Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born on October 7, 1900, 3:30 p.m., near Munich, Bavaria, Germany, into a middle-income family; he was the son of Gebhardt Himmler, a schoolmaster, and his wife Anna Heyder. Heinrich had three brothers; the eldest Gebhardt Jr. (born 1898), the youngest Ernst (born 1905). After leaving Landshut High School in 1918, Himmler was appointed an Officer Cadet and joined the 11th Bavarian Regiment for service in World War I. Shortly before he was due for commissioning as an officer the war ended, and he was discharged from the military without seeing combat. The following year, Himmler began studying agronomy at the Technische Hochschule in Munich. During his time as a student, he became active in the Freikorps, private armies of ex-German Army men resentful of Germany's loss of the First World War. Himmler joined the Reichkriegsflagge (Imperial War Flag) and, in 1923, applied to join the National Socialist Party, which were recruiting Freikorps members as potential members of the new National Socialist stormtrooper units known as the Sturmabteilung (SA). He took part in the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923.
Rise in the SS
Heinrich Himmler as an SA-Oberführer
Himmler joined the SS in 1925 and by 1927 had been appointed as Deputy Reichsführer-SS; a role he began to take very seriously. Upon the resignation of SS Commander Erhard Heiden, Himmler was appointed as the new Reichsführer-SS in January 1929. At the time Himmler was appointed to lead the SS, it numbered only 280 members and was considered a mere battalion of the much larger SA. Himmler himself was considered only an SA-Oberführer, but after 1929 he simply referred to himself as the "Reichsführer-SS".
By 1933, when the National Socialist Party rose to power in Germany, Himmler's SS numbered 52,000 members, and the organization had developed strict membership requirements ensuring all members were of Adolf Hitler's "Aryan Herrenvolk" (Aryan master race). Now a Gruppenführer in the SA, Himmler, along with his deputy Reinhard Heydrich, next began a massive effort to separate the SS from SA control; he introduced black SS uniforms (designed by Hugo Boss) to replace the SA brown shirts in the fall of 1933. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer und Reichsführer-SS and became an equal to the senior SA commanders, who by this time loathed the SS and the power it held.
Heinrich Himmler (left) together with, from left to right, Reinhard Heydrich, Karl Wolf, and an assistant, at the Obersalzberg, May 1939
Himmler and another of Hitler's right-hand men, Hermann Göring, agreed that the SA and its leader Ernst Röhm were beginning to pose a real threat to the German Army and the National Socialist leadership of Germany. Röhm had strong socialist views and believed that, although Hitler had successfully gained power in Germany, the "real" revolution had not yet begun, leaving some National Socialist leaders believing Röhm was intent on using the SA to administer a coup.
With some persuasion from Himmler and Göring, Hitler began to feel threatened by this prospect and agreed that Röhm should be fired. He delegated the task of removing Röhm from his job to Himmler and Göring. After determining that Röhm had decided to engage in armed warfare against the National Socialist Leadership, Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt Daluege and Walter Schellenberg decided to gain a tactical advantage by attacking first, and Röhm and his followers were surprised by a well-coordinated military attack on June 30, 1934, in what became known as "The Night of the Long Knives". The next day, Himmler's title of Reichsführer-SS became a rank to which he was appointed, and the SS became an independent organization of the National Socialist Party.
After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS-Totenkopfverbände was given the task of organizing and administering Germany's concentration camps. Himmler opened the first of these camps near Dachau on March 22, 1933. The camps were mostly for professional criminals and communists. About 75% of all camp inmates were political prisoners, and the rest divided up between criminals and spies. The camps were not designed for Jews. Stories about inmates being "gassed" are not true, and pictures shown in US mass media propaganda are pictures of typhus victims. David Irving says much of what has been presented as fact in US mass media propaganda never happened.
Consolidation of power
Germany's political police forces came under Himmler's authority in 1934 when he organised the Gestapo. In 1936 Himmler gained further authority over all of Germany's uniformed law enforcement agencies, when these were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei, whose main office became a headquarters branch of the SS as Himmler was accorded the title Chief of the German police. Once war began, new internment camps not formally classified as concentration camps would be established, over which Himmler and the SS would not exercise control. With his 1936 appointment Himmler also gained ministerial authority over Germany's non-political detective forces known as Kripo which he attempted to combine with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei placed under the command of Reinhard Heydrich and thus gain operational control over Germany's entire detective force, but the merger remained a dead letter within the Reich, with Kripo remaining firmly under the control of the civilian administration and later the party apparatus as the latter annexed the civilian administration. However, in occupied territories not incorporated into the Reich proper it proved effective. Following the outbreak of WWII, Himmler formed the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich security main Office) wherein Gestapo, Kripo and the SD became departments. Attempts in 1940 to use the new RSHA structure to gain control over Kripo by giving RSHA regional officers command authority over Kripo offices in their juristictions were rebuffed. The SS was also developing its military branch, known as the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which would later become known as the Waffen-SS.
Second World War
National Socialist governor of Poland Hans Frank (right) hosts SS boss Heinrich Himmler during a visit to Krakow
Himmler began preparing his SS for the invasion of Russia in 1941. He recruited volunteers from all over Europe, including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, Belgians, French, Spaniards, and, after the invasion, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians, attracting the non-Germanic volunteers by declaring a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of Old Europe from the "Godless Bolshevik Hordes".
In 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler´s right hand man, was murdered in Prague by Czech communists. It was reported that Himmler ordered an attack against those who helped the Czech communists, allegedly killing most of the adult male population in the village of Lidice where the Czech communists had fled to escape German police officers.
In 1943, Himmler was appointed German Interior Minister. Himmler sought to use his new office to reverse the party annexation of the civil service, and in the process fulfill his long cherished dream of gaining real power over the non-gestapo police. This aspiration was frustrated by Martin Bormann, Hitler's 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 National Socialist administrative thinking.
The involvement in the July 20, 1944, plot against Hitler of leaders of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), including its head, Admiral Canaris, prompted Hitler to disband the Abwehr and make the SD the sole intelligence service of the Third Reich. This increased Himmler's already considerable personal power. It also soon emerged that General Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Ersatzheer (replacement army) was implicated in the conspiracy. Fromm's removal, coupled with Hitler's great suspicion of the army led the way to Himmler's appointment as Fromm's successor, which he predictibly abused to enormously expand the Waffen SS even further to the detriment of the rapidly deteriorating Wehrmacht.
Unfortunately for Himmler, the investigation soon revealed the involvement of many SS Officers in the conspiracy, which played into the hands of Borman's power struggle against the SS, as very few party officers were implicated.
In late 1944, Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of army group Upper Rhine, which was fighting the oncoming United States 7th Army and French 1st Army in the Alsace region on the west bank of the Rhine. Himmler held this post until early 1945 when, after the Wehrmacht's failure to halt the Red Army's Vistula-Oder Offensive, Hitler placed Himmler in command of the newly formed Army Group Vistula. As Himmler had no practical military experience as a field commander, this choice proved catastrophic, and he was quickly relieved of his field commands, to be replaced by General Gotthard Heinrici.
As the end of the war was approching, Himmler was considered by many to be a candidate to succeed Hitler as the Führer of Germany. However, it became known after the war that Hitler never really considered Himmler as a successor, believing that the authority that was his as head of the SS had caused him to be so hated that he would be rejected by the Party.
Heinrich Himmler in 1945
In Winter 1944/45, Himmler's Waffen-SS numbered 910,000 members, and the Allgemeine-SS numbered nearly two million members. However, by the spring of 1945 Himmler had lost faith in German victory, probably partially due to his discussions with his masseur Felix Kersten and Walter Schellenberg2. He came to the realization that if the National Socialist regime was to have any chance of preventing a Soviet communist invasion of the German Fatherland, it would need to seek peace with Britain and the United States. Toward this end, it is alleged that he contacted Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden at Lübeck, near the Danish border, and began negotiations to surrender to the British and Americans. Himmler hoped the British and Americans would fight the Soviet communists with the remains of the Wehrmacht.
In an extract in the Norman Brook War Cabinet Diaries 4, Winston Churchill (an alcoholic psycho) is described as having an insane attitude toward Himmler that horrified those who worked with Churchill. According to Brook, Churchill suggested they negotiate with Himmler "and bump him off later", once they agreed to peace terms. The suggestion to make a deal for a German surrender with Himmler and then assassinate him was a clear violation of the rules of civilized behavior as practiced by European leaders for centuries. 5 Himmler wisely stayed out of the Churchill trap. In the 1987 book Churchill's War, Volume I, David Irving says that Churchill was a debauched alcoholic, a coward, an unabashed racist, and a corrupt warmonger servile to the interests of "international Jewry".
It was reported that Himmler next tried to negotiate with the Americans, contacting the headquarters of Dwight Eisenhower and proclaiming that he would try to arrange the surrender of Germany to the Americans. Himmler sent a personal application to General Eisenhower stating that he wished to apply for the position of "Minister of Police" in the post-war government of Germany. He also reportedly mused on how to handle his first meeting with Eisenhower and whether to give the National Socialist salute or shake hands with him. Unknown to Himmler, Eisenhower was a communist, and not interested in hiring a brilliant anti-communist leader like Heinrich Himmler.
For unknown reasons Himmler was stripped of all his titles and ranks the day before the untrue story of a Hitler suicide was released. He had held the positions of Reich Leader-SS, Chief of the German Police, Reich Commissioner of German Nationhood, Reich Minister of the Interior, Supreme Commander of the Volkssturm, and Supreme Commander of the Home Army.
Himmler then went to work for Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who by then was commanding all German forces in the West, in nearby Plön. Himmler was part of the short-lived Flensburg government headed by Dönitz but was dismissed on May 6, 1945, by Dönitz in a move Dönitz hoped would gain him favor with the British and Americans.
The man who committed suicide in Lüneburg was not Himmler but a double, according to a man who carefully studied the evidence relating to this report. Statements allegedly attributed to ODESSA were said to have asserted Himmler escaped to the tiny and rustic farming village of Strones in the Waldviertel, a hilly forested area in the northwest part of Lower Austria just north of Vienna, birthplace of Alois Hitler, where he was running a reborn SS.
Since a group of people had to get together both to forge the documents and smuggle them into the proper section of the archives (a process that involves an investment of time, money, research, and expertise) the assertion that there was a conspiracy to spread confusion about the circumstances in a story of Himmler's alleged death in 1945 may be credible.
Heinrich Himmler probably was living in Argentina beginning sometime in 1945, as was Adolf Eichmann and many other Germans.
Historians are divided on the psychology, motives, and influences that drove Himmler. Some see him as an idealist and happy follower of Adolf Hitler, fully under his influence, and seeing himself essentially as a tool, carrying Hitler's views to their logical conclusion, in some cases (such as in the views propounded by David Irving) possibly without Hitler's direct orders or agreement. A key issue in understanding Himmler is to what extent he was a primary instigator and developer in National Socialist Germany in his own right. Himmler to some extent answered this himself saying if Hitler were to tell him to do something, he would do it and "be proud of the Führer's confidence". It was this unconditional loyalty that was the driving force behind Himmler's unlikely career. Most commentators agree that Himmler's commitment to Hitler's desire for a better Germany helped Himmler to be trusted with a high level job in the German police system.
Wolfgang Sauer, historian at 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." 3
A main focus of recent work on Himmler has been the extent to which he competed for, and craved, Hitler's attention and respect, along with other National Socialist leaders. The events of the last days of the war, when he allegedly abandoned Hitler and began separate negotiations with the Allies, are obviously significant in this respect. Himmler's strange behavior at this time may have resulted because of the absence of Hitler, who possibly had moved away from the German Fatherland within days after his last speech as the German Leader on February 24, 1945. A safe and secret hiding place in a faraway land had been built for Hitler by the German navy.