Last modified on September 25, 2023, at 18:19

Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler

4th Reichsführer-SS
In office
January 6, 1929 – April 29, 1945
Preceded by Erhard Heiden
Succeeded by Karl Hanke

Born October 7, 1900
Died May 23, 1945

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (1900-1945), was a German Nazi Party leader, head of the Schutzstaffel (Protective squadron; SS) and of the dreaded Gestapo (Secret state police). Starting from a junior position in the SS, by 1942 he was the second most powerful Nazi leader and designed many of the National Socialist programs. His loyalty to Adolf Hitler (until near the end in April 1945), combined with his organizational skills, ambition, and his sadistic nature, made him one of the most notorious war criminals of World War II. As chief of police for all of Germany, Himmler was responsible for establishing concentration camps and death camps. Himmler oversaw the Holocaust, the mass murder of 6 million Jews, and his anti-Semitism was such that it arguably exceeded even that of Hitler's own anti-Semitic views. Aside from this, he was also infamous for Lebensborn, a plan to abduct well over 12,000 children throughout Europe meeting the description of the "Master Race", and then place them by adoption with prospective families in order to help "breed" the superior race.[1] During the war he built up the military arm of his SS, which became a "de facto" fourth branch of the German military. After Hitler dismissed him from all his offices in April 1945, Himmler was captured by the British Army. However, he committed suicide before the Allies could put him on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials.


Himmler was born near Munich on October 7, 1900. His father Gebhard Himmler was a teacher and his mother a Roman Catholic. Himmler was the middle child of the family. He had an older brother, Gebhard (born 1898) and a younger brother, Ernst (born 1905).

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 His character structure was of the obsessive-compulsive schizoid type, meaning withdrawn emotionally from the external world and existing in a repressed internal psychic world.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 nationalistic xenophobic paramilitary groups. He joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and the SS in 1925. Himmler became a professional bureaucrat par excellence. Later as Reichsführer-SS, 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.[2][3]

He attended the Technical College in Munich and enlisted with the reserve battalion of the Eleventh Bavarian Infantry Regiment in late 1917. He served during World War I as a clerk and was disappointed he did not see any combat service before the war ended in November 1918. He joined the ranks of a nationalistic paramilitary group known as the Reichskriegsflagge (Imperial War Flag) in 1919. Its leader was future chief of the Nazi SA storm troopers, Ernst Röhm. This paramilitary group was closely affiliated with the Nazi Party. Himmler also joined the Nazi Party in August 1923. He took part in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. After the failure of the Putsch to seize power, Himmler returned home after losing his job over taking part in the event. Soon after, he became a propaganda assistant in the Nazi Party, serving under Gregor Strasser in Bavaria. He then was promoted to being charge of the party office in the area. In 1925, Himmler joined the SS and by January 1929 he was appointed the fourth leader of the SS. He went on to become its longest and most influential leader. When he took over, it was made up of only 280 men and considered an elite bodyguard unit.[4] He also served as a Poultry Farmer after World War I, but before World War II that evidently led to his Lebensborn idea due to thinking he can breed the superior race of humans in a similar manner to the pure white chickens at his farm.[1]

Nazi Germany

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

Chief of German police

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Himmler controlled the "Schutzstaffel" (Protection Squadron; SS) which at the time was a 50,000-man sub-branch of the Nazi Party. In March Himmler became the Polizeipräsident in Munich. In April 1933 the political and intelligence sections of the Prussian police were combined into one unit and named the "Geheime Staatspolizei" (the Gestapo). It was under the control of then Prussian Ministry of Interior, Hermann Goering. During 1933–34, Himmler and his second in command, Reinhard Heydrich took over the political police departments in each German state until only Prussia was left. On April 20, 1934, Goering handed over the Gestapo to Himmler for use in the purge of the SA. Himmler appointed SD (Security Service) chief Heydrich, the director of the Gestapo.

At first Ernst Röhm's SA ("brownshirts"), with 2.9 million members, was a much larger and more powerful part of the Nazi Party than Himmler's SS. 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, Goering, the army and big business who wanted the SA eliminated from power. The army feared the SA would absorb it into its ranks or become a people's army. Himmler and Heydrich prepared the list of Röhm's SA associates who were executed or imprisoned in the "Night of the Long Knives" which took place between June 30 and July 2, 1934. Hitler had Röhm killed, as well. As a result, Himmler and his SS gained enormously; the SS was now its own separate branch and Himmler reported only to Hitler.[4][5]

On June 17, 1936, Hitler appointed Himmler chief of German police in the Ministry of Interior. With this appointment, Himmler consolidated his power over all police and security forces throughout Germany. That same year, he formed the (Sicherheitspolizei or SiPo) (Security police). The SiPo was made up of two sub-branches, the Kriminalpolizei (national criminal police) and the Gestapo, under Heydrich's overall command. The first official concentration camp was set up by Himmler in March 1933. By 1936 Himmler's SS opened 17 concentration camps for political prisoners (these were different from the death camps opened after 1941).[6][7]

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.[8] 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

Himmler inspects the Ukrainians who volunteered for the 14th SS Division Galicia.[9]

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 20, 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 Gestapo sub-section 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 reorganized SS administrative and economic offices to form the SS Wirtschaft-und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic and Administrative Head Office, or WVHA). The office of 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.[10]

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 from neutral and occupied countries. 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 operational orders from the army, and in turn commanded their own SS troops.[11] By the end of the war, Himmler's SS supplied 38 Waffen-SS divisions comprising volunteers from the Hitler Youth and from other countries across Europe; including conscripts from 1943, forward. By the end of the war, the Waffen-SS had organized 38 divisions comprising about 800,000 soldiers; 25% were killed in battle. They were never integrated into the Wehrmacht, and grew to become a "de facto" fourth branch of the German military. However, they were never any real threat to replace the army, given their much smaller percentage of size in the armed forces (under 10%) and the fact they never had independence of operational command. They had a reputation for fanatical loyalty, bravery, brutality, mistreatment and killing of prisoners and civilians, and war crimes.[12]

In July 1944, after the failed army plot against Hitler's life, Himmler reached the apex of his power. With the added position of Commander in Chief of the German Home Forces, he became on paper at least, the most powerful man in Germany, rivaling in many aspects the power of Hitler.[13]


As the Allied forces penetrated into Germany from east and west, Himmler opened negotiations for a separate peace with the U.S. and Britain. On April 21, 1945, he met with Folke Bernadotte at the Swedish consulate and offered to surrender Germany to the Western Allies. After this move was rejected, Himmler fled in disguise as Hitler disowned him. On May 21, 1945, Himmler, disguised as a common German soldier, was captured by the British. Two days later, during a routine interrogation, Himmler removed his eyepatch, put on his spectacles and told the British officer who he was. He then committed suicide by biting down onto a concealed cyanide capsule;[3] a sensible course of action, as he would certainly have been executed after the Nuremburg trials for his actions. He was buried in an unmarked grave. There are no monuments, and indeed everything he built was systematically eradicated.


Himmler was one of the most sinister of all the Nazi leaders. Millions were killed by men under his command.

  • [He was] meticulous, calculating and efficient, [with an] astonishing capacity for work and irrepressible power-lust. [1]

Hitler depended upon Himmler's loyalty up to nearly the end when it was discovered Himmler was negotiating with the Western Powers.[14] Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist, in a chapter entitled "Why the worst get on top" of his contemporaneous Road to Serfdom observed "Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole’, because that is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done." [15] Himmler displayed the brutal nature of this collectivist mentality taken to its logical extreme wherein he explained,

Whether 10,000 Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch or not interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished.[16]

Quotes from Heinrich Himmler

  • "It is part of the mission of the SS to give the German people in the next half century the non-Christian ideological foundations on which to lead and shape their lives." -- (1937), quoted in Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 270.
  • "In the course of history periods of capitalism and socialism alternate with one another; capitalism is the unnatural, socialism the natural economic system...The National Socialists and the Red Front have the same aspirations. The Jews falsified the Revolution in the form of Marxism and that failed to bring fulfillment."—Speech in Potsdam (4 October 1943), quoted in Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 92–93.
  • "The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don't ask for their love; only for their fear."—Quoted in "Visions of Reality - A Study of Abnormal Perception and Behavior" - by Alberto Rivas - Psychology - 2007, p. 162.
  • "In the brief monthly reports of the Security Police, I only want figures on how many Jews have been shipped off and how many are currently left."—To Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Quoted in "Hitler and the Final Solution" - by Gerald Fleming - History - 1987, p. 137.
  • "I also want to mention a very difficult subject before you here, completely openly. It should be discussed among us, and yet, nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June to carry out our duty, as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them. About which we have never spoken, and will never speak. That was, thank God, a kind of tact natural to us, a foregone conclusion of that fact, that we have never conversed about it amongst ourselves, never spoken about it, everyone shuddered and everyone was clear that the next time he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary. I am talking about the "Jewish evacuation"; the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things that is easily said. "The Jewish people are being exterminated," every party member will tell you, "perfectly clear, it's part of our plans, we're eliminating the Jews, exterminating them, Ha! A small matter." And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say: all others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew." -- The Posen speech to SS officers (6 October 1943)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 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
  3. 3.0 3.1 Weale, (2010)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Weale, (2010); Gerwarth (2011)
  5. The SA lost most of its members and all of its power. Evans (2005), pp. 31-41; Kershaw (1998) 1: pp. 499-522
  6. Evans (2005), pp. 50-55, 84; Burleigh (2000), pp. 178-97
  7. McNab (2009)
  8. Goldin (1998)
  10. Burleigh (2000), pp. 454, 646-51
  11. Burleigh 438ff
  12. Wegner (1990); McNab (2009)
  13. Padfield (1990)
  14. Reichsführer Himmler Pitches Washington Sweden, John H. Waller, Studies in Intelligence, CSI Publications, Unclassified Studies Volume 46, Number 1, 2002.
  15. Friedrich A. Hayek, Road to Serfdom, Why the worst get on top, pg. 43 - 49, Reader's Digest Condensed Version, April 1945.
  16. Reichsführer-SS Himmler speaking to SS Major-Generals, Poznan, October 4, 1943, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression- Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1946, Vol. IV, p. 559. Retrieved from the 06/16/07.


  • Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (1992) excerpt and text search
  • Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History (2000), stresses central role of antisemitism.
  • Dederichs, Mario. Heydrich: The Face of Evil (2006)
  • Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939 (2005)
  • Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (1998)
  • Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 (2007), the standard history excerpt and text search
  • Gerwarth, Robert. Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich (2011)
  • Goldin, Milton. "Financing the SS", History Today, (Jun 1998), Vol. 48, Issue 6 full text in Academic Search Premier
  • Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 4 vol (1989)
  • Kershaw, Ian. Hitler (2 vol, 1998, 2000), the standard biography.
  • Loewenberg, Peter J. "The Unsuccessful Adolescence of Heinrich Himmler", American Historical Review 1971 76(3): 612–641. Issn: 0002-8762 in Jstor
  • Longerich, Peter. Heinrich Himmler: A Life, (2012)
  • Manvell, Roger, and Heinrich Fraenkel. Heinrich Himmler: The SS, Gestapo, His Life and Career (2007)
  • McNab, Chris. The SS: 1923–1945 (2009)
  • Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (1990)
  • Smith, Bradley F. Heinrich Himmler: A Nazi in the Making, 1900-1926 (1971)
  • Wachsmann, Nikolaus. "Looking into the Abyss: Historians and the Nazi Concentration Camps" European History Quarterly 2006; v 36; pp247+ online
  • Weale, Adrian. The SS: A New History (2010)
  • Wegner, Bernd. The Waffen-SS: Organization, Ideology and Function (1990)

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