Heinrich Himmler (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: As Reich leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and chief of the German police, Himmler controlled the entire security apparatus of the Third Reich. Entrusted by Adolf Hitler with the implementation of the so-called final solution, Himmler became the principal organizer of the killing of nearly six million Jews.
Heinrich Himmler was born on October 7, 1900, into a conservative, upper-middle-class family in Munich. His father, a onetime tutor to Prince Heinrich of Wittelsbach, served as a teacher of classical languages at several prestigious secondary schools in southern Bavaria. The young Himmler, by all accounts a model student, was, like many others of his generation, deeply affected by the news from the battlefields of World War I and was eager to see combat. Although he was accepted as an officer candidate in December of 1917, his plans to obtain a commission were cut short by the war’s end.
Upon completion of his secondary education, Himmler was enrolled in an agronomy program at the Technische Hochschule in Munich, where he earned a diploma in August of 1922. During his student days, he had joined several patriotic organizations as well as a dueling student fraternity. His intense dislike of the Weimar Republic and his growing identification with Nazi Party causes led to his increasing involvement in right-wing politics. Although a practicing Catholic, he began to question his...
(The entire section is 2173 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Himmler, Heinrich (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
[OCTOBER 7, 1900AY 23, 1945]
Father of the concentration camp
Heinrich Himmler has been labeled the "architect of genocide," the Nazi leader who more than any other encouraged and facilitated Adolf Hitler's decision to implement the Final Solution to the Jewish question, as well as other programs of ethnic cleansing that destroyed untold millions of lives during World War II. Few understood, embraced, and exalted the Führer's evil dreams as thoroughly as Himmler. For him they were a moral imperative.
Himmler was born the second son of a secondary-school teacher and one-time tutor to the Bavarian royal family. None of Himmler's scholarly biographers trace his hate-filled, phobic prejudices to his formative years. He no doubt absorbed conventional prejudices about minorities and outgroups, but nothing virulent. Germany's defeat in World War I transformed his conservative nationalism, like that of many future Nazis, into xenophobia, while conspiracy theories about Jews increasingly provided a scapegoat for national failure. His growing anti-Semitism fused with widely held ideas about racial purity versus degeneracy. His romantic nationalism evolved into a mystic vision of German regeneration through a combination of racial breeding and heroic struggle to colonize Slavic lands to the east. By 1924 he had abandoned Catholicism as inconsistent with his evolving views and added it to his conspiracy theories.
During this same period Himmler became a career Nazi as deputy to Gregor Strasser, head of the party's propaganda office, and his growing worldview received reinforcement. By 1926 he coordinated the propaganda of the SS, then a small paramilitary group with a bodyguard formation, and had become its deputy leader. That brought him into contact with Hitler. Impressed by Himmler's absolute loyalty, the Führer named him Reichsfuhrer SS. Himmler found his mission. He
By the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, Himmler had built the SS into a power base in competition with Hitler's other paladins. He envisioned a fusion of Germany's police, as the internal defense force of the nation, with his SS. Although Hitler undoubtedly encouraged such dreams, Himmler had to compete with many rivals in the divide-and-control system that the Führer employed to keep any lieutenant from becoming powerful enough to threaten his preeminence or to set policy.
Himmler succeeded by early 1934 in gaining nominal control over all the separate political police, and by 1936 had consolidated them into a unified national Gestapo. At the same time he acquired unified command of all German state police to become Reichsführer SS and Chief of German Police. As Hitler moved toward war, his phobias about domestic opposition had led him to favor Himmler's plans for an SS-police state as the most suitable means for domestic control. Soon Himmler was virtually independent from most normal state mechanisms of control, answerable almost exclusively to Hitler.
Himmler's SS-police state involved a tripartite wedding of SS, police, and concentration camps, all under his personal authority, with any legal appeals against them channeled through him. During the war his SS empire expanded further to become a veritable "state within a state," including the Waffen-SS military formations, a near monopoly of foreign and domestic intelligence operations, SS industries and social and cultural institutions, control over a vast reservoir of slave labor, the authority to resettle or exterminate millions, and the design and construction of the facilities needed for the expansion of the Nazi racial utopia into the occupied lands of the East.
The key to Himmler's powerful position was his dogged efforts to fulfill the Führer's every wish, especially in pursuit of a "racially pure" national community. To do so, he had to anticipate every evolution in Hitler's goals, and often encourage and facilitate their development toward ever more radical conclusions. Every step in the growth of Himmler's SS empire made it possible for Hitler to conceive of something more ambitious, and that in turn led to yet more opportunities for Himmler to add to his power.
Himmler and lieutenants like Reinhard Heydrich and Kurt Daluege developed police forces that eliminated opposition and proceeded to purge society of socalled undesirable elements, defined ideologically, religiously, culturally, socially, medically, and racially. The concentration camps would reeducate through incarceration all salvageable elements and forcefully employ or eliminate all others. At first this campaign of terror was to intended to encourage the emigration of such segments of the population as the Jews.
Heydrich's SS academics and Jewish experts in his Security Service (SD) outmaneuvered more radical Nazi anti-Semites by ostensibly studying the Jewish problem scientifically and proposing "rational" solutions. After the pogrom of November 1938 (Kristallnacht), when the actions of radicals wreaked extensive economic damage with embarrassing international consequences, Heydrich was allowed to establish model emigration centers throughout the entire Reich under Gestapo authority. It thus became the executive agency for handling the Jewish problem.
As Himmler developed the means to carry out solutions, Hitler gave him more authority for handling "population problems." Heydrich's Kriminalpolizei (regular detectives) facilitated Hitler's euthanasia program, combated homosexuality and prostitution, and dealt with the Romani problem. When the 1939 invasion of Poland greatly expanded such population management problems, Heydrich's Einsatzgruppen either exterminated any potential resistance leadership among Poles and Jews or consigned them to labor camps. Himmler became Commissar for the Strengthening of Germandom, responsible for removing all undesirables from areas incorporated into the Reich, absorbing any suitable people into the German gene pool, and resettling the ethnic Germans from Soviet territories. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and the "racial war" that Hitler unleashed, Himmler's authority expanded to encompass most matters involved in building the future racial empire that would extend to the Urals. This rapidly came to include total extermination of the Jewish population in the East, and finally, by perhaps the fall of 1941, orders from Hitler to exterminate all Jews in Europe. With them would go most Romani and gradually all other peoples regarded as unsuitable human breeding stock in the occupied East.
Even after defeat became inevitable, Himmler could not turn against his Führer. Nevertheless, he increasingly allowed subordinates to pursue half-baked schemes for peace feelers with the Western Allies. He also approached Hitler as early as December 1942 with plans for trading Jews for foreign currency or other advantages. Although this contradicted their determination to exterminate all Jews, Hitler consented. Many convoluted maneuvers ensued with little benefit to any Jews. By late 1944 Himmler combined the two options, negotiating with the Allies for the release of some Jews, hoping to appear as the "responsible" leader. On April 28, 1945, when Hitler learned of Himmler's efforts to negotiate surrender, he ordered his arrest. Himmler survived but he was captured by the British and soon thereafter committed suicide.
Although most scholars agree that Hitler made the ultimate decisions to unleash first mass murder and finally genocide, and they concur on Himmler's responsibility for its execution, greater debate exists about Himmler's role in Hitler's decisions. Some argue, convincingly, that he and Heydrich presented far-reaching proposals or contingency plans as early as 1939. In the field their lieutenants and other Nazi and military regional authorities creatively exceeded their authority, thereby encouraging escalation. In particular, however, Himmler's SS empire consistently demonstrated that it had not only the organizational machinery for whatever Hitler conceived, but that it could also overcome the psychological barriers to the mobilization of the hundreds of thousands of perpetrators needed for the job.
SEE ALSO Einsatzgruppen; Gestapo; Heydrich, Reinhard; Hitler, Adolf; SS
Ackermann, Josef (1970). Heinrich Himmler als Ideologe. Goettingen: Musterschmidt.
Bauer, Yehuda (1994). Jews for Sale? Bartering for Jewish Lives. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Breitman, Richard (1991). The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Breitmann, Richard (1995). "A Deal with the Nazi Dictatorship?: Himmler's Alleged Peace Emissaries in Autumn 1943." Journal of Contemporary History 30:41130.
Breitmann, Richard (1999). "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941." In The Holocaust in History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined, ed. Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peek. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
Breitman, Richard (1999). "Mein Kampf and the Himmler Family: Two Generations React to Hitler's Ideas." Holocaust and Genocide Studies 13:907.
Smith, Bradley F. (1971). Heinrich Himmler: A Nazi in the Making, 1900926. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press.
Witte, Peter, Michael Wildt, Martina Voigt, Dieter Pohl, Peter Klein, Christian Gerlach, Christoph Dieckmann, and Andrej Angrick, eds. (1999). Der Dienstkalender Heinrich Himmlers 1941/42. Hamburg: Hans Christians Verlag.
George C. Browder