Heinrich Himmler was born in 1900 and died in 1945. Heinrich Himmler was to become one of the most feared men in Nazi Germany and Europe once World War Two broke out. As head of the SS, he had ultimate responsibility of internal security in Nazi Germany (as was seen in the Night of the Long Knives) and was associated with helping to organise the Final Solution though Reinhard Heydrich had a major input into the organisation of the Holocaust.
Himmler was born in Munich, the son of a Roman Catholic teacher. He was old enough to serve in the German Army in 1918 and saw out the last days of World War One. After the war, he became a salesman for a fertiliser company. He joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and quickly developed a reputation for thoroughness and efficiency. He was a standard bearer at the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and marched at the side of Ernst Röhm before the march was broken up. From 1925 to 1930, he was propaganda leader for the Nazis in Bavaria, Swabia and the Palatinate. Himmler still needed an income as the Nazis were far from a wealthy party during the “Golden Era” of Weimar. Between 1925 and 1929, he was an unsuccessful chicken farmer.
In 1929, Hitler selected Himmler to build up a unit that was to be Hitler’s personal bodyguard – the SS. Himmler’s instructions were simple – only the best would be good enough. In 1929, this unit only numbered 200 men. From 1929 to January 1933, the violence and chaos on the streets most associated with Weimar Germany came from the SA. The SS was rarely involved in this. It’s task was to protect Hitler.
In 1930, Himmler was elected to the Reichstag as Nazi deputy for Weser-Ems. He also spent his time expanding the SS so that by 1933, it had 52,000 men in it. Himmler also ensured that the SS remained free from interference by Röhm and the SA. Himmler created the Security Service lead by Heydrich whose original function was to be the ideological intelligence service to the Nazi Party.
Himmler became convinced that Germany’s future rested in the stars and he was a keen astrologist and cosmologist. He also believed that the SS were the Twentieth Century’s Teutonic Knight. Many SS ceremonies were held at night in castles lit only by flaming torches. He recommended that SS officers had only leeks and mineral water for breakfast and he would only have 12 people at a time sitting around his table – as King Arthur had done. Himmler became very interested in the occult. He saw the SS as being a new type of people – soldiers, administrators, academics and leaders all rolled into one. The SS, in the mind of Himmler, were to be the new aristocracy of Germany.
He was very keen on the creation of a master race and racial purity. The more power he got after 1933, the more Himmler saw the opportunity to fulfill this belief. It was Himmler who supported the idea of unmarried women partnering SS men at Lebensborns – he saw nothing wrong with single women having children as long as both mother and father were racially pure. In October 1939 he told the SS that women, single or married, should, out of patriotic duty, get themselves pregnant by soldiers who were about to go to war. The idea of racial purity and racial excellence came to dominate Himmler’s mind – as did hunting out traitors in Germany.
After January 1933, the SS was given more tasks. Its primary function was to assist in the rounding up of threats to the Nazi Party. In April 1934, Himmler was appointed head of the Gestapo. This was to become the most feared unit in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe in World War Two. Himmler proved a master at organising such a force.
In June 1934, it was the SS that carried out the Night of the Long Knives with cold efficiency.
In 1936, Himmler was appointed commander of the unified police forces in Germany. This gave him all but unlimited power to know who was a threat to Hitler and the party. There were rumours that Himmler even kept a diary on Hitler’s habits – though his loyalty to Hitler was never questioned at the time. To many he was untouchable. In 1943, Himmler was put in charge of the Ministry of the Interior.
Himmler was in charge of Germany’s concentration camps (he had set up the first at Dachau in 1933) and eastern Europe’s death camps. His brilliance at organisation had terrible consequences for the Jews. It was Himmler who made sure that the ‘cattle’ trains ran on time and that each camp was run on business lines so that they paid for themselves and made profits where possible. Ironically, for a man associated with the spilling of so much blood, Himmler himself would nearly faint at the sight of blood.
Himmler and Heydrich
The extent of the Gestapo’s work can be seen during World War Two when the White Rose movement in Germany was infiltrated. The White Rose movement wanted peace to come and the war ended. Such declarations were punishable by death in war-torn Germany. The movement put up posters in Berlin stating what they believed in. Though the movement contained very few members – most of whom were related – the Gestapo found out who they were and arrested them. All were found guilty of treason and executed. Himmler’s efficiency could have terrible results for those opposed to the Nazis.
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