Himmler, Heinrich°

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HIMMLER, HEINRICH ° (1900–1945), Nazi leader and one of Hitler's principal lieutenants. Son of a Bavarian school teacher, Himmler received military training in 1918 but never participated in military action during wwi. After the war he studied agriculture, was active in right-wing and paramilitary organizations, joined the Nazi Party in 1923, and participated in November of the same year in the Munich putsch. In 1929, appreciating Himmler's devotion and organizational talents, Hitler appointed him chief of the *ss, the elite guard of the Nazi leadership, which, under his rule, increased from several hundred members to a huge organization of several hundred thousand men. On June 30, 1934, it played a key role in the "Night of the Long Knives," the purge of the leadership of the sa ("storm troops"), the old rival of the ss. By 1939, with the aid of *Heydrich, Himmler had made the ss the mainstay of Nazi rule. Himmler molded the ss into a racist order, based on the presumed existence of a "Nordic race" to be improved and restored to its former greatness by eugenics. Himmler therefore admitted only "Nordics" as members of the order on the basis of their right to rule "inferior races."

With the Nazi accession to power, Himmler became first chief of the Munich police and then commander of the Bavarian Political Police. By spring 1934 he had managed to get the Political Police Forces of all German states, including the Prussian Gestapo, under his control, and by June 1936, he was appointed chief of German police. He incorporated existing concentration camps in Germany into his system of police terror. The defeat of *Poland in September 1939 enabled Himmler to realize his social fantasies further. Appointed Reichskommissar "for the strengthening of Germandom," he ordered the deportation of the Jewish and Polish population from the annexed provinces into the territory of the Generalgouvernement, to be replaced by "Reichsdeutsche" and ethnic Germans from all over Eastern Europe, and carried out the confiscation of the evacuees' property. When Hitler charged the ss in 1941 with the "Final Solution" (see *Holocaust: General Survey), Himmler became the butcher of Europe's Jews. He regarded the murder of the Jews as a glorious chapter in German history and gave orders to adapt death camps for the "Final Solution," enabling them to effect the mass murder – the Nazi term was liquidation – of thousands of persons daily and the disposal of their corpses. In a speech to ss Gruppenfuehrer at Posen in October 1943 Himmler praised the integrity of his men, "To have stuck this out and – excepting cases of human weakness – to have kept our integrity, that is what has made us hard." He spoke but urged silence. "This is an unwritten and never-to-be-written page of glory [in German history]." In the rear of the room his words were recorded for history. In late 1941 and 1942, Himmler ordered the utilization of the concentration camp inmates for war production. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners, including Jews set aside in the "selections" from immediate death in the gas chambers, died as slave laborers of malnutrition and ill-treatment. Thousands more were victims of pseudoscientific experiments that were carried out on Himmler's specific orders. Himmler gradually changed his tactics as Germany began to suffer defeat. In May 1944 he permitted negotiations to exchange Hungarian Jews for trucks needed for the war effort (see Joel *Brand). In November 1944 he assumed that for all practical purposes the Jewish question had been solved, and ordered the dismantling of the gas installations. Before the end of World War ii, he allowed the transfer of several hundred prisoners to Switzerland and Sweden, hoping thus to exact better peace terms. As a result, Hitler ordered the arrest of Himmler, before committing suicide himself. In May 1945 Himmler was finally dismissed by Doenitz, Hitler's successor, and killed himself the same month following his capture by the British Army.


R. Manvell and H. Fraenkel, Heinrich Himmler (Eng., 1965), includes bibliography; H. Hoehne, Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf (1967), index; imt, Trial of the Major War Criminals, 24 (1949), index; R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (1961, 20033), index. add. bibliography: P. Padfield, Himmler: Reichsfuehrer-ss (1990); R. Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (1991); B.F. Smith, Heinrich Himmler: A Nazi in the Making (1971).

[Yehudacxv Reshef /

Peter Longreich (2nd ed.)]