Heinrich Himmler (Germany, 1900-45)

Figure 1.--Heinrich Himmler is seen here with his parents and older brother Gebhard about 1902.

SS Reichführer Himmler represents the true embodiment of evil in the 20th century. He grew up in a middleclass German family. His father was the headmaster at a gymnasium (academically selective seconadry school). He could be extremely cruel to the boys in psychological ways. One boy remembers how he and his brother were expelled by being pubically humiliated before the class when their farher could not pay the school fees. His father had an interest in romanticised German history which hr passed on to his son. Heireich and his brothes were outfitted in dresses and sailor suits as boys. Heinrich was not a brilliant student, but did very well because he was extremely diligent. He was dissapointed in World War I becaue he did not complete officer cadet training before the War ended. One biograpger mainatins that although he was strongly anti-semmetic that the Holocaust was forced on him by Hitler from above and Heydrich from below.


Heinrich's grandfather was a policeman. His father was personable and a methodical social climber. He managed to secure a position as a tutor to Bavarian royal family, establishing ties with Prince Arnulf's family. He became the headmaster at a gymnasium (academically selective seconadry school). While servile to his social superiors, he had little emphathy with those that were less well off. Reports suggest that He could be extremely cruel to the boys in psychological ways. One boy remembers how he and his brother were expelled by being pubically humiliated before the class when their father could not pay the school fees. His farher had an interest in romanticised German history which he passed on to his son. His fatherwas very demanding. Father once served as a tutor to Prince Heinrich of the Bavarian royal family. The Prince retained an affection for his tutor. Agreed to be Heinrich's godfather. An advantage in imperial Germany. Heinrich's father saw to it that his son perfect the skills of a courtier and to seek out and cultivate artistocrats. Living in Landshut 40 miles northeast of Munich. deputy principal of a secondary school. His mother Anna Heyder was the daughter of tradesmen. She was much more permissive and spoiled her son. The maid became a family nurse for the young children, helping to further endulge Heinrich. [Padfield, p. 22.] Mother was devoutly Catholic. She was formal and distant abnd very economy concious. In addition to her Catholocism, she was insistent on proper manners.


Heinrich had two brothers, an older brother Gebhard was born in 1898, about 2 years before Heinrich. A younger brother Ernst was born in 1905.


Heinrich was born in Munich (October 7, 1900). He was not a healthy boy. Severe respiratory infection at age 2. Another illness at 6 when he began school. Sick again (1906). These illneses left him with a life time concern over his health and worry about the slightest indisposition, in short a hypocondriac. As a young man he was commonly seen as a harmless fussdudget. He and his brothers grew up in a staunchly middle-class, comfortable Catholic German family. He was nearsighted and had to wear glases. He was not popular with the other boys, in part because he wass not physically coordinated. Many did respecict the grades he got in school and his diligence. His mother insisted her boys take piano lessons. Gebhard showed some talent. Heinrich and not even his diligence was not helpful. Their father, while their mother sewed, would often read to the boys. He normally books on German history steeping Heinrich in the glories of medieval German knights and Wagerinan legends. Heinrich by age 10 knew more about German military history than his teachers. There was a statue of Jesus on the wall before which the boys would say their prayers before bed each night. [Padfield, p. 23.] Their father did not mistreat the boys physically. There were no beatings. He was, however, a pedantic father who supervised not only their education, but virtually every aspect of their daily life. He even edited Heirich's dairy. In many ways their life was living with a demanding and controlling school teacher. As a teen ager he was a fine student, diarist, churchgoer, and plodding pianist. His father continued to oversee is leisure time. He hiked and swam with the family, and biked with his older brother, Gebhard. As with sports, he was not very skilled abnd there were Frequent falls. He followed his father in collecting stamps, coins, and medieval artifacts. In his dairy he was critical of his clumsinest, lapses in following the routine his father established, and what he saw as constantly talking. He was also critical of others. There is little charity or grace in his dairy. He viewed with contempt others who were less desciplined. As a yiung man he was reserved with strangers, deferential to elders, and as his mother taughtbhim, ivariably polite.

Childhood Clothing

Heireich and his brothes were outfitted in dresses and sailor suits as boys.


Heinrich like his older brother began his education at the Munich Cathedral School. His father compiled a a list of Heinrich's classmates and assessed the value of family connections. Then he instructed Heinrich who to befriend and who to ignore or avoid. This was probably the first list of people Heinrich was confrinted with. An important part of his rise to power was the lists he made to assess possible threats to Hitler within the Party and the information he began collectingb on index cards. At school he was a top student , but was clumsy and nearsighted and unable to do well at sports. He was commonly mocked by his classmates, he did, however, persist doggedly at sports. Heinrich then attended the Royal Wilhelm Gymnasium, a selective secondary school. He was not a brilliant student, but did very well because he was extremely diligent and rigidly supervised by his father. He intended the Gymasium and did well because he was such a hard working student. He was considered to be a "star" student as the Germanswould say, well liked by he teachers. The British would call him a "swot". He had great trouble with gymnastics and dreaded the gymastics teacher who was merciless ith him. [Padfield, pp. 22-23] As part of the back to the land movement, he planned to be a farmer and studied agronomy in the university.


Heinrich was raised in a staunchly Catholic family and he was dutiful until he entered the university.

World War I (1914-18)

Heinrtich was still a young teenager when World War I broke out. He recorded the evebt in his dairy. He described doing relief work and home guard training. After he cturned 17 he became eligible for military service. His father arranged for him yo be accepted for officer training. He reported for officer training with the 11th Bavarian infantry Regiment (January 1918). Coming from a comfortable, refined middle-class home, military life was a shock. The physical demands as well as rough baracks life were difficult for a spoiled yong man. He wrote his parents about travils, but hestick to it. He completed basic training, the cadet course, and finally maschine gun school (October). The war ended, however, before he was deployed to the front. He would later claim that he had led men in combat. He never did and it was a life-long disappointment for him. He was also disappointed that he could not join the much reduced Army after the War.

After the War

The Himmlers klike other German families experienced problems after the War. The family situation changed dramatically. Their sponsor Prince Heinrich had bee killed in combat. And the monarchy itself was gone. Rather Heinrich and his family saw chaos, revolution, and a democratic republic goverbned by socialists. The aristocrats the family had clung to were stripped of their power. His father was hard pressed to meet expenxes. Heinruch enlisted in a tech school in Munich as an agricultural student. He almostvhad to withdraw when his father had trouble paying the fees. Without a degree therecwould have been no future fior the young Heinrich.

Rise of the NAZIs

After the end of World War I, Himler got involved in right-wing soldier's organizations and parties. Many such organizations were formed in the early 1920s. He joined the NAZIs and became associated with Adolf Hitler. He was involved in Hitler's Munich Beer Hall Putsch. He was enthralled from the beginning with the romantic nationalism taught by his father and in fact was the standard bearer during the Putsch.

Appointment to Head the SS

Hitler appointed Himmler to head of the SS, which at the time was Hitler's personal body guard and at the time numbered a mere 300 men. Gitler chose Himmler for his loyalty. It was, however, dilligence and orgnization that enabled him to build a force of 50,000 men even before th NAZIs seized power in 1933.


Himmler met Margarete Boden for the first time in Bad Reichenhall (1926). They married July 3, 1928. He returned to poultry farming to support his new family, but failed. The increasing success of the NAZIs brought him back to the movement. The Himmlers had one child--a daughter Gudrun (Burwitz) (1929- ). We do not know how much his wife knew about his work and to what degree he confided in her. She seems to have viewed him essentially as a policeman. We do know that Himmler adored Gudrun and the two were very close. He called her Püppi (Dolly). Margarete adopted a son, but her husband showed no particular interest. The Himmler's separated (1940). They did not, however, obtain a divorce. The reasons for the divorce are unclear, but are probably related to his frierndship with a secretary--Hedwig Potthast. She left her job and became his mistress (1941). Himmler had two children with her. There was a son, Helge (1942- ) and a daughter, Nanette Dorothea (1944- ). Press reports have suggested that Gudrun as an adult a\fter the War became involved with Neo-NAZI hroups. She is very reclusive and avoids the press. It is known that she playa an important role in Stille Hilfe (Silent Help), a charity which aids Germans chsarged with war crimes. This has included men like Klaus Barbie -- "the Butcher of Lyons" and Erich Priebke who killed Italian civilians. [Hall]

Third Reich

Himmler as Reichsführer-SS commanded the German police. As Germany wsa Federal state, it took some time for Himmler to build a centrlized police state after the NAZI's seizure ofpower in 1933. Himmler by 1936 had consolidated his authority throughout Germany. Hitler named him Chief of the German police in 1936. This placed all the police powers of the NAZI state, especially the Gestapo (secret state police), under his control. Given the NAZI subversion of the judicial system, this meant that Himmler's power was limited only by directives from Hitler himself. Himmler was also responsible for the Third Reich's security services (Sicherheitsdienst) and even more importantly the concentration camps, which up until 1936 had handled relatively small numbers of mostly political prisoners. Hitler by 1935 was faced with a quandry. He controlled the police, the SA, the judiciary, and state excutive. The Reichstag was dissolved. He did not, however, control the military which was the only force that now stood him and absolute control of Germany was the Army. The Army was concerned with Ernst Roem's SA which in fct was becoming a NAZI Party Army--a significant threat. Roem was a close associate of Hitler and a key element in Hitler's rise to power. In fact it was Captain Roem that had begun Hitler's asociation with the NAZIs when he sent him to report on them. Hitler arranged a deal with the Army. Roem and the SA leadership would be killed. The instrument of Hitler's action against Roem was Himmler's SS which in the "Night of the Long Knives" efficently removed the threat to the Army. There were two major results. First, Hitler was to achieve absolute power. The Army in the person of every officer and enlisted man then swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Hitler and the NAZIs thus had absolute power in Germany. Second, Himmler and the SS emerged as the major intrument of Hitler's authority. From this point until the very end, Himmler proved to be Hitler's most loyal asociate and he referred to him as "der treue Heinrich".

The SS

The SS was at first Hitler's personal bodyguard. And unlike the SA, he totally controlled it. Himmler as he rose in NAZI ranks, began to formulate ideas that would lead to the SS--an elite praetorian guard. And key to the SS would be his evolving agricultural ideas--a master race of rugged peasants. Hitler chose Himmler to head the SS when it was still part of the SA. After SA Stormtroopers even attacked the NAZI OParty bheadquarterc in Berlin, a very embarassing incident which Hitler never forgot or forgave (1930). Hitler made the SS an independent force. He saw the need of a force completely loyal to him personally that could be used to control the SA. And he trusted Himmler implicitly. Under Himmler's direction it became much more than a personal body guard, including activities in science, agriculture, health services, and industry. The SS is best known for its police role and creation of the NAZI police state an and concentration camps. Gradually the SS became a state within a state and eventually vied with the NAZI Party for control of the Reich.

World War II

Himmler's SS played a major role in World War II. In fact the SS staged the phony border incident that was used as a pretext by Hitler to justify the invasion of Poland (September 1939) that launched World War II. The military divisions, the SS, the Waffen-SS armourned formations, grew in importance as the War went on. They were fully equipped with tanks and the best weapons. The expansion meant that non-Germans were brought into the SS and the stringent racial standards were lowered. A SS division was even formed from Yugoslavian muslims. In 1943 a division was formed of Hitler Youth boys who became one of the most fanatical German units. The performance and absolute loyalty of the Waffen SS and Himmler's loyalty and ruthlessness in persuing the Holocaust increased his esteem in Hitler's eyes. Himmler took his orders as he was to say "as a good soldier". He kept what ever misgivings he had to himself. The Holocaust was a criminal undertaking unrivaled in scope and evil both astonishing and sickening. Himmler for his part carried out his orders with ruthless efficency. The first murders were carried out by Einsatzgruppen which shot their victims. First on a limited scale in Poland (1939) and then on a mass scale in the Soviet Union (1941). The SS refiened the shooting process so that very large numbers of Soviet and Baltic Jews could be rapidly killed, but given the numbers of people targetted, even greater efficencies were deemed necessary. Himmler was also concerned about the psychological impact on SS men. Himmler anf his lieutenit Heydrich urned to Adolf Eichman to organize a more efficent killing machine. Experiments were conducted. The final process was death camps in Poland where Zyklon-B gas coul be used in large capacity gas chambers. There is no defintive count, but historians believe that about 6 million Jewish men, women, and children were killed in the Holocaust. The children were especially targetted as thy had no value as slave laborers. The Jews were Hitler's obsession, but not the only NAZI target. As many as 6 million non-Jews were also murdered. Hitler nammed him Minister of the Interior in 1943 and chief of the Home Guard or Volksstrum in 1944. Himmler aggrssively persued a witch hunt for conspirators after the attempt on Hitler's life (July 1944).


One of Himmler's pet projects was the Lebenborn Program. The Lebensborn program was a counterpoint to the NAZI program of exterminating Jews and other groups considered to be sub-human was the Lebensborn program, a sectret NAZI program to enrich German racial lines with pure Nordic Aryan blood. The Lebensborn program was a pet project of SS Commander Himmler. The program was launched in Germany in a small way to incourage German girls to give birth to racially pure cgildren even if they were unmairred. After the Germans launched World War II and occupied large streaches of Eastern Europe, they proceeded to kidnap thousands of children who were deemed to be Aryan. Himmler indicated that these children had to be Germanized or killed because he though Aryan populations outside of the Reich were a threat. The Lebensborn program also affected other countries such as Norway--albeit on a smaller scale. Estimates suggest that 0.20-0.25 million children, mostly Polish, were eventually involved in this program. Only a small number were ever returned to their parents.


No one knows just when German Führer Adolf Hitler decided to actually murder German and other European Jews. The stunning German victories in 1939-41 gave him the opportunity to carry out murder on a vast scale. Hitler ordered Himmler as Reichsführer-SS to organize the Final Solution--the extermination of the Jewsish people. Himmler was the logial choice for this assignment. He was Hitler's most loyal and dutiful subordinate. Given his control of the security forces and organizational abilities, he was the only real choice. We do not know just when the order wasgiven. Ee do know that Himmler obeyed the order with his customary dilligence and efficiency. One biograpger maintains that although Himmler was strongly anti-semmetic that the Holocaust was forced on him by Hitler from above and Heydrich from below. [Padfild]


Himmler in the waning days of the Reich made attempts to negotiate peace through the World Jewish Congress and Americn opperatives. He seemed unaware aware of the monsterous criminality of the Holocaust or at least deluded himself. He seems to have thought that killing Jews would not really bother the Allies. Of course ignoring Goebbels propaganda that insisted that the Jews controlled the Allies. He made an effort to negotiate with the Allies. Apparently he was not as interested as Hitler in a Wagnerian end. Using Count Bernadotte in Sweden as an intermediary he made peace overtures. He offered a conditional surrender to the Western Allies leaving part of northern Germany as an unoccupied zone. He would be the new Führer in unoccupied Germany. This of course went nowhere, but Hitler found out about it and like Göring accused him of betrayal--the man he had always considered his most loyal supporter ('treuer Heinrich'). After the collapse of the Wehrmacht, he attempted to flee Germany. Fotr a short time before the NAZI surrender he wondered around the areas of northern Germantwith a large escort of SS hangers on, body guards, and big cars. After Hitler's suiside, his successor Admoral Döenitz inform Himmler that his services were no longer needed. Thge letter ended,"I now regard all your offices as abolished. I thank you for the service which you have given the Reich!" A few days later, Döenitz ordered a surrender to the Allies. He was after the collpase of the Third Reich the most wanted man in the world. Hitler and Goebbels were dead and Göring arrested, but for 2 weeks the whereabouts of Himmler were unknown. The British knew he was in northern Germany., They expected to find him with the Flensburg Government that Dönitz had established. But he had disappeared his chief adjutant ans secretary. He was captured by the British, although he disguised his identity (May 21,1945). He was with a group of freed slave laborwrs in civilian clothes. He and two associates were detained because despite they had Wehrmact discharge papers (forged) they began to bluster as they had for years as SS commabders. The Black Watch soldiers were having none of it and detained them for questioning. Two days later, the British arrested Dönitz and his government. Finally he bit into a hidden cyanide capsule ending his life (May 23, 1945). [Panton]


Hall, Allan. "How Himmler's daughter helps Nazi death-camp guard beat justice," Scottsman.com (November 2, 2007).

Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt: New York, 1991), 656p.

Panton, Selkirk. "The man who killed millions," (2003).


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Created: September 14, 2002
Last edited: 2:24 PM 3/15/2012