Heinrich Himmler, the second of three sons of Gerbhard Himmler, a Catholic schoolmaster, was born near Munich, Germany, on 7th October, 1900. When he was just two years old he suffered a serious lung infection and his mother took him to a mountain village where the air was pure. He was frequently ill and it has been claimed that as a result he was "overindulged". (1)
According to his first biographer, Willi Frischauer, the author of Himmler: The Evil Genius of the Third Reich (1953), in the evenings after dinner in the Himmler home, Professor Himmler would read to the boys from books on German history. By the time he entered secondary school he could recite the names and dates of all the famous battles and rivalled his teachers in knowledge of Germany's military past. (2)
George Wolfgang Hallgarten recalls that while at school Himmler "was of scarcely average size, but downright podgy, with an uncommonly milk-white complexion, fairly short hair, and already wearing gold-rimmed glasses on his rather sharp nose; not infreqently he showed a half-embarrassed, half-sardonic smile either to excuse his short-sightedness or to stress a certain superiority." Hallgarten went on to say that he was hopeless at sport and his gym instructor, Carl Haggenmuller, was a source of terror to him. (3)
Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) has argued: "German society was agressively masculine. The tone was set by the Prussian military which had unified and now ruled the empire. The ideal was the warrior-hero of spartan simplicity... In such a society more than most, Himmler must have despised himself for his short sight, awkward, unathletic body, constitutional weakness and physical ineptitude, perhaps even have despised his father for being a civilian or one or other of his parents for handing him down his hateful qualities; and the periods of torture at Haggenmuller's hands must have driven these feelings of inferiority deep." (4)
In 1913 Gerbhard Himmler became deputy head of Landshut High School. Heinrich attended his father's school and it was not long before he was being bullied by the other students. For a boy brought up by his father on tales of historic battles, he was fascinated by the outbreak of the First World War. He wrote in his diary on 23rd August, 1914: "Victory of the German Crown Prince north of Metz.... Bavarian troops were very brave in the rough battle.... the whole city is bedecked with flags. The French and Belgians scarcely thought they would be chopped up so fast." (5)
The following month he was writing: "Now it's going along famously. I'm pleased about these victories, the more so because the French and especially the English are angry about them and the anger is not exactly insignificant. Falk (his friend at school) and I would like best of all to be fighting it out with them. Just look how the Germans... are not afraid even before a world of enemies... An English cavalry brigade has been thrashed (I'm glad! Hurrah!)" (6)
In 1916 Himmler joined the Jugendwehr (Youth Defence) which provided instruction in military subjects. He also started a daily regime of dumbbell exercises to strengthen his muscles. He also started a collection of newspaper cuttings about the war. Himmler was desperate to become involved in the war effort and on 6th October, the day before his seventeenth birthday, he left school to work at the War Welfare Office. Two months later he joined the 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment. "Proud and delighted, he wrote to tell his friends and relations that he was now a soldier." (7)
Himmler's hopes of being a German officer on the Western Front ended with the defeat of the country in November 1918. He found it particularly upsetting as his brother, Gebhard Himmler, had won the Iron Cross (First Class). Himmler returned to Regensburg where he joined the recently formed Bayerische Volkspartei (BVP), a right-wing nationalist organization setup to rally the conservative forces of the middle class and the rural workers against the communists and socialists. Himmler wrote to his father and advised him to join the BVP as it was the "only hope" for the country. "Now only for you. I don't know how it is in Landshut. Don't let mother go out alone at night. Not without protection. Be careful in your letters. You can't be sure." (8)
On 7th April, 1919, Max Levien declared the establishment of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. A few days later, Eugen Levine, a member of the German Communist Party (KPD), arrived in Munich from Berlin. The leadership of the KPD was determined to avoid any repetition of the events in the capital when January, when its leaders, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches, were murdered by the authorities. Levine was instructed that "any occasion for military action by government troops must be strictly avoided". Levine immediately set about reorganising the party to separate it off clearly from the anarcho-communists led by Erich Mühsam and Gustav Landauer. He reported back to Berlin that he had about 3,000 members of the KPD under his control." (9)
On hearing the news, Heinrich Himmler returned home and joined the Freikorps Landshut and became aide to the commanding officer. However, before he could see action, Friedrich Ebert, the president of Germany, arranged for 30,000 Freikorps, under the command of General Burghard von Oven, to take Munich. On 1st May, 1919, the Freikorps entered the city and over the next two days Oven's troops easily defeated the Red Guards. Once again Himmler was denied the active service he craved. (10)
In 1919 he began studying agriculture at Munich Technical College. The following year he spent time working on a farm at Fridolfing. During this time he took a vow of chastity. In a diary entry he contrasted two types of people, "the melancholic, stern, among which I include myself", and the easy-going, hot-blooded sort who followed their desires without too much thought or sense of responsibility." (11)
Himmler did find himself attracted to one woman, named Inge Barco. He was horrified when he discovered she was Jewish. Like many people in Germany at the time, he held strong anti-Semitic views: "She is a quiet girl, not vain or toffee-nosed, places some value on good manners. No one would know she was a dancer. She is Viennese, but a Jewess, has however absolutely nothing of the Jew in her manner, at least so far as one can judge. At first I made several remarks about Jews, I ruled her out as one... She is no longer innocent as she freely admits. But she has given her body only from love." (12)
In July 1923 Himmler joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He played a minor role at the Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923 when he carried the Reich War Flag at the Munich War Ministry. The rebellion was easily crushed and the leaders of the party, Adolf Hitler, Ernst Röhm, Rudolf Hess, Julius Steicher, Wilhelm Frick, Wilhelm Brückner, Hermann Kriebel, Walter Hewell, Friedrich Weber and Ernst Pohner were arrested and imprisoned. (13)
With the other leaders in prison, Gregor Strasser became the most significant figure in the Nazi Party. He joined forces with his brother, Otto Strasser, to establish the Berliner Arbeiter Zeitung, a left-wing newspaper, that advocated world revolution. It also supported Lenin and the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union. Later that year, Strasser was elected to the Bavarian Legislature. Louis L. Snyder, has argued: "In this capacity he proved to be an able organizer, an indefatigable if weak speaker, a shrewd politician, and a lover of action.... Using his parliamentary immunity to protect him from libel suits and holding a free railway pass, he turned his energy to seeking the highest post in the National Socialist Party. He would push Hitler aside and replace him. Strasser regarded himself as a proud intellectual who had far more to offer the party than the emotional and unstable Hitler." (14)
In July, 1924, Himmler became Strasser's secretary. Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) has pointed out: "Strasser could not have made a better choice. Himmler not only shared his own passionate convictions, enjoying immersing himself in paperwork and bringing order to files, as he had at the student organisation, but he had learned to type after a fashion on a machine the family used at home, and he had his motorbike which enabled him to visit the remoter branches of the district." (15)
Otto Strasser later described his first impressions of Himmler: "A remarkable fellow. Comes from a strong Catholic family, but does not want to know anything from the Church. Looks like a half-starved shrew. But keen I tell you, incredibly keen. He has a motorbike. He is under way the whole day - from one farm to another - from one village to the next. Since I've had him our weapons have really been put into shape. I tell you, he's a perfect arms-NCO. He visits all the secret depots." (16)
Himmler served as secretary to Gregor Strasser and was a member of the socialist wing of the party. During this period he met Ernst Hanfstaengel who later wrote about him in his book, Hitler: The Missing Years (1957): "He had a pale, round, expressionless face, almost Mongolian, and a completely inoffensive air. Nor in his early years did I ever hear him advocate the race theories of what he was to become the most notorious executive. He studied to become a veterinary surgeon, although I doubt if he had ever become fully qualified. It was probably only part of the course he had taken as an agricultural administrator, but, for all I know, treating defenceless animals may have tended to develop that indifference to suffering which was to become his most frightening characteristic." (17)
In 1925 he became Gauleiter (district leader) in Lower Bavaria and in 1926 in Upper Bavaria. He also served as propaganda leader of the Nazi Party. In 1926 he met Margarete Boden in a hotel lobby at a Bavarian resort, Bad Reichenhall. He immediately saw her as his ideal woman. His brother, Gebhard Himmler, claimed he was particularly attracted to her blonde hair and her blue eyes. According to Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991): "Undoubtedly she impressed him as truly Aryan, although there was a width to her face and frame more suited to Wagnerian opera than to the ideal of Nordic womanhood." (18)
It has been claimed by Hugh Thomas that Himmler had great difficulty in finding girlfriends: "The simple truth was that despite the moral bluster of the diaries, he lacked confidence. His timidity was probably largely based on his awareness of his looks. However, any potential sense of inadequacy was translated into contempt for those who did not share his limitations... Rather than consider his want of sexual success as undermining his masculinity, he grandly assumed the role of heroic defender of both men's and women's purity." At the age of twenty-one he had written in his diary: "I have experienced what it is like... to get all fired up... The girls are so far gone they no longer know what they are doing. It is the hot unconscious longing for the whole individual, for the satisfaction of a really powerful natural urge. For this reason it is also dangerous for the man, and involves so much responsibility. Depraved as they are of their will power, one could do anything with these girls and, at the same time one has to struggle with oneself." (19)
Otto Strasser claims that Marga, aged thirty-four, and therefore eight years older than Himmler, seduced him. Himmler told Strasser that she was the first woman with whom he had sexual relations. They married in July 1928. Margarete sold her share of the clinic and used the proceeds to buy a plot of land in Waldtrudering, near Munich, where they put up a prefabricated house.
Peter Padfield has pointed out: "Margarete ran a clinic she had opened with her father's money in Berlin. Apparently she distrusted conventional medicine; she was more interested in homeopathy, hypnosis, the old herbal remedies of the country. Despite having set herself up in Berlin, a sink of decadence according to his ideas, she apparently shared all his views of the good life of the land, so much so that she was prepared to sell her clinic and buy a smallholding to work with him." (20) A daughter, Gudrun Himmler, was born on 8th August, 1929. She was named after a character in a novel written by Himmler's favourite writer, Werner Jansen.
Heinrich Himmler was a devout follower of Adolf Hitler and believed that he was the Messiah that was destined to lead Germany to greatness. Hitler, who was always vulnerable to flattery, decided in January, 1929, that Himmler should become the new leader of his personal bodyguard, the Schutzstaffel (SS). At that time it consisted of 300 men. Himmler personally vetted all applicants to make sure that all were good "Aryan" types. Himmler later remembered that: "In those days we assembled the most magnificent Aryan manhood in the SS-Verfugungstruppe. We even turned down a man if he had one tooth filled." By the time the Nazi Party gained power in 1933 Himmler's SS had grown to a strength of 52,000.
Karl Wolff met Himmler for the first time at the Reich Leadership School in Munich. "My first impression of Himmler was a great disappointment. I was considerably taller than him and had already been awarded the Iron Cross first and second class, and I had been an officer in one of the best and oldest regiments of the German Army - the Hessian Lifeguard Infantry Regiment in Darmstadt. On the other hand Himmler had no war decorations and had nothing in common with the front soldier; his whole bearing was rather sly and unmilitary, but he was very well read and tried to engage our interest with his acquired knowledge, and to enthuse us with the tasks of the SS." On 15th June 1933, Himmler appointed Wolff as his Chief of Staff. It has been claimed that the reason for this was that Himmler wanted to please senior officers in the German Army. Others have suggested that it was his links with bankers and industrialists that was important. (21)
Walter Dornberger also met him during this period. "He (Heinrich Himmler) looked to me like an intelligent elementary schoolteacher, certainly not a man of violence ... Under a brow of average height, two grey-blue eyes looked at me, behind glittering pince-nez, with an air of peaceful interrogation. The trimmed moustache below the straight, well-shaped nose traced a dark line on his unhealthy, pale features. The lips were colourless and very thin. Only the conspicuous receding chin surprised me. The skin of his neck was flaccid and wrinkled. With a broadening of his constant set smile, faintly mocking and sometimes contemptuous about the corners of the mouth, two rows of excellent white teeth appeared between the thin lips. His slender, pale, almost girlishly soft hands, covered with veins, lay motionless on the table throughout our conversation.... Himmler possessed the rare gift of attentive listening. Sitting back with legs crossed, he wore throughout the same amiable expression. His questions showed that he unerringly grasped what the technicians told him out of the wealth of their knowledge. The talk turned to war and the important questions in all our minds. He answered calmly and candidly. It was only at rare moments that, sitting with his elbows resting on the arms of the chair, he emphasised his words by tapping the tips of his fingers together. He was a man of quiet unemotional gestures. A man without words. (22)
Hugh Thomas has argued: "The pattern of a lifetime was established. He was a man of no outstanding intellectual gifts other than his memory, and no physical attraction, who set out to dominate the lives and minds of others. He was goaded by an unpleasant combination of ambition and officiousness that he disguised as high moral purpose. That he succeeded so well, then in a modest way, but later on a scale which brought disaster to mankind, must be attributed partly to hereditary make-up, and partly to the indoctrination of his father, which left him with exaggerated ideas of his own importance." (23)
Edouard Calic, the author of Himmler and the SS Empire (2009), points out that Reinhard Heydrich joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in Hamburg on 31st May, 1931.(24) With the help of his girlfriend's family friend, Karl von Eberstein, Heydrich was able to obtain a meeting with Himmler. It has been claimed that he was impressed by Heydrich's "Nordic" appearance.
The Nazi Party decided to have its own intelligence and security body and so Himmler was asked to create the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). On 1st August, 1931, Heydrich became the head of the organization and it was kept distinct from the uniformed SS (Schutzstaffel). It has been claimed that Heydrich got the job because of his experience in Naval intelligence. However, Mark M. Boatner III has argued that Himmler had made his decision "not realizing he had been in signals, not naval intelligence." (25) Heydrich's fast task was to carry out an investigation of the SS: "The Security Service itself had its origins in reports early in 1931 that the Nazi Party had been infiltrated by its enemies. Himmler established the Security Service to investigate the claims." (26)
At first Heydrich had few resources to carry out his work. According to Andrew Mollo, the author of To The Death's Head: The Story of the SS (1982): "On a kitchen table, with a borrowed typewriter, a pot of glue, scissors and some files, Heydrich, now leader of the Security Service (Leiter des Sicherheitsdienstes), aided by his landlady and some out-of-work SS men, began to gather information on what the Nazis referred to as the 'radical opposition'. Top of the list were the political churches, Freemasons, Jews and Marxists. A titillating side-line was homosexuality and 'mattress affairs' both inside and out of the Nazi Party. Heydrich then toured the SS regional commands throughout Germany, and on his return began to recruit men of his own age and background into the SD. In contrast to the typical Nazi 'Lumpenpack' Heydrich sought bright young university graduates whose career prospects had been dimmed by depression. It was these young intellectuals from good families who were to give the SD its peculiar character. (27)
On 26th December, 1931, Reinhard Heydrich married Lina von Osten. In July 1932 he was promoted to Standartenführer-SS (full colonel) and became Himmler's valued chief of staff, and in this role helped develop the entire SS. During this period he developed good relationships with other powerful figures in the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) including Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann.
Several writers have tried to explain the relationship between Heydrich and Himmler. Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) has argued: "To judge from letters and reports which they exchanged, the partnership was one of mutual trust and on Himmler's part affection... Himmler treated his protégé with special consideration and fondness... Both men were too complicated to conform to such simple analysis. Both were driven characters with deep-seated childhood complexes of inadequacy and they operated within a shifting minefield of power rivalries; neither was what he seemed... Himmler and Heydrich were a partnership and after more than a decade of success that virtually moulded the Nazi revolution they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and each his position vis-a-vis the other as intimately as the partners in a marriage; as in a marriage no doubt the relationship changed and shifted subtly from time to time." (28)
Michael Burleigh, the author of The Third Reich: A New History (2001) claimed that the SS was "Himmler's mind projected on an institutional canvas, while the operational style largely derived from Heydrich.... Himmler's more outre obsessions should not distract from his manifestly astute grasp of how this highly chaotic and protean political system worked. Routinely out-manoeuvring his foes, his empire spread between the interstices of state, Party and army, throughout Germany, and then across the whole of occupied Europe. His manner may have been distracted and unassuming, but the coldness, moralising, prying and suspicion kept him in absolute control of subordinates, whose own utter ruthlessness was accompanied by human frailties which Himmler lacked." (29)
Richard Evans argues that Heydrich "became perhaps more universally and cordially feared and disliked than any other leading figure in the Nazi regime" and had the qualities that Himmler needed: "Unsentimental, cold, efficient, power-hungry and utterly convinced that the end justified the means, he soon won Himmler over to his ambitious vision of the SS and its Security Service as the core of a comprehensive new system of policing and control... on 9 March 1933, the two men took over the Bavarian police service, making the political section autonomous and moving SS Security Service personnel into some of the key posts. They went on to take over the political police service in one federated state after another, with the backing of the centralizing Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick." (30)
Walter Schellenberg who was able to observe both men at work has pointed out that Heydrich was the "hidden pivot around which the Nazi regime revolved.... He was far superior to all his political colleagues and controlled them as he controlled the vast intelligence machine of the SD." (31) However, his wife, Lina Heydrich claimed that he an an inferiority complex: "His apparent arrogance was no more than self-protection. Even with me he expressed no kind word, no word of tenderness". (32)
Himmler was subordinate to the Sturm Abteilung (SA). This brought him into conflict with the Ernst Roehm. Himmler continued to build up his power base by establishing his own secret civilian security organization, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and placed Reinhard Heydrich at its head.
In 1932 Himmler sold the house and poultry farm in Waldtrudering and moved into a flat close to Hitler's apartment. He also purchased a large villa at Gmund on the Tegernsee, a lake south-east of Munich enclosed by mountains. Marga Himmler established herself there with Gudrun, whom they called "Puppi". The following year they adopted a boy named Gerhard von Ahe. He was the son of Kurt von der Ahe, a senior figure in the SS, who had been killed in Berlin.
On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the Reichstag. Several people were arrested including a leading, Georgi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, the international communist organization. Dimitrov was eventually acquitted but a young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Hermann Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government. (33)
Adolf Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists. Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and KPD were arrested and sent to Germany's first concentration camp at Dachau, a village a few miles from Munich. Himmler was placed in charge of the operation, whereas Theodor Eicke became commandant of the first camp and eventually took overall control of the system.
On 26th April, 1933, Hermann Göring established the Prussian Secret State Police (Gestapo). He appointed Rudolf Diels as his deputy. "The same day a decree created a State police office in each district of Prussia, subordinate to the central Service in Berlin. The Gestapo... now had a branch in every district, but its power did not yet exceed the boundaries of Prussia. The purge was complete, not only in the police but also in the magistrature and among the State officials. A law was passed that... allowed the dismissal of officials and anti-Fascist judges, Jews, or those who had belonged to Left Wing organizations." (34)
The organization was gradually enlarged and reorganzed so that it could "deal with political police tasks in parallel with or instead of normal police authorities". The following year Göring decided to form an alliance with Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. On 24th April 1934, Göring appointed Himmler Inspector of the Secret State Police and Heydrich its commander. Now the whole police apparatus was firmly in SS hands. It has been argued by Alan Bullock, that Göring had taken this decision in order to obtain an ally against Ernst Röhm and the Sturm Abteilung (SA). (35)
In May 1933, Himmler met Oswald Pohl and told him he was looking for an officer to take over the administrative and financial side of the SS. At first Pohl rejected the offer as he was happy in the navy and headed a staff of over 500 hundred men at Kiel. Pohl later wrote: "Himmler became very insistent and wrote me one letter after another urging that I take over the administrative organisation of the SS. In December 1933 and January 1934, he invited me to Berlin and Munich, and showed me the whole SS administrative set-up and the many complex problems that were involved. It was only in February 1934, after I saw what a big job was in store for me, that I finally accepted."
Pohl joined Himmler's personal staff as chief of the administrative section. "When I took over my office, the SS was a comparatively small organisation, like a union, with a group here and there in various towns and cities. I started by installing administrative commands in various key cities, and I selected personnel who would be fit for their jobs. I inaugurated schools that taught these administrative officials for a few weeks before they were dispatched to take over my branch offices all over Germany. I achieved a sound administration in the SS, with orderly bookkeeping and financial sections." (36)
Adrian Weale, the author of The SS: A New History (2010): "Before January 1933, much of the SS's funding had come from membership dues, with occasional subsidies from party headquarters for special projects, but as it began to take over state functions, it increasingly became eligible for state funding. It was in this area that Pohl really made his mark. Despite the supposedly revolutionary nature of the National Socialist government, expenditure still had to be justified, budgets formulated and fiscal probity maintained to the satisfaction of both the civil service and the party. Pohl, drawing on his long experience in naval administration, succeeded in achieving all of this. In addition, he established relationships between his office and the various departments and ministries on whom the SS depended for its budget: the party treasury, the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior; the Army Ministry and so forth." (37)
By 1934 Adolf Hitler appeared to have complete control over Germany, but like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power. To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of divide and rule and encouraged other leaders such as Himmler, Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, and Ernst Röhm to compete with each other for senior positions.
Albert Speer pointed out in his book, Inside the Third Reich (1970): "After 1933 there quickly formed various rival factions that held divergent views, spied on each other, and held each other in contempt. A mixture of scorn and dislike became the prevailing mood within the party. Each new dignitary rapidly gathered a circle of intimates around him. Thus Himmler associated almost exclusively with his SS following, from whom he could count on unqualified respect... As an intellectual Goebbels looked down on the crude philistines of the leading group in Munich, who for their part made fun of the conceited academic's literary ambitions. Goering considered neither the Munich philistines nor Goebbels sufficiently aristocratic for him and therefore avoided all social relations with them; whereas Himmler, filled with the elitist missionary zeal of the SS felt far superior to all the others." (38)
One of the consequences of this policy was that these men developed a dislike for each other. Roehm was particularly hated because as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) he had tremendous power and had the potential to remove any one of his competitors. Himmler asked Reinhard Heydrich to assemble a dossier on Roehm. Heydrich, who also feared him, manufactured evidence that suggested that Röhm had been paid 12 million marks by the French to overthrow Hitler.
Hitler liked Ernst Röhm and initially refused to believe the dossier provided by Heydrich. Röhm had been one of his first supporters and, without his ability to obtain army funds in the early days of the movement, it is unlikely that the Nazis would have ever become established. The SA under Röhm's leadership had also played a vital role in destroying the opposition during the elections of 1932 and 1933. However, Hitler had his own reasons for wanting Röhm removed. Powerful supporters of Hitler had been complaining about Röhm for some time. Generals were afraid that the Sturm Abteilung (SA), a force of over 3 million men, would absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks and Röhm would become its overall leader.
Industrialists such as Albert Voegler, Gustav Krupp, Alfried Krupp, Fritz Thyssen and Emile Kirdorf, who had provided the funds for the Nazi victory, were unhappy with Roehm's socialistic views on the economy and his claims that the real revolution had still to take place. Many people in the party also disapproved of the fact that Röhm and many other leaders of the SA were homosexuals.
Adolf Hitler was also aware that Roehm and the SA had the power to remove him. Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler played on this fear by constantly feeding him with new information on Roehm's proposed coup. Their masterstroke was to claim that Gregor Strasser, whom Hitler hated, was part of the planned conspiracy against him. With this news Hitler ordered all the SA leaders to attend a meeting in the Hanselbauer Hotel in Bad Wiesse.
Himmler along with his loyal assistants, Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt Daluege and Walter Schellenberg, drew up a list of people outside the SA that they wanted killed. The list included Gregor Strasser, Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler's predecessor as chancellor, and Gustav von Kahr, who crushed the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Louis L. Snyder argues: "Hitler later alleged that his trusted friend Roehm had entered a conspiracy to take over political power. The Führer was told, possibly by one of Roehm's jealous colleagues, that Roehm intended to use the SA to bring a socialist state into existence... On June, 1934... Hitler came to his final decision to eliminate the socialist element in the party. A list of hundreds of victims was prepared." (38) This became known as the Night of the Long Knives.
On 29th June, 1934. Hitler, accompanied by Theodor Eicke and selected members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), arrived at Bad Wiesse, where he personally arrested Ernst Röhm. During the next 24 hours 200 other senior SA officers were arrested on the way to the meeting. Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur, witnessed what happened: "Hitler entered Röhm's bedroom alone with a whip in his hand. Behind him were two detectives with pistols at the ready. He spat out the words; Röhm, you are under arrest. Röhm's doctor comes out of a room and to our surprise he has his wife with him. I hear Lutze putting in a good word for him with Hitler. Then Hitler walks up to him, greets him, shakes hand with his wife and asks them to leave the hotel, it isn't a pleasant place for them to stay in, that day. Now the bus arrives. Quickly, the SA leaders are collected from the laundry room and walk past Röhm under police guard. Röhm looks up from his coffee sadly and waves to them in a melancholy way. At last Röhm too is led from the hotel. He walks past Hitler with his head bowed, completely apathetic." (39)
A large number of the SA officers were shot as soon as they were captured but Adolf Hitler decided to pardon Röhm because of his past services to the movement. However, after much pressure from Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler agreed that Röhm should die. Himmler ordered Theodor Eicke to carry out the task. Eicke and his adjutant, Michael Lipppert, travelled to Stadelheim Prison in Munich where Röhm was being held. Eicke placed a pistol on a table in Röhm's cell and told him that he had 10 minutes in which to use the weapon to kill himself. Röhm replied: "If Adolf wants to kill me, let him do the dirty work."
According to Paul R. Maracin, The author of The Night of the Long Knives: Forty-Eight Hours that Changed the History of the World (2004): "Ten minutes later, SS officers Michael Lippert and Theodor Eicke appeared, and as the embittered, scar-faced veteran of verdun defiantly stood in the middle of the cell stripped to the waist, the two SS officers riddled his body with revolver bullets." (40) Eicke later claimed that Röhm fell to the floor moaning "Mein Führer". Three days after the purge Eicke was appointed Inspector of Concentration Camps and head of Death's Head Units. He was also promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (SS-Gruppenfuehrer). According to Louis L. Snyder, the next day, Otto Dietrich, Press Chief of the NSDAP, "gave a blood-curdling account of the slaughter to the press. He described Hitler's sense of shock at the moral degeneracy of his oldest comrades." (41)
Three weeks after the Night of the Long Knives the Schutzstaffel (SS) was given independent status and no longer under the control of the SA. As a result of this purge the SS was now the principal instrument of internal rule in Germany. Now that Himmler was leader of his own independent SS, he could expand the organization. By the end of 1934 it had 400,000 members. Eventually, Himmler came to the conclusion that the mass recruitment which had taken place was very damaging to the elite status of the SS and so in 1935 over 200,000 SS men were discharged on moral, racial and physical grounds. Himmler now introduced a complex five year enrolment procedure. Having been declared physically and racially suitable for SS membership, an eighteen-year-old youth became an applicant (bewerber). The following year he became a candidate (anwärter). At the end of his probationary period he swore the oath of alliance to Adolf Hitler. At twenty-one he became liable for military service which lasted two years. It was only on his return to civilian life that he became a full SS man.
As an SS man he would serve in SS1 until he was twenty-five, then SS2 until thirty-five, when he became a member of the SS Reserve. The typical part-time member of the SS gave up one evening a week for ideological work and training. One afternoon, usually Wednesday or Saturday, was set aside for physical training and sport. One weekend in each month an SS man had to spend Saturday afternoon and Sunday on military training, important elements of which were drill, crowd control and shooting.
This smart and disciplined para-military force enabled the Nazi Party to maintain a large auxiliary police force at nominal cost. The SS could be called out at short notice in case of a national emergency such as an anti-Nazi putsch, a demonstration or a trade union dispute. The SS were also used to help the police with crowd control and security arrangements for a visit by Hitler or any other prominent member of the Nazi Party. SS headquarters in Berlin would summon SS men to duty with a printed postcard. An SS man's employee was forbidden by law to prevent or hinder his employee from responding to such a summons.
On 17th June, 1936, Hitler designated Himmler as head of the unified police system of the Third Reich. He was also put in charge of the Gestapo. "Essentially the Gestapo were policemen, but they were the instruments of Nazi methods which allowed and encouraged terror to gain and keep control of the state and the people... As Nazi power spread so did the fearsome reputation of the Gestapo. Backed by the system of concentration camps and by his right under the law to extract confessions by beating, the Gestapo man in the leather overcoat and dark, snap-brim hat became a figure of terror." (42)
Jacques Delarue, the author of The Gestapo (1962) has argued that Himmler imposed on the Gestapo the structure developed with the Schutzstaffel (SS): "Himmler, grand master of the S.S. transposed some of the principles of the Black Order to organize the Gestapo. The strict hierarchy was progressively modeled on that of the S.S., even reproducing it completely as soon as the members of the Gestapo received S.S. rank on assimilation. The partitioning of powers was reinforced by the protection of secrecy. Discretion was one of the basic principles of S.S. discipline. It constituted one of the essential bases of the Gestapo which Himmler, as he had done with the S.S. turned into an enclosed world, of which no one had the right to catch the least glimpse and about which it was forbidden to utter any criticism." (43)
Himmler was in overall control of the concentration camps in Germany. Hermann Langbein, the author of Against All Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps 1938-1945 (1992) has pointed out: "National Socialism replaced democratic institutions with a system of command and obedience, the so-called Fuhrer principle, and it was this system that the Nazis installed in their concentration camps. It goes without saying that any command by a member of the SS had to be unconditionally carried out by all prisoners. Refusal or hesitation was liable to lead to a cruel death. The camp administration not only saw to it that every command was carried out, but also held inmates assigned to certain jobs responsible for completing them. In this way it facilitated its own work and was also able to play one prisoner off against another.... Each unit housing prisoners, whether a barrack or a brick building, was called a block. The camp administration held a senior block inmate (Blockdltester) responsible for enforcing discipline, keeping order, and carrying out all commands. If a dwelling unit was divided into rooms, a senior block inmate was assisted by senior barracks inmates and their staff. A senior camp inmate (Lageraltester) was responsible for the operation of the entire camp, and it was he who proposed the appointment of senior block inmates to the officer-in-charge." (44)
Langbein, who was an inmate in Dachau, explained that each work group was headed by a capo (trusty). "The capo himself was exempted from work, but he had to see to it that the required work was done by his underlings. Capos, senior block inmates, and senior camp inmates were identified by an armband with the appropriate inscription. These armband wearers, as they were generally called, were under the protection of the camp administration, often enjoyed extensive privileges, and as a rule had unlimited power over those under them. This is to be taken literally, for if an armband wearer killed an underling, he did not (with a few exceptions) have to answer to anyone, provided a timely report of the death was made and the roll call was corrected. An ordinary prisoner was completely at the mercy of his capo and senior block inmate."
Heinrich Himmler argued that: "These approximately 40,000 German political and professional criminals... are my 'noncommissioned officer corps' for this whole kit and caboodle. We have appointed so-called capos here; one of these is the supervisor responsible for thirty, forty, or a hundred other prisoners. The moment he is made a capo, he no longer sleeps where they do. He is responsible for getting the work done, for making sure that there is no sabotage, that people are clean and the beds are of good construction.... So he has to spur his men on. The minute we're dissatisfied with him, he is no longer a capo and bunks with his men again. He knows that they will then kill him during the first night."
Inmates had to wear a coloured symbol to indicate their category. This included political prisoners (red), convicts (greens), Jews (yellow), homosexuals (pink), Jehovah's Witnesses (violet) and what the Nazis described as anti-socials (black). The anti-social group included gypsies and prostitutes. The Schutzstaffel (SS) preferred those with a criminal record to be capos. As Hermann Langbein has pointed out: "As a rule the SS bestowed armbands on prisoners they could expect to be willing tools in return for their privileged status. As soon as German convicts arrived in the camps the SS preferred them to morally stable men."
Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) has claimed that Himmler was jealous that the two men under him in the Schutzstaffel (SS), Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Wolff, both had attractive wives. Himmler spent very little time with his wife. Lina Heydrich suggested that Himmler was embarrassed by her appearance: "Size 50 knickers, that's all there was to her." Bella Fromm, a journalist commented in July 1937 she saw Himmler with his "dirty-blonde, insipid, fat wife" and "the pleasures of the table are apparently about the pleasures she gets, since Himmler keeps her at home." (45)
In 1939 Heinrich Himmler began an affair with his young secretary, Hedwig Potthast. The couple set up home in Mecklenburg. Hedwig gave birth to a son, Helge (born 1942) and a daughter, Nanette Dorothea (born 1944). Lina Heydrich commented that Himmler become more relaxed and human as a result of his relationship with Hedwig. Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991): "All testimony suggests that the relationship between Himmler and Häschen (Hedwig) was a loving one on both sides. A girl who joined Himmler's secretarial staff two years later and lived for long periods in his special train noticed that he kept Häschen's photograph in his desk and often, when he was working, took it out to look at it.... At one time, she said, he had wanted to divorce Marga to marry her. Häschen had stopped him for Marga's sake. It is more likely perhaps that he stopped himself for the reasons he had refused Wolff permission to divorce. There must be no malicious gossip around the person of the Reichsfuhrer; he above all had to set an example of decency." (46)
Although separated from his wife, Himmler remained close to his daughter, Gudrun Himmler, who he phoned every few days and wrote to her at least once a week. Himmler adored his young, blue-eyed, blonde-haired daughter and would often take her to official state functions. In 1941 he even took his daughter to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. Gudrun wrote in her diary: "Today, we went to the SS concentration camp at Dachau. We saw everything we could. We saw the gardening work. We saw the pear trees. We saw all the pictures painted by the prisoners. Marvelous. And afterwards we had a lot to eat. It was very nice." According to Stephan Lebert, the author of My Father' s Keeper: Children of Nazi Leaders - An Intimate History of Damage and Denial (2001): "At fourteen... she cut out every picture of him from the newspapers and glued them into a large scrapbook" (47)
On the outbreak of the Second World War, Himmler was appointed as a Commissar for the Consolidation of German Nationhood. Himmler devised methods of mass murder based on a rationalized extermination process. His main task was to eliminate "racial degenerates" that Hitler believed stood in the way of German's regeneration. The SS also followed the German Army into the Soviet Union where they had the responsibility of murdering Jews, gypsies, communists and partisans.
After the war Lieutenant Colonel Richard Schulze-Kossens, who fought with the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler in Poland in 1939 defended his troops in this action: "Let me say as a soldier I condemn all crimes regardless of who committed them, whether by us or by others, and that includes the crimes committed against captured SS men after the capitulation. But I make no reproaches in that respect. I am not recriminating, I only want to say that in war, amongst the mass of soldiers, there are always elements who develop criminal tendencies, and I can only condemn them. I would not say that the Waffen-SS was typically criminal, but there are well-known incidents. I don't want to excuse anything, but I must say one thing which is, that it is natural in war, during hot and heavy fighting, for young officers to sometimes lose their nerve." (48)
In August 1941, Himmler and Karl Wolff observed a mass execution near Minsk, that had been organised by Arthur Nebe. According to Wolff, Himmler noticed a tall, blond, blue-eyed man of about twenty whom he engaged in conversation. Himmler asked the man if both his parents were Jews. When he replied "Yes" he followed up with "Do you have any ancestors who were not Jews?" When the man said "No" he replied: "Then I can't help you."
Standing close to the pit, Himmler became increasingly distressed as the shooting commenced. According to Wolff: "After many volleys, I could see that Himmler was trembling. He ran his hand across his face and swayed... His face was almost green... He immediately threw up." Himmler complained that "a piece of brain just splattered in my face". After the killing was over, Himmler made a speech to the men in which he told them to "see it through". Wolff claims that Himmler told Nebe to "devise a less gruesome means of mass execution than simply shooting people." (49)
In February 1942, Oswald Pohl took control of the administration of the concentration camps. Pohl clashed with Theodor Eicke over the way the camps should be run. According to Andrew Mollo, the author of To The Death's Head: The Story of the SS (1982): "Pohl insisted on better treatment for camp inmates, and SS men were forbidden to strike, kick or even touch a prisoner. Inmates were to be better housed and fed, and even encouraged to take an interest in their work. Those who did were to be trained and rewarded with their freedom. There was a small reduction in the number of cases of maltreatment, but food and accommodation were still appalling, and in return for these 'improvements' prisoners were still expected to work eleven hours per day, six or seven days a week." (50)
Pohl came under pressure from Albert Speer to increase production at the camps. Pohl complained to Himmler: "Reichsminister Speer appears not to know that we have 160,000 inmates at present and are fighting continually against epidemics and a high death-rate because of the billeting of the prisoners and the sanitary arrangements are totally inadequate." In a letter written on 15th December, 1942, Himmler suggested an improvement in the prisoner's diet: "Try to obtain for the nourishment of the prisoners in 1943 the greatest quantity of raw vegetables and onions. In the vegetable season issue carrots, kohlrabi, white turnips and whatever such vegetables there are in large quantity and store up sufficient for the prisoners in the winter so that they had a sufficient quantity every day. I believe we will raise the state of health substantially thereby." (51)
As the war progressed Adolf Hitler became greatly concerned about the problems of production. Himmler informed Hitler that a growing number of prisoners were placed at the disposal of the armaments industry. According to Hermann Langbein, the author of Against All Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps 1938-1945 (1992): Auschwitz's four rapidly erected crematories with built-in gas chambers made such killing possible with the smallest expenditure of guards and service personnel. But because the arms industry required ever more workers, those destined for extermination were subjected to a selection process, something that was not done in the extermination camps of eastern Poland." (52)
Himmler instructed all camp commandants to lower the mortality rate substantially. On 20th January 1943, wrote: "I shall hold the camp commandant personally responsible for doing everything possible to preserve the manpower of the prisoners." Himmler told Oswald Pohl: "I believe that at the present time we must be out there in the factories personally in unprecedented measure in order to drive them on with the lash of our words and use our energy to assist on the spot. The Führer is counting heavily on our production and our help and our ability to overcome all difficulties, just hurl them overboard and simply produce. I ask you and Richard Glucks (head of concentration camp inspectorate) with all my heart to let no week pass by when one of you does not appear unexpectedly at this or that camp and goad, goad, goad." (53)
In a speech made on 4th October, 1943, to members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Himmler argued: "One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the SS men - we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to nobody else. What happens to a Russian or to a Czech does not interest me in the slightest. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us. Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an antitank ditch interests me only so far as the antitank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be rough and heartless when it is not necessary, that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also assume a decent attitude toward these human animals."
Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Himmler expanded the SS from three to thirty-five divisions, until it rivaled the Wehrmacht itself. Made Minister of the Interior on August 25, 1943, he strengthened his grip on the civil service and the courts. Meanwhile, he enlarged the concentration camps and the extermination camps, organized a supply of expendable labor, and the authorized pseudomedical experiments in the camps... On July 21, 1944, Hitler made him supreme commander of the Volkssturm defending the German capital and the chief of the Werwolf unit that was expected to carry on a last-ditch fight in the Bavarian mountains." (54) By June 1944 the SS had over 800,000 members: Hitler's Body Guard (200,000) Waffen (594,000) and Death Head Units (24,000).
In April 1944 Oswald Pohl issued orders to camp commanders: "Work must be, in the true sense of the world, exhausting in order to obtain maximum output... The hours of work are not limited. The duration depends on the technical structure of the camp and the work to be done and is determined by the camp Kommandant alone." One inmate of Auschwitz complained that Pohl was guilty of "the systematic and implacable urge to use human beings as slaves and to kill them when they could work no more."
Heavy bombing of the camps further damaged production. Peter Padfield, the author of Himmler: Reichsfuhrer S.S. (1991) points out that Himmler suggested a possible solution to the problem: "Himmler urged Pohl to build factories for the production of war materials in natural caves and underground tunnels immune to enemy bombing, and instructed him to hollow out workshop and factory space in all SS stone quarries, suggesting that by the summer of 1944 they should have ... the greatest possible number of such 'uniquely bomb-proof work sites'... Pohl's Works' Department chief, Brigadeführer Hans Kammler, succeeded in creating underground workshops and living quarters from a cave system in the Harz mountains in central Germany." (55)
Himmler was put in charge of the German Army facing the advancing United States Army. In January, 1945, he was switched to face the advancing Red Army in the east. Unable to halt the decline in fortunes of the German forces, Himmler became convinced that Germany needed to seek peace with Britain and the United States. In March, 1945, Himmler had a meeting with Joseph Goebbels. He recorded in his diary: "Himmler summarises the situation correctly when he says that his mind tells him that we have little hope of winning the war militarily but instinct tells him that sooner or later some political opening will emerge to swing it in our favour. Himmler thinks this more likely in the West than the East. He thinks that England will come to her senses, which I rather doubt. As his remarks show, Himmler is entirely Western-oriented; from the East he expects nothing whatsoever. I still think that something is more likely to be achieved in the East since Stalin seems to me more realistic than the trigger-happy Anglo-American (Roosevelt)." (56)
General Walter Schellenberg suggested to Himmler at the beginning of 1945 that he should open negotiations with the Western Powers. Himmler was at first reluctant to go against Adolf Hitler but when the Swedish internationalist Count Folke Bernadotte, arrived in Berlin in February to discuss the release of Norwegian and Danish prisoners on behalf of the Swedish Red Cross, he agreed to a meeting. However, Himmler could not make up his mind to speak out. He did agree to accompany Schellenberg to another meeting with Bernadotte in Lübeck on 23rd April, 1945.
Himmler told Bernadotte that Hitler intended to commit suicide in the next few days: "In the situation that has now arisen I consider my hands free. I admit that Germany is defeated. In order to save as great a part of Germany as possible from a Russian invasion I am willing to capitulate on the Western Front in order to enable the Western Allies to advance rapidly towards the east. But I am not prepared to capitulate on the Eastern Front." Bernadotte passed this message to onto Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman but they rejected the idea, insisting on unconditional surrender.
On 28th April the negotiations were leaked to the press. Hanna Reitsch was with Hitler when he heard the news: "His colour rose to a heated red and his face was unrecognizable... After the lengthy outburst, Hitler sank into a stupor, and for a time the entire bunker was silent." Hitler ordered Himmler's arrest. In an attempt to escape Himmler now took the name and documents of a dead village policeman. Although in heavy disguise, Himmler was arrested by a British army officer in Bremen on 22nd May. Before he could he interrogated, Himmler committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.
The American journalist, Ann Stringer, gave Himmler's wife the news of his death: "Frau Margarete Himmler maintained today that she was still proud of her infamous husband and shrugged away the world's hatred of the dead Gestapo chief with the calm observation that no one loves a policeman. When I told her that husband Heinrich had been captured and had died from his own dose of poison, Frau Himmler showed absolutely no emotion. She sat, hands folded in her lap, and merely shrugged her shoulders. Until then she had not known what had happened to Himmler since he last telephoned her from Berlin around Easter while she was at their home near Munich. When first captured by the Fifth Army she had claimed a weak heart and internment camp officials, fearful of a heart attack, never told her of her husband's death. But even when I told her that Himmler was buried in an unmarked grave Frau Himmler showed no surprise, no interest. It was the coldest exhibition of complete control of human feeling that I have ever witnessed." (57)
Gudrun Himmler, refused to believe that her father had committed suicide. She pointed out that his body was photographed before he was cremated: "In those pictures he looks more as though he was about to inspect a parade. He had a typical way of placing his hands on those occasions, and I don't accept that he'd hold his hands that way if, as it was reported, he was biting into a poison capsule. I believe that picture shows him really inspecting a parade. To me it's a retouched photo from when he was alive." (58)