Heinrich Himmler

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Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) was a German Nazi leader, head of the black-shirted Schutzstaffel SS troops and of the dreaded Gestapo, or German secret police. His loyalty to Hitler (until near the end), combined with his organizational skills and ambition, give him a swift rise to power. Starting from a junior position by 1940 he was the second most powerful Nazi and designed many of the National Socialist programs. As chief of police for all of Germany, Himmler was responsible for establishing concentration camps and for devising methods for the Holocaust, the mass murder of 6 million Jews, making him one of the most notorious war criminals of World War II. During the war he built up the military strength of his SS, which became an army separate from the regular army. He committed suicide while in the custody of British troops shortly after the end of the war.


Himmler was born near Munich on November 7, 1900.

A leading psychohistorian, UCLA Professor Peter Loewenberg, has attempted a retrospective psychoanalysis of Himmler's childhood and youth, using his diaries, shows him to have been systematic, rigid, controlled, and blocked of affect. His character structure was of the obsessive-compulsive schizoid type, meaning withdrawn emotionally from the external world and existing in a repressed internal psychic world. He used his diary to guard against feelings rather than to express them. The period 1919-22 was marked by acute identity diffusion. His sexual, social, vocational, and religious identities were in flux. The diary shows gender role confusion, a desire to emigrate from Germany, vacillation between animal husbandry and a bourgeois vocation, and strong conflict on the issue of dueling, which contravened his Roman Catholic faith. Himmler, as an adolescent, was a conventional rather than pathological anti-Semite. He acquired virulent anti-Semitism after 1919 because of his identification with Hitler as a leader and the new faith of National Socialism. He became a professional bureaucrat par excellence. As Reichsführer S.S. he carried out the most sadistic orders without any show of feeling. Thus the flat, cold, emotionally colorless, adolescent Himmler became a writing desk murderer as an adult - a consistency that relates the child to the man.[1]

He attended the Technical College in Munich and served during World War I as a clerk in the Eleventh Bavarian Infantry. He joined the Hitler ranks in 1919, and was one of the first members of the Nazi Party. In 1923, Himmler was appointed business manager in Bavaria, and in 1929 he became commander of the SS unit, a bodyguard if several hundred men.

Agrarian-romantic movements, such as the Artamanen (later folded into Hitler Youth were important to him, as well as mysticism associated with his beliefs about the Aryan race.

Third Reich: 1933-39

Himmler proved the most successful empire-builder in the Nazi movement, enlarging his powers and range of activity every year.

Gestapo chief

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Himmler controlled the 50,000-man "Protection Squad" or "Schutzstaffel", called the SS. In March Himmler became the Polizeipräsident in Munich. In late 1933 the political police in Prussia were made the "Preussiche Geheime Staatspolizei" (the Gestapo), under control of the Ministry of Interior, and not yet under Himmler. In 1933-34 Himmler was appointed in each German state as the chief of political police. On 20 April 1934, he took over the Gestapo. On 17 June 1936 he was appointed chief of German police in the Ministry of Interior; he appointed Reinhard Heydrich his second in command, handling the Gestapo and SD, the security police (Sicherheitspolizei); they soon opened 17 concentration camps for political prisoners (these were different from the death camps opened after 1941). [2]

At first Ernst Röhm's SA ("brownshirts"), with 2.9 million members, was much larger and more powerful part of the Nazi party than Himmler's SS ("blackshirts.") That suddenly changed in June 1934 as a result of a power struggle between the SA, which had a more radical vision than Hitler would tolerate, and a coalition of Himmler, Göring, the Army and big business. The army feared the SA would become a people's army or militia and perhaps replace it. Himmler prepared the list of Röhm's associates who were executed or imprisoned in the "night of long knives" of June 30, 1934. Himmler and his SS gained enormously; he now reported only to Hitler. [3]

SS finances

Himmler created a powerful "state within a state" as the SS acquired more than forty businesses with some 150 plants and factories. Together with money and valuables seized from Jews they paid for the Holocaust and financed the training and equipping of 38 SS divisions.

At first Himmler's SS was underfunded because his enemies in the party controlled the money. As late as 1938, only 3,500 of 14,000 SS officers received monthly pay; the rest were volunteers. Himmler turned to the concentration camps--not yet killing camps--to raise money. Prisoners could be ransomed for a large sum; others had to pay for their keep. Factories were set up in the camps as the prisoners became slave laborers for commercial enterprises owned by the SS. For example the Gesellschaft fur Textil- und Lederverwertung GmbH (Society for Textile and Leather Work, Ltd.), in Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp, produced uniforms.[4] The possessions were salvaged and resold from the Jews who were killed in the gas chambers. SS officials took bribes from Jews and employers of Jews.

War years

In 1943 Himmler was appointed minister of the interior and strengthened his grip on the civil service and the courts. The SS grew rapidly as Himmler sought a new human type, men keeping their various professional competences but each becoming a part of the intricate fabric of the SS. To its police activities the SS added protection of the German Volk in Poland and elsewhere, their "blood" and their unity, and also the protection of the Nazi leadership. For Himmler the paradoxical mystical motif of his understanding was the SS's great struggle against what Himmler called the two pillars of evil, the Jews and the Slavs.


On January 20th, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's second-in-command, chaired the Wannsee Conference to plan the systematic roundup and execution of all Jews the nazis could reach. The Conference ensured inter-agency co-operation and set strategy and financing. Among Heydrich's directives, Adolf Eichmann, chief of Gestapa IVB4, the SS's Jewish office, was charged with arranging deportation financing. Eichmann forced Jews into paying for their own deportation. In February 1942 Himmler and another aide Oswald Pohl reorganised SS administrative and economic offices to form the SS Wirtschaft-und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic and Administrative Head Office, or WVHA). The Inspectorate of Concentration Camp became part of the WVHA, and Himmler promoted Pohl to Obergruppenfuhrer und General der Waffen-SS, making him the third highest-ranking officer in the SS. Eighteen weeks after Wannsee, a Czechoslovak commando team with British support assassinated Heydrich, advancing Pohl to the second slot under Himmler. Meanwhile Himmler had special powers in Poland, where he feuded with the official supposedly in charge Hans Frank. [5]

Waffen SS in combat

Himmler had dreams of his own army, which were strenuously opposed by the regular army. He managed to field three division of the Waffen SS on the eastern front in 1941-42; their ferocity impressed Hitler and the SS was allowed to recruit volunteers directly from devoted Nazi youth groups. The Wehrmacht, however, intensely disliked the SS troops, so Himmler had to use his negotiating skills directly with Hitler to remove his SS formations from army control. The compromise was that SS generals took orders from the army, and in turn controlled their SS troops.[6] His SS supplied 38 Waffen-SS divisions comprising volunteers from the Hitler Youth and from other countries across Europe. The Waffen-SS was noted for its fanaticism, brutality, and war crimes.

In July 1944 after the failed Army plot against Hitler's life, Himmler reached the apex of his power. As commander in chief of the German Home Forces, he became the most powerful man in Germany, with Hitler in nominal control.


As the Allied forces penetrated into Germany from east and west, Himmler opened negotiations for a separate peace with the U.S. and Britain. This move failed, however, and Himmler fled in disguise as Hitler disowned him. On May 21, 1945, Himmler was captured by the British near Bremen. Two days later, Himmler committed suicide by swallowing a phial of poison concealed in his mouth.

See also

Primary sources

  • Angress, Werner T., and Bradley F. Smith, "Diaries of Heinrich Himmler's Early Years." Journal of Modern History 1959 31(3): 206-224. Issn: 0022-2801 Jstor


  1. Peter J. Loewenberg, "The Unsuccessful Adolescence of Heinrich Himmler." American Historical Review 1971 76(3): 612-641. Issn: 0002-8762 Fulltext: in Jstor and Werner T. Angress and Bradley F. Smith, "Diaries of Heinrich Himmler's Early Years." Journal of Modern History 1959 31(3): 206-224. Issn: 0022-2801 Fulltext: in Jstor
  2. Evans (2005) 50-55; Burleigh 178-97
  3. The SA lost most of its members and all its power. Evans 2:31-41; Kershaw (1998) 1:499-522
  4. Goldin (1998)
  5. Burleigh 454, 646-51
  6. Burleigh 438ff