americans and the French. In late January, after some limited initial success, Himmler was transferred east. By 24 January, Army Group Upper Rhine was deactivated after going over to the defensive. Operation North Wind officially ended on 25 January.
Elsewhere, the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) had failed to halt the Red Army's Vistula-Oder offensive, so Hitler gave Himmler command of yet another newly formed army group, Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel) to stop the Soviet advance on Berlin. Hitler placed Himmler in command of Army Group Vistula despite the failure of Army Group Upper Rhine and despite Himmler's total lack of experience and ability to command troops. This appointment may have been at the instigation of Martin Bormann, anxious to discredit a rival, or through Hitler's continuing anger at the "failures" of the general staff. Azeri SS]] volunteer formation which fought on Germany's side, during the Warsaw Uprising, August 1944 As Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, Himmler established his command centre at Schneidem hl. He used his special train (sonderzug), Sonderzug Steiermark, as his headquarters. Himmler did this despite the train having only one telephone line and no signals detachment. Eager to show his determination, Himmler acquiesced in a quick counter-attack urged by the general staff. The operation quickly bogged down and Himmler dismissed a regular army corps commander and appointed Nazi Heinz Lammerding. His headquarters was also forced to retreat to Falkenburg. On 30 January, Himmler issued draconian orders: Tod und Strafe f r Pflichtvergessenheit "death and punishment for those who forget their obligations", to encourage his troops. The worsening situation left Himmler under increasing pressure from Hitler; he was unassertive and nervous in conferences. In mid-February, the Pomeranian offensive by his forces was directed by General Walther Wenck, after intense pressure from General Heinz Guderian on Hitler. By early March, Himmler's headquarters had moved west of the Oder River, although his army group was still named after the Vistula. At conferences with Hitler, Himmler echoed Hitler's line of increased severity towards those who retreated.
On 13 March, Himmler abandoned his command and, claiming illness, retired to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. Guderian visited him there and carried his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula to Hitler that night. On 20 March, Himmler was replaced by General Gotthard Heinrici.
Heinrich Himmler in 1945
In the winter of 1944 45, Himmler s Waffen-SS numbered 910,000 members, with the Allgemeine-SS (at least on paper) hosting a membership of nearly two million. However, by early 1945 Himmler had lost faith in German victory, likely due in part to his discussions with his masseur Felix Kersten and with Walter Schellenberg. He realized that if the Nazi regime were to survive, it needed to seek peace with Britain and the U.S. He also believed by the middle of April 1945 that Hitler had effectively incapacitated himself from governing by remaining in Berlin to personally lead the defence of the capital against the Soviets.
To this end, he contacted Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden at L beck, near the Danish border. He represented himself as the provisional leader of Germany, telling Bernadotte that Hitler would almost certainly be dead within two days. He asked Bernadotte to tell General Dwight Eisenhower that Germany wished to surrender to the West. Himmler hoped the British and Americans would fight the Soviets alongside the remains of the Wehrmacht. At Bernadotte's request, Himmler put his offer in writing. On April 21, 1945, Himmler met with Norbert Masur, a Swedish representative of the World Jewish Congress, in Berlin for a discussion concerning the release of Jewish concentration camp inmates. During the meeting, Himmler stated that he wanted to "bury the hatchet" with the Jews.
On the evening of 28 April, the BBC broadcast a Reuters news report about Himmler's attempted negotiations with the western Allies. When Hitler was informed of the news, he flew into a rage. A few days earlier, Hermann G ring had asked Hitler for permission to take over the leadership of the Reich an act that Hitler, under the prodding of Bormann, interpreted as a demand to step down or face a coup. However, Himmler had not even bothered to request permission. The news also hit Hitler hard because he had long believed that Himmler was second only to Joseph Goebbels in loyalty; in fact, Hitler often called Himmler "der treue Heinrich" (the loyal Heinrich). Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot. After Hitler calmed down, he told those who were still with him in the bunker complex that Himmler's act was the worst act of treachery he'd ever known.
Himmler's treachery combined with reports the Soviets were only (about a block) from the Reich Chancellery prompted Hitler to write his last will and testament. In the Testament, completed the day before he committed suicide, he declared Himmler and G ring to be traitors. He also stripped Himmler of all of his party and state offices: Reichsf hrer-SS, Chief of the German Police, Commissioner of German Nationhood, Reich Minister of the Interior, Supreme Commander of the Volkssturm, and Supreme Commander of the Home Army. Finally, he expelled Himmler from the Nazi Party and ordered his arrest.
Himmler's negotiations with Count Bernadotte failed. However, the negotiations helped secure the release of some 15,000 Scandinavian prisoners from the remaining concentration camps in the White Buses operation. Himmler joined Grand Admiral Karl D nitz, who by then was commanding all German forces within the northern part of the western front, in nearby Pl n. D nitz sent Himmler away, explaining that there was no place for him in the new German government.
Himmler next turned to the Americans as a defector, contacting Eisenhower's headquarters and proclaiming he would surrender all of Germany to the Allies if he were spared from prosecution. He asked Eisenhower to appoint him "minister of police" in Germany's post-war government. He reportedly mused on how to handle his first meeting with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander and whether to give the Nazi salute or shake hands with him. Eisenhower refused to have anything to do with Himmler, who was subsequently declared a major war criminal.
Capture and death
Himmler's corpse in Allied custody after his suicide by poison, 1945 Death mask of Himmler on display in the Imperial War Museum in London
Unwanted by his former colleagues and hunted by the Allies, Himmler wandered for several days around Flensburg near the Danish border. Attempting to evade arrest, he disguised himself as a sergeant-major of the Secret Military Police, using the name Heinrich Hitzinger, shaving his moustache and donning an eye patch over his left eye, in the hope that he could return to Bavaria. He had equipped himself with a set of false documents, but someone whose papers were wholly in order was so unusual that it aroused the suspicions of a British Army unit in Bremen. Himmler was arrested on 22 May by Major Sidney Excell and soon recognized while in captivity. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial with other German leaders as a war criminal at Nuremberg, but on 23 May committed suicide in L neburg by means of a potassium cyanide capsule before interrogation could begin. His last words were Ich bin Heinrich Himmler! ("I am Heinrich Himmler!"). Another version has Himmler biting into a hidden cyanide pill embedded in one of his teeth, when searched by a British doctor, who then yelled, "He has done it!" Several attempts to revive Himmler were unsuccessful. Shortly afterward, Himmler's body was buried in an unmarked grave on the L neburg Heath. The precise location of Himmler's grave remains unknown.
Forgeries, fabrications and conspiracy theories
In a 2005 book, Martin Allen claimed that Himmler had secretly negotiated with the UK as early as 1943, and that he may have been killed on Churchill's order to cover up this fact. The book was based on forgeries of documents at the National Archives. In May 2008 a British police investigation identified 29 forgeries that had been slipped into 12 files to support claims in Allen's three World War II books.
Historians are divided on the psychology, motives, and influences that drove Himmler. Some see him as dominated by Hitler, fully under his influence and essentially a tool carrying Hitler's views to their logical conclusion. Others see Himmler as extremely anti-Semitic in his own right, and even more eager than his boss to commit genocide. Still others see Himmler as power-mad, devoted to the accumulation of power and influence.
According to Robert S. Wistrich, 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 ... 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."
The wartime cartoonist Victor Weisz depicted Himmler as a giant octopus, wielding oppressed nations in each of his eight arms.
Wolfgang Sauer historian at University of California, Berkeley felt that "although he was pedantic, dogmatic, and dull, Himmler emerged under Hitler as second in actual power. His strength lay in a combination of unusual shrewdness, burning ambition, and servile loyalty to Hitler."
In an extract of Norman Brook's War Cabinet Diaries, Winston Churchill took a view towards Himmler widely shared during the war, advocating his assassination. According to Brook, responding to a suggestion that Nazi leaders be executed, "this prompted Churchill to ask if they should negotiate with Himmler 'and bump him off later', once peace terms had been agreed. The suggestion to cut a deal for a German surrender with Himmler and then assassinate him met with support from the Home Office. Quite entitled to do so , the minutes record [ ... Churchill] as commenting."
A main focus of recent work on Himmler has been the extent to which he competed for and craved Hitler's attention and respect. The events of the last days of the war, when he abandoned Hitler and attempted to enter into separate negotiations with the western Allies (an attempt which was rebuffed), are obviously significant in this respect.
Himmler appears to have had a distorted view of how he was perceived by the Allies; he intended to meet with U.S. and British leaders and have discussions "as gentlemen". He tried to buy off their vengeance by last-minute reprieves for Jews and important prisoners. According to British soldiers who arrested him, Himmler was genuinely shocked to be treated as a prisoner.
In 2008, Himmler was named "the greatest mass murderer of all time" by German news magazine Der Spiegel, reflecting his role as architect of the Holocaust.
Summary of SS service
Heinrich Himmler served in the SS for a total of twenty years, sixteen of which as Reichsf hrer-SS. In contrast to other contemporary Nazis, such as Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler was presented few decorations and never was awarded a combat medal.
- (in German Heinrich Himmler was granduncle of the author)
- Zaloga, Steven J. (2002). Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-408-6.
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